18 June, 2010

Shelley, Shelley, is that you?

by
Daniel Hahn

Another Early Reviewers book, this one from, i think, December. The fact that it has taken me six months to read its hundred and fifty pages would appear not to speak well for my reading speed; in fact, i completely lost the thing for about three months and had to start again when i found it magically back in a place i had previously looked the other day. Enough with the whining, what about the book?

Well, though i hate to, i’m afraid i’m going to have to whine a little here, too. I am a little confused about Hahn’s aims with this book (or the publisher’s aims, if he is writing to fit a series), as it could be viewed from a couple of perspectives, but without really resolving. At some points it seems as though Hahn is writing to about the Wikipedia level ~ general text, designed to be easily understood and in-depth solid information, at others, however, there appears to be a curious skimming over points, where the reader feels something is missing or lost; there are large quotations of Shelley’s poetry, which is very useful, but again a bit odd because any poetry readers who use the book will probably already have access to most or all of Shelley (since one would do the poetry before looking for the poet behind it), and any who come looking purely for biography of an important figure (i.e., non-poetry readers) will be stumped by the masses of poetry with no explanation or criticism.

Then there are his own individual quirks, those which form an author’s style; in Hahn’s case, one that i found especially annoying was his use of an ellipsis at various points, seeming to imply that there was much more he could say, but he was being stopped, or stopping himself, for some reason (this, on page 55, for example, speaking of Shelley and Mary and others in Geneva, “They took rooms at the Hotel de l’Angleterre as S├ęcheron, and before long Byron turned up at that very same hotel...” ~ the very next character is the first of a completely new paragraph; what inference is the reader supposed to draw from that?), which is never disclosed, but implies that information of some kind is being hidden from us.

In the end, this is not a bad book, don’t let my whining leave that impression; it isn’t, however, as good as it could have been, with a little judicious pruning and editing, and perhaps a firmer view of the goal.