**spoiler alert** I normally don't read books like this, but I really enjoyed this one until the 60% mark. There are some plot aspects that are frankl...more**spoiler alert** I normally don't read books like this, but I really enjoyed this one until the 60% mark. There are some plot aspects that are frankly ridiculous, so there I was a lot of eye-rolling going as I read. For one - calling someone a "mud vein" in an effort to sound dark and mysterious (even romantic?) is kind of hilarious. The mud vein of the shrimp is its intestinal tract. It will only be brown if it is full of waste, i.e. shrimp poop. So calling someone a mud vein is essentially telling them that they are full of sh*t. Maybe I'm just a 10-year-old boy at heart, but I found this hilarious and incongruous with the tone of the novel and the way that Senna was generally portrayed. She may be full of sh*t but one thing I truly appreciated was Tarryn Fisher's ability to catch herself and/or the protagonist in cliches and call them out immediately, sometimes in the same breath. I loved this.
My two main issues with the novel are the following: 1. Senna is often portrayed as a strong independent woman (all good). But the ultimate discovery that concludes the novel and allows her to move forward is that Isaac is her savior and soul mate and that he allowed her to open up, etc. I get that this is a "romance" novel, but isn't that a little old-fashioned? Her self-discovery and psychological recovery is dependent on a man, and her self-sufficiency is often portrayed as dangerous. Not to mention - Isaac is basically an impossible god-like figure who is sensitive but masculine and strong, traditionally handsome but just "alt" enough to add some mystery, a musician who ALSO has a solid career. Isaac is basically the magical impossible man. And because of this, he irritated me to no end. 2. The conclusion really, really, disappointed me. There wasn't enough of a twist or a reveal. The psychiatrist manages to abduct and transport two patients across the border and install them in an isolated house around Anchorage without anyone finding them for fourteen months? Nope. Not a thing that would ever happen. If Senna's relationship with the psychiatrist was more developed during the flashback moments, then this might have been at least a little (just a little bit) more believable. But we barely get any information about the psychiatrist that would make this reveal interesting or shocking. (less)
I picked up this book at my local thrift shop on a whim. It turned out to be one of my favourite recent reads. My typical issue with mysteries like th...moreI picked up this book at my local thrift shop on a whim. It turned out to be one of my favourite recent reads. My typical issue with mysteries like this is that they usually either have an excellent and intricate plot, OR amazing characters for whom the "mystery" is just a backdrop for their personal development. This book manages to combine both an engrossing mystery that unfolds at a perfect pace, and extremely well-drawn, complex characters. The narrator constantly acknowledges that he is unreliable. And his behaviour is often problematic - but despite that, I still really empathized with and genuinely liked Adam (Rob) Ryan. I also really appreciated the ending, which I felt was appropriate if somewhat unsatisfying. (less)
Wow, is all I can say about this trilogy so far. At times I thought I was veering towards liking Authority more than Annihilation, but really, both ar...moreWow, is all I can say about this trilogy so far. At times I thought I was veering towards liking Authority more than Annihilation, but really, both are immensely interesting books with their own pleasures. The strongest aspect of Authority, for me, is the slow build of tension. The pacing is absolutely terrific, making it difficult to put down. A lot of typical "horror" novels are a let down in this regard - they promise a great reveal which is usually disappointing. Authority doesn't disappoint in this regard. There are so many absolutely hair-raising and dread inducing moments, but Vandermeer holds just enough back to maintain a sense of lingering unease in the reader. Like Annihilation, Authority is characterized by an underlying sense of horror and the uncanny that is perfectly balanced and restrained. I can't wait for the final book. Can't. Wait. (less)
Interesting idea, poor execution. I felt like I was always waiting for something interesting or thrilling or creepy to happen and I never really got t...moreInteresting idea, poor execution. I felt like I was always waiting for something interesting or thrilling or creepy to happen and I never really got that (with the exception of maybe two moments). I think the main problem was the multiple narrative perspectives. I honestly couldn't care less about 90% of the narrators and found it difficult to differentiate between the different voices. If you're going to assemble a number of different perspectives to tell a story, each narrator has to have their own distinctive voice, and each section has to be clearly unique, or else the intended effect of multiple narratives is lost. It also seems to be a waste of time to include the narratives of, for example, the neighbour of a neighbour who doesn't show up for the rest of the book or add anything interesting to the story. I think this idea would have worked better if the writer was more selective - maybe two or three narrators for each of the "three" so that readers could actually develop a connection to the characters rather than just get little tastes that prevented me from becoming really invested in any one story. (less)
This novel is really (mostly) gorgeous. I read the majority of this on my train commute home and found myself underlining and gasping at certain passa...moreThis novel is really (mostly) gorgeous. I read the majority of this on my train commute home and found myself underlining and gasping at certain passages and just generally being a book nerd in public. There are a lot of things going on in "Boy, Snow, Bird," so I am definitely going to have to re-read it, and I will be thinking of this one for weeks to come. First off, I was super glad to realize that the Snow White and other fairytale influences are very subtle. This is not a "modern retelling" of Snow White, and thank god for that. Instead, fairy tale and mythological motifs are subtly interwoven into a narrative about family, inter- generational conflict, race relations, gender, motherhood, class, and sexuality. Yep. There's a lot going on, and certain parts are definitely more effective than others. But the magical realism really brings this alive.
There are issues, though. As other reviewers have noted, the representation of a trans* character in the final section is really problematic. This is one example of how contemporary feminist perspectives ignore or misrepresent trans* people and issues in ways that are really oppressive.
In this novel, the trans* character is represented as an abusive aberration whose "disease" has effectively cast a spell over the next two generations of women in the family. In order for the three main characters - Boy, Snow, and Bird - to be effectively reunited as a family of women, they have to confront Boy's father (who is a trans* man who gave birth to Boy before transitioning) and force him to "rediscover" the "woman" underneath. Obviously this is problematic, because it reinforces the idea that trans* people are diseased, that there is something psychological wrong with them, that they are pathological (this is made particularly clear because the trans* character, who is often referred to as the "Rat Catcher," is psychologically and physically abusive, and just generally acts like a horrifying person), and that they have some sort of identity disorder. Furthermore, it suggests that trans* men are disavowing some "essential" female identity, which is just...offensive. Its an irresponsible representation, and really kind of ruined the end of the book for me.
I think reason that Oyeyemi did this is so that the the male/female binary paralleled the black/white binary; in other words, to show how racial and gender oppression are linked in certain ways. The main (white) character Boy marries into the Whitman family, and when she gives birth to a dark(er) skin mixed race daughter, Bird, she realizes that her husband and their family have been passing as white and lying (through omission) about their black heritage. By representing the relationships between the town, the Whitman family, Bird and Snow, the novel critiques how the lighter skinned Whitman's "pass" as white, effectively becoming complicit in the racialized oppression experienced by other people of colour (in their own family, and in society generally). In other words, on the surface, they take on the appearance and role of the oppressor.
And so, Oyeyemi establishes a similar dynamic with the Rat Catcher, Francis. His trans* identity is represented as a disavowal of the "true" (female) identity. Like the light-skinned Whitman's who pass as white, Francis rejects his true identity to "pass" as a man and become complicit in patriarchal power structures (this is especially visible given how Francis is initially represented as the cruel Patriarch par excellence). But - while implied in her treatment of race is a critique of this very binary notion of racial identity, this kind of nuance or critique of essentialism is lacking in her treatment of Francis. The experience of trans* men cannot be simplified in this way, obviously. And so finally, although I think I understand why Oyeyemi took this turn, I think it was mismanaged, and reinforces a really dangerous stereotype about trans* people. (less)
This book starts off super interesting, and then becomes an eye-roll inducing burden to finish. That is, up until the final few pages, which are actua...moreThis book starts off super interesting, and then becomes an eye-roll inducing burden to finish. That is, up until the final few pages, which are actually quite effective, in my opinion, and re-introduce that sense of ambiguity and subtlety that the novel started with but which was quickly replaced by a disappointing heavy-handedness. I think the biggest problem I had with book is the fact that many characters are huge cliches. If someone wrote out a list of all the characters and their age, sex, and race, and then asked you to describe the most common stereotype related to that combination, you'd have the characters of Night Film. Not to mention the misogynistic perspectives of women. McGrath's ex-wife is a ball-breaking bitch - ok, whatever, I'll take it. But ALL the women in this novel are either mystical angel creatures or emasculating bitches - there is not a lot of room left for more nuanced representations or relationships. Finally, I've got to at least find the protagonist interesting. He can be an ass and misogynistic and I can still be interested. But Scott McGrath is such a run-of-the-mill, douche-but-thinks-hes-a-nice-guy, fundamentally boring character (not to mention possibly the worst father ever) that his constant ruminations about the "depth" and "mystery" of life really just made me want to scream.(less)
This is a 4.5 book. To be honest, I found it hard to get into for the first half, but something changed midway through that really gripped me. The sec...moreThis is a 4.5 book. To be honest, I found it hard to get into for the first half, but something changed midway through that really gripped me. The second half is really amazing, and the different strands that feel a bit disjointed in the beginning really come together in a beautiful way by the end. So, if you're like me and aren't feeling it at first - give it time! I am really, really glad I did. (less)
This is a seriously beautiful novel. It is meticulously constructed, with perfect pacing between lulls and really intense, uncomfortable and shocking...moreThis is a seriously beautiful novel. It is meticulously constructed, with perfect pacing between lulls and really intense, uncomfortable and shocking events. The contrast was really effective, and the "lulls" are full of rich and evocative language, little asides about the human condition, etc. that are engaging in a different, though equally effective, way.
My main critique is that Fan, the protagonist, feels more like a placeholder or a symbol rather than a fully fleshed out person. I found it difficult to sympathize with her, despite all of the horrific things she goes through. At the same time, I think Lee did this intentionally. There are many passages where he seems to be self-reflexive about the way that individual actors are depersonalized by their incorporation within a necessarily contingent and biased narrative. This is particularly true when individuals become swept up and subsumed within collective myths. The story, told by a collective "we" narrator, has the quality of a myth. Fan's development and her departure from her original community serves as a catalyst for the community, and the story is being told by that community after the fact. The result is that Fan becomes an assemblage of other peoples projections, fears, desires, including those of the writer and reader, rather than a fully fledged character with her own internal world. We remain carefully distanced from her. There is a lovely passage where Lee writes that "what happened to her happened to her" (or something along those lines), which made me do a double-take but I think the passage is particularly apt. "What happened" to Fan is as much a result of her own agency as it is a result of the narrator(s) writing her into myth, into their history. The story "happens" to Fan, in that her life is narrated and framed by others, while she is never given the voice to tell her own story. Although I think this was an effective strategy, it left me wanting more from Fan, and made it hard to remain emotionally invested in her, at times.
Finally - what a brilliant ending. I'll definitely be reading more from Lee. (less)
Although the premise is intriguing, I only got about half way through this before shelving it. There is nothing wrong with the book, per se, but I fou...moreAlthough the premise is intriguing, I only got about half way through this before shelving it. There is nothing wrong with the book, per se, but I found it difficult to get invested. I have no interest in the scientific observation of dragons, and I feel like this book is lacking some of the more meaty social commentary and grittiness that I typically look for in speculative fiction. Although I'm all for a strong female protagonist in a typically male-dominated sphere, I was hoping the author would explore gender relations a little more, in a less superficial way, and if not that, at least add some more action! In short, not my cup of tea. (less)
Unfortunately in this case, reading reviews got in the way of me reading "The Goldfinch" from an entirely unbiased place. I was expecting to read the...moreUnfortunately in this case, reading reviews got in the way of me reading "The Goldfinch" from an entirely unbiased place. I was expecting to read the next great American novel, and "The Goldfinch" is, maybe, precisely that, but it is also sometimes a slog and could use some editing. What is so wonderful about this book, though, is that despite the moments that I found myself rolling my eyes or skimming a bit, I found myself surprisingly and deeply attached to the characters, especially Theo, Boris, and Hobie. The book is structured as a bildungsroman, so I suppose this kind of investment is pretty normal and expected of a novel that spans such a period of time and such an intense emotional period in Theo's life. But I truly haven't been this invested in a protagonist in the same kind of ache-y and real way since "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," which is definitely saying something. One of my main criticisms, however, is that the female characters function as either powerful symbolic figures or are relegated to more minor roles. I would have liked to see a female character as well fleshed out and likeable as Hobie, for instance. Although the roles of Pippa, Theo's mother, Kitsey, and Mrs. Barbour are all important, they are certainly not as well fleshed out as the male characters and seem to have value only insofar as they have a deep symbolic quality for Theo. His mother is less a person than an idealized "lost object," and Pippa, likewise, is an idealized, symbolic figure who is never really experienced, by the reader, as a real person, but is, again, another idealization that we, as readers, only access through the lens of Theo's obsession. Despite my criticisms, this book is often gorgeous and a goldmine of beautiful quotes. Read it.(less)