I originally read The Handmaid's Tale in school while I was studying for my GCSE's, and so had it ticked off in my head as a thing that I had done. ReI originally read The Handmaid's Tale in school while I was studying for my GCSE's, and so had it ticked off in my head as a thing that I had done. Recently, with the rise of the Tangerine Behemoth in that America and the constant citing of this book (and 1984) in the media as a point of reference, I found myself thinking back on it and realised I didn't remember as much as I thought. I recall at the time being fascinated by the concepts, but struggling to picture OfFred's world.
A very basic summary of the content. When the white religious Right seize control of America women are stripped wholesale of their rights and put to work in various capacities. OfFred is a handmaid, her role to enter the household of a high status male and provide breeding services (caucasian fertility having been vastly reduced by various toxins in the environment). The novel is OfFred's possibly unreliable account of her time in this role. It’s a direct and matter-of-fact telling (sprinkled with Atwood’s deft linguistic poetry) that’s sometimes compelling and sometimes infuriating. OfFred is a woman trapped entirely by her circumstances. This is no heroic tale of rebellion, but one where tiny and pathetic subversions are the best that can be hoped for. Her lack of agency is both the point and the problem for a casual reader. She is difficult to admire and easy to pity - all of your narrative instincts demand that a person in this sort of story find a way to fight back, but the credibility of the character and the world she lives in makes this a vain hope. The deep frustration this causes in the reader is one of the factors that make the book so powerful and authentic. You’re cleverly manipulated into feeling every bit as frustrated and trapped as OfFred. She has no agency. Things happen to her that she can’t control, be they good or bad, and she can do nothing but accept the circumstances she finds herself in. This holds true even at the story’s open-ended conclusion, which offers neither resolution nor catharsis.
What remains is a vignette writ large of a chilling, totalitarian world just a couple of left-turns away from our own, with as many horrifying implications between the lines as within. It’s fascinating, infuriating, and is if anything more powerful now than it was when it was first written. Reading it in 2017, I no longer struggled to picture OfFred’s world. It looks remarkably similar to our own....more
The third and (for now) final book charting the pacey, nonsensical adventures of the interdimensional Librarian Irene and her apprentice Kai. It’s fasThe third and (for now) final book charting the pacey, nonsensical adventures of the interdimensional Librarian Irene and her apprentice Kai. It’s fast, furious, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and takes itself exactly seriously enough. This time around Irene’s nemesis returns from the first book to threaten the Library between worlds (also, All of Time and Space, probably) with destruction through the construction of an ENORMOUS MacGuffin that can only be destroyed using the power of PSEUDOSCIENCE ITSELF! None of that matters, because this is much fun. It’s escapism done well, with no hint of an apology for being very silly, and taken on those terms it’s intensely likeable....more
A second deeply enjoyable caper that jumps between a steampunk London and a masked, mysterious Venice. I'm at a loss for how to actually review theseA second deeply enjoyable caper that jumps between a steampunk London and a masked, mysterious Venice. I'm at a loss for how to actually review these books. They're tremendously energetic, fast-paced, and unchallenging. They're primarily fantasy stories, pulling in bits of myth and legend from all over the place and repackaging them as an engaging potpourri that doesn't worry too much about backstory and depth of character as long as everybody's having fun. So far, I am....more
As with all scripts, what we have here can only be an indicator of the experience the authors are hoping will be created in a full stage production. IAs with all scripts, what we have here can only be an indicator of the experience the authors are hoping will be created in a full stage production. It’s one cog, and examining it in isolation exposes you to only a fraction of the intricate mechanism that is the finished product - without the director, set design, musical cues, lights, actors, and in this case what I assume are very complex practical illusions, it’s extremely hard to appreciate the whole from this one bit. I’m used to reading scripts and imagining the possibilities. If you’re not, and are not prepared to do some considerable imaginative legwork creating your own versions of all those things so that some approximation of the thing can spin out in your mind, then you’ll find this a very flat and soulless read.
I’m used to reading scripts for the stage (though it’s been a while), and this is an odd one. The structure - lots of tight short scenes with fast transitions, is more cinematic than theatrical, and there’s not a lot of nuance to the dialogue. A strong cast could no doubt add layers of depth and pathos that don’t necessarily spring off the page, but it’s a fast and manipulative movie sort of depth rather than something more suited to the intimacy of the stage. You would need a lot of money to stage this effectively, which of course the full production has.
All I’m left to really look at is the story itself. It’s not really the eighth book, but nor is it a post-script. It sits somewhere in between. Where the long shaggy dog story of The Boy Who Lived was an earthquake, this is something slightly seperate happening during a minor aftershock. While Harry and other familiar faces - including, thanks to the play’s time-travelling intersection with events from the earlier stories, some unexpected ones - are in play, the principals are their offspring, particularly Harry’s own son and that of his sort-of-nemesis Draco Malfoy. Both are struggling beneath the weight of legacy and expectation created by the myths and legends around their own parents, and the simple coda of the plays lies in how they try to come to terms with this. It’s a smaller and more intimate theme than the pyrotechnics of the production seem to demand, and it would be interesting to see whether all the dashing about and spell-casting drowns this best and truest bit of the tale in the theatre.
I picked these scripts up because I wanted to know what J.K. Rowling thought might happen next (and I am unlikely to go and see the show in London for the proper experience), and now I do. It didn’t disappoint, and made a virtue of some of the failings in her characters (Harry as an inadequate father, struggling with that knowledge after his own horrible childhood, etc), but nor did it have any real impact. I do respect the multi-medium approach Rowling has chosen to use in expanding her Wizarding World though - long may she continue to make interesting choices....more
A beautifully spun yarn of misfits, near-future catastrophe, superscience, magic, and friendship, All The Birds In The Sky ignores genre boundaries toA beautifully spun yarn of misfits, near-future catastrophe, superscience, magic, and friendship, All The Birds In The Sky ignores genre boundaries to create something almost unique and entirely charming. It begins as a sort of familiar YA story exploring the developing childhood friendship of a young girl who discovers magic and a young boy who invents a supercomputer in his bedroom closer. It’s a semi-familiar tale given spiky edges, and it’s here that the story dwells most purely in the realm of Magical Realism (for even the science at this stage is informed by fantasy and wish-fulfilment).
When the novel shifts to catch up with the two misfits in later life, Lawrence is part of a secret pool of scientists seeking ways to escape a dying world and Patricia has become a member of a magical order which instead attempts to heal the damage done, or at least alleviate some of its consequences. By this point the science has sharpened up into something which (for the most part) is recognisably from a possible future, and as the story weaves between and blends magic and science all ideas of genre fall away. Patricia and Lawrence – each immersed in their separate ideologies - meet again, clash, fall deeply in love, and accidentally rush the world towards annihilation.
It’s sweet, really.
No, I mean it. For all of the dystopian trappings the book ends up wearing, at its heart is a simple and lasting friendship which might bloom to romance if a few misunderstandings can be wrinkled out. The story is as much about ‘feels’ as ‘stuff’. What prevents it from ever being reductive is that Anders writes this very recognisable dysfunctional/functional relationship to focus not so much on the big things that every book about a relationship concentrates on, but about the idiosyncratic details and oddities which (when you read them) are instantly recognisable, but which rarely form the structure of a narrative in this way. The emotional roadmap is familiar, but the handcrafted detailing is so exquisite, unusual, and funny that it feels brand new. I’ve read reviews comparing Anders to various authors, and her genre fusions invite extensive comparisons depending on what aspects leap to the foreground for you, but for me she feels like a welcome intruder in Neil Gaiman’s natural territory, casting fresh eyes over an already compelling landscape.
Funny, compelling, deeply engaging – I’ll be surprised if, come the end of the year, I don’t look back at this as one of my favourite books....more
A beautifully understated tale of mystery, consequence, memory, guilt, and state surveillance that's absolutely nothing like what you think a story noA beautifully understated tale of mystery, consequence, memory, guilt, and state surveillance that's absolutely nothing like what you think a story nominally about the last dogs on Earth is going to be. The pacing is slow but melodic, scattering in an array of directions before sucking everything back together by the close, and I found myself startlingly moved as the emotional landscape spread across the story's canvas came into sharp focus at the close. A very finely crafted tale, full of delicate nuance, and a wonderful way to be introduced to this author (with thanks to Sara for that introduction!)....more