Thursday, March 11, 2010

Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Plot Summary: All 16-year-old Cameron wants is to get through high school—and life in general—with a minimum of effort. It’s not a lot to ask. But that’s before he’s given some bad news: he’s sick and he’s going to die. Which totally sucks. Hope arrives in the winged form of Dulcie, a loopy punk angel/possible hallucination with a bad sugar habit. She tells Cam there is a cure—if he’s willing to go in search of it. With the help of a death-obsessed, video-gaming dwarf and a yard gnome, Cam sets off on the mother of all road trips through a twisted America into the heart of what matters most.

Disclaimer: If I read a book I don’t like, I never let that one story put me off an author. After all, you have no idea how versatile that author can be if you stop at one book. But if I don’t like two stories, well, chances are high that I’m not a fan of that author’s style.

I read Libba Bray’s Great and Terrible Beauty trilogy, and didn’t particularly like it. But, keeping the above info in mind, I picked up Going Bovine with an open mind and a hopeful heart...and I still didn’t like it. So, I think Bray’s style just isn’t my cup of tea, and you should keep that in mind as you read this review.

I started reading this book knowing nothing about it, with only a cursory glance at the summary on the back. In the first few chapters, I went from confusion to frustration to figuring out how the book was going to end. That left about 400 pages left to go through in order to see if I was right. And I was. That made it nearly impossible to get into the story, and I was pretty disappointed. There’s not much else I can say without revealing spoilers, so here’s the warning.

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.

I love surreal books. Love them. Can’t get enough. I also love books that question reality, and also surmise that reality is what we make it. It makes the writer geek in me get all giddy. Going Bovine is definitely a surreal book that questions reality, so it should have been love at first sight. But it wasn’t, and this is why.

1) When I first pick up a surreal book, the actual reality parts MUST be real for me. The characters must behave appropriately, events must unfold naturally, and nothing should pull me out of the story.
2) When the surreal elements are introduced, they need to start out feeling real. If I don’t believe them in the beginning, I’m certainly not going to believe them toward the end. So they need to suck me in and make me swallow that hook, and then I will likely believe the most outrageous things by the end.

Going Bovine started out surreal, even in the real world. That level of surrealism stayed constant instead of building throughout the story, so not once did I believe in anything that was happening. It kept me from connecting with the characters, so, by the time we got to the questioning of reality, I didn’t really care because I’d already been questioning it.

What I wanted was to believe in Cameron’s real world, then believe in the early stages of Cameron’s alternate reality, and then get caught up in the whirlwind of Cameron’s mind as things get crazier and crazier. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen that way.

I think this is part of Libba Bray’s style, though, because A Great and Terrible Beauty has similar elements. So if you like her style, or if you like wacky stories that get wackier by the minute, then this is the book for you. For me, it’s just not my cup of tea.


Unknown said...

I had a hard time with A Great and Terrible Beauty--and I think I, like you, just didn't get into her voice and style.

Andrea Coulter said...

This book's been getting a lot of buzz, so I've been thinking about reading it. I wasn't a huge fan of the G&TB books either, though, so if the style is similar I might just save my reading time for something more up my alley. Thanks for the review!

Marcia said...

I liked the GTB books. I guess the adventures in the magical world, the romance of the historical time period, and those wonderful covers (give me a gorgeous girl in a gorgeous 19th century gown on the cover and I'll want to like the book very badly) adequately offset the too-surreal-too-soon quality of the beginning. But transport all of this into the 21st century, and one of the factors that helps me along is gone. Add a garden gnome in place of a person, and there goes another. I really see Going Bovine as a book that's going to appeal to a certain cult following and maybe that' about it. I couldn't read it because I just didn't care. I LOVE your points 1 and 2. They do a wonderful job of defining, for me, WHY the book didn't work. Bottom line is that I'm just not a fan of wacky, especially wacky at the start and wackier from then on.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I haven't read this one yet, but I've heard a lot of buzz. Thanks for the honest review. :-)

C.R. Evers said...

Thanks for the heads up. I liked Great and Terrible Beauty, but I probably won't put Going Bovine on the top of my list. Maybe I'll still read it later.

Tabitha said...

Beth - yeah, I think her work is just not my cup of tea. I feel more sure of that now that I've read two of her stories (I consider GTB one story, even though it's a trilogy).

Lynn - I've seen mixed reviews on this book. Some people who loved GTB didn't like Bovine, and others who hated GTB loved Bovine. The two stories are completely different, but I think her style is the same. So, really, it's hard to say who will like this book and who won't.

Marcia - I know exactly what you mean. I was more in to GTB because of that 19th century timeframe, and the strangeness was easy to believe because of the huge magical element. But Bovine's magical element didn't appear until late in the book, with no explanation, or even possible explanations. That bothered me, and I never could get into the story.

Tabitha said...

Shannon - this book won the Printz award, too, so there are certainly lots of people who love it. I'm just not one of them. :)

Christy - if you liked GTB for the romance and setting, then you may not like Bovine because it doesn't have those elements. Not in the same way, anyway. But if you like Bray's style, then you'll probably like Bovine.