Books

Be Ready to Roll With a Human-Avian Romance When You Read 'Raven Girl'

Neither properly a bird nor entirely human, Raven Girl embodies elements of both and is thus trapped between worlds, and it is her striving to find her rightful place that forms the arc of this narrative.


Raven Girl

Publisher: Abrams Comic Arts
Length: 80 pages
Author: Audrey Niffenegger
Price: $19.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2013-05-07
Amazon

Audrey Niffenegger burst into literary prominance with her 2004 international bestseller The Time Traveler's Wife, a hugely popular book that managed to combine a fantastical elements with a genuinely moving, human story. It was the best kind of fantasy, the kind that uses the impossible to powerfully illuminate the reality inhabited by us, its readers.

A movie followed, along with a much less lauded follow-up, 2010's underwhelming Her Fearful Symmetry, which tried to duplicate the formula but failed. The magical element—a ghost this time—proved unable to give much life to a rather drab little story of a couple of sisters, livened up with a string of absurd plot twists.

Now Niffenegger is back with another take on the fantastic, and to her credit she is trying something new. An illustrated fairy-tale style storybook isn't going to appeal to everyone, but for those willing to give it a try, Raven Girl has a certain appeal. The Time Traveler's Wife it ain’t, and at just 77 pages of large text—nearly half of which are illustrations—the story can be easily consumed in less than an hour. Readers should know going in that this isn't a big fat novel to get lost in, but rather a diverting trifle.

As diverting trifles go, it's entertaining enough. The opening line provides all the setup anyone needs: "Once there was a Postman who fell in love with a Raven." Niffenegger tells her story in plain, straightforward prose, with little attempt to embroider the impossible tale. This works to her advantage, as the subject matter is oddball enough without a heap of breathless description trying to get across just how magical everything is. In fact, in Niffenegger's hands, the story seems at times rather un-magical. There are few magical realms here, and little whimsy apart from, y'know, talking birds and the occasional cat. Most of the action takes place in ordinary streets and school buildings, apartment blocks and hospitals.

The reader needs to be able to roll with the idea of human-avian romance, because it's treated as an ordinary, everyday subject. "The Raven loved the Postman's big goofy smile and ginger hair. She liked to ride on his shoulder and talk into his ear." Readers who have difficulty with the logic of these sentences should probably skip this. As in most fairy tales, impossible things happen with no explanation.

This is doubly true for the offspring of this unlikely union, the titular Raven Girl herself. "The Raven Girl had a happy and perplexing childhood. She played odd games that involved hunting bugs and earthworms; she climbed trees and jumped out of them, hoping to fly but only crashing to the ground." Neither properly a bird nor entirely human, she embodies elements of both and is thus trapped between worlds, and it is her striving to find her rightful place that forms the arc of this narrative. It's not a terribly deep struggle, and it's all resolved fairly quickly, as befits a fairy tale; but it is nonetheless the most significant conflict here.

Needless to say, the characterizations are paper thin. There is the Postman and the Raven, their offspring the Raven Girl, a Boy who develops some sort of feelings for her, and a couple of other characters (a doctor, a cat) and that's about it. We learn little about these characters, which is typical of—stop me if I've said this before—a fairy tale. Characters exist to serve a function in the storyline, and not much more.

The illustrations are reflective of the story's somber tone in their dull, even somewhat drab, color palette. Given the rather plotline and plain language of the story, the pictures are a crucial element in engaging and maintaining a reader's attention. However, they are not terribly successful at this. Niffenegger has her own style, that's for sure, but that style tends to be murky and unpleasant. Colors tend toward muddy browns, dull grays and vomitous greens, even at the end of the story, which resolves happily—a strange kind of visual dissonance. Her human figures, meanwhile, appear stiff and awkward. She has a difficult time drawing faces, especially noses, which is unfortunate; her renditions of crows are much more successful.

Raven Girl might appeal to readers with a fondness for the fantastic, which is likely Niffenegger's core audience anyway. It might also be a good book for young-adult readers, or even those aged 10 or 12, as it is a thoughtfully and intelligently written story. Most grownups are going to find it pretty thin, however, and the illustrations—which should be a major selling point—are unlikely to draw in a lot of casual browsers.

As a place marker it's fine, but let's hope that the author gets back to the magic she was channeling a decade ago, and produces something else as immersive and moving as The Time Traveler's Wife. Diverting as it is, Raven Girl isn't that.

5

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image