Apr 15, 2010

Gasoline by Dame Darcy

Gasoline by Dame Darcy

Dame Darcy’s Gasoline is a post-apocalyptic fairy tale about a community trying to survive in a world which has been ravaged by an environmental disaster. The story takes place about twenty years after what the characters themselves refer to as “the apocalypse”, and follows the Ambusters, a family of witches who own the only remaining working car. To keep it functioning, they regularly have to go on dangerous gasoline raids. But in a changed world, they slowly realise that the only way to survive is to adapt, and that means to let go of even what they have always been taught to value.

When I ordered Gasoline, I was convinced it was going to be a graphic novel, but it’s actually an illustrated novel along the lines of Neil Gaiman and Yoshitaka Amano’s The Dream Hunters or the original Stardust. Normally I’d have been fine with this: as much as I love comics, I enjoy illustrated novels as well, and in fact wish more books for adults had illustrations. But in this case, the format was actually one of the many reasons why I had so much trouble getting through the book. Gasoline is my first major disappointment of the year – which is a pity, because I actually invested in a rather luxurious hardcover edition. It’s a lovely looking book, but I didn’t enjoy it one bit.

I’m a big fan of Dame Darcy’s art, and the illustrations in Gasoline, both in colour and black and white, are lovely and wonderfully strange. But unfortunately, there was a complete lack of coordination between them and the text. For example, images of the characters would be accompanied by very detailed descriptions of what they looked like; illustrations of places likewise. I have nothing against descriptive writing per se, but to be honest I’d have had a problem with the excessive detail here even if there had been no illustrations at all. Their presence, however, made it even more unnecessary and aggravating.

Gasoline by Dame Darcy

The first chapter of Gasoline was particularly painful to read, as it suffers from a severe case of information dumping and of Tell, Not Show. It’s nothing but descriptions of the characters, including of their personalities, and of the world they live in – all things I’d much rather have found out for myself as the story progressed. And because there’s so much telling and so little showing, the worldbuilding feels very fragile, as does the characterisation. In the end, nothing – not the characters, not the world, and not the story itself – felt real to me. Sadly, I was unable to care about any of, and even to tell some of the characters apart.

Another thing I had a problem with was the dialogue, which struck me as completely unnatural. I’ll show you an example, and possibly you’ll see nothing wrong with it whatsoever, but nearly all of it rubbed me the wrong way:
“Where is my gipsy home?!” April began to shout.
“Oh, great,” Amity said to Dain. “They’ve lost the way to their own house.”
“Naw,” responded Dain. “There it is.” He pointed through the bushes to a glowing light from a window.
Part of what bothered me were the awkward dialogue tags, which, as we have already established, is something I’m quite picky about. But between this, the poor characterisation and the excessive descriptions, I just didn’t like the writing at all.

Gasoline is a story with a very noticeable ecofeminist slant, and a fable which clearly argues for alternative living. The “eco” part I had no problems with at all, as I’m someone who firmly believes that the environmental problems we’re facing are difficult to overestimate, and that we’ll absolutely have to become serious about changing our habits before long. The brand of feminism, however, was very much at odds with my own.

As I’ve explained before, I believe that women are individuals and not members of an amorphous category; and that therefore we are not inherently more likely to be nurturing, intuitive, or in tune with nature than men. A world ruled by women wouldn’t be necessarily more likely to be ecologically balanced than a patriarchal world – at least not only because it was ruled by women. I realise that the emphasis here is supposed to be on a different kind of social structure altogether rather than on the gender of those in position of power, but I’m not sure if that comes across in Gasoline. But these are, of course, only my own two cents, and I realise that many disagree with my position about the lack of inherent personality difference between women and men.

Gasoline by Dame Darcy

Still, overall I do quite like the ideas presented in this book, as well as the concept behind it. I only wish the execution had been more to my taste, and that the writing had lived up to the standards set by the art. Dame Darcy is an incredibly talented artist, and she has a very unique mind. Flaws aside, Gasoline is immensely imaginative and strange. Personally I didn’t enjoy it, but obviously that doesn’t mean everyone will feel the same. I suspect it might appeal to fans of Alice Hoffman’s Green Angel, and perhaps also of Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat books.

Reviewed at
Papermag Books
Examiner

(Have you posted about this book too? Let me know and I’ll add your link here.

38 comments:

  1. What a shame it turned out to be disappointing. My interest skyrocketed when I read "post-apocalyptic fairy tale" at the beginning of your review, but I hate too much telling and not enough showing so it probably isn't for me after all.

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  2. What a letdown, especially since you invested in a nice hardcover! The illustrations are definitely unique, but unfortunately that isn't always enough.

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  3. Oh no! I obtained this via Interlibrary Loan and I was planning on reading it this weekend. I'll give it 50 pages or so to decide if I'll stick with it. The flaws you pointed out sound like things that would annoy me.

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  4. Oh what a pity, you didn't like it. Especially buying it in hardback, that is just so disappointing. I couldn't help but think of the type of stories I wrote as a child, where I would spend hours setting up the story with lots of character detail and surrounding detail and then not really have a story to tell.

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  5. Bummer. I love your thorough and honest reviews.
    I just bought a book based on its cover art - something I rarely allow myself to be influenced by, but it was on my tbr. It's just that I probably coulda/shoulda gotten it from the library. It's also a book that people seem to like or loathe (Ethan Frome).

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  6. The pictures are gorgeous, too bad about the writing. The premise sounds great, but the excessive descriptions would get on my nerves as well.

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  7. Now me is sad. I'm sorry this was such a letdown! The premise is just so awesome that I want it to be a fabulous book, you know. Post-apocalyptic fairy tale--seriously, that description alone has me swooning. :P Especially after you mentioned Green Angel and the Weetzie Bat books, which I adored. But I suspect the things that bothered you would also bother me. A lot. That dialogue...ugh.

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  8. Sorry to hear that this book didn't live up to your hopes. I do see what you mean about the dialogue though, and I also have problems with the tell not show method that I come across in my reads sometimes. It's too bad that you wasted so much money on a nice edition of the book when it turned out to be a stinker. Hopefully your next read will be more to your liking!

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  9. It's too bad this one didn't work for you. I hate when I have high expectations for a book and it doesn't even come close to meeting them. :( Better luck with the next one!

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  10. Sorry to hear you didn't like it Nymeth. I hope the next book will be better. I don't think that this book is for me either.

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  11. I'm sorry it was so disappointing, Ana! :( Maybe I'll see if I can get it through the library instead of buying it. Though I must admit, the dialog didn't bother me. Maybe that's just because there wasn't enough there for me to really take it in. Or maybe it's like how the writing in Newes From the Dead bothered me so much but when I put up an example it didn't bother you. :/ I wish you'd like it more, though. :(

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  12. I hadn't thought about it before, but you're right that if one is writing a book that has illustrations, then that should influence the extent to which the author relies on textual descriptions of things visually depicted. I've found of late that I have little patience for overly descriptive writing!

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  13. Oh, what a shame you bought it! I hardly ever buy books new that I haven't read before, for this very reason. And also because I am poor. :P

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  14. I do enjoy Dame Darcy's art and I was super interested when I read post-apocalyptic fairy tale, but I'm sorry that the story was a dissapointment.

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  15. Too bad this was such a disappointment. I don't like overly descriptive language, so I doubt it's for me either.

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  16. What does this have in common with Weetzie Bat? The description that made illustrations unnecessary?

    I'm not a fan of illustrations and love a good description that shows me what something or someone looks like.

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  17. Bummer about the book but the illustrations are quite lovely. The premise of this sounds so good but it sounds like the book just didn't come together.

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  18. Oh, SAD that you went hardcover and were disappointed! I hate that feeling. That said, though, pretty impressive you got to mid-April before getting a disappointing book :-)

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  19. The first thing I noticed is that gorgeous cover. And I love the style of illustration also! It's too bad the writing didn't do the book justice, though. The concept itself sounds really interesting, but when the actual literary component isn't that great, it totally spoils the book.

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  20. That's a shame because that cover is gorgeous.

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  21. Huh, I got excited when I read "post-Apocalyptic fairy tale", but the book sounds a little preachy and annoying. I'm not really liking the examples of the illustrations too much, either.

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  22. Oh I hate it when a book we anticipate doesn't live up to our expectations. This one sounds good and I'm tempted to check it out for the illustrations alone - they look wonderful - but I'll see if my library has a copy first.

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  23. In your excerpt from the text:
    "responded Dain" says it all.

    Sounds like a book from an immature author? Or a novel from someone who is more of an activist than a novelist? After reading this review I'd be interested to know what you'd think of the novel Ecotopia. It has ideological blind spots and a transparent agenda, but it still manages to be a delightful, funny thought-provoking artifact (I think). So, these sorts of books *can* work. Too bad this one didn't. We need them for our own time, too.

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  24. Sorry about the duplicate--way to look like a rube!

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  25. Great review. I doubt this would be my cup of tea, but your review makes me want to check it out anyway! I agree with the 'show, don't tell' aspect of character development. That's one of the marks of a good writer I think, that he or she can convey a sense of the character without resorting to specific details.

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  26. That sucks...it sounds like such a cool concept!

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  27. OH dear...maybe the Dame should just stick to illustrating things, eh? I have a feeling I may be a bit irritated by the dialogue as well. I might pass on this one. Yes yes...I shall. It's not like I don't have enough to read :p I do love her illustrations though! They're wonderful. It's like stuff scribbled in a journal. Wonderful!

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  28. I'd be greatly disappointed if I were you too, especially if I have invested in a hardcover edition. :P It's a shame that it doesn't deliver, since the illustrations are great!

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  29. I know many people find it an odd thing to argue because it's a positive stereotype, but I agree that we're not more naturally caring. I saw anarticle once that said something along the lines of 'as more women move into business, they deprive the care system of a female workforce who are more naturally inclined to provide better standards of care' which made me want to scream. It's such an insidious form of sexism and so hard to fight because surely it's good for us to be thought of as more aligned with nature and caring in a heartless, technological world (not my view btw). It's comparable with the nature loving Native American stereotype.

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  30. Oh, I hate to hear you were disappointed by this! I read Dame Darcy's Frightful Tales for a RIP a couple years ago and found it delightfully twisted. There was some creepy stuff in there! Thinking about it now, I'm actually surprised by how much I remember of it. I do love her art, so I'll probably check it out for that at least.

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  31. coffeestainedpages: Doesn't "post-apocalyptic fairy tale" sound irresistible? I was so ready to love this book :(

    Sandy: It really isn't. I love her art - if only the story had been even half as good!

    Amanda: I hope you have better luck with it than I did! On the bright side, it's a quick read, so it's easy to get through even if you're not too crazy about it. But the fifty pages test sounds like a wise idea. Life is short, after all :P

    Vivienne: You know, I was worried it would sound too mean if I said that, but the exactly same thing crossed my mind as I was reading :P

    Care: As I told you on Twitter, the timing of your comment made me smile :D

    Amy: The premise really is a great one - if only it had lived up to it.

    Debi: I'm glad I'm not the only one driven crazy by that style of dialogue!

    Zibilee: After this I read the new John Green and David Levithan, which was fortunately FAR from a let-down :D

    Heather and Andreea, thank you!

    Amanda: I hope you like it better than I did! I know we have different tastes in writing, so yes, maybe the things that bothered me wouldn't bother you. I'd recommend trying to get it from the library, though, just to be safe!

    Steph: I think this is especially important when the author and the illustrator are the same person. I could understand describing things that are shown in the images if the book was written by one person and illustrated, perhaps at a later date, by someone else. But in this case, not only was the process was simultaneous, but there are illustrations every other page, which seems to suggest they're important. And yet the text completely ignores them :\

    Jenny: I so wish I could do that! I'm poor too and rarely buy hardcovers, and I spent a whole birthday gift card on this one :( But because I don't have access to a public library, I wouldn't be able to read two thirds of the things I read if I didn't buy books. At least that'll change come September, though :P

    Danielle: I really enjoy her art too. My hopes were high, which only made it more disappointing :\

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  32. Kathy: For me it really depends on the descriptions, but these didn't work at all :\

    Jeanne: I apologise for not having explained; that was dumb of me. It's the slightly punk-rock fairy tale feel (sorry, that probably sounds silly), as well as the fact that both books focus on groups characters who are social outcasts and live alternative lifestyles and present them on their own terms - not as outsiders looking in on "ordinary" society, but with the focus re-shifted to their own way of living and with everything else in the margins for once. I quite liked that about both books.

    Kathleen: Yes, exactly. Ah well, at least I can look at the pretty art :P

    Aarti: There have been others I wasn't too crazy about this year, but none that I approached with expectations this high. And that makes a big difference!

    Emidy: Yes, it really does ruin things :\

    Pickygirl: Isn't it gorgeous? And so is the inside art. Perhaps I'll treat it as a picture book in the future and pick it up jus to look at the art every now and then :P

    Heidenkind: Not everyone likes her style, I know. She illustrated an edition of Jane Eyre, and while I love it, I've seen people say they hate it too :P

    Iliana: The illustrations alone make getting it from the library worth it, yes. And perhaps you'll have better luck with the story itself than I did!

    Trapunto: Exactly! And the "began to shout" is awkward too. He began to shout that sentence and went on to shout....what? :P I think this reads like a novel from someone who is primarily a visual artist and is still founding her way around her writing. Interestingly enough, it's not actually her first book...she has another one called Frightful Fairy Tales which has been on my wishlist for years, though now I'm wondering how the writing is. Anyway... yes, I think we need those books too. I'm curious about Ecotopia now. (And no sorry! It's blogger's fault, not yours :P)

    Violet: Yes, I absolutely agree. Don't tell me that a character is shy or outgoing or kind or grumpy - SHOW it through their actions.

    J.T. Oldfield: Doesn't it? It had so much potential :\

    Chris: I really love her art style too. Do you have the Jane Eyre edition she illustrated? I bet that'd encourage you to read it :P

    Melody: It really is! I used a birthday gift card to buy it, but I'm not sure if that makes it better or worse! On the one hand, it wasn't my money, but on the other hand, I always want things I get with gift card to be extra especial :P

    Jodie: Yes, I absolutely agree! It's something I see even among people who identify themselves as feminists. And it worries me because I think it's harmful in many ways.

    Heather: I'm glad very glad to hear Frightful Fairy Tales was good! It's been on my wishlist for what feels like ages (now that I think of it, probably since your review :P) and I'd so hate for it to be a let down.

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  33. What awesome artwork! I'm sad it didn't all connect for you though :(

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  34. Such a shame you didn't like it. I love fairy tales and the artwork looks really fun too. May see if the library can order it rather than buying a copy.

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  35. I absolutely hate taking a chance on an expensive edition and then find I didn't connect with the book at all. This one I might look through at the library but I don't think it would be for me either.

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  36. Sorry about your disappointment in this one. I do like the artwork you posted, though. I was unfamiliar with the artist, so I'll be on the lookout for more of her work!

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  37. No, I don't have the Jane Eyre that she illustrated, but I've eyed it SO many times!! I really should get it :p

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  38. Dame Darcy comes up with some really crazy (but interesting!) stories. I've only read a collection of her fables but I wasn't aware of her other work.

    Disappointment aside, you're certainly right about the cover: gorgeous.

    -Lydia @ The Literary Lollipop

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