Hiromi Goto Guest Post: "Whart?! No Romance in Your Dark Fantasy Novel, Half World?"!
Earlier this year, Hiromi Goto's phantasmagorical and often harrowing Half World was published as a young adult novel, although it's the kind of cross-over that deserves a wide readership among adults as well. It's already received the 2010 Sunburst Award and was just longlisted for the prestigious IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. The cover sports a glowing blurb from Neil Gaiman.
Not familiar with Goto's work? Here's a primer: her first novel, Chorus of Mushrooms (1994), received the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in the Caribbean and Canada region and was co-winner of the Canada-Japan Book Award. Her short stories and poetry have been widely published in literary journals and anthologies. Her second novel, The Kappa Child (2001), was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Regional Book, and was awarded the James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award. Her first children’s novel, The Water of Possibility, was also published that year. Hopeful Monsters, a collection of short stories, was released in 2004. You can check out her blog here.
Half World is a potent mix of fantasy and stark reality. It's beautifully written and deeply felt. It also avoids cliche by refusing to indulge in stock situations. For the next few days, we'll be running a few short pieces from the author about her views on fantasy, reality, horror, and the interplay between those modes...
Whart?! No Romance in Your Dark Fantasy Novel, Half World?!
by Hiromi Goto
Nope. Nada. Not a smidgeon. Not a whiff, no sparkles, no glitter glamour mon amour, armored or knighted or knitted from a charm embedded with fingernail clippings and mud mixed out of soil, spit and blood....
(Not that I’m personally opposed to romantic love.... )
Half World is about a deep love and enduring ties, between a daughter and her mother. For a great many people, a mother, or a mother figure, has played an incredibly important part of her/his/their life.... But there’s a dearth of stories about mothers and daughters, especially in YA*. There are many, many, YA novels across the genres that focus on the teen-aged girl’s relationship with her peers and/or a love interest. These relationships are important rites of passage, but so, too, is the teen’s relationship with her mother.... A long legacy of stories of orphaned daughters since Cinderella and Snow White and “The Matchstick Girl”, The Secret Garden, and Dorothy of Kansas, and Anne of Green Gables and so on—at the story level, these characters would not have had the adventure they had, if they had had a mother. I concur. But what kind of story would have played out if they did? (Terri Windling has written thoughtful essays on fairy tales tropes and myths and orphans and other such things at Endicott Studios. I strongly recommend a visit to the site if you’ve never been!)
Wait a sec! Half World is about a girl’s search for her missing mother.... So, aren’t I taking a near-similar track? One of the many strands woven into the conceptual cloth of Half World was the mother/daughter story of Demeter and Persephone. Melanie’s search for her mother is an inversion of the Greek myth. And, I wanted to explore a fantasy story that didn’t even touch upon the oft-seen conventions of the “coupled” or marriage endings. How about the idea of determining and developing an adult identity that’s not bound in blooming around locating and choosing a Love Object, the magical other half that makes you whole, I wondered. What then? (If you’re only half, without a lover, well, geez. That’s a sad state, really.... It would be impossible to walk, for instance. And, you couldn’t ride a bicycle. ) Maybe we could begin developing a sense of our ideal selves as a whole and strong individual, before ever having to imagine the self as part of a couple....
I think there’s been an odd conflation in the YA fantasy genre with the idea of fantasy as a narrative that involves the fantastic, and fantasy, as in: he’s my fantasy boyfriend come true!
Melanie Tamaki, the hero of Half World, is the daughter of a single mother who has long-suffered from ill health and has newly developed drinking problems. They’ve always struggled with poverty, and barely get by. Melanie is also a girl who has not felt the urge or the inclination to seek out romance. She is very much in survival mode. When she discovers that her mother has vanished, and is in the clutches of a vile-sounding man called Mr. Glueskin, she embarks on a horrific journey into the monstrous realm of Half World where the long-dead relive their traumatic suffering into eternity.
Melanie must find her mother and resist the powerful pull of despair, even as she discovers her own strengths and becomes a young woman who is the agent of her own change. Her dearest friends, an older Chinese shopkeeper, and a shape-shifting wise rat, provide support and love as she traverses a living nightmare.... These unlikely characters are part of a pivotal moment which will determine the futures of three different realms.
Melanie has no special magical powers.
And her boyfriend or girlfriend is not going to save her.
She must be her own best hero.
And I think that’s pretty fantastic.
End note: Hiromi still believes in romantic love! Just doesn’t think it has to be in every fantasy story’s plot or subplot.... <3 <3!
* Although Half World has been marketed as YA, when I wrote the novel I imagined the audience as teens to adults....