If there’s one undisputable thing about Libba Bray it’s that she writes and writes and writes like her life depends on it. Give her a pen, a typewriter, a laptop, a napkin, anything, and she will fill it with what’s inside that fantastically maniacal brain of hers. No wonder that her novels hardly ever clock in under 500 pages… Libba has things to share. On her blog, Libba recently confessed that she has “only one extreme sport in [her] and it’s writing. [She] plunge[s] into the unknown morass of [her] novels armed with some weird ideas, a handful of nascent characters, vague connections, a tingling in [her] Spidey senses, and the hope that it all comes to something.” It’s also been no secret that the cat feels the result of that brain effort has been a mixed bag: from the incredibly übertastic Going Bovine to the almost shockingly atrocious Beauty Queens. Clearly there must be something that – for the cat – works and something that just doesn’t work.
Her newest exploit, The Diviners, was a hit even before it reached the shelves. There’s also a great advertising spielgoing on, which – although probably necessary in this day and age of dwindling book sales (e- or otherwise), you gotta grab’em any way you can, right? – seems as over the top as an author walking around Manhattan in a cow suit. So hypes get built, great expectations arise which may or may not be met once you finally get your hands on the book. Every time a novel is built up like this, it makes the cat very wary…
But… luckily, Libba Bray hasn’t turned out another miss, but a a pos-i-tute-ly divine – although completely over-the-top (as per usual) – page turner! Just to be clear before we continue: the cat loved reading The Diviners! A fascinating and engrossing read. A mystery and a fantasy. And totally addictive! A definite 4-star book!
17-year-old Evangeline O’Neill (Evie) is sent from Ohio to New York City to live with her uncle, Will Fitzgerald, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult – aka The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies. Although her parents intended for this to be a punishment for Evie, she can’t wait to escape her tiny hometown to the buzzing New York City, which is – in the roaring 1920s – the city of speakeasies, movie palaces, glamour and all that jazz… Evie also has a secret, a special ability (she can ‘read’ people), that may actually help her when New York City is being haunted by a mysterious killer. Besides Evie, there’s a string of other characters: Memphis Campbell, a Harlem boy who used to have the healing power, Sam, whose sleight of hand even lands him a job with Evie’s Uncle, Uncle Will, the mysterious Jericho who works with Will at the Museum, Theta Knight, the stunning Ziegfeld girl… Each of these characters has their own back story, and some are even more fantastical than the next.
Libba Bray has clearly done her homework, setting the 1920s NYC scene with panache and her usual effortless writing flair. She certainly has that down even to the slang used at the time. The story itself – with Evie at the core of it – has more tentacles than an octopus. Libba is throwing it all in, in true Libba Bray-style. And yes, I do mean, all… and that of course, is a blessing as well as a curse. The Diviners is a book to lose yourself in. And the cat knows that she’ll get the same reaction from it as the one she got the other day with A Great and Terrible Beauty. Two girls come into the school library and one of them recommends A Great And Terrible Beauty to the other. Two days later the girl comes back and checks out both Rebel Angels and The Sweet Far Thing. Once Libba’s got you, she’s got you and reading her words on a page comes natural. She’ll suck you in and you’ll believe anything she throws at you, because it’s just such a great and thrilling ride! Same thing with The Diviners: Libba is a generous story-teller. She leaves no stone unturned, no detail unwritten, no word unmentioned. And you’ve got to love her for it, because that’s exactly the appeal she has, and that’s exactly what makes this book such a fantastically fun (though creepy!) ride from start to finish. But, yes, it’s also her major flaw – it’s always been her major flaw. Usually this is something an editor weeds out, but I guess after six books, to weed out the over-the-topness, to weed out that one idea too many, to get rid of the excess and the extravaganza, would be like taking the Libba Bray out of a Libba Bray book. Like asking Stephen King not to write creepy stuff anymore. We don’t want that to happen.
The cat takes Libba Bray the way Libba Bray is: no bullshit detector/editor necessary. Libba literally writes on that edge. Just like we want more middle-finger writers, we want more edge-writers. And you know what, the cat doesn’t care if Libba churns out a stinker now and then (BTW, that’s not The Diviners!). She’s a writer with heart, and even when she crashes, you know she did it in the most spectacular way possible. And even that is better than reading the tons of lackluster middle-of-the-road stuff, the crowd pleasers, the panem et circenses that’s thrown at us everywhere you look.
PS to Libba: did you and MJ have a bet on who could write the creepiest murder story?