Thursday, September 6, 2012

What I Learned About Storytelling Reading Venom by Fiona Paul

I'm forcing myself to write this review despite the impulse to look up anything else Fiona Paul has written. I wasn't planning to read Venom until October, but I took a peek at the first page and then I couldn't stop.

Cass's childhood friend has passed away. Grieving and restless, she visits her friend's crypt that night to find the door ajar - Liviana's body is gone, replaced with the bloody corpse of different girl. Also skulking in the graveyard is a lewd young painter with blue eyes and a crooked smile. Well, here we go.

I'd like to present the storytelling elements that seem worthy of dissecting (whipping out a scalpel): 

4. The horror, the horror, is comprised of the following:
  • Sound. Sound, sound, sound. Onomatopoeias creep me out. Examples to come. 
  • Falco's fascination for anatomy, and the quotations from the Book of the Eternal Rose between chapters, kind of develop creepy empathy for a Ripper-style murderer.
  • The constant possibility Cass is lusting after the murderer. 
  • The Venetian setting. A sinking city whose people struggle to communicate and even move because the streets ARE FREAKIN' WATER. Ahem. I like Venice.
  • The sheer number of suspects: Almost every single man in the plot draws suspicion. 

3. I like to think cliches are cliches for a reason. They work. It's just, you know, well - we get sick of recognizing them. They mark predictability. Here are some cliche's that Fiona Paul steered off the driven path:
  • The story starts with a funeral - the funeral at which she meets said blue-eyed artiste. 
  • The story ends with a wedding - including a completely unwilling type of "wedding night."
  • Falco does have blue eyes and a crooked smile. He's a Jack Dawson-like artist. But by the time I realized this, I didn't care. I think this might have to do with his tendency to vacillate between blush-inducing flirtation and graveyard-haunting, scalpel-toting, blood-streaked creepertude. He somehow always manages to remain sexy, even when you think he's the killer: At points, I almost found myself hoping Cass had indeed fallen for a Venetian Ripper. 

2. The writing is cinematic. Fiona Paul writes with sentence structures that clue you into the way she'd shoot this as a movie. Frame placements of many images, along with the the camera's angles and movement, are implicit. Examples to come. 

1. Oh, how we crave strong female characters these days. On the first page, Cass bonds with a friend over criticism of a fearmongering priest with eyes like volcanic glass. Instantly, the simmering potential for revolution in this character tugged at me. There's one scene I don't think I'll forget. Cass rows a gondola - something she doesn't think another Venetian woman has ever done before - and laughs with the freedom of it. In her excitement, she removes the stifling stays she's been complaining about since page one, and throws them to the canal. 

She has an Antigone-like loyalty to her dead friend and longs for her to rest in peace - partially because her own parents died abroad and their bodies were never found. And like every great dynamic character, by the end, she does something she never, ever would have done in the story's beginning. 

Once the book comes out, I'll close this review with the priest's line in the first chapter - the line from which the title comes. 


  1. So the danger of google alerts is that I get every less-than-favorable review of Venom delivered straight to my inbox. But every time I tell myself 'Self. Stop with the masochism. Turn that crap off and live free and blissfully,' I either find a critical review which is thoughtful and helps me grow as a writer or I get something like this, a post that makes me feel a million warm fuzzies. A post that reminds me those long days of revising the MS to the specs of a Renaissance expert and those long (more fun!) nights of dissecting scary movies to see why they work or don't work was noticed and appreciated by some.

    And in the business of writing, some has gotta be enough. Thanks for taking the time to read and review Venom.


    PS The sequel is even better, I swearz! :)

  2. I'm so glad my review reached you and it was encouraging. Venom has been on my mind since I finished it. I want to see Cass stand up & revolutionize even more. I can't wait for the sequel - I'm excited to hear it exists! I couldn't find word of it anywhere.

    I'll be surprised if encouraging reviews don't overtake negative ones, in time. Besides - after all those hours of revising, you've gotta have thicker skin than you realize.


  3. Fantastic review! You are so very right about cliches. They exist because they work, and we know them because they work so well. That's why I'm never totally against cliches in books. Done well, I am totally willing to overlook them. I mean, it's great for authors to try other things, but in the end, they gain fame for their reworkings of cliches. Sort of like music and Pachelbel's Canon in D.

    1. YES! I can't believe I didn't reply to this. You make so much sense to me.. It's strange - We call Canon a cliche, but acknowledge it's classic. Why not tropes and phrases?