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Show Me The Sky - General Discussion.

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Enjoying this so far, nearly 100 pages in.

I do like books that start of with apparently completely disconnected narratives that are gradually drawn together. This book brought me right to the edge of "if the threads don't start connecting soon I'm going to chuck this across the room", then, just in the nick of time, about 40 pages ago, it started to come together!

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I am only about 50 pages in and enjoying it so far. It struck me that Hogg has a very Jamesian approach to sentence structure; lots of clauses, commas and qualifications upon qualifications. I very much like that style.

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I'm on page 248 and I am starting to get fed up with the "Show Me The Sky" journal. I know that something important will happen (and the clues are fairly obvious - probably) but I wish he would hurry up a little. The other narratives are great and they keep me turning the pages.

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Finished it last night. What a great book! Apart from my little criticism, above, it worked really well for me. I particularly liked the first person narrative of Jim Dent.

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I'm about 100 pages in, and the various narratives are starting to come together. Like tagesmann, I'm enjoying the first person section from Jim, also the email correspondence between him and Anna. I'm not so keen on the Terra Ignognito sections though - although we know what happens to Cal early on, I keep wanting him to get there faster!

 

ETA - just read meg's first post - apologies for almost repeating what you said!

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(moved from the other thread)

 

POTENTIAL SPOILERS THROUGHOUT

 

Show Me The Sky is a mightily impressive debut.

 

The novel has five strands of narrative: a British policeman who has gone awol in Australia to try to trace a missing rock star; a motorcyclist dying in a dry creek in the Australian outback; an 1830s diary of a native Fijian who is returning to the Antipodes with missionaries having been converted and educated in England; a teenage runaway in England; and an unhappy rockstar.

 

A ever in such novels, the strands come together at the end and a coherent story appears. The danger is that this looks contrived - although if it is viewed in reverse it is a single story that has been separated into five strands. In this case, though, the novel manages to steer the course quite well. Most of the voices seem quite different - perhaps the policeman and the motorcyclist aren’t obviously different, but any confusion is dispelled by Part 2. The rock star narrative seems the weakest, although it offers quite an interesting perspective - the reluctant star who sees the music as a job and would rather pursue his interests of social history and personal development. However, in the interests of creating a distinct voice, Billy K seems rather staccato and needlessly gobby for a man who is supposed to be sensitive. The rock industry world he inhabits is similarly stereotypical with its deferential journalists, inarticulate artistes, sinister executives and inane groupies.

 

The strength, though, is in the narratives of the motorcyclist and the historical diary. Both offer a wonderful, three dimensional portrayal of the two situations. In the case of Cal, the motorcyclist, the hopelessness of the situation is obvious, but the tone is never maudlin. The position doesn’t develop much, it just deteriorates - yet it never becomes boring. Cal’s fate is made clear quite early on (in another narrative) but it is still fascinating to watch it play out. Similarly, we know that Nelson Babbage, the returning Fijian, is not going to have a happy time. A black man in white man’s clothes - accepted by neither his fellow travellers nor, ultimately, by his countrymen - he is a disaster waiting to happen. The cameo roles of the missionaries is played out with brilliance, particularly Rev. Thomas who has little cultural understanding but a large stage on which to play out his ignorance. Nelson’s naive faith and Rev. Thomas’s cynicism make for horrific contrast.

 

James Dent, the policeman, is well written but one is left wondering exactly why he would abandon his job to hunt for Billy K. OK, he thinks he is the only man who can find him, but it isn’t obvious why this should be so. And in his work he does seem to make some amazing leaps of deduction to keep the story going. Perhaps the balance between the five strands means that the James Dent story has been simplified a little too much - but it is still engaging and does offer the story some much needed action. It’s also tempting to think that the James Dent narrative holds the other strands together, but in fact they are all interdependent - a Gordian knot of themes including abandonment, determination, struggle against inevitability, and personal identity. It shows a chain of actions and consequences that spans lives and generations.

 

Show Me The Sky is not quite perfect, but it comes close and deserves success for such an ambitious concept. It presents no great answers, offers no shining new insights, but does intrigue and entertain. Some of the writing is understated brilliance. The ability to switch from current vernacular to the proper writings of the 1830s seems effortless. And the colours and imagery lift from the page.

 

I absolutely recommend this book.

 

*****

_______________

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Just finished!

Postponed getting out of bed so that I could get through the last 100 or so pages without interruption.

Off to have a late* breakfast, and a think.

 

* BGO clock currently 40 mins slow

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I'm about a third of the way through (have to thanks MrHG for forwarding me his copy :) ) but wanted to stop already to say how much I'm enjoying this. In particular the descriptions of Australia are making me feel quite nostalgic- it's been almost two years since I've been home. The language is at once readable and very, very vivid.

I was riding across a barren and desolate road to you. How precious the world had become. Tiny birds chirped in the branches of a red river gum. Lizards scurried between the dunes. From the simmering distance, a mob of kangaroos watched as I checked the oil...
You get the feeling of a writer who has really been there, who has felt out all the specific experiences of a place - it's in the way the red river gum is named (because visible) yet the birds are not (perhaps because heard but not seen?), it's in the perfect adjective 'simmering', that conjures a boiling mirage, it's in his understanding of the particularly Australian usage of the word 'mob'. I'm very, very impressed.

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I've hardly written on it, or spilled coffee on it, or read it in the bath, or anything yet. I'll send it back just slightly more read than it was when you last saw it. Promise. :P

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I guess I must have been enjoying Show Me The Sky, as yesterday I read it in the dentist's waiting room, and in the supermarket (waiting for Mr meg to collect me), and then had that long lie-in this morning. I also returned to it a couple of times today to tie up some loose ends in my recollection of it.

 

I find a book that requires me to work out a few things for myself very satisfying (although my memory these days makes that more difficult than it used to be), and with the strands of the story being fairly loosely woven it left plenty of unexplained details for my brain to chew over once I returned it to the slipcover.

 

I found one or two things a bit far-fetched: The ease with which Dent was able to access information and organise his unofficial search from across the world seemed to be unlikely, and occasionally I speculated about how coherent the writing of a man injured and dying from dehydration & exposure could be.

 

Not only coherent, but the most vivid passages in the book!

 

In spite of those minor quibbles, it's a jolly good read.

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I finished reading this at the end of last week and I really don't know how I feel about it. This is a somewhat mixed post which rather sums up my mixed feelings.

 

Hazel has confessed in the other thread that she has struggled to get on with Show Me the Sky. Which makes me feel better about admitting that I don't think I quite loved it as much as the rest of you did. I have happily finished it though, so my problems weren't as big as Hazel's.

 

I'm not sure what I was expecting of the book - more of a thriller, perhaps. I'm really glad that the epilogue was there too, although it didn't satisfy me as much as I hoped it would.

 

I found it easy to read and easy to get into, and the different plot channels were very cleverly linked together. The various characters had distinct voices (maybe slightly too different in places) - at no point was I hopping back to remind myself who I was reading, even after a couple of days without picking up the book.

 

I agree with meg's comment:

occasionally I speculated about how coherent the writing of a man injured and dying from dehydration & exposure could be.

especially after Cal himself admits it has just taken him 5 minutes to count to 10! How many days would it have taken him to string together the words for that one entry then?

 

My other "problem" was with Rev Thomas. I really found unbelievable and disliked that:

 

at the end he has become a cannibal with the Fijian islanders.

 

 

In places, I felt that the narratives were rather too long (some of the sections of Babbage's diary seemed to drag on), in other places they were too short (I wanted to know more about the teenager and Dent's home life).

 

Overall, itwas an good read, and despite being slightly outside of my normal reading fodder I enjoyed it. While I'm not enamoured enough to be going around recommending it to all and sundry, I am sure that I will remember enough of it to mention it if the right situations arise!

 

I'm giving it 4 stars - because it didn't quite have that "wow factor" for me, but there is very little I can say is actually wrong with it.

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In places, I felt that the narratives were rather too long (some of the sections of Babbage's diary seemed to drag on), in other places they were too short (I wanted to know more about the teenager and Dent's home life)..
I think I would have preferred a better balance betwen the different 'voices', not only to know more about Dent's background and childhood, but about Billy K, too.

 

As for Rev Thomas

the cannibalism was the logical conclusion of his immersion in local life & customs, bearing in mind his character. I think I would have liked to know more of his background. His depravity is clear to the reader and to Babbage, why did the Missionary Society not see it?

 

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I too loved this book, hard to believe the author is a) only 2yrs older than me (grr!) and B) so great in his first book.

 

I liked the details about Fijian history and culture, and particularly enjoyed the journal by Nelson Babbage.

 

Excellent book!

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As for Rev Thomas

the cannibalism was the logical conclusion of his immersion in local life & customs, bearing in mind his character. I think I would have liked to know more of his background. His depravity is clear to the reader and to Babbage, why did the Missionary Society not see it?

Well I think

he killed his family.

His depravity wasn't immediately clear to Babbage was it?

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His depravity wasn't immediately clear to Babbage was it?
Babbage did put the most charitable interpretation possible on the Rev T's behaviour, but found it striking enough from the start to mention it in his journal.

 

Interesting speculation in your spoiler. - Is it just wild speculation, or were there clues i missed?

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Interesting speculation in your spoiler. - Is it just wild speculation, or were there clues i missed?
I just thought it convenient that Thomas happened to be answering the call of nature...

...at the appropriate time to avoid being killed.

:hmm:

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I'm not sure I got as far as the suggestion in the spoiler, but it is clear that Thomas was a man who didn't fit readily into society back home and was looking for something to fill a big void in his life. The question is whether he was a psychopath looking for action or just a Billy No-mates looking for acceptance by adopting local traditions with people he thought simpler than himself. Either way, it's hardly edifying stuff, but I thought he was more complex than the straight psycho. When he was learning the language on the ship, he demonstrated this odd mix of superiority and utter fascination.

 

And - at the risk of being cast into oblivion - what's wrong with cannibalism? In the novel, we have one culture that is comfortable with it. We have another that found it abhorrent. Thomas went native - switching from one culture to the other - but is it just the history of the victor that tells us that Thomas and the Fijians were wrong? Is Thomas wrong and Babbage (a mirror image of Thomas) right? The ending certainly suggests that Babbage didn't feel himself to be right.

 

These are difficult questions that the novel poses - and there are no easy answers. For me, that's one of the reasons why I think this novel is great, not just good.

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The problem with cannibalism comes at the point when eating* those who have died as a result of battle, or accidents, tips over into deliberately killing for the table.

 

* This is not to say that I would be prepared to eat human flesh, even if ethically killed. Then again, I can't say with 100% accuracy that I would not eat it if I were dying of starvation.

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I think that is the problem. The Fijians loved human flesh so much that they killed too readily so to provide flesh for the table.

But otherwise, why not?

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I finished this a while ago and have been thinking about it for a while. Which is something that a well written book usually does. And I believe it is well written, the narrative flows easily enough, there is good distinction between the voices of each story thread, and it's all knitted together rather well.

 

However, whilst reading it I never felt awed, wasn't particularly shocked or found myself turning the pages to see what might happen next.

I'm not sure it's a book that is easily categorised, and I'm not really sure what I was expecting before I started.

Having said that it's a very readable and interesting book, it just didn't strike an emotional note with me. It was enjoyable and in many ways informative and entertaining but I think in a week or two there is a risk I will have forgotten that I've read it.

 

One thing that I'd be interested to hear an option on:

 

The "mirage" where Cal witnessed the murder of Rev. Thomas. Was it purely fictional? McGreedy says he killed Babbage while he was polishing his shoes! Have I missed something? Babbage went back to being "native" didn't he? I expect I'm just being dense!

 

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Okay, I won't labour my excuses for taking a while to get around to this - they've been documented elsewhere - but what a good novel to get me back into the regular novel habit.

 

I enjoyed this very much and it's certainly an impressive debut. The multiple narrative is neatly handled and whilst I can understand why that may not be to everyone's taste I think it provides many levels of intrigue that add a satisfying complexity to a narrative which - if you boil it down to its essentials - is actually not so complicated as it appears. The foreknowledge of what happens to Cal the biker, the degrees of foreknowledge about Nelson as well as the background to Billy K and Jim all lend richness to the reading experience.

 

I found the style accomplished and easily readable (though with some annoying uses of commas!) as well as impressively flexible between the narratives.

 

Cal's narrative and 'Show Me The Sky' were the most successful parts to my mind since they were the most distinctive and I think offered the most interesting and original angles. Jim's story is a little too glib with easy connections to follow and felt slightly hackneyed as I think is all too easy for detective narratives. The same could be said of Billy K's sections since it felt like an easy collection of stereotypes, although presented with an interesting variety of approaches. The sections on young Jim are perhaps insufficiently developed to fulfil their potential. Which is not to say any of those parts are poor, just not so accomplished as the other two.

 

Yes, Cal's narrative is massively improbable, especially when he's writing out his 'vision' in remarkable detail with full dialogue etc., and ultimately with a stick of charcoal! :D

 

Still, you can forgive it that because of the enjoyment that journal provides, including the other-worldly dimension offered by what he appears to see. I did like that super-natural aspect, which seems to be real because Jim mentions earlier that Cal couldn't have read the names in the journal since it was bonded shut, yet he writes them in his account. As for your question, Krey

 

It was a frustration I found that the ultimate fate of Nelson isn't clear. Yes he dies, but how did he end up in the guest house when he'd stripped himself of everything to re-join the untainted Fijians, in interesting parallel with Billy K? It would have been good to know.

 

At just a few points Nelson's journal is slightly over-long, but not by much. It took me back to the world of Golding's Rites of Passage, about another sea voyage to Australia, including a clergyman. I enjoyed the perspective of the Fijian immersed in English culture and beliefs, though, and especially the way in which that developed with Thomas.

 

 

I actually found Thomas's character highly convincing and a marvellous inverted parallel with Nelson. The latter comes from a 'savage' country and his inner civilisation and wisdom emerge in English culture, whilst Thomas is clearly a savage, lewd man trapped in the civilities of England and religion. In those days, of course, becoming a clergyman was simply a respectable career option for many men of middle birth, not the calling we might see it as being today. We are given small clues all along that he is far from holy in mind and so it felt entirely convincing when he manipulated the situation to pull Naraqino onto his side in order to gain power and then sat down to the human repast. Wonderful!

 

I can understand why Dent would become as obsessed as he did - I think for him this has become a parallel for his lost mother, a mission he can complete and find control over rather than another loss.

 

In fact, although obviously contrived, I liked the way in which all the narratives tied together in terms of characters shedding identities and searching for freedom - ultimately for themselves. Perhaps narrative tags for this in terms of references to the sky and this constant sense of an inviting wild blue yonder of potential that's just out of reach were slightly over-done, but not by much.

 

So, all in all a cracking read that I would thoroughly recommend!

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I enjoyed this very much. The narrative was excellent and I liked the way the stories connected with each other. It reminded me of 'Cloud Atlas', but much better. There were some parts where I seemed to get a little confused but on the whole a good read. Thankyou Canongate. :)

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I've just "finished" this - I read it way too quickly while stuck indoors with a grotty cold. Reading this thread, I wish I had paid a bit more attention. I found that the Fijian's diary dragged on too much and I didn't enjoy the bits in Billy K's voice, so I ended up skim-reading it a bit, and I lost the thread of how the main narratives connected up. Really frustrating. I might read it again one day when I'm more attentive.

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