Review: The Cloud Sketcher

The Cloud SketcherThe Cloud Sketcher by Richard Rayner
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don’t hate Esko, but I do find him distasteful. I don’t like his relationship with Katerina, because she’s just not there — as a character, she simply can’t support Esko’s obsession. Esko’s story is told in close, close third person, but all Rayner can do is repeat endlessly how fascinated by Katerina Esko is. But she has no particular quality of any kind that really seems interesting enough. And given the back story Rayner offers? It seems somewhat obscene. I should care about her, for that very reason. I hope that isn’t why she has such a back story, all for the plot point.

Is it because Rayner wants to show the horror of war? Just how bad things got? It feels unreal, though, it feels like a device. Katerina doesn’t really show any signs of being effected, or at least Esko can’t see them.

Perhaps that’s what the story is about. Creepy-stalker Esko’s obsesson with a woman who is ultimately shallow. Or whatever her true story, Esko can’t isn’t seeing her, he’s seeing this fantasy of wealth that he built as a poor abandoned child. Still, I’the text hasn’t really given me any reason to truly belive that, and I can’t quite figure out why.

It’s a ‘telling’ sort of book though, because Esko is a thoughtful, analytic guy, or I assume he must be, because that’s all he does: think at the audience and analysis every little thing unless he comes to an actual insight that might actually move the plot, such as it is, too soon. Esko’s narration also feels terribly passive, and yet he is a driving force in his own life. As reactive as his thoughts are, it reads like things happen to him instead.

Needless to say, I find this a very disappointing novel.

And I’m not sure architecture works in-text. On paper, in two dimensions, all that’s left is the visual, and at least Rayner doesn’t start giving dimensions. But there’s only so many ways to talk about buildings, and none of them are particularly visual, unless you are already familiar with the architecture. It might be easier for these digressions to be from the perspective of a character who doesn’t know architecture, because he or she could offer concrete detail, not knowing the jargon. But Esko only talks in jargon, and reminds the audience again and again about how awesome modern architecture is, but I don’t see it and I don’t care.

Rayner has also failed at giving me any particularly strong impression of early 1900s Finland, or 1920s New York. Sure there are props as he talks about the atmosphere, I can’t feel it, or sense it. Because when the character is just telling the reader how he feels, as opposed to what’s there giving him those feelings, it’s hard for a reader to get the same impression.

Still, I hope there’s something to tie all this together at the end. I’m okay with protagonists I don’t like, though usually because there is at least a side character who’s interesting: Esko has several, though Rayner keeps killing them off. But I love the idea behind this novel, Finnish history, architecture, even a character growing beyond obsessions. But it seems to be a story about fate, and a narrator too genre-savvy to even make the journey interesting.

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Can I Call This History?


A night sight of the Notre Dame de Paris cathe...

Image via Wikipedia


A month or so ago, I checked out a book called The Biography of a Cathedral by Robert Gordon Anderson. Published in 1944, and as far as I can find, not printed long after that, it doesn’t have an ISBN. An oddly common trait among the books I find myself reading, which makes them hard to look up or input into

Oh, and this is the book the card in “Book Sniffing” came from.

Biography is rare among the older library books in that it still has the original jacket flaps pasted just inside the first cover. Mr. Anderson also published such works as Those Quarrelsome Bonapartes, An American Family Abroad, and Leader of Men. Plus a few others. I don’t know much about how well those have lasted either, but I rather hope so since he does have a way with words.

But first, what is a “biography” of a cathedral? Well, the (possible) subtitle, “The Living Story of Man’s Most Beautiful Creation and of the Pageant that Led to Notre Dame,” sums it up just fine. By “pageant, Anderson means “history”, starting with the Romans and so far I’m up to the chapter on 550 A.D. Which is only half way through.

And Anderson loves Notre Dame. And France. And Gothic architecture. And he’s throughly entrenched his history into the history of the Church and Christian religion before Notre Dame was built.

The fall of Rome had been postponed. And this, in the study of the great drama, general and Church history, and, indeed, the whole pageant and forward march of man, must ever be kept in mind: before he fall Rome was to split into two , the Empires of the East and West. This division came in 364, the final fall in  474; and from that fall , Rome was never to come back, for all the misfit and miscalled “Holly Roman Empire” of the Middle Ages….But the Church would not, like the Empire, fall. The Church of the West would take over the old political capital on the Seven Hills and turn it into one sacred. It was indestructible. And the bishops who from all over the known world had attended his council had, in  critical time, helped to save it.


Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

First Council of Nicaea, Image via Wikipedia


I have to look up again which council this is supposed to be, and he seems to refer to one called by Constantine at Nicaea. This doesn’t help me much, since I don’t actually know much about this period of history, other than the overall change of countries, etc. I’d hoped this book would help, but nothing is cited and for all I know Anderson is making it up.

Which I doubt he is. And for all his rhetoric, Anderson is just viewing history though his filter of religion (Catholicism, I think) and “French are awesome! and blonde!” Considering the time period, rather understandable, although a little odd to my modern ears, especially when starts bashing the Germans and all German history. Anyway, he does seem to know history fairly well, especially the history of the Church, and though he does get a little too generous in interpreting everything to the pinnacle of the creation of the cathedral of Notre Dame

Beyond that though, he is rather fun to read. Yes, it’s a little elaborate and more than slightly purple, but there’s so much passion behind it. Anderson truly believes in this history, he loves France, Notre Dame, and God. While I may not agree with his beliefs or sometimes even his conclusions, I can admire his sincerity.

In modern texts, historians try to investigate everything going on behind the scenes of published history, without the lens of religious belief. Fair enough. But when people do believe that strongly, I think it might be a little irresponsible to doubt how much belief does affect people and, subsequently, their decisions.

You may not be able to understand the situation from their perspective, but to discount the influence? Careless. Because belief that strong affects everything. And makes a difference in interpretation.

But honestly? The Notre Dame Cathedral is not my favorite example of Gothic architecture. Or at least, not from the front.


Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris seen from sou...

Image via Wikipedia


Because Fiction Has to Make Sense

I seem to find nonfiction much more interesting. I still read plenty of fiction, of course. Particularly mystery series, like the Gideon Oliver series, which is awesome. Aaron Elkins can delelop a character that will occupy only two pages of the entire book, and I will know that character more throughly than some main characters…I will not name names–usually books with characters like that are forgotten easily.

Anyway, I’ve always been more prone to picking up books at library sales and used bookstores in the nonfiction section. These are the books that are most likely not to be read, but also far more likely to be kept. I can go back and read and skim, flip through and re-read more often. I remember them more. And I think I might just enjoy them more.

Today I went to the library–surprise!–intending to just drop off two books that I’d convinced myself to give up, but of course I found my way in, and out again with three more books. All three from the nonfiction section.

The first book I picked up, though not one I checked out, was about barbed wire through the ages. Below that was wallpaper throughout American history. Just above was a Sears catalog from 1908. Oh the things you can find in the library!

One shelf over from came the self help books from organizing time and workspace and another shelf, parenting.  Actually, my first forays into nonfiction came from the self-help section. Like most teenagers, I thought I ought to be depressed, and therefore liked to read about it. The most basic of depression books tend to be about how not to be depressed, and so I ended up with books like “Depression for Dummies.” Another oddly ironic title, however, it still didn’t last long.

From the heath care self-help books I moved on to the how-to-write section. I should note here that I rarely, if ever, read these books in order to take their advice, but more out of simple curiosity into what the writer’s thought about their subjects. Most, naturally, consisted of what is known as “common sense” despite its rarity, and yet some authors could be surprising eloquent about how best to punctuate a sentence.

Grammar books can be awesome. I suppose I shouldn’t use such a careless adjective twice in one post, but it fits, and I don’t need too hard to think of something else. It’s likely why I focused on the editing side of things. I have no trouble with judging. As for grammar books, however, I stole one from my parents that was fun to read, but terribly out of date. For the layperson, and everyone else, though, there is Eats, Shoots & Leaves. By the way, did you know that some people don’t believe in the ampersand? Fascinating. (Seriously, read the link)

Mostly, right now at least, I’ve been focusing on histories, biographies, and architecture.  Actually, mostly architecture, house plans, The Victorian Country House, things like that. I love architure. If there wasn’t so much math involved, and it didn’t involve so much schooling, and if I’d know anything about it before graduating high school, I would have become an architect. When I’m driving through town, I look out for the houses, they way they’re built, the style, the era, the condition. I just really love architecture, particularly of older homes. I really don’t know why. But the library has lots of books just on house plans, and ideas on kinds of houses, and I just keep checking them out.

I may be a dork because I like the Sims, but at least it lets me pretend to build houses.

An even better park of the ampersand comments, here. I suppose nobody actually follows these, but really ought to. It’s far better than anything I come up with. Which, I suppose, is always why I’m linking to that site.