She Kicks Ass & You’ll Like It: Nicola Griffith’s Always


So, the official word is out that I nominated Nicola Griffith’s Always for the summer round of the LitBlog Co-Op, and I’m going to do my best to try and convince you to read it NOW so you can hop over and participate in the discussion later on. I’ve only been a nominator once before (I chose Jeff Ford’s The Girl in the Glass), and making a choice wasn’t tough at all that time either. This time around, I’d planned on choosing Ysabeau’s Flora Segunda, but then it was getting all sorts of love from the New York Times and, well basically, everywhere, and began to be not overlooked enough (which is a good thing). Griffith’s new novel landed in my lap and I devoured it immediately, loved it, and had a couple of days to make a pick. The choice was clear. (And isn’t it interesting that both of my picks to date have been mystery/suspense? Clearly, I need to be reading more of the stuff.)

Now, I hope this book turns out not to be overlooked too. I hope it is the one which finally gets the attention and buzz and READERS it deserves, but I strongly feel that Griffith’s work–and the Aud novels in particular–deserve more readers. They get pigeonholed, I think, for some interesting reasons.

I should start over a bit and say that if you haven’t read the earlier Aud novels The Blue Place and Stay, then you’re in for a treat, but you don’t have to have done so to read this one. (At least, that’s my take — I suppose the LBCers will get to weigh in on that one, since I imagine most of them haven’t read the earlier books.) Aud is Aud Torvingen, an uber-rich, uber-competent, uber-striking Norwegian expatriate who’s been living in Atlanta (where one of Always’ dual storylines is set) for years. She’s an ex-cop. She knows a bunch of different ways to kill you with her hands. She’s so in her head that she sometimes has trouble being in her heart. But her heart has funny ways of getting around that and when she feels and when she is smashed? It hurts oh so much more.

She is, basically, a larger-than-life noir heroine. No one would bat an eyelash at this character if she were a man, I don’t think (based on James Bond, the Bourne dude, and a half dozen other examples), but I’m really curious to see how the other members of the LBC react to her. There are tons of kick-ass and ass-kicking female characters being written today, but I’m hard-pressed to come up with one exactly like Aud. Again, uber. Uber-everything. And fascinatingly complex. One of the key differences between Aud and the typical male larger-than-life thriller hero is the depth at which we get to look at her insides–those characters tend to be ciphers, the reasons they are what they are often too thin to stand up to scrutiny. And they very rarely change. Aud isn’t a cipher and she is constantly growing, changing, learning while still being completely consistent as a character, both of which are tributes to Griffith’s fine, fine writing.

The other reason I think these books haven’t busted out completely is that Aud is a lesbian and sometimes she falls in love. This new book is part love story. Yes, there is hot girl-on-girl action. (Please, shoot the person who ever came up with that term.) And so maybe this is one of those books that gets embraced by the gay community, but which doesn’t get picked up by the average thriller reader. I suspect this is a factor. It’s a silly factor, but nonetheless. (My recent conversations with gay/lesbian publishing types back this impression up too.)

So, anyway, these are awesome, weighty page-turners–they completely earn that elusive "meaning of life thriller" (to steal Sean Stewart’s term again) designation. These are big, ass-kicking, kick-ass books. Give Always a shot and see if you don’t agree.

I’ll have much, much more to say on the beauty that is Always later this summer. You should too.

See also: Griffith’s Web site

7 thoughts on “She Kicks Ass & You’ll Like It: Nicola Griffith’s Always”

  1. Gwenda — Jeff Ford’s The Girl in the Glass was such a lovely surprise last year and I truly loved it. If you picked that — I’m all in for Always.

  2. I’ve got it – I plan to review it for Bookslut. I’ll have to time it so my review is up when you guys are talking about it.

  3. One of my favorite things about the book was how the two storylines played off of one another–the self-defense storyline displaying Aud’s scary competence and impatience with her sometimes clueless students, bumping up against her complete obliviousness to her own and other people’s feelings and their frustrations with her in the Seattle storyline. And the subtle compare-and-contrast with her mother, and the way that her mother’s concerns about her relationship actually push her towards it without evoking a soap-opera mother/daughter rebellion vibe.

  4. I *loved* the other Aud novels, and though the fact that the heroine’s a lesbian *may* be a factor in getting it more widely-recognized, it could also be a factor in *getting* it more widely read.
    Just look at Sarah Waters. It took her several books before the movie version of Tipping the Velvet got the books more mainstream attention.
    A lot depends on timing and whether or not you can get key people to read it (ie people who can push it to a wider audience).
    Also, it helps to write a good book. At least that part’s done…

  5. Good on ya for recommending this to the LBC, Gwenda. I’m hoping to pick it up soon, and I anticipate enjoying it just as much as Griffith’s previous novels. Aud just rawks.

  6. Voilà je suis viens de lire les deux 1er livres de Nicola sur les aventures de Aud Tovingen.
    Pour nous en France nous avons au minimum un décalage de deux ans(si le livre est traduit),pour avoir le plaisir de les lire, et croyez moi j’en suis très frustré, car pour Alway il va falloir attendre, et ça me parais une éternité tellement ça va être long.
    Mais franchement la façon d’on Nicola a écrit ces livres sont d’une finesse dans l’écriture, avec beaucoup de passion, de recherches, de vécut, et aussi beaucoup d’amour peut-être pas exprimer tout le long de ces livres par du sexe mais je trouve que c’est là que cela est intéressant,
    -Comment captiver un public “lesbien” ou pas car Aud est très indépendante, sure d’elle en fait on a l’impression que les gens lui reproche d’être une femme et non un homme pour toutes les références détaillées de l’histoire, tel que, les arts martiaux, autonomie, l’assurance qu’elle dégage, son organisation etc…comme -ci seul un homme était capable d’être comme ça et non une femme. que Aud soit Lesbienne ne doit pas amener les gens a ce poser cette question,
    “et si cette histoire avait pour héros un homme” ,personnellement je m’en fiche haut et fort, j’aime cette femme lesbienne et tant mieux que Nicola l’ai inventé, j’aime sa vie,
    Sa complexité relationnelle ,la manière qu’elle conduit son existence,(n’avons nous pas certains d’autres nous des difficultés relationnelle dans nos vie respective).
    C’est vrai que j’aimerais que les histoires de Aud Torvingen soit réalisé pour le petit écran, ( voir grand écran) pourquoi pas on peut rêver.
    Les Anglais on bien réalisé deux films sur les livres de Sarah Waters, alors pourquoi pas les Américain sur les livres de Nicola Griffith, il y a bien The l world, et nous en France on aime l’amour même si les gays n’arrive pas a faire des avancés plus que ce qu’on voudrait, tel que moi personnellement, que ma femme obtienne l’autorité parentale, car si il m’arrivait quelques choses… je ne veux même pas y pense, car cela me fait mal, mais les gays et lesbiennes peuvent vivre leur vie et quand un film lesbien passe a la télé il a une bonne audience, et les critiques ne sont pas négative.
    Enfin voilà ce que j’en pense.
    Merci Nicola Griffith et ces aventures sur Aud Torvingen.
    Nadia Tazi.

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