Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Book Review: A House of Pomegranates

A HOUSE OF POMEGRANATES: Unnecessary exposition could kill a story

A House of Pomegranates is another collection of short stories for children by Oscar Wilde. It contains The Young King, The Birthday of the Infanta, The Fisherman and his Soul, and The Star-Child.

I’ve said in my review of The Happy Prince and Other Tales, the other collection of Oscar Wilde, that I liked his simplistic yet lyrical writing voice. This style, however, is not used in A House of Pomegranates. The sentence structure and the words used in this collection are less fantastical. And the stories, in general, are much darker. But Oscar Wilde still utilized personification, and that still gives the stories a magical impression.

The most prominent difference between the two collections is their way to develop the plot. While The Happy Prince and Other Tales is straight to the point, and has goals that drive the stories to a specific direction, A House of Pomegranates goes on different directions, and that gives the tendency of my being disengaged from time to time.

The perfect examples of this disengaging storytelling are The Young King and The Birthday of the Infanta. The Young King bombards me with dreams. Even though they prove to be relevant to the overall message that the story wants to deliver, the storytelling doesn’t give me a reason why I should care. There is no conflict. The young king is just dreaming, and his dreams are symbolic. But then what? As for The Birthday of the Infanta, it plagues me with mindless exposition that turns out to be irrelevant to the plot. If that random establishing has been completely removed, I would have been more engaged to the story. But I do appreciate the messages of these stories, it just turns out that the way they are told is filled with extensive and unrelated exposition.

            The Fisherman and his Soul and The Star-Child, on the other hand, are told quite differently. The Fisherman and his Soul doesn’t tell me the colour of the fisherman’s boat, or how heavy his fishnet is. It actually tells me a story about a fisherman and a mermaid. But just as I am beginning to dash through its pages, the story slows down to fall victim to unnecessary descriptions as well. The Shadow’s stories could have been a lot shorter. Overall, The Fisherman and his Soul could have been twenty-two to twenty-five pages long -- that’s six to eight pages shorter -- if the random exposition in the Shadow’s stories is to be removed. Despite this flaw, this is my favourite story in the collection. It is very subtle. It is very open to analysis.

The most well paced story is The Star-Child. It has the same style of storytelling with the stories of The Happy Prince and Other Tales -- straightforward, and there is a goal that will move the story to a specific direction.

Overall, A House of Pomegranates is still an enjoyable read. The stories it contains have messages that are more subtle than their direct meanings. They’re stories you could call multilayered, stories where you should read between the lines. Some of them even have religious commentaries -- for better or worse. Yes, it is a collection less powerful compared to The Happy Prince and Other Tales, but it doesn’t mean that it is weak. After all, we’re talking about a short story collection by Oscar Wilde here, and there’s a reason why his works withstood the test of time.

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