Saturday, January 21, 2012

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

The list challenge continues! Inkheart by Cornelia Funke is the last of the F's.

Going from something intense and dark like Steven Erikson's Malazan Books of the Fallen to what is becoming a children's classic like Cornelia Funke's Inkheart may seem like a bit of a culture shock, and it kind of is, but that's part of the beauty of doing this list. I'm never really sure what I'm going to get, unless I happen to have already read the work in question.

I've picked Inkheart up and put it down a number of time in bookstores over the years. I do like a bit of YA work or even things written for younger audiences. I find that they often have a sense of wonder and adventure that is sometimes lacking in work done for older audiences. The idea behind Inkheart appealed to me, but there was a lack of depth from what I read when thinking about whether or not read it. The film done a couple of years ago held some interest, but I never got around to seeing it, so the book remained unread by me, that is until it appeared on the list.

Cornelia Funke made her name in the publishing world as an illustrator before writing her own stories. Some editions of Inkheart contain her illustrations, although I don't think the one I read did.

The premise behind the book is that certain people can actually pull the characters and creatures contained in books out of their fictional worlds and into ours by reading about them. Unfortunately this comes with a price, if something is removed from a book world, then something from this world has to replace it. Bookbinder Mo Folchart knows this better than most, having accidentally read characters out of children's tale Inkheart and losing his wife, Teresa to the book. HIs daughter Meggie, does not know about her father's ability or that he lives in fear that she may too develop it.

One day the father and daughter's life is disrupted by an odd, scarred man going by the name of Dustfinger and travelling with a tame marten he calls Gwin. Dustfinger is one of the character Mo read out of Inkheart all those years ago and now he wants to deliver Mo to his dark master Capricorn, in return he hopes to be read back into his world of fiction.

What follows is Mo, Meggie and Dustfinger, along with Gwin, trying to avoid Capricorn's far reaching fingers. Their journey will take them to Meggie's great aunt; the book collector Elinor, they'll be captured and escape multiple times. They will meet the author of Inkheart, eventually stand up to Capricorn and the family will be reunited.

For a children's book, it seems to be aimed at a pre teen set, Inkheart is a very bleak and quite often dark story. The fictional story of Inkheart, while readers don't see all of it, they do see some of the characters, and this was a weakness of the book to me, because the characters and even the way it's creator Fenoglio speaks about it indicate that it's a pretty unpleasant sort of story and I can't see why anyone would be attracted to it.

There's not a lot of fantasy in the first two thirds of the book, that tends to read more like a combination of children's mystery and adventure, the fantasy aspect ramps up significantly late in the book. What sets Inkheart apart from other works written for children is the very evident love of books by most of the characters, and that they love them in different ways for different reasons. There was the rather curious idea that no one believes book authors are living breathing people, they're all dead consigned to history with only their works remaining. I don't think I ever thought this and I'm not really sure why Cornelia Funke felt other people would go along with that particular theory.

The book is presented well and the chapters are all named with definite meaning behind each one. At the beginning of each chapter is a short quote from works of classic fiction, most are children's books, although not all, and again the author's love of books is in evidence.

Inkheart is the first of a trilogy, taken together the three books (the other two are Inkspell and Inkdeath) are known as the Inkworld trilogy. Despite this the first one is self contained and can be read without needing to read the sequels, although there's enough to suggest that that author could continue the story if she wished. It was an interesting idea although I felt the characters became rather stereotypical and I didn't quite buy the ending, so wouldn't read the other volumes in the trilogy, although I know it's not aimed at me.

The best example I've ever seen of blurring the lines between fiction and reality is in Jasper Fforde's hysterically funny Thursday Next series, and I would recommend that to anyone who is intrigued by the concept of Inkheart.

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