Friday, January 18, 2008

Review - Brian Caswell - Loop

Brian Caswell has two talents that a strongly admire; the ability to create characters that will capture your attention and emotions from the start, and the ability to subtly insert moral lessons in his work while still keeping it (mostly) lighthearted and entertaining. His latest anthology, Loop, contains a mix of both speculative fiction and realistic stories which are all examples of what makes Brian Caswell an important Australian author. The stories have an elegance and a simplicity about them, Caswell only ever tells you enough to allow you to develop a relationship with the characters, have a little fun, and explain the point of the story before ending it. He keeps the language basic as well, making the book accessible to readers of all ages.

The speculative fiction is actually the weak suit in this collection. While they all feature Caswell's special talent for making believable and sympathetic characters, the concepts of the stories are usually things that have been done before, sometimes even by Caswell himself. They show a different side of the story, or illustrate a point that others may not have thought of, but there is still really nothing new here. The stories are still well crafted and fun to read, just not as mind blowing as I have found some of his other short stories and novels.

The real life tales are where the volume becomes truley amazing. They show fear, courage, loyalty and determination, sometimes from the most unlikely of sources. One of the things that I like about Caswell's stories is that he sometimes chooses a surprising viewpoint character In November was the first story in the volume that really made me sit up and pay attention. It stuck an emotional cord with me because of the content, but it was also interesting from a style point of view. The story is told by a year 10 student, whose brother's best friend has gone missing just before the year 12 exams. Through her eyes we gain an understanding of not only why he acted the way he did, but also a little of her brother's motivations, and her own thoughts on how much more she appreciates just being a normal kid - without the pressure of everyone's expectations.

Truly, Madly, Deeply... also uses a viewpoint character who is not the hero. The story is about Nicole (good choice!) who is gutsy to the point of recklessness, but the story is told through her brother, who is somewhat of a wimp. We get to see and understand Nicole a bit better because of this distance, and the viewpoint character also tells his own story, quietly and modestly in the background..

The viewpoint character of Running the Majestic is very much the hero - albeit an unlikely one. Poor, honest and hardworking, the protagonist is a character with simple tastes. He is really passionate about movies, and charms you from the start with his candid observations of the things people do in cinemas that drive everyone else insane. It's a classic short story, only long enough to give you all the information you need before it finishes, but it has such a nice message. It's probably my favorite story from the volume.

The other story that could contend for favorite status is Under the circumstances. This story makes me cry; I get teary every time I read it. I won't go into it too much, it's the kind of thing you need to read for yourself, but it's truly an example of how Caswell can get you emotionally involved with his characters, and then encourage you to learn from their experiences.

This book will appeal to a variety of readers: for those who want to analysis it, it provides a good example of style, tone, characterization and message for YA; and for those that just want to read it, it will take you on many short, fun and inspiring adventures.


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