Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

 

“Emira found herself arranging her mouth as if she’d ingested something too hot. She caught a morphed reflection in a freezer door, and she saw herself in her entirety.”

So I'd been hearing a lot about this book and wondered what the fuss was all about. For a first novel it is amazingly good. Equal parts hilarious, uncomfortable and troubling it is undoubtedly an amazing piece of writing that I throughly recommend ( as have a host of reviewers out there).
Reviewing a novel about race is challenging these days. I don't want to offend anyone, I can only relate my feelings about reading this book. As a white reader I experienced the creepy sensation of the do-gooder boss who sees Emira as a project and reflection of her liberal attitudes. In Alix's gaze, Emira ceases to be a person and is a walking beacon of virtue signalling by a cardboard self-help guru whose facade is purely plastic. The ***spoilers ahead*** revelations of Alix's past and relationship with Kelley further illustrate her fake nature.

Kelley isn't as colour blind as he repeatedly insists he is. In some ways, he's the embodiment of the sexual fetishisation of people of colour, with his penchant for dark skinned girlfriends coming as a disappointing revelation. I so wanted him to be the perfect boyfriend, but then I remembered they rarely exist, even in literature.

If I've made you think this is all serious and depressing, then fear not. One of the greatest achievements of the novel is that the heroine, Emira, is such a well rounded, engaging character and so entertaining as we, the reader, share her knowing winks, disappointments and eventual triumphant escape from the babysitting rut.

Personally, I think we're all humans and there are aspects within us all  that make us feel like the 'other'. Some of us pass through the world with less of these complications, that doesn't impede our ability to empathise with others subject to more obvious biases. What this story so brilliantly does is bring those to the fore, so that we can think about what needs to change in today's world, how complicit we are in that structure ,what should have changed many centuries before and the comforting lies we sometimes tell ourselves.

5 out of 5 - believe the hype.


A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

 

But we are always optimists when it comes to time; we think there will be time to do things with other people. And time to say things to them.”

Sometimes you just read the perfect book at the perfect time.The lovely Andrea who helped me set up our newly established bookclub, picked this delightful novel and what a fantastic selection. Ove is determined to end his life after the loss of his wife and yet life has other plans. I'm probably giving way too much away here and yet this endearing portrait of a grumpy widower who finds reasons for living due to his neighbours leaves such a beautiful impression that doesn't fade with time.
His passion for Saabs is reminiscent of the Ford versus Holden diehards of the nineteen eighties. In fact, Ove's general grumpy demeanour and kind heart reminded me of my dad, a similarity that gained additional poignancy as he's been not himself lately.
I would wholeheartedly recommend this novel to anyone, it has a decidedly universal appeal and is the perfect antidote to these misery guts COVID times.

 5 out of 5 - don't park on his grass and you will need tissues.


Run River by Joan Didion



“She hoped that although he could not hear her she could somehow imprint her ordinary love upon his memory through all eternity, hoped he would rise thinking of her, we were each other, we were each other, not that it mattered much in the long run but what else mattered as much.”

I was eagerly anticipating getting my teeth into Didion's first novel, as I've really marvelled over some of her other works.It has been a rough few weeks with family things going on, so perhaps I wasn't best placed to launch into a bad relationship story. I've read some rave reviews, and yet this didn't leave much of a mark on me. It starts off so promising with the evaporating Joy perfume and continued down a joyless path that I couldn't connect with.

3 out of 5 not the salve I needed.

Monday, 24 August 2020

The Oppenheimer Alternative by Robert. J. Sawyer

 

 

The term ”fission” describing how a uranium nucleus could split into two had been borrowed from biology, and Oppie had a sudden flash of micrographs he’d seen of a dividing cell: an entity pinched in the middle to form bulbous halves. Grove’s belt was the construction and an ample gut billowed out above and below it.”

 

I’m going to start with a negative here and its no reflection on Robert J Sawyer’s great writing. No, I struggled to get into this novel a little at first because my imagination about the Manhattan project was coloured so deeply by the tv show of the same name. This was a tad confusing for me and I think possibly impacted my otherwise thorough enjoyment of the novel. Nevertheless, my interest was rekindled and by the end I was a complete convert.

The Robert Oppenheimer of Sawyer’s novel is  an enigmatic creature, often caught between two worlds. This is highlighted by the two women in his life. His wife and fellow scientist, Kitty and Jean his troubled, communist lover. Dealing with the destructive outfall of his work and his love life leaves ‘Oppie’ in a tenuous space, until the chance to save the earth with his work transforms his horizons.

The set up in the past is so detailed and appears to be meticulously researched, so when the story branches off from reality into an alternate history, the reader is 100% onboard. I personally adore the way Sawyer puts the ‘science’ into fiction. He makes science a thrilling character of its own in his work. It makes me want to study something in the STEM world.

The political machinations are of course also fascinating and some background from the author’s research explored in the novel unearths some surprising facts. The novel’s publication in parallel with the 75th anniversary of the first atomic bomb test, the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is particularly meaningful and was fought for by the author.

I digress though. The tale transforms from a historical narrative to a thrilling piece of speculative fiction which was ultimately gripping and made me happy that I’d treated myself to the hard copy version.

 

5 out of 5, can’t wait for Mr Sawyer’s next work – I’m a big fan.

Friday, 21 August 2020

The Last Weekend by Blake Morrison

 

"So to recap: on a late October night in my second year at uni I meet Daisy and ask her out."

If you've been reading my reviews you will know my list ticking insanity. I've never met a top 10 list on The Guardian that I didn't immediately want to finish. So this novel was the last one for me from Tim Lott's Top 10 summers in fiction list and what a fantastic list it was.

This novel is peopled by some generally unlikeable people. The narrator, Ian,  is married to Emily and yet still carries a torch for his love from university,Daisy. This is despite the fact that she is married to his best friend from university. Naturally Daisy's husband, Ollie, not only got the girl, but has a jealousy inducing more successful career and lifestyle. 

Appearances can be deceiving and a couple's weekend away unearths the secret of Ollie's terminal cancer diagnosis and a large wager between the two men. Is Ollie telling the truth,?Can Ian be relied upon as a narrator? Is something terrible going to happen?

Well I guess you will have to pick up a copy to find out. This has a somewhat Hitchcock-light feel to it and while aspects were fantastic, I was disappointed that I could predict what was going to happen. The thriller aspect built slowly and then just fizzled a little for me. I don't think I cared enough about the characters and that dulled the story's impact. It still is an engaging read and I'm nit-picking.


4 out of 5, the good thing about being single is no smug couple weekends.

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett


"Tiffany Aching was the witch, and she had made herself the witch because they needed one. Everybody needs a witch, but sometimes they just don't know it."

In these crazy times, the best retreat is to the Discworld. I'm not joking! Seriously grab some Pratchett and feel instantly better. I guarantee it works. This instalment sees the witch Tiffany Aching really come into her own, it is the fourth story of her adventures and possibly the best.

Unfairly accused of murder, Tiffany escapes to Ankh-Morpork but its more than the law in hot pursuit. The terrifying Cunning Man might just be the end of her and all witches.
Settle in for a glorious adventure, drink up with the Nac Mac Feegles and meet the adorable Preston. Hurry up and grab a copy and if you've read it before, maybe crack it open again.

Big thanks to the always amazing Nicki for lending me a copy.

5 out of 5, who doesn't love a black dress.



Sunday, 19 July 2020

Who Slays the Wicked by C.S.Harris (Sebastian St. Cyr 14)


"Sebastian wasn't prepared to take anything Princess Ivanna Gagarin told him at face value."
The long awaited next instalment of the adventures of a certain Sebastian St. Cyr was happily provided by my fantastic partner in literary admiration, book buddy Nicki. This latest mystery starts with violence, and the gore continues. It is hard to be concerned about who done it, when the victim is a thoroughly unlikeable guy, but as the body count rises, the plot thickens.

If I had any quibbles they would probably only be that there wasn't enough Hero for my liking. While the plot meanders with increasing complexity, it is nonetheless, another engaging story from C.S. Harris.

5 out of 5 everybody dies eventually.