Ah, I really loved this book. It is the literary equivalent of a warm cup of tea, if slightly bitter when you get to the end of the cup. There are so...moreAh, I really loved this book. It is the literary equivalent of a warm cup of tea, if slightly bitter when you get to the end of the cup. There are so many sentence gems - everything is poignant and beautifully described, particularly the most horrific parts. What most intrigued me is the timelessness of the narrative. It was very difficult to determine when this was going on, though there are hints throughout: the reference to Mel Gibson, Jane Fonda workout videos, Salman Rushdie. And in a more general sense, the characters, setting and themes feel timeless. For a contemporary novel it felt remarkably like a classic modernist work, like Evelyn Waugh or F Scott Fitzgerald. A lot of people take issue with the arrogance and pretentiousness of the characters, which is kind of the point, no? They are each fascinating and horrible in their own right - BUT, they are each so well crafted, and Tartt does a really good job at representing fully human characters settled neatly into a realistic grey area, that I found it hard not to empathize with each of them at different turns. I think that while their all-consuming passion for the classics might come across as pretentious to some, it was a more oblique and, frankly, a more interesting way of depicting the obsessiveness of that period of early adulthood. Particularly in college, when everything feels dynamic and fascinating but you're too drunk or high half the time to really commit and come to terms with the less idealized sides of what you study, or have committed to. I think she captured that period of life perfectly, in all its intensity and bittersweetness. My main critique is that here, and in The Goldfinch, as well, Tartt's female characters really play such a minor role and end up being props for the male protagonist's development into adulthood. This is not to say they are not interesting characters; Camillia fascinated me. But she felt more like a symbolic cipher than a fully developed woman with agency, and the male characters are undoubtedly better drawn.
This book comes across as a light summer read, but there are some interesting things going on here that kept my interest. As other reviewers have note...moreThis book comes across as a light summer read, but there are some interesting things going on here that kept my interest. As other reviewers have noted, none of the characters are at all likeable. Fortunately or unfortunately the likeability of the protagonist doesn't really determine whether I like a book or not. Some of the best protagonists in literature are profoundly unlikeable. Mabel is not the moral counterpoint to the corrupt Winslows, she is one of them from the start, or rather, I think the point is that we all have some "Winslow" inside of us - the capacity to manipulate in order to gain power or a sense of belonging. Mabel is essentially infected early by the Winslows and her own coming-of-age corresponds with her "becoming" a Winslow. At the start of the novel she is still a girl, and by the end of the ordeal she is hardened (a point brought home by the physical transformation that she goes through). I didn't read the ending as particularly optimistic, because I don't trust Mabel as a narrator. By the end of the novel, she is literally and figuratively a Winslow, and whether or not she was able to break the family's cycle of generational corruption...I'm not convinced. I think my favourite thing about this novel is that eerie uncertainty that runs throughout, all the way to the end. Things remain unspoken and hidden in the background, only this time, it is Mabel constructing her own surface story to hide what lies beneath. Yeah, cliche, I know. But I liked it. (less)
I really wish I had read this 10 years ago, when I would have responded to this book with the fierce political optimism that it deserves. Unfortunatel...moreI really wish I had read this 10 years ago, when I would have responded to this book with the fierce political optimism that it deserves. Unfortunately, I am reading it now, having read way too much political and social theory not to feel a bit let down with how didactic and old-fashioned this feels. It reads more like a treatise in parts than an actual novel, and that distanced me from the narrative. There are sf novels more effective to me, personally, because they subtly interrogate political issues without including solid pages of speeches about solidarity and brotherhood. Don't get me wrong - these ideas are awesome and I thoroughly respect this book. But it certainly feels dated, both in terms of its socio-political outlook and its representation of gender. Now that I've let it percolate a bit, it is the more subtle aspects that are the most riveting, and that will stick with me: Shevek's relationship with Takver, who was easily my favourite character; those mobiles - "occupations of space;" The story where the boys learn about prisons and how this episode establishes a theme that runs throughout; The interesting musings on temporality and the present/past relation. In short, I think this book is most effective when the message is more subtle - shown to us, rather than told (via one of Shevek's epic but annoying-to-me speeches). (less)
**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)
I don't know what threw me about this novel, but it wasn't what I was expecting. The shortened, maybe flashier description that I had read in multiple...moreI don't know what threw me about this novel, but it wasn't what I was expecting. The shortened, maybe flashier description that I had read in multiple reviews - a child locked in a cell, restrained in a classroom in the day with other similarly imprisoned children - only describes the first tenth of the novel. There is a pretty big shift in tone and plot that occurs pretty early on, and I wasn't crazy about this turn at first. Retrospectively, I think this is because at this "turn" the novel starts telling the perspectives of characters that, in the first part, I immediately disliked (Parks, Caldwell) when described from Melanie's perspective. The first little bit of the novel gives you a very one-dimensional perspective of characters who become much more complex and interesting as the novel progresses. M.R.Carey is really good at slow burning character development, and once my initial walls came down, I enjoyed the book a lot more. I feel like the novel lags quite a bit in the middle, but for me, the payoff of the last third was really worth it. The conclusion is just amazing. Overall, a great experience. (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)