Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Slow Regard of Silent Things - Patrick Rothfuss

In 2007 Patrick Rothfuss' debut novel The Name of the Wind, first book in the Kingkiller Chronicles, was published and it launched him right to the top of the Fantasy genre. To have a debut that well received is rare indeed. At the time Rothfuss was confident he would be able to deliver the second volume in the trilogy quickly but it turned out to be more complicated than he expected. The Wise Man's Fear didn't appear until 2011 and now, almost four years later, it is still unclear when the third volume, The Doors of Stone, will be published. October did see the release of a novella related to the Kingkiller Chronicles however: The Slow Regard of Silent Things. It is set in Kvote's world but I doubt it will satisfy those who are waiting for the third book. Rothfuss has written a very unusual novella indeed.

The novella is about a secondary character in the main series, the mysterious woman Auri who lives in the Underthing, the maze of abandoned cellars, tunnels and pipes under the university. She wakes up one morning realizing that in seven days, he will visit her. There is much to be done before he arrives. Auri quickly starts preparing for his visit and takes the reader on a trip though her subterranean world.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is what happens when a writer writes the story he wants to write rather than what publishers (and presumably the majority of readers) want. Rothfuss opens with an introduction in which is he lays out the many reasons why we may not want to read the  novella. And it must be said, he has a point. The story he has written, to put it in his own words, doesn't do a lot of things a story is supposed to do.  In fact, it is probably one of the oddest pieces of writing I've ever encountered. Certainly not something one would expect of Rothfuss. At the end of the book he explains why he wrote it, which is just as interesting as the story itself. Do read that endnote.

The story did get published despite Rothfuss' own misgivings and that ought to tell the reader something. Publisher DAW spent a lot of effort on the packaging too. It is a nice little hardcover with lots of illustrations by Nate Taylor, the artist who worked with Rothfuss on the equally unusual picture book The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Thing Beneath the Bed. It almost looks like something Subterranean could have published.

Despite Rothfuss' warning this book is going to disappoint some people. The story adds nothing to the main storyline of the novels. It is entirely focused on Auri and as readers of Rothfuss' novels will already have gathered, she is a special woman. She lives completely in her own world, one that is very hard to understand for everybody else. On the surface not much is going on in the novella. She goes about the business of organising her surroundings with an attention to detail that seems both compulsive and random. Slowly, a way of thinking starts to become clear that helps Auri deal with her fears and loneliness.

Key to enjoying this novella is to see through the mundane activities and figure out what makes Auri tick. Rothfuss does leave clues about her past, although we never really get to find out what scarred her in the first place. That is not what Rothfus was trying to explore. He explores Auri's mind as it is, rather than asking how it became as peculiar as he describes it. To convey Auri's view on the world Rothfuss does a number of things with language that are less present in the main series. Auri's continual anthropomorphizing of inanimate objects in particular contribute to the strange atmosphere of the novella. It is definitely not something all readers will appreciate but personally I thought it was a beautiful bit of writing.

There will no doubt be a lot of get-on-with-writing-the-next-book-already type of comments directed at Rothfuss in response to publication. It will disappoint some readers, especially those who somehow missed the warnings not to expect more Kvote style action in this novella. I can't really say I'm sorry for those people. Not all stories have to be cast from the same mould. Rothfuss tried something different here and if you approach the work from the right angle The Slow Regard of Silent Things can be a very good, if peculiar, read. It is probably very much a love it or hate it story but if you like your reading a bit unusual I think you should try this.

Book Details
Title: The Slow Regard of Silent Things
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Publisher: DAW Books
Pages: 159
Year: 2014
Language: English
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 978-0-7564-1043-8
First published: 2014

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