Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
30 December 2002


A friend gave me this book several months ago, but I didn't start it until I finished Schroedinger's Kittens. When I did start it, it took me three days to read the whole 399 pages of it. Knowing full well that it's popular fantasy I would never have touched it if it hadn't been a gift; I believe that my friend's motive in giving it to me was to force me to read it. As it's the first of a trilogy, she's probably also trying to get me into the whole series. But I have no interest in what happens in the next two books.

Indeed, I often found my attention wandering while reading this book. I just wasn't gripped by it. And it was a relief to finish it, in many ways. Now I no longer have in hanging over me, I can finally tell my friend what I think of it, and I can get onto the next item on my ever-lengthening reading list.

Well, no, I didn't enjoy it very much. It's way too light, no substance to it, like a meringue. Everything is all spelled out - except, of course, where I got interested. Then we are expected to mindlessly accept statements like "Dust... was a physical proof that something happened when innocence changed into experience". The how of this is not explained at all, despite being the central point of the narrative.

There's nothing that excites me about Pullman's style, and I don't like any of his characters especially. Some of them are unnecessarily pompous (the worst adjective I can possibly apply to a modern story). The main character is cardboard and has no personality to speak of. The fantasy world is real and vivid, but I regret to say that Pullman obviously has insufficient experience and research to set most of the book on an ice cap. The clue to this is his description of the frozen sea "compacted here and there into ridges where two sheets of ice had pressed together, but otherwise flat and white and endless". I've never seeen ice floes either, but I take it on the good authority of Sir Ernest Shackleton (through his book South) that they are far from "featureless", and that the features are far from being merely "here and there". Shackleton describes great towers of ice thrown up at floe boundaries, miniature icebergs stacked on top of each other, together with crevasses and pitfalls and treacherously thin places, all creaking and crashing terribly as the ocean currents beneath move the floes together and apart.

No. I cannot accept Pullman's authority as an author to take me on the journey he wants to. I will not read another Pullman book.


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