REVIEW: “The Angel’s Cut” by Elizabeth Knox

The Angel’s Cut

Elizabeth Knox
Victoria University Press, 2009

CHALLENGE(S): GLBT Challenge, Year of the Historical Challenge

Finished 30 May 2010

It took me some time to finish this one, largely because I got sidetracked in the middle and didn’t really get back to it until yesterday. Fortunately, I took some notes as I was reading in the beginning, so I am able to put my thoughts on the novel into a more or less coherent order.

You probably already know that I consider the prequel to this book, The Vintner’s Luck, to be one of my favouritest books ever. It’s kind of hard to explain why I love it so very much, exactly, but I was aware from the beginning that it’s the sort of magic that can seldom be repeated. And I will say that, much as I love Elizabeth Knox’s writing, Angel didn’t grab me quite as much as Luck did. It involved different characters and a different, more modern world, not as magical, not as closely woven (though that may be the fault of the format; curse unnecessarily large print and childlike covers). However. While I may occasionally have felt as if I didn’t quite understand, couldn’t quite follow, didn’t quite love it as much as I wanted to – it always managed to pull me back in.

From the front flap:

Boomtown Los Angeles, 1929: Into a world of movie lots and speakeasies comes Xas, stunt flier and wingless angel, still nursing his broken heart, and determined only to go on living in the air. But there are forces that will keep him on the ground. Forces like Conrad Cole, movie director and aircraft designer, a glory-seeking king of the grand splash who is also a man sinking into his own sovereign darkness. And Fiona McLeod, film editor and maimed former actress, who sees something in Xas that no one has ever seen before, not even God, who made him, or Lucifer, the general he once followed – Lucifer, who has lost Xas once, but won’t let that be the end of it.

With Knox’s fiction, I find myself having to stop and think about the weight of things. She will introduce characters, words, symbols, and twine them all together so subtly that I frequently find myself asking, what is the import of this? What does it mean? I have to be in literary analysis mode as well as readership mode, because things often have more than one meaning, and will usually contribute to an overall picture that is grander than you originally expect. This is something I’ve been trying to do with my own writing, so it’s wonderful to sink into her mind and try to follow the trails of inspiration; it gives me some sense of how to go about it myself.

At the same time, there were parts I found difficult – specifically, I kept confusing the two different characters named Conrad. One was Conrad Cole and the other was Conrad Crow, and I kept mistaking one for the other. I am guessing – since Knox is not the type of author to do something like this without reason – that this was perhaps an extension of the ideas that are entangled throughout the plot: that of imitations, echoes, originals and whether Heaven is such a wonderful place if it means leaving what makes us human behind. If that is the case, then it’s really quite brilliant, but I’m afraid the overall effect was one of confusion and irritation rather than a deeper insight into the novel’s themes.

Confusion aside, however, by the time I reached the end of the book I found I had folded down the corners of nearly as many pages as with Luck to mark passages I particularly loved. Every so often I would come across a piece of description or dialogue that hit me right in the heart and made me go, “Oh” in that way that you do when something stirs you deeply. One favourite passage:

Lucifer said, “Listen,” then was quiet as though they were both supposed to be listening to God.

No,” Xas said, refusing again.

“No,” Lucifer mimicked, and moved the angel back and forth above him as fathers fly their babies. Xas had always liked the look of that. He knew that parents only did it to make their babies laugh and-instinctively-to rock their infants’ senses of space, motion and position into health and capability. But to him it had always looked as if those parents were saying to Heaven: I hold this happiness between me and You, and, if they were, then that was instinct too, the instinct humans must have, despite all their ideas about a just and loving God, to preserve themselves from that God’s unloving love of perfection, His exacting beneficence.

— p.179

And its echo at the end of the novel:

She ran into his arms, giggling, still hot from sleep. Xas straightened and raised his daughter up into the air, over his head. She shrieked with happiness. Xas spun, flying her about, holding her up between himself and Heaven.

— p. 433

As well as the writing, I enjoyed the complexity of the new characters, particularly Flora, whose pain I could almost feel through the pages, and Captain Hintersee. Knox has a real gift for creating vibrant, living people out of words. Ultimately, however, I have mixed feelings about the novel. Vintner’s Luck was a book I could happily inhabit for the rest of my life; that I want to snuggle to my chest like a baby or a soft toy and love. I am still waiting for my opinion of Angel’s Cut to resolve itself. Perhaps it can best be summarised with a quote from the novel itself:

And then Xas thought, ‘I did love him, after all.’ Sure, he’d made a mistake with Cole, and had given his heart where he stood to lose it. But that was good, it was right, it was what should happen, it was the way faith worked, it was the proper use of love.

— p.444

Not easy, and perhaps not what I originally expected, but nevertheless a highly recommended read.

RATING:

CymLowell

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    • Tina
    • July 1st, 2010

    I LOVED ‘The vintner’s luck’ and was also looking forward to this sequel. Did not grab me as much at the beginning but by the end there was enough for me to feel deeply attached to this story and its characters. I was left bereft knowing that there was no more to read (unless the author has another sequel planned) and just wanted to be longer in the company of Xas and his human companions. Like you said, many beautiful sentences, ideas and thoughts, some that will give me lots to ponder for a long time. I look forward to rereading this as I think it will make it easier to go through the first part now that I know the full story.

      • Black Sheep
      • July 1st, 2010

      Hey, thanks for commenting! It’s always great to meet another Elizabeth Knox fan. I have to admit, I liked Vintner’s Luck better but I was still sad to see Xas go. I’m looking forward to rereading as well when I get the time 🙂

  1. I loved the characterisation in this – Flora, Xas, Lucifer.

    “I have to be in literary analysis mode as well as readership mode, because things often have more than one meaning, and will usually contribute to an overall picture that is grander than you originally expect.”

    I’ll be honest, I like my books fairly straightforward. I don’t like analysing them and close-reading. (I’ve just come off a few years of chick lit and thrillers, and starting to get back into more literary stuff). I feel like most of this went over my head – the philosophising about life, religion and such – but I still found enjoyment in it.

    Also, I have an awful memory and like you had a terrible time keeping the Conrads straight. I tried and failed miserably.

      • Black Sheep
      • July 12th, 2010

      eemusings :

      I’ll be honest, I like my books fairly straightforward. I don’t like analysing them and close-reading. (I’ve just come off a few years of chick lit and thrillers, and starting to get back into more literary stuff). I feel like most of this went over my head – the philosophising about life, religion and such – but I still found enjoyment in it.

      I tend to vary – I love it when books make me work for meaning and understanding, but if I read too many of them I get tired/bored and move on to something less complicated. I have to have a mixture, I suppose! I’m glad you enjoyed it anyway, though; as a writer, Elizabeth Knox opened my mind to magical realism and I’m always happy to see good books appreciated the way they deserve 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by!

  1. June 1st, 2010

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