The Name of the Wind tells the life story of Kvothe, a legendary hero, and goes about showing the more realistic story behind the legend. It’s a book about deconstructing legends and in that sense, it’s a book about story.
The problem for me is that a novel must have plot. It must have a beginning, a middle and an end. It must have that arc of story that weaves and pulls threads together. The Name of The Wind doesn’t have a plot. Oh yes, there’s certainly a progression of story as we follow Kvothe growing up and the story at the Whetstone gives scaffolding to the novel, becoming a pseudo front and end.
The trouble is that in order to deconstruct legends, the book has to sacrifice plot. If it didn’t Kvothe’s life would be a little too neat and the book just wouldn’t work. However, for me at least, instead of just taking a little blood, it kills it on the altar. And that ruins the book for me.
There’s some great and very clever metafiction out there. The French Lieutenant’s Woman is probably my favourite. And part of me just thinks that Rothfuss could have been smarter and delivered a ‘proper’ novel that deconstructs myth.
When I was 8 I wrote my first fantasy story. Whereas most stories pupils wrote in school were two or three pages long, mine was 18. It must have been pretty good for an 8 year old as they typed it up for the school library and encouraged me to write more. What I did was extend the story with extra adventures to create a story over 100 pages in length. This was little more than a series of unconnected stories featuring the same characters. Then they did this and then they did that.
And The Name of The Wind reminds me of this, because it feels like that story. Then I lost a talent then I gained a talent. A series of almost independent adventures, sometimes almost repetitious in nature as Kvothe makes his way through university. If there is no plot to advance per say, then surely the function of these episodes is to highlight character. But we’ve seen Kvothe in these circumstances before, they don’t seem to advance character.
If this was a genuine memoir, they’d be forgiven, lives don’t fit nicely into novels. But this is fiction pretending to be a memoir, and I find myself thinking “surely, they could be condensed and streamlined a bit without losing that sense off the randomness of life, that illusion of memoir”.
Now I do think that it’s clever that as a reader we overlook this because we subconsciously accept this as a memoir. Despite all my problems with it, I don’t think this is a bad book. In fact I did enjoy it.
Most of the book is told in the first person and ordinarily that would start to tire very quickly, but there’s a real sense of the storyteller to Kvothe, that makes the chapters slip by. Now maybe because I’m editing right now and developing a critical eye but the amount of adjectives in dialogue attribution gave me the feeling that the voice was covering up a multitude of sins. It stops me saying I think this book was well written, yet doesn’t stop me saying that the book was an easy read. Perhaps this is part of Kvothe’s voice and another ‘meta’ thing. I hate saying it bothered me, but it really brought me out of the story at times as much as I wish it didn’t.
Rothfuss’ world is very rich and the ambling nature of the story means the reader can really wallow in the worldbuilding. Kvothe is also a wonderful character. We see the world through his eyes, yet never once did I tire of the voice. I also really liked Denna. I’ve had some real problems with female characters in fantasy of late and I loved how Denna was a well-rounded, individual, interesting character who was always Kvothe’s equal (sometimes even more) rather than just a damsel in distress. I love the wind motif that seems to be attached to her but was slightly disappointed when this hadn’t amounted to anything by the end of the novel.
Indeed I think the characterisation (and the rich worldbuilding) in this novel is what saved it for me. I was prepared to read through more financial transactions than the US stock market as Kvothe lost and gained talents, because I loved the characters so and wanted to find out what happened next.
I’m not a critical reader. I like what I like even if it is stupid and dumb. The Name of The Wind isn’t stupid or dumb by any means, and I can see why this is seen by many people as one of their favourite all-time fantasy novels. I can also see why some people hate this book. For me, looking critically at it, I do think it’s an ambitious yet deeply-flawed novel.
The sequel, due this year, will be interesting and a book I’ll probably read eventually. I think for me, it’ll either validate or totally destroy my views on this book. If I’m honest, I’m fine with either way.
At the end of all this, after all this criticism, I can still say that I enjoyed the novel. I doubt it’ll be in my list of books I recommend to new fantasy readers as must-read classics but neither am I going to tell them to avoid it either. Instead I imagine many a long discussion about this novel for years to come.