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Sunday, 23 October 2011


Finally finished reading Bentley Little's DARK DOMINION, and I say 'finally' because it's 500 pages long and the first 300 or so are pretty boring. But then it goes utterly and completely mental and is worth the slog. But more on that in a minute.

Bentley Little is one of my favourite writers, but I fell out of love with him for a short while after reading THE ASSOCIATION and THE POLICY back-to-back...and realised that they were, basically, the same story. Now, a lot of writers (and film-makers, and artists etc etc etc) explore and use the same theme(s) over and over again, but it was quite startling just how similar these two books were (in terms of beats hit, rather than content) seeing as they both dealt with (and I'm boiling it down, here) an individual battling a corporation (ASSOCIATION has a man dealing with a, ahem, housing association and POLICY involves a man dealing with, ahem, an insurance company). Both very good, taken separately, mind you, but disappointing when read one after the other.

Still, they both did what Little does best and that is take the mundane and make it WEIRD with a capital W-E-I-R-D. ASSOCIATION does it with gradually warped 'rules' that the main character has to abide by within his gated community, and POLICY does it by having a character affected by the very thing they've just turned insurance down for (for example, someone declines earthquake cover, then the next thing they know, they're hit by an earthquake). DARK DOMINION (a terrible title matched only by the awful hazy cover painting of a girl in a vineyard, with grapes dripping blood) has very little (fnar fnar!) of this in the first three quarters of the book--there are hints and glimpses of people acting weird in a 'drunk and horny' way, but it's not until the last part of the book when things really kick off. Quick plot crunch:

Dion and his mum move to the Napa Valley to get a fresh start in life. Dion falls for Penelope, the daughter of the mysterious Daneam women, owners of a prestigious local vineyard. The two of them feel an attraction that might not be as random as they'd like to think, as it turns out both teenagers are linked with an ancient Greek god...

I was pleasantly surprised when the god makes an appearance, because it allows Little to cut loose with some absolutely demented situations and descriptions, most carnal in some way, although a few are just grotesque (including the transformation of people into animals). It's also at this point that all the boring build-up has a satisfying pay-off, including the 'removal' of some characters in delightfully mean-spirited ways (my favourite is when a character claims to have an amazing plan, then...but I won't spoil it).

DARK DOMINION (or simply DOMINION as it was later re-titled) isn't one of Little's best books (I'd peg THE ACADEMY as that, out of the ones I've read) but it is easy to read and original in execution. It also reminded me of a lot of pulpy 90's horror (it's from 1995) that I still have a penchant for, namely the work of Stephen Laws. Sometimes, I worry that reading too much of this sort of thing can have an adverse effect on my own writing (overuse of qualifiers, pleonasms, etc) in the same way I had to purposefully stop reading 1940's detective fiction for ages because I was using a lot of bad dialogue tags (such as "I like it," he smiled - you can't smile words!) that still occasionally creep into my stories...but then another part of me goes "Ah nuts to it, read what you enjoy and learn to write better."

The next two books on my reading list are the Rapture-as-Apocalypse LEFT BEHIND (lent to me by a work colleague who's a Born-Again Christian) and Aldous Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD (I thought it was about time I read some 'classic sci-fi' since I'm not a massive fan of sci-fi, and need educatin'). I've already read the first few chapters of LEFT BEHIND, and (cynically) admire how the main character is something of an agnostic, yet his wife is a (new) Christian...I only hope it doesn't ram God messages down my throat, because there's nothing worse than heavy-handed themes (religious or otherwise). I guess I'll find out soon enough.

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