Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

Tigana is the kind of book I won’t talk about with people who don’t love it. If you can shrug and say “it was all right”, let’s not discuss it. Not because I don’t respect your opinion, but because you’d be better off giving my wife a black eye – I’d be less emotionally involved. I’m exaggerating, of course, but not by much. When I think about Tigana or, to be more accurate, think in Tigana, I’m thinking about heroism, making love, beauty, peace, and friendship.

Tigana is a tale of agony, of the meaning of words, of the significance of history and story, and the compromise between love and hate, desire and purpose. All that sounds nebulous, I know, and like empty sales hype on a jacket blurb of some Harlequin romance. Not the idea I mean to convey – the failure is mine perhaps – but some things are delightfully, irreducibly complex – or if you’re one of those worshippers of simplicity, let’s say “rich”.  I’ve no intention of pursuing a full review right now, or of trying to sum up what I see as a vast expanse that can’t be conveyed by throwing a plot outline at you. That’s what jacket blurbs are for, and no jacket is going to convey this book’s significance.

I will say that if you rule out things by genre, you won’t like this. I always feel a kind of helpless pity for people that don’t read fiction, and thereafter for people who dismiss whole genres like sci-fi or fantasy (which I think takes the most eye rolls from the uninitiated – people who think fantasy is just swords, sorcery, and elves and sci-fi is shoot-em-ups with aliens in spaceships – not that I”m knocking those things – good writing is good writing, and I defy anyone to not have fun in one of Heinlein’s starship shoot-em-ups). Anyone that can read Ursula LeGuin, though, for instance (I know, I know, poster child for crossover work), and can dismiss those two genres doesn’t know beans. It’s like saying there’s never been a worthwhile mystery novel. I’m not a big fan of mystery, but the master (Doyle, you know) can have my attention any time. But you’re also writing off some of the best work ever in political philosophy (Robert Heinlein, Ayn Rand, Ray Bradbury, Orwell, Huxley, Zamyatin – and shorting yourself a liberal education – reading about political philosophy, isn’t the same as reading political philosophy – and the academics would have us think that’s specialized work – nah, the best stuff has been written for a popular audience – it has come out of the ivory tower and gotten dirty in all the right bars). And you’re missing in some authors, like Kay and C.J. Cherryh, for instance – definitely LeGuin) some stunningly insightful work in social anthropology and social theory (Orson Scott Card). You either have to dismiss whole disciplines of human endeavour, or be unaware of their presence in the genres – ignorance either way, you see. You know what they say – ignorance can be cured. Willful ignorance…

Not to beat up people who don’t routinely like sci-fi or fantasy. It’s one thing to say I don’t like squashes and zucchini. It’s another to say I don’t like vegetables. If you’re in the latter camp, get to a doctor, you’re not going to live much longer than it takes to read this entry. But you could get some really great stuff out of Umberto Ecco who usually stays out of these genres, for instance, and Rand who usually does. So yeah, I’m taking a block of space to not talk about this book in particular. Precisely because by doing so, I’m saying it’s too rich to be represented by a blurb. It’s more honest to just mention it and talk about other things around it, irritating or bewildering as it may prove.

Note: The 2nd time around, I ‘read’ it in audio format. Available from Amazon.

1 thought on “Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay”

  1. Totally agree!! I picked up Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry on a whim at the bookstore, and went on to purchase all of his other books. “Tigana” was especially haunting. I found your post here when I was looking up the meaning of the word itself, hoping to use it for a pen name. Apparently it is a surname as well as a girl’s first name.

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