Forums Club Ed Book Club Black Leopard, Red Wolf discussion

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    • #124030
      Jake Nicholls
      Participant

      Hello, everyone! I’m starting things off this time because Jennifer is unavailable. Who’s here for the discussion today?

    • #124040
      Kendra Olson
      Participant

      Hi, Jake! I’m here, but I haven’t read all of the book.

      • #124042
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        Hi, Kendra—good to see you! What did you think of what you’ve read so far?

    • #124041
      Joan Graham
      Participant

      Hi Jake,
      I’m here briefly. Haven’t read the book, although I’m sure I could learn interesting developmental things anyway. Mostly I’m here to find out what next month’s book is. Joan

      • #124044
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        Hi, Joan! The book for next month (July 1) is WISE CHILDREN by Angela Carter. Feel free to stick around for today’s discussion. Have you read any of Marlon James’ other books before? That could give us some interesting insight, if you have.

    • #124043
      Kendra Olson
      Participant

      I had a difficult time with it. It felt like a slog! I read the first 30% of the story (on my Kindle) and then skipped to the end. It required immense discipline just to do that.

      • #124045
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        I found it a very difficult read, too, up to about 300 pages in. And then something shifted—in the book or in my brain, I don’t know—but by the end I was engrossed!

      • #124047
        Kendra Olson
        Participant

        That’s interesting to hear! What about it engrossed you at that point?

      • #124059
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        I think the trouble I had with the first half was that it seemed quite meandering, and the characters didn’t really know what they were doing on the ‘quest’ or why—so it didn’t seem like there was any drive or forward momentum. And then at some point, everything just fell into place: all the previous worldbuilding and character information suddenly came together, and things got a lot more engaging.

      • #124062
        Kendra Olson
        Participant

        Perhaps I should have persisted! I felt the same way about the story and wondered why readers should care. It would be interesting to find out about the editorial process the book went through. As Jennifer has said in several of her courses, often authors write to find the story and then it’s the editor’s job to prune away the throat clearing.

      • #124065
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        I was reading an interview with Marlon James in which he said that he spent a very long time filling up more and more notebooks with worldbuilding and character details, and he struggled to actually find a story to tell within that—which you could say is reflected in how the book ended up!

        Also, if you didn’t already know, this is the first book in a planned trilogy—the other two will tell the same events through a different character lens, and the reader will have to decide which version to believe. A big project for both the writer and the reader!

      • #124078
        Kendra Olson
        Participant

        That makes sense. The premise held a lot of promise for me, but the story didn’t fulfill this. I wonder what it would have been like if the author had done another rewrite. Perhaps the subsequent books in the series will be stronger as he’ll have had more time to think about the story.

    • #124046
      Kendra Olson
      Participant

      In one of the reviews I read, the reviewer stated that the book wasn’t something to be read quickly. As I only started to read it last week, this might have contributed to my difficulty getting through it. The narrative, themes explored and plot events all felt very heavy. Yet, the tone did not feel right to me.

      • #124048
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        Yes, it’s very ‘literary’ in that sense, I think. I can’t say it was an enjoyable reading experience, but looking back at the book now, I can appreciate/admire it (from a distance!).

        Could you elaborate on your thoughts on the tone? Was it the narrative style or something else that didn’t feel right to you?

    • #124058
      Joan Graham
      Participant

      Haven’t read others by that author. I can no longer read a lot (visual stuff) at a time so I’m slowed way down. Just halfway through Little Fires! Will say goodbye and see you next month for Wise Children. Hi Kendra! Joan

    • #124061
      Kendra Olson
      Participant

      I guess it was the narrator/narrative voice. Tracker seemed to quip a bit too much, for my liking anyway. This undermined the seriousness of some of the scenes for me and made it difficult to see what happened as important. Also, while the book is written in first person, Tracker mostly seemed to tell what had happened. I know this is because he’s telling the story to the inquisitor, but this placed what happened to him (Tracker) at a remove and made it hard for me to feel close to his character. I think the writer may have done this purposely, because the story is so violent, but this didn’t work for me.

      • #124064
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        Yes, I think you’re right that there’s a deliberate distance between Tracker and the reader. I think this is in part because there’s an ongoing theme about storytelling and truth/objectivity—for example, in the two versions of the story Tracker tells about killing and/or severely injuring his father. I also think this could be related to trauma and how Tracker deals with the trauma in his past, by distancing himself from it through storytelling.

      • #124066
        Kendra Olson
        Participant

        What you say about trauma makes sense. I still would have liked a bit more from Tracker though, in the parts that I read. I wanted to know how he viewed these events and what they meant to him.

      • #124077
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        Yes, it does make it difficult to connect to a character when they are emotionally closed off. Tracker does grow and change throughout the story, which probably contributed to me enjoying the second half more, I think.

      • #124067
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        I actually really enjoyed the humour throughout the book, especially as I got to know the characters better. Did you get to the part where the Buffalo was introduced, Kendra? An absolutely charming character, who provided some much-needed light relief in contrast to some of the very violent and disturbing scenes.

      • #124079
        Kendra Olson
        Participant

        I didn’t get to the Buffalo, but I did think some of the dialogue was really funny.

    • #124080
      Kendra Olson
      Participant

      What did you think of the pacing?

      • #124081
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        In terms of plot progression, it felt very static at the beginning, and some of the stories that Tracker tells seemed quite circular. But at the same time, the ‘storytelling’ narration style allowed for the jumping back and forth through the chronology and so I felt like hints were used to create some suspense for the reader (e.g. about what happened to Tracker’s eye). In some cases, the suspense may have been held out too long to keep the reader’s interest, though. What did you think?

    • #124091
      Kendra Olson
      Participant

      I agree with you. There wasn’t enough suspense for me. I think this is probably related to James’s difficulty in finding the story at the heart of his notebooks. I wanted to know why these stories were important. It sometimes felt like there was a lot happening but not a lot of plot progression.

      • #124093
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        I do think it would be interesting to see how the book would work if the story were framed differently. At the moment, the focus (from the very first line, even), seems to be on the search for the mysterious ‘boy’—so the reader is led to expect a fairly straightforward ‘quest’ plot. Perhaps it is the subversion of this that is frustrating and led to me initially thinking that the first half was largely tangential. If the story were framed so that it was clear from the start that it’s more character-focused and centred on the changing relationship between Tracker and the Leopard (which I think is fair to say is the core of the novel, especially taking into account the title!), perhaps that would help to alter reader expectations a little.

      • #124103
        Kendra Olson
        Participant

        Yes, that would probably help. I found it hard to care about the boy.

      • #124105
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        Yes, me too. Then again, that probably reflects Tracker’s attitude towards the character. If I remember rightly, his name is never revealed—Tracker just knows him as ‘boy’ the whole way through.

    • #124092
      Kendra Olson
      Participant

      There seemed to be quite a lot of characters in the story. I found it difficult to keep track of them all at times. I wasn’t convinced the novel needed quite so many of them. What did you think? And did you think the book could have been shorter?

      • #124104
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        Yes, there were loads! I was often grateful for the character list at the start of the book. I think that probably stems from the abundance of worldbuilding and the inclusion of lots of African folklore and myth.

        It would certainly be possible to trim the book down to a shorter length, but I’m wondering if something of the ‘layering’ of stories and the richness of the worldbuilding would be lost, in that case. I’ll be curious to see how long the other two parts of the trilogy end up being. (I have actually just started reading Marlon James’s ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings’ as a comparison of sorts—and it’s just as long as BLRW, if not longer!).

      • #124106
        Kendra Olson
        Participant

        It would be interesting to hear what you think of ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings’ when you finish it. Maybe you could report back here with your comparison?

      • #124107
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        Yes, I can certainly do that! It won the Booker Prize in the UK a few years ago, so I’m looking forward to getting into it.

      • #124109
        Kendra Olson
        Participant

        Thanks! I look forward to hearing about it. 🙂 I’ve been meaning to read it for awhile, but since reading this novel of his, I’m having second thoughts.

    • #124108
      Kendra Olson
      Participant

      What did you think of the prose itself?

      • #124110
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        Like you noted earlier, some of it does feel quite distant from Tracker—I think this comes from the extra narrative ‘layer’, i.e. we are being told a story; we’re not experiencing it at the same time as Tracker. The prose did a good job of letting the reader interpret Tracker’s actions/emotions for themselves, although this also contributes to the distance between Tracker and the reader because it takes a while to find a ‘way in’ to his emotions.

        My opinion went back and forth about the long stretches of dialogue—sometimes I found them immersive, other times the conversations felt overly ‘constructed’, although perhaps this is another side effect of the whole storytelling construct. What did you think?

    • #124120
      Kendra Olson
      Participant

      I went a little back and forth on the dialogue as well. Sometimes it was entertaining, other times it felt like an unnecessary diversion.

      The language itself seemed intended to shock readers, but this felt overdone to me. Surely the events themselves are shocking enough? I think this relates back to the problems I had with the tone.

      • #124121
        Kendra Olson
        Participant

        I guess another way of saying this was that the story could have benefited from a little more subtlety.

      • #124122
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        Yes, there’s certainly an element of Tracker’s narration style that is intended to shock—especially where it is clear that he is talking to the ‘inquisitor’ of the opening narrative frame.

        Even though the unflinching descriptions of violence were very difficult to read, I appreciate that the author didn’t let the violence become ‘normalised’, or let the reader skim over it without confronting its brutality (if that makes sense). In that sense, it could also tie in with Tracker’s traumatic past and his struggle to conform to the version of masculinity that society expects of him.

      • #124133
        Kendra Olson
        Participant

        That’s an interesting idea.

    • #124132
      Jake Nicholls
      Participant

      Did you have anything else you wanted to discuss, Kendra?

      I must admit I’ve become slightly obsessed with trying to ‘figure out’ this book since reading it, but I don’t want to bore you with too many of my half-formed thoughts and ramblings. 🙂

    • #124134
      Kendra Olson
      Participant

      No, I’m going to have to go as it’s late. Thank you for the thoughtful discussion though! Sorry I didn’t manage to get through the entire book. Maybe others will post their thoughts here later and then you can chip in? It was interesting to get your take on the novel and James’s possible intentions for the work.

      • #124136
        Jake Nicholls
        Participant

        Thank you very much for an enjoyable discussion! Much appreciated.

        Hopefully see you next month for the discussion of WISE CHILDREN. 🙂

    • #124135
      Kendra Olson
      Participant

      Have a good rest of your evening. ‘See’ you next month!

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