the golden compass

I mentioned awhile back that I’d started The Golden Compass but had had trouble getting very far into it.  But a book with a reputation as significant (and controversial) as this one has deserves another try, so I decided to take a route that’s often worked for me when I’ve had trouble getting through the opening pages of a book — I listened to the audio version.  And as it has with many other books, this tactic worked.  I found myself gradually being drawn into Lyra’s world.

And yet…I found it still to be underwhelming.

Philip Pullman’s book is a complex one, so I have no idea how to give a decent synopsis. I can’t seem to find one that doesn’t tell either too much or too little.  If you want to read a full, very spoilery plot description, Random House has one here. Otherwise, here is my best attempt…

Lyra lives in a fantastical world where each human is accompanied through life by a daemon — an animal representation of the soul, invisibly tethered to a person physically, psychically, and  emotionally.  Brought up as an orphan within the walls of Jordan College, Lyra begins to hear of strange events: the existence of a mysterious “Dust” in the far north, the disappearance of children in her own village.  When her friend Roger disappears, she begins an expedition into the north — aided by her own daemon, Pan, as well as a truth-telling compass and a talking warrior polar bear — to find him.

Once I was into the book, the pace and the plot kept me hooked.  The daemons, in particular, interested me; Pullman’s use of the daemons to express different aspects of the characters was effective and intriguing.  And there were certainly parts of the plot and narrative that were well-crafted, and even heart-rending at times.

But when taken as a whole…I don’t know.  The whole concept of “Dust” is vague and ambiguous. I think it’s meant to be, for this book is just the first in a trilogy, and not really intended to be read on its own.  But for the meaning behind a driving force of the plot to be just out of reach is frustrating  — particularly since there’s no resolution whatsoever by the end of the book.  And then there’s the inescapable darkness of the entire story.   I’ve read dark books for children and teens before, but in most, there are moments of levity or hope.  There’s not much sense of that throughout this story; instead chaos and anxiety predominantly characterize the tone.  While that kept me going to the last page (or CD), it didn’t bring me that much pleasure along the way.

And it’s that combination of factors that creates my biggest issue with the book — even though there is virtually no resolution to the plot, I have next to no interest in reading the following installment.  It is entirely possible that Pullman’s books just aren’t my thing; admittedly, I tend to be skeptical of fantasy in general.  But in spite of the fact that I hung in there with the story through the end, in spite of  the fact that the end is essentially a giant cliffhanger, I’m just left feeling ambivalent.  Not exactly the feeling I’m hoping for when I reach the end of a book.

But I did like the bear.  Anyone know if he shows up in the rest of the trilogy?

WHO: Philip Pullman
WHAT: The Golden Compass
WHERE: Checked it out from the library
WHEN: April 2010
WHY: Reputation
HOW: Audiobook

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~ by Molly on April 23, 2010.

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