Wednesday, 6 July 2016

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

*Massive Spoilers Below*

Okay, let me get my ranting hat on. You've been warned. I didn't like this book, and there are very specific reasons why. You may like it. I am not debating whether or not it is well written. I will concede that the author knows how to write. That's why it's so maddening that the author bent his talent to writing a world so needlessly cruel. If this is his worldview, I want no part of it.

This, you see, is the major premise of the book: that if you need to prepare someone to take over as God (albeit a God with a lot of enemies. At least, we're told a lot of enemies. We don't really see them), what you need to do is take a bunch of young children, brutalize, torture, kill, and resurrect them over about 25 years, (including making sure one of them becomes the worst monster of all time and rapes the girl you want to be the one to become God), until she is wily enough to kill you and all her siblings in order to make the pain fucking stop.

This is, the book posits, the only way to make someone tough and smart enough to survive and become God. You know, instead of making them into a traumatized shell. Carolyn is traumatized, but the message behind this book is that all this trauma, brutality, and torture has caused her to be the fittest. Survival of the fittest! The one who can kill everyone around her, including all her brothers and sisters, just to get to her father and one brother who raped her.

That's, uh...totally how you want God to be operating?

This assumption, that we learn best through pain and brutality, instead of through guidance and challenge, roils my stomach. As does the description of Carolyn's father digging one of her sibling's eyes out every day for a month. (Or maybe that was done to her. I'm losing track which torture happened to which person.)

Of course, it doesn't help that this book set off one of my own particular triggers, one I don't usually run into in books. I was explosion-adjacent when I was young, you see, and suffered second-degree burns on my face and arm. (You can't tell anymore, thankfully.) It's not necessarily fire itself that's triggering for me, it's people being burned. This comes up in movies sometimes. Rarely in books, because I don't think visually, and even if there's a fire, most authors don't feel the need to go into excruciating detail.

Not so Scott Hawkins, who details the slow roasting alive of one of Carolyn's brothers in great detail and at length, with positive relish.

But honestly, I'm pretty sure that no matter which kind of violence is the right kind to hit your particular buttons, you'll find it here, and then at the end of the book, be told that it was all done in a good cause and with love, to make Carolyn tough enough.

I wanted to scream. This is not how you create toughness. Or resiliency. Or compassion. Torture breaks people, and it's unrealistic and horrifying to posit that it actually makes you a supreme being.

Not to mention which, there's a hole in the narrative that I think found at the end. See, at the end, Father tells Carolyn. (this whole book is a very lengthy look at how Carolyn kills everyone) after she's resurrected him, that he initially thought David (the rapist) would be his heir, and Carolyn the monster David had to kill to be worthy. But David failed ten times when it came to facing down Carolyn, and Father had to reset the timeline, and eventually reversed the roles.'s explicitly part of it that the child has to kill the father before they take on the monster sibling. And he's really, truly dead. He's resurrected by Carolyn, yes, but that's after she succeeded. So...when David failed, ten times...who brought Father back to life?

Father talks about it as a risk he had to take, but it seems like it's a risk that should have stopped this book before it got started. How could he reset it if he was never resurrected? How was he resurrected if his scion died before he assumed power?

Maybe there's an explanation somewhere, but this book is too ugly to delve back into to see. Last week, I reviewed Marilynne Robinson's Lila, which was wrenching and touching and about connection and distance and faith. It packed more genuine emotion into its pages than practically anything I've ever read.

And then I get this, where it's just brutality, end to end, underlying a survival of the fittest mentality that is not about adaptation but about how torture and rape makes you stronger and able to kill a monster that someone literally just created for you to fight. It's about how learning can only come through pain. It's all about trying to hurt the characters and often feels like an attempt to make the reader feel bruised as well.

I know which one I'd rather read. This book can go fuck itself.


  1. I think of that as the Frank Herbert Theory of Toughness - that brutality breeds strength - since Herbert does it both Dune with the Fremen and Sardaukar, and The Dosadi Experiment.

    1. I'd agree! This one ties it even more personally to a parent-child relationship, which...ugh.

  2. I agree every single thing you say here and am completely against this book's perspective, and yet I totally enjoyed this book. what is wrong with me, Megan? I can't explain myself!

    1. It is well written! The characters are good. I just spent too much time feeling sick to my stomach.