After believing that among his fiction he could reach no higher than Tigana, I must say he hit the mark again. GGK is a continuing pleasure.
I think this is one of the best books I have listened to. After finishing it the first time I immediately listened to it a second time, and know that I will listen to it again.
Under Heaven is tightly crafted and superbly written. The audio version is narrated with great skill by Simon Vance. He gives a lovely flavor of the pace and the poetry of Mr. Kay's story. If you enjoy a tale that will take you to another place and time you will enjoy this book. Mr. Kay's plot is like a large, complex and beautiful puzzle. As the last few pieces are placed the whole picture makes sense. Very, very satisfying!
This book sounded suspiciously like the writer was randomly making up the entire plot as he went along. Which is fine if it were a draft, but instead, what you have is hundreds of pages of him trying to figure out what's going to happen next and not being sure and in the meantime telling us the same things over and over.
Case in point: A) Scene in which something happens (which includes 1 part action and 9 parts endless discussion about the characters' thoughts and history--but not in a meaningful way (basically like reading a writer's notes as they try to figure out a backstory for their character...NOTES). B) Following...a scene in which people talk about the thing that just happened, telling you in detail about what happened as if you didn't just read what happened. C) Scene in which a character thinks about what happened (along with everything else that has happened up to this point) in great detail, as if we hadn't read up to this point. Pages and pages of stream-of-consciousness. (Information and more useless, repetitive information, as if the writer has forgotten that he's already written this stuff a bunch of times.) Oh yeah, and if there's a chance to randomly discuss a character's sexual history and preferences in silly, salacious romance novel detail (seriously, this is the second book I've heard by Kay, and he relishes repeating his cheesy, gratuitous sex scenes as if he's a female roro-writer who happens to also be chauvinistic). (Oh, and he also has a penchant for describing gruesome torture/violence in the same way. I'll spare you his favorite way to indicate that some individual or power is sadistic...the same thing happens to the person and their corpse...in more than one of his books, which take place in different thinly-veiled fictional countries. I'm not easily offended by violence, but I'm really put off by gimmicky, gratuitous indulgence, and that's how Kay writes about sadistic details.)
Anyway, 2/3 of the way through the book, very little has actually happened. There is plenty of potential in the story elements--if the writer actually had thought things out--but instead it stalls and stalls and languishes and languishes. I had to force myself to keep trying to listen, hoping it would get better. (And even though the narrator makes it more palatable than the book itself, I once fell asleep while listening, went back to hear what I'd missed...and found that I'd missed about 20 minutes of nothing.) I should mention that I generally liked the other book of Kay's that I 'read' (Tigana)--in spite of its similar writing flaws, it at least had a well-thought-out plot and well-thought-out characters, along with meaningful conflict. All of which are missing here. It's almost unbelievable that books like this are published unedited when they'd be ripped apart in a freshman creative writing class.
The sad thing is that in spite of potentially interesting elements, the book is just simply boring and meaningless. I tend to be a patient reader, and I have enjoyed many slow-paced books. That is, books with a deliberate pace that enhances the story. Not slow due to poor writing and a thin plot. A good editor would have made this writer cut out more than half of his bloated, repetitive, shallow details, and perhaps the story would have taken shape to the point that he could have crafted something compelling. Instead, he's convinced me to not waste time trying out any of his other books (and to believe other reviewers who have pointed these things out elsewhere). If you're not convinced by this warning, at least do yourself a favor and listen to the sample here. See if it compels you, and keep in mind that this opening exposition goes on and on and on before anything happens. You will be told about this and that for ages before any character is allowed to do anything. I should also note that the reason you generally only see gushing reviews/positive ratings for a lot of books here is that if you return a book you hated, you're not allowed to write a review. Hence, you're going to hear mainly from those who liked it, even if they're a minority. Be warned!
Wow! This is the first audio book I struggled to finish, and I have listened to alot. If you are interested in a romance novel set in a fictional Chinese Dynasty setting, this is the book for you. None of the glowing reveiws mention the fact the nothing happens...ever! On a good note, the narrator was very good and I will try some other works that he has done.
Just as good as the print...
Beautifully written as all Kay's works.
"Her hair was unbound."
Many were moving. Kay is a lovely writer with poetic cadences and moving language. All his scenes touch you in one way or another.
I have always loved his works but this was by far my favorite book he has written. Not only is this book a wonderful story it also feels like reading a piece of artwork. Phenomenal book and worth listening too.
Another fine book by this author, this time based on a particular time in the Tang dynasty of ancient China. Again, a fantasy version of actual history??? in this case, the story of the An-Shi Rebellion. This was terrible and bloody time, when many millions died, either in the rebellion itself, or in the subsequent famines and plagues that are the inevitable sequel to such events. We move with our hero through Yang Gui Fei, the Precious Consort -- fabulous scenes, as he makes his way through gorgeous country to the startling wealth and splendor of the capital. There are women warriors (and the kind of fighting seen in recent movies such as House of Flying Daggers), and silk farms, and brilliant poets, and concubines of surpassing beauty and courage, and through it all, a gripping plot, engaging characters, and fascinating descriptions of elaborate customs ??? based on fact, which is more exotic and alien than anything a story teller could make up. I particularly loved the notion of a famous poet showing up and becoming a companion of our hero???and that everywhere they go, the poet is immediately recognized and revered. Poets were the rock stars of the day, I saw somewhere. The skill of writing poetry was a required part of the entrance exams for the civil service. A charming notion!
There is an elegiac note to the writing, an acknowledgement of time passing and the brevity of human life, often noted by way of the poems. And some of the poems quoted are very beautiful indeed. The poet in the book is based on the famous Tang poet, Li Bai. And, by a strange coincidence ??? or, maybe not so strange, Mr. Kay is obviously a well read and educated man ??? the following poem by Li Bai, quoted in the first chapter of Under Heaven, was also quoted in Patrick O???Brian???s Desolation Island:
The floor before my bed is bright:
Moonlight ??? like hoarfrost ??? in my room.
I lift my head and watch the moon.
I drop my head and think of home.