People having thoughts about THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT

Both Amal El-Mohtar and Arkady Martine enjoyed it significantly more than I did.

Amal has something important to say about responses to THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT, while Arkady turns a very penetrating gaze on its thematic arguments.

I think THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT is proving to be an interesting book to think with, and to think about, despite – or perhaps because of – how very angry it made me. Baru Cormorant herself, the titular main character, is a monster. Perhaps the most monstrous protagonist I’ve ever read. And not in the simplistic fashion of so many grimdark-type antiheroes, either. She’s a sympathetic monster. An understandable monster. The monster in the mirror, writ large: all our compromises with power for the sake of security, for the sake of personal advancement, for the hope of changing the system from within, rendered in mass murder and personal betrayals. I think Dickinson is trying to explore some very difficult thematic territory, and trying at the same time to sustain fairly radical literary politics. If he fails in many respects at both –

Well, it’s an ambitious failure. There’s much to be said for that.

4 thoughts on “People having thoughts about THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT

  1. I am reminded that I have NEVER seen a book by a female/nonbinary author referred to as an ambitious failure. That itself is a gendered category.

    I’ve been watching the discourse around this book in terms of who gets big pushes for first novels. The context? Well-publicized (and much better written) novels by Zen Cho and Aliette de Bodard. Coincidentally (I think not) neither of them is male or American.

  2. I’m pretty sure I’ve called one or two novels by women ambitious failures. (Mind, I’d have to check the exact wording. I know I I’ve thought it, though.)

    Personally, I don’t think that it’s possible to compare de Bodard, Cho, and Dickinson in a direct fashion, stylistically, though: they’re all three using different tools very effectively at the level of prose technique. Structurally, I’d say Cho’s novel is weaker than either de Bodard’s or Dickinson’s, but the Regency model she’s mirroring allows for, even encourages, a certain amount of structural weakness.

    Neither of the others affected me emotionally to the same degree as Dickinson’s, which I think is a sign that whether or not I enjoy it (and whether or not I appreciate the pattern that sees straight white blokes get mainstream support for writing books about queer brown women whereas if queer brown women do it, they tend to get overlooked), it’s a book that’s definitely worth thinking about. It’s… trying for something important, thematically, I think, though I might not have seen how if it weren’t for Arkady talking about it.

    I might not agree with it, or think it’s successful, but I’m pretty pro literary ambition, to be honest.

  3. In…ter…esting. You’d pretty much turned me off this; then I read the piece about Max Gladstone’s love of the book, and thought: if Max likes it… well, I’m conflicted. Now you’re telling me you didn’t _like_ it, but it’s an “interesting book to think with, and to think about”, and I’m thinking that I’d _better_ read this.

  4. I HATE it, Derek. HATE IT. Mostly because a)I don’t like monstrous protagonists, b) I REALLY don’t like TRAGIC QUEERNESS, and c)the interrogation of empire falls really flat for me.

    But. It’s trying, and it’s certainly working for some people. Arkady has a definite point about its thematic coherence.

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