This book was published in the UK by Gollancz – a big favourite of mine – on 28th October 2014. I pre-ordered it, and was so glad that I gave it a chance; I think you should do the same. *DISCLAIMER* I’m sorry that this is such a long ramble.
Hang on, I do this primarily for me. Turns out I’m not sorry.
If you haven’t read Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles (consisting thus far of The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear, two of my favourite all-time books) then you might struggle to understand parts of this novella. That’s because it’s a 150 page vignette of just one character, Auri, from the as yet incomplete trilogy, and because her actions are driven by the expectation of seeing Kvothe, the protagonist of the series, in seven days’ time. Then again, I don’t think that this slight lack of understanding matters too much. The Slow Regard of Silent Things doesn’t seek to advance the plot of the series, and if you’re going to enjoy it, you’ll likely do it in spite of not knowing a single thing about its author or his work. After all, many who are familiar with Rothfuss hate this book with the vengeful passion that fantasy author hero-worship seems, unfortunately, to engender.
Unsurprisingly, he was aware that he might enrage a few people. In fact, his first line in the author’s foreword reads: ‘You might not want to buy this book.’ Ballsy, huh? Gotta love it. And again in the endnote, he reveals that he had reservations about publishing the book. When in conversation with Vi Hart, who read an early draft of the story, the dam holding back his doubts apparently burst:
‘”It doesn’t do the things a story is supposed to do,” I said to her. “A story should have dialogue, action, conflict. A story should have more than one character. I’ve written a thirty-thousand-word vignette!”’
Ok, yes, that is exactly what he’s written, but it does have dialogue, action and conflict. The dialogue is just with heavily anthropomorphised inanimate objects and a few animals (they don’t speak back so it’s not technically dialogue, but it serves much the same purpose), the conflict is all internal, and the action … ok there’s not much action. Naughty self-deprecating author, leave that to us Brits!
It sounds like very high concept work, but it’s really very accessible. If you’re in love with words – ‘burning days were flickersome, too frangible by half’ is just lovely – or have a poetic / artistic disposition, or if you’re seeking a read which has the kind of mood and atmosphere which provokes a small, serene, smile to play across your lips throughout the whole book, then get yourself a copy! It’s something you’ll love to just have on your shelf as a reminder.
Let’s talk about Auri, because that’s who this is all about. Auri is a very child-like young woman who lives in the Underthing, a network of tunnels which exists under the magical university where Kvothe studies. She seems to have been a student there once, and there are hints that she has since unlocked secrets in alchemy which were unknown to the university’s masters. What happened to make her retreat to a subterranean world of her own making, away from others, is unclear, though there are again hints that she suffered some abuse. This and a hundred other things make her one of the most sympathetic characters ever created. What makes her so interesting is the way she looks at her world.
According to Auri, everything has its proper place, and she sees it as her job to keep the order. Most of the ‘action’ of the book involves her finding places in the Underthing where her objects will be happy or content. Yes, that’s right, I did say that this was interesting. We’re not dealing with OCD here; Auri has strong, synaesthetic intuitions which she uses to order her world in quite a Taoist way. It’s not exactly Taoism of course, but certainly akin to a philosophy of its own as it contains some transferable wisdom. Example: ‘First set yourself to rights. And then your house.’ Very proverbial; quite universal. In her mind, the order is greater than herself, and at one point she is willing to sacrifice her own life for it. So there is some tension in this book, it just doesn’t last for long.
For a very self-disciplined little thing – she constantly reprimands herself for having her own desires – she can also be delightfully impish. Her cheekier moments, for me, tipped the balance from being empathetic towards Auri to being totally in love with her. At one point in the novel, she is spotted above ground, through a window, by a little girl. Auri’s reaction, after doing a few cartwheels, is to put on a mystical faerie-like display to amuse herself. And when she laughed wickedly at a bottle of perfume with a dedication on it, I was laughing along with her.
Auri is also incredibly generous. This comes out particularly in her dedication to finding Kvothe a gift. I don’t want to ruin it for you (as much as this story could ever have a *spoiler*) so I’ll just say that what she comes up with is heart-achingly beautiful and insightful as ever.
I think ‘beautiful’, despite a much over-used word, is nevertheless the best way to describe Auri and Rothfuss’s story. In only 150 pages (some of which are taken up with gorgeous illustrations which really integrate with and add to the story), there is so much to The Slow Regard of Silent Things, that I’m just going to have to bullet-point the rest! (This I am truly sorry about)
- Names – they have great significance in Rothfuss’s world, and his use of them is intriguing.
- Days – Auri feels the nature of the day upon waking. Have you ever had that? You wake up and feel you know exactly what kind of day you’re going to have? Productive or successful or fun or difficult or painful?
- Rothfuss’s original imagery – no clichés here, Orwell would be proud: ‘Auri laughed in delight, and every piece of the laughing was a tiny bird come tumbling out to fly around the room.’ If you don’t love that, get off my blog!
- Humility – Auri accepts that she is not the centre of her world, and she takes responsibility for the way her actions affect it. We could all learn a lot from her I think.
- Wisdom / truth – Auri knows the difference between the truth and what seems to be true. It’s quite a Hamletesque theme!
- Emotions – Auri experiences loss, laughter and much in-between and I felt them all alongside her. That there’s only one character doesn’t matter, because as a reader, there’s a real willingness to get lost in her, and I found it very rewarding to do so.
I could probably write reams on this book, but I’m going to pretend that I have other things to do now, so I’ll leave you with this conclusion:
You don’t have to put much in yourself to enjoy this book, but if you do, you’ll be richly rewarded. And that, for me, is what reading’s about; I hope it is for you too.
For your enjoyment, here’s the last, and my favourite, of Nate Taylor’s stunning illustrations: