Neal Stephenson: The Diamond Age

I Just Can’t with politics today. I don’t know how to do this. Let’s think about something else.

diamond-ageSo – The Diamond Age is a very clever book. It works on several levels, and I suspect that other people would review it in a completely different way. I know a couple of people who name it as their favourite; I wouldn’t go that far at the moment, but it’s definitely in that league. (I will do my very best to avoid spoilers in this review, so all but the most spoiler-shy may click the link without fear!)

My Play Therapist’s heart is fascinated by the central conceit: that a person’s character can be actively and deliberately moulded by the stories that they are told. Not since ‘Enders Game’ has a novel addressed these questions so directly, and fortunately Neal Stephenson appears a considerably less problematic writer than Orson Scott Card.  My major discomfort with this theme – which I can’t describe properly without Spoilers, aargh – is resolved in a way which I found more than satisfying.

I have some minor misgivings about the role of agency and determinism, but I think the exploration of these is at the heart of the novel and I’m not sure it could have been achieved so effectively in any other way. In terms of structure and voice, it kind of reminded me of the best Margaret Atwood – there were definite overtones of ‘Oryx and Crake’ – in a way which suggests to me that the author has read and Atwood and LeGuin and Carter, and respected and digested and learned from their literary innovations.

I must confess that I didn’t desperately enjoy the first few chapters, and was a bit reliant on trusted people’s recommendations to keep me going. I’m glad I stuck with it – I was completely gripped by the end – but there was quite a bit of world-building around Powerful Men which just didn’t really grab me. My partner (who prefers audiobooks) accidentally listened to the second half first, and said that it worked pretty well that way; so that’s always an option.

 

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