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Reading ‘Resolution’ in Juba, and ‘The Eye of the Dragon’ in Nairobi

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The book: Resolution by Denise Mina (#3 in the Garnethill trilogy)

The place: Juba International Airport, sat on the floor by the toilets because there were no seats. Juba International Airport is quite literally* the Worst Place In The World, and it is always sadistically entertaining to watch people turn up there for the first time and look around in wide-eyed horror. Don’t worry chaps, it gets better from here! And then worse again.

*Not really literally

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The book: The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

The place: Fairview Hotel, Nairobi. From the ridiculous to the sublime. I have had the privilege of staying in the Fairview since Thursday and will be here for another two nights, a longer stay than expected due to contract delays. Normally I wouldn’t stay anywhere this swanky but I was with colleagues who always stay here and even now they’ve left I have evidently become institutionalised and will stay here forever. There is sushi on demand and macadamia cappuccinos and internet as swift as a gazelle outrunning a hyena and my room has a bathtub that I am currently using at least twice a day. It is pretty wonderful.

I remain unconvinced by Nairobi, despite spending more time here over the past two weeks than ever before in my life. Its appeal is enhanced by having quite a lot of my friends in it; it’s also pleasingly green and pleasingly cool (in comparison to Juba, at least) and last night there was a wonderfully dramatic downpour that brought the flying ants out in force, frothing around any and every light source in a way that was oddly attractive from a distance (less attractive when they dive-bomb your beer). On the other hand, it’s impossible to get around without a car (well, presumably it is actually possible but I have never worked out how, except once in the company of a South Sudanese friend who whisked me into and out of matatus), it’s expensive (though not in comparison to Juba) and it takes a million years to get anywhere. More troublingly it doesn’t feel like it has a centre, just a series of ring roads and bypasses, interspersed with surprise forests (which are lovely) and surprise shopping malls (less so). Favourite places identified so far: the Fairview (obviously); Karen Blixen’s Coffee Garden (where I was lucky enough to attend a wedding on Friday); a two-storey old colonial bar downtown where I met a Sudanese friend for a drink two years ago, and which I could probably never find again. I will add to this list.

I have been reading a lot of genre fiction lately, no? This has been a gradual shift for me over the past few years – even five years ago I rarely read any genre fiction at all. Then in 2011 friends put me onto Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga, after years of avoiding sci-fi because I thought it was all spaceships and lightsabres – which acted as a gateway drug for The Kind Of Sci-fi I Like, and then last year Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko books did the same for detective fiction (oh, Arkady Renko, my wonderful melancholy imaginary Russian detective boyfriend). I don’t tend to read genre fiction qua genre fiction – I probably wouldn’t pick up a detective story because it’s a detective story, if you see what I mean, and I read genre fiction for pretty much the same reasons I read any other kind of fiction: broadly, 1. Characterisation, 2. Setting, 3. Plot; with Very Very Good Writing acting as a cross-cutting aspect of appeal – but man, literature snobs who avoid genre fiction because they don’t think any of that can exist within it are missing out on a lot of wonderful writing.

I was a vile little intellectual snob as a teenager, but I’ve become less and less of one as I’ve got older, and more and more irritated by others.** I was particularly annoyed by Colin McCann’s assertion last year that of course TransAtlantic isn’t historical fiction (frantic disclaimer: I am sure Colin McCann is a very nice chap! I am sure TransAtlantic is a very good book! I even have it on my Kindle but haven’t read it yet!). Is it fiction? Yes. Is it set in the past? Yes. THEN IT IS HISTORICAL FICTION. That is the actual, literal definition. To try and abjure that on the basis that genre fiction is essentially lesser and of course We Writers are all aspiring to the lofty and nebulous heights of literary fiction is specious. Embrace (good) genre fiction, I say.

**To be fair, I’ve become more and more irritated by a lot of things.

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Written by Jess

May 11, 2014 at 7:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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