Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Clash of Kings

I'm 700 pages into A Clash of Kings and nothing has happened. Yet, I can't put it down. Is my life so utterly boring that I'm consumed with reading about the lives of others?

Martin's books do not have a plot. They don't have a protagonist. They don't have an antagonist. They are a collection of chapters with each one a differing point-of-view. We go from Sansa to Arya to Theon to Bran to Daenerys to Jon to Tirrion and then rinse/repeat. My epiphany came in a chapter called Arya where the most exciting thing that happened in forty pages was her going off into the woods to urinate (yes he describes the urination) and a wolf appears and then just as quickly disappears with no follow-up. Huh? These characters are eating, drinking, having sex, plotting, strutting, killing, looking at their damaged hands, burying the dead, mourning, slapping people for insulting them, and you name it. Yes...these books are simply about the lives of other people in a fantasy setting. They are about all the things that you and I would do only in a make-believe world.

It's kinda like The Sims only with text. And in many places...just as boring. I spent forty pages reading about some lame tournament held by King Joffrey while his little 8-year-old brother jousted with a man made of straw. Yes...really...a frickin' man made of straw.

I feel as captivated by these tales as I do watching an episode of "Extreme Couponing" or "The Desperate Housewives of Beverly Hills" or "The Jersey Shore".  Yes...I seriously did just compare George R.R. Martin to "The Jersey Shore".

Why am I so captivated by these books? It really has me wondering if my life is that banal...that boring...that the lives of these fictional characters are so much more interesting than my own. It'd be different if there was a plot...then I'd have an excuse.  I could tell you..."oh this 1500 page book of George R.R. Martins is about this..." and then launch into some huge profound plot akin to destroying the one ring.  But oh no...I could tell you what Tirrion ate for his breakfast and his lunch, what he wore, when he went to the bathroom...oh I could tell you how agonizing it was for Sansa to find the right dress to please Joffrey and how much Joffrey likes beating her. 

What a strange way to write. It's just wierd and somehow so "soap operish" that it taps into this strange node in my brain that I have to watch it unfold on the pages. I talk to my friend James about the books and we're like gossiping hens "oh I can't believe this happened and blah blah"... Like really...are there millions of men out there that are just like me that are captivated by the gossip generated by the lives within these books?  I guess so. Afterall, Mr. Martin has sold millions.

It makes me lament though at the state of the modern novel. No plot, five novels in one (yes you could rip the chapters out regarding each character and have your own book with only one-point-of-view and one storyline) and simply a tale about lives...people going to the bathroom, changing boots, laying with women, men, sisters, and brothers...eating plums, getting sick, lusting, loving and dying. Ay carajo.

When I write a review for Goodreads I fully intend to give this five stars. I couldn't put it down. And because of that I wonder what the hell is wrong with me?


  1. It's the same thing as when men start looking at the ads in magazines for clothes and sunglasses, or fretting over which sneakers to buy, or catching up on celeb news, and thinking they need to lose weight (er, I mean workout). You're becoming feminized. And soap opera is another of those female aspects, whether its this or Mad Men or whatever.

    We all have those sides to us, just that it's become the dominant force in society - financial stability, cottonballing children, designer nesting.

    Fight the power, dude.

  2. I'm glad you can't put it down, but I'm sorry it feels that way to you. I never felt that way at all, and it is my favorite series by far since LOTR. I do see a plot, but it is stretched into a more real-world style time frame rather than the condensed versions we typically see. The winter is coming at its own pace rather than swiftly, and the Dany storyline as well. I think he absolutely had the major plot lines firmly in mind, but he is having a bit too much fun filling in all the details in between.

  3. Such an interesting thing... I think fantasy is the only genre that can get away with this anymore. It surprises me though, that the plot isn't more clear. (and that I KNOW this name, even though I don't read much fantasy, so he must be very popular). I think OTHER genres are TOO plot driven and we don't get to know characters like I'd like... somewhere in the middle is my version of ideal.

  4. Ted: No way. These books could go on forever and I mean FOREVER. It's just a day or week in the life of this character and what happens. It was that way in the first book "A Game of Thrones" and it's been that way for the first 700 pages of this one. "Winter is Coming" does not a plot make. These books have as much of a plot as my own life is plotted. "MY OLD AGE IS COMING TED AND WHEN IT COMES...I'LL BE SORRY"...

    I'm not saying it's bad. But I am correct on this. Book one ended with just a chapter on Dany and some dragons. There was no just happened to be her chapter. It could have easily had been the chapter entitled "Arya". It just so happens that this is where Martin ran out of words and needed to go to the supermarket to buy more so before going shopping, he wrote "THE END". The same is going to happen in "Clash of Kings". He's gonna run out of words and decide that's the end of book two.

    You are mistaking the progression of events in a person's life in the fictional universe as a "plot". Jon Snow moving north of the wall with the men and coming across the White Walkers because he's walking north is not plot. That's just what's happening in his life.

  5. I have to disagree that there is no plot in these books. Just because the series could potentially go on and on doesn't mean that each book, and the series entirely, doesn't have plot. I don't have the books in front of me, so I'll refer to the first one, in which Dany's dragons hatch and give her a sense of purpose. It works great as a climax to the whole book because the sense of doom and foreboding just got real for the whole world. Dragons are back and there ain't nothing the Lannisters or the Starks can do about it. It does lead you into the next book, but each book in the Lord of the Rings ended the same way, leading you to the problems in the next book.

  6. Brent: Okay so if you're saying that the climax of the book is the hatching of Dany's dragons then let's take a look at it. Are you saying that the story here is a girl gets sold to a Dothraki barbarian king to get an army so that she can take back her kingdom, fails to do so when her husband dies, and some dragons hatch? Intriguing, I suppose...but then why the hell did it take 1500 pages to tell this story? I disagree with you. This novel and group of novels is a soap opera.

    I'm sensing a backlash from people that love these books. To be clear...I love them too. Is it somehow insulting that I label them as a soap opera? I call it like it is...the truth shall set you free. This is Dynasty and the Colby's and Dallas all rolled into one. If you don't believe me, then you should look up these old soap operas to see what I'm talking about because it's TRUE. These slice of life things regarding Dany, Arya, Tirrion and everyone else holds as much plot as any of the DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES on Bravo. Dany is just Camille...Joffrey is just Armando that lives with Helen in Beverly Hills... it's the same shit. The only difference here is that people die, there's war, incest, and lots of nipples.

    Again...five stars from me. I'm going to go home tonight and read more pages because I can't wait to find out what happens to Theon, what happens to Jon, what happens to Arya, does Sansa escape? Does Renly become King...and on and on and on. But a plot? Pffftt...nope

  7. You've intrigued me. Does that mean my life is boring? LOL. It's funny how some books just grab you and you almost don't know why.

  8. Hehehe now you made me want to read it. Where oh where am I going to find the freaking books?

    I think you like the books because it appeals to your inner voyeur. That's why I'm curious to read it.


  9. Really you're on Goodreads too? I'll have to look you up.

    BTW, if you didn't buy the Lady Gaga album on Monday when it was on sale for 99 cents on Amazon, it's back on sale today! Because it's not like there aren't 7 billion other albums they could put on sale...

  10. Thanks mutt. I got locked out on Monday so I'll try again today. Anything is worth 99 cents.

    Yeah I'm on goodreads but I don't keep my stuff updated savagely like some people. I also get more spam from Goodreads than on any other site period. It's kinda wierd.

  11. Argh! I am having serious trouble posting a reply on here. Time after time it won't let me. Had a good one today, but it has disappeared into the abyss. I'm gonna use this to test and see if I can post. :(

  12. I'll try again... but condensed this time.
    Definitely very soap opera. It has the same shock value, multitude of people all having their own story-lines, and no real plot.
    I've never been able to get into soap operas. Sucked in for a month or two, yes; really want to follow them, no. I think I'd get sucked in briefly mainly due to that whole shock value, want to know what's next kinda thing... Lose interest because real life is more interesting in the end.
    This has the added bonus and extra super-duper appeal of being set in a fantasy world unlike my own. That means that in addition to rubbernecking at the scene of the next train wreck in the lives of these characters, I'm also addicted to the setting, the magic, the glamor, etc. I've always been drawn to fantasy and medieval style settings in novels. This combines that allure with the can't turn away from it grotesque shock value of the car crash, the living vicariously through others I get in the romance genre, the intrigue and a bit of suspense of the mystery genre, the beauty and otherness of the fantasy genre... and I'm just hooked. Love it. And no, it's not because my life is boring. It's just that this has more than other books/shows.

  13. I love these books, but I think you do have a point about there being no plot arc in the normal sense we come to know as readers. But to me that's what makes them fascinating. There are no truly good or bad guys, so to speak.

    I do think there are some deeply seeded themes behind Martin's writing, some of which will not be revealed until the end, but you have an interesting take on it.

  14. And I can't believe I wasn't following your blog. Shame on me.

  15. LOL thanks Matthew. Again, just to reiterate...I frickin' love these books. I can't put them down. But I so want to have a conversation on the phone with other people that love them. I imagine it would go something like this:

    Me: "Girlfriend...can you frickin' believe what happened to Khal Drogo? I mean to die from a wounded nipple...what a way to go. And how is Dany gonna cope? Omg...I'm so on the edge of my seat..."

    GF: "I know it...but you do know he came back as a vegetable. Good thing Dany got the courage to pull the plug but then the thing with the dragons took me by surprise. Mmmhmmm. And what about how valuable they are...she could get some real estate for them things..."

    ME: "She don't want that...she wants the throne but now there's that boy king Joffrey. Oh and how he beats that poor Sansa...mmmhmm...She needs to get herself a real man."

    GF: "Oh I agree...but she can't. She's trapped. Maybe one of them other kings will come up from the south or her brother will save her mmmhmm. But what about the northerners...all them talk about the undead and me the shivers. And that midget, Tirrion...oh, he's a clever bitch. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next."

  16. I've not heard of these books before, but now I'm intrigued. You crack me up. I love the review and now I'm super curious.

    Great review.

  17. You've convinced me that my decision NOT to read those books -- based originally on the fact that everyone else loved them, which automatically makes me hate them -- is the correct one.

    If there's any genre worse than nonfiction, it's fantasy that forgets it's fiction.

  18. Well, you've talked me out of reading them, too. I had been considering it, but... well...
    See, I read more than half of The Wheel of Time. All the way up to Path of Daggers wherein nothing happened for 700 pages and then something happened in the last 50 pages. But he could have stopped telling me what everyone was weraing and just given me the last 50 pages. I don't think I'm up for anymore books where nothing happens for hundreds of pages and, then, nothing continues to happen for hundreds more.

    I am glad you're enjoying them, though!

  19. I know he wrote the children's book, The Ice Dragon. Have you read that Michael?

    I don't think I'd like the book you're reading. I have to actually have something happen in the books I read, but I know a bunch of people that love his books. :-)

  20. You've struck a chord here and I've actually been thinking about this all day. I am an English teacher, though, so pondering the literary value of a text isn't something too odd for me.

    Anyway, I decided to compare this book series to one of the HBO series like The Wire or Carnavale or even the Sopranos. Each season of these kinds of shows unfolds like a novel; in fact the entire series is structured like either one long story or a series of novels. Sometimes the individual action within an episode might be soapy or seem unimportant, but later in a different episode it will be made clear. But each episode has some unifying element to it that keeps it together as one part within the whole. I think the first Game of Thrones book (at least) is like that and the Danerys story is the unifier, even though is seems like it's extraneous to the rest of the action. Thus, her dragons hatching works as the climax.

    And I do get that you adore the books. I'm just eliciting some literary discussion. :)

  21. I hang with a lot of nerds, so I've heard my share of reviews of GoT, but yours is the first that actually made me want to read it.

    I think you answered your own question. Escapism. Just like Hogwart's, it's a place to slip into, for pages and never-ending pages.

    Plus, smutty bits!!!

  22. Wow, well I thought the earlier books were FULL of action...but maybe it gets more boring later on? hehe. I admit I haven't read the last two.

  23. Cool. (=

    Read the Outlander series...(=

  24. I wrote about this kind of fiction (non-linear, in a way) on the Lit Lab the other day. I'd have to pick it up to know if that's really what this book is like, but it sounds like it. I think it sounds fabulous!

    You should try reading Virginia Woolf, if you haven't already. I'm reading The Waves right now for the second time, and it's absolutely brilliant. I think you might like it. :)

  25. I don't mean to comment now, but whatever, I'd just mention that as I read through the 3rd book, I couldn't help but feel like the climax for Clash of Kings really takes place just past halfway in the A Storm Of Swords. I think he's writing and just stopping when it gets too long, George isn't giving us tied up threads at the end of each installment.