Review: ‘The Slow Regard of Silent Things’ by Patrick Rothfuss

Deep below the University, there is a dark place. Few people know of it: a broken web of ancient passageways and abandoned rooms. A young woman lives there, tucked among the sprawling tunnels of the Underthing, snug in the heart of this forgotten place.

Her name is Auri, and she is full of mysteries.

This novella is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read. Or listened to on audiobook, at any rate. It’s set in the world of The Name of the Wind, and focuses on Auri, an enchanting side character from the main story. In fact, it focuses on her to the point where she’s almost the sole character.

After a fashion.

Auri has a peculiar character trait in that she personifies the objects around her. She sees them as having names and moods and desires of their own, and believes her role is to make all the objects happy, to make the world “proper true”. As a result, there are objects in this novella, such as the light she carries around or a brass gear that she finds, that I was downright fond of by the end. And Auri, who cuts a very lonely figure, is never really alone.

As for the plot, well … there isn’t one. Not in the traditional sense. This novella is seven days in Auri’s life, as she prepares for a visit by Kvothe (though he is never named directly). She goes exploring, she searches for a gift to give him, she makes soap.

That’s it, in terms of the plot.

What the novella does do, and in a breathtakingly beautiful way, is explore the reality of someone who is entirely, utterly broken. Auri used to be a student at the University, and occasionally her educated vocabulary breaks through and gives a tantalising glimpse of the person she used to be. It’s never completely clear how many of her beliefs about the world around her are objectively true in Rothfuss’s world and how many are manifestations of her mental illness — and, at the end of the day, I’m not sure it matters. This story is from Auri’s point of view, and Auri believes these things with all of her being (while acknowledging in her darker moments that she herself isn’t “proper true”), so, as a reader, they were real for me too.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things isn’t a story in the traditional sense. It’s a set piece, a piece of art. The writing is gorgeous, like poetry. As a writer myself, I was humbled.

Rothfuss says in his foreword that, “If you haven’t read my other books, you don’t want to start here.” I can see why he said that, because this story isn’t typical of his style, and I guess he doesn’t want people reading this, being baffled, and not going back to the rest of his books. But, by the same token, you don’t need to have read his other books to appreciate the beauty of The Slow Regard of Silent Things. I recommend it for anyone who enjoys beautiful writing and the exploration of the mind of a strange, wonderful character. (Or for those who want to learn how to make soap!)

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