The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss
I’ve been kind of outspoken in my criticisms of the Kingkiller Chronicles books, especially the sexism in The Wise Man’s Fear, so I wasn’t sure what expectations to bring to The Slow Regard of Silent Things, a short novel that’s focused on a minor character, Auri. Auri is a mysterious girl who lives in the Underthing, the sewers underneath the city.
For me this book was all about language and atmosphere and living inside the head of a character whose view of the world is quite strange. Auri’s whimsical way of seeing things is very charming. She imbues every object she encounters with personality. She has premonitions that she trusts implicitly, and which give her purpose. She’s kind of OCD, thinking all the time about the ‘proper place’ of everything, and convinced that dire consequences await her if she doesn’t do things exactly right. In some ways she reminded me of the protagonist of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle (who’s *ahem* not very stable). Here’s a quick quote to give you the flavor of Auri’s thoughts:
All flickerling and sticky with web, Auri made her way to Bakery. It wasn’t oveny today. It was hunkered down and sullen, like a forgotten kiln.
Those made-up words and delicious rhythms were so much fun to read. That’s what I mean about the quality of sentence-craftsmanship here. The pretty words Auri uses to frame her unusual ideas are what makes a reader go along with them and even learn to like her.
I was slightly uncomfortable about the extent to which Auri’s entire life seemed to revolve around Kvothe, the protagonist of The Kingkiller Chronicles. In this book, Kvothe isn’t referred to by name, but with the context of the other novels, it’s clear who Auri is thinking of. Everything she does, from repairing pipes to making soap, is directed toward preparing for him to visit her. Maybe the narrow time frame is what causes or exacerbates this issue. It might not be fair of me to say her whole life is focused on Kvothe when we really only see a week of her life (and Auri lives so much in the present that it’s impossible to generalize about her past or future based on this snippet). Still, it was a bit disconcerting to watch Auri build this incredibly intricate life in the Underthing–and then realize it’s not for her, but for a guy.
To be clear, I was never offended at all by this book, as I was by The Wise Man’s Fear; my reaction was mostly positive. I hope that this intense focus on the inner life of a female character means that Rothfuss’s future books will incorporate women’s perspectives as well.