The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

 

Image of the book cover of The Slow Regard of Silent Things
Image of the book cover of The Slow Regard of Silent Things

If you understand obsessive-compulsive disorder, keep reading.

And if you don’t, well, then definitely keep reading. Because what Patrick Rothfuss has done with his novella, The Slow Regard of Silent Things, is create a window into the mind of a young woman who lives—and thrives—surrounded by the ever vigilant demons of o.c.d.

Though a stray from the full-length novels readers may typically associate with Rothfuss’ 800-page epics, this novella still manages to elevate itself above what one might expect from the large font and ink-drawn pictures throughout. With language that requires a thesaurus and a chemistry text book at times, readers are certain to get their fill of vernacular gymnastics. For others, don’t let this discourage you as the context is enough to get you by in all but a few instances.

In this must-read side story to the Kingkiller Chronicle, The Slow Regard of Silent Things creates a unique environment in the sprawling and aptly—though not obviously—named tunnels, rooms and sewers that make up the Underthing, a home to Auri, the female protagonist who lives with what is at times, a crushing case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Though not directly named, Rothfuss alludes heavily to the disorder through the descriptions Auri voices in her explorations. He crafts an exceptional experience that allows the reader to slip into  Auri’s mind while she struggles with, and ultimately overcomes, the closing and crushing walls of her disorder. Though the book bears no antagonist in the truest sense of the word, the internal battle played out through Auri’s interactions in her world never leaves the reader feeling jilted. In the midst of her worst attack, Auri finds a beacon capable of guiding her back to herself. Rothfuss writes:

Illustration from novella: "But there. Against the wall she saw the brazen gear all unchanged."
Illustration from novella: “But there. Against the wall she saw the brazen gear all unchanged.”

“But there. Against the wall she saw the brazen gear all unchanged. It was too full of love. Nothing could shift it. Nothing could turn it from itself. When all the world was palimpsest, it was a perfect palindrome. Inviolate.”

In his writing he reveals a depth of knowledge about the intricate ways obsessive-compulsive disorder physically and mentally affects those who live with it. Using terms like “eggshell,” “tangle and cut-string” and “unravelding” can help the reader to try and make some sense of the struggle to maintain sanity Auri is experiencing when her world seems to have spun out of order and cannot find its place.

Patrick Rothfuss, a writer who has already been heralded for his use of diverse characters and cultures as well as his non-stereotypical portrayal of female characters in his first two novels, The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear, has continued and improved upon this practice in The Slow Regard of Silent Things. Straying from the neurotypical, strong male protagonist, Rothfuss instead focuses on a half-starved, mentally unstable, orphan-hermit who suffers from seleno– and xeno- phobias among a multitude of others. Despite, or maybe because of this, Auri is a strong-hearted character who finds beauty in just about every aspect of her existence.

Illustration from novella: "Descriptive names create exotic passageways."
Illustration from novella: “Descriptive names create exotic passageways.”

One of the most intriguing and impressive parts about this work is the way Rothfuss is able to create descriptions of the world as seen through Auri’s eyes that often seem obvious at first, but are, as Auri would put it, “black with bright beneath. A hidden thing.” A tallow candle becomes “All warm and stuffed with poetry,” while a nutmeg seed is described as, “Musk and thistle. A smell like a bordello curtain, deep and red and full of mysteries.” There is a deeply ingrained feeling of nostalgia to the writing, a sense that this story has existed in the subplots of many fantasy worlds, tucked away in some story untold. Rothfuss lets the reader sink deep into a world that engulfs the mind and displaces reality. Rooms bear names that fit the eye, or the ear. A place with moving water and glass bottles clinking together is called Tinks. Greely creates a dark connotation, “with its twisting ways and its sulfurant smell.” Looming, Sit Twice, and Faceling all create images you can see in your imagination before you ever read another word .

Rothfuss’ use of personification works so well it lends an ethereal quality to his writing. Descriptions that are simple and child-like also manage to be delicately precise and encompassing. A crystal, fallen from a ballroom style chandelier and unbroken, is “a lucky thing, and brave.” The crystal is lucky because it is unbroken, but it is brave because it decided to break free from the chandelier, knowing such a long fall awaited it on the ground and not possibly knowing who or what it would meet after that. This more thoughtful examination of everyday objects shows a deeper understanding of the world by Auri than might be imagined of her at first glance.

Rothfuss creates a uniquely independent character, devoid of the typical trappings of a “forlorn maiden,” choosing instead to allow Auri’s inimitable appeal and charisma to shine boldly through the dark spots in her life. She doesn’t need the approval of the outside world, but instead has to battle with the constant disapproval of her own mind. In the book, her own demons become as real as and more than any that could be placed on her by society.

This book is a lot like that fallen crystal. Bold, beautiful, and full of a thousand secrets and rumors.

By: J. Zeiders

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