A Year of Unknown Books: Vellum by Hal Duncan

*Project Recap: For one year, I will read one book per month that I know nothing about that was recommended to me by a stranger; friend; family member, or co-worker; and I will write about that experience.  God help us all.

Vellum: The Book of All Hours by Hal DuncanVellum
Book #2, read during December, 2014

Before I began Vellum, it was recommended to me with the warning, “most people don’t like it, but I loved it.”  When I Tweeted the author that pages 1-2 were great thus far (haha), his response was, “Hopefully it’ll hold up for you. I’ll admit it’s bit of a love-it-or-hate-it book. (Most seem to know which by pg. ~50.).”  Obviously, my interest was piqued and I broke my own rule by looking up reviews about the book before I read it, having sworn that I would read each book with no previous knowledge.  This book is the epitome of divisive–half of all of the reviews I read were written by people who just hated it, and half were from people who completely loved it.  I have to say, the drama made it all the more intriguing, and scary because I didn’t want to be one of the ones who hated it because a) I would still have to read it and b) I wanted to be someone who “got” the difficult book.

From the get-go, I can understand why the casual reader may have been put off; it jumps around throughout the entire novel from this place in time to that, from this angel to that creature, and to archaic names that I had to repeatedly look up.  Needless to say, the book keeps you on your toes.  The structure is consistently non-linear and its story (or really, stories) are steeped in mythology, demons, angels, and world religions, while exploring issues of romantic relationships (homo/hetero), trust, deception, faith, and war, and that’s just a sprinkling.  It’s not a beach read, but one that requires attention, time and interest.  Each story line constantly jumps from time, space and character and is told from varying points of view, which, let’s be honest, is confusing on the whole.  As you read on, the threads begin to connect slightly, so the author gives you at least a little to hold on to.  Though this book may not be for every reader because of its experimental nature, its structure is really a mastery of writing, and its obvious that the construction was a labor of love.

Oh yeah, what is the story about?  It’s about a book call the vellum, which contains all hours of all time, and people can hide in it, in this parallel universe.  There are angels, humans, and beings in-between that are hiding from demons and angels who require that they take a side.  Within the larger story, there is a group of friends that you meet in the beginning, and we follow the friends and other connected characters throughout unspecified periods throughout time, and as varied incarnations.  Here, the style and content reinforce one another; as the writing structure jumps around, it mirrors the larger and individual stories as they morph into an array of time and place.  The actual book that you are reading is written in a way that reflects the vellum.

Aside from the content of the novel, I listened to it on audiobook, narrated by Bernard Clark and it was excellent.  Thankfully, he didn’t try to mimic women’s voices, which so often fall short and are unnecessary, and his angel, British and Scottish voices were manifold.

In all, if it wasn’t part of this project, and I didn’t listen to it on audiobook, I don’t know if I would have gotten through it.  It’s a difficult book due to its structure, the male author likes the word “cunt,” which I always find a little suspect, as if by using this word the author is trying to evoke a strong reaction, and it’s time consuming.  However, as a librarian, I really do believe that every book has its reader, and this book has its reader; one that is buckled in for a challenge, and is intrigued by the unconventional.

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