Evensong by Krista Walsh

I thought I posted this review in early May, but I was working from my iPad on the Hungarian Internet. Imagine my surprise to come home, open my website, and find no post for that week. It was either the jet lag or the technology. Who knows? Anyway, here it is, better  late than never.

When I settle down with a book that covers an idea that other authors have dealt with many times, I always think to myself, “All right. What has this author got to make an old stunt new and interesting?” In the case of “Evensong,” Krista Walsh did not disappoint me.

This is the old, “What would happen if the writer got caught up in his own novel?” plotline. It is the story of a fantasy writer, Jeff, who makes an intellectual decision to take the characters of his successful fantasy series in a direction that they intuitively might not want to go. He is conscious of manipulating his setting and situation to create extra conflict for his characters. But hey, it’s only a story, and he is the author, right?

Then he wakes up one morning to discover himself right in the middle of that setting, confronted by characters who are aware of his meddling and not happy about it. They question him, his fitness to be meddling in their lives, and his right to do so. He questions their very existence.

Once this situation is set up, it gives Ms. Walsh all sorts of opportunities to delve into the author/character relationship, the nature of reality, and specifically whether Jeff has created this world, or is only describing the events of a world that already existed before he discovered it, (questions that authors like to mull over when they should be doing some productive writing, but can’t get down to it). She also touches on the parts that intellect and emotion play in the creation of a novel. This makes “Evensong” a novel that writers will enjoy, because the veracity of the writing process, as demonstrated by Jeff’s relationship to his characters, is fascinating. I felt that Jeff’s “notes to himself” planning what he might write could come straight off my own computer. And, like him, I sometimes feel that no matter how logical my plans are, the people in the story refuse to fall into line like good little characters and act like I want them to. And what author hasn’t had the feeling sometimes that the characters are taking over and writing the story?

I do note one problem with this novel, which I can’t help but find fascinating, considering the theme of the book. It seems to me that this author, like her author/character in the book, can’t quite get over the habit of forcing things to work because she wants them to, not because they flow naturally from the characters and the situation. The one example of this that stands out is Jeff the author allowing himself to be goaded into a swordfight with Corey, one of the heroes. The very idea of a gormless modern guy confronting a muscular, experienced fantasy hero with a sword is rather ridiculous, and any fantasy writer should know it. But Ms. Walsh puts it in, because it fulfills several functions in the structure of the story. When the plot starts being driven by the demands of the writing process, then the believability of the story tends to go out the window.

So, while I enjoyed the heck out of the intellectual games this book plays with the writing process, it didn’t come together for me quite so well as Fantasy. Which is, I assume, the object of the exercise.

Recommended for authors and people who like ideas. Four stars out of five.

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