This is not a zombie novel. That’s weird to say given the protagonist himself is in fact a zombie, but this is definitely a category its own, more akiThis is not a zombie novel. That’s weird to say given the protagonist himself is in fact a zombie, but this is definitely a category its own, more akin to paranormal romance than to zombie based horror, although it’s trying to straddle that delicate line between the two. Always it’s tip-toing that narrow-passage between working as one, and failing miserably as the other. However, for me it kinda worked… yeah…. That’s a little weird for me too.
Let’s start with that zombie protagonist. Personally, I like my zombies founded in scientific tragedy; your cures gone wrong, your worldwide pandemics and what have you, but Marion’s creatures stem from a somewhat vague source rooted in what I deem to be a spiritual problem. His zombies still have functioning cognitive processes, which mean they’re not the instinct driven, crumbling remnants of humanity we’ve come to love from the genre; most of them anyway. Older zombies seem to fall victim to classic predator mode, but even they have a muted degree of social awareness. R, thus named due to convenient amnesia (never explained), lives in what I’m going to title, ‘a zombie civilisation’. It’s even got an established and operational cultural milieu. The matter gets silly in some areas – a church, weddings, and an education system for child converts – but does have impact on the story, which perpetuates the notion that the undead are in an eternal state of emulating the living, which is well defined given the circumstances of the novel. Thus R constantly speaks about the differences between being alive and being dead, and a quest to navigate back to the former, which feels entirely hopeless. And I actually really liked that. Again, who’da thunk?
R is easy to associate with, it’s easier than you’d think to identify and sympathise with him. The inherent tragedy of zombiehood is mutated through R into something smoother, creating a gradual sensation of misfortune. Due to R’s first-person-narrative, almost every theme works. He does tend to drone on in some scenes, but his connections with ideas on life and living, and the meaning of his muddled existence are genuine and thought-provoking. He’s a unique type of story-teller. The beginning of the novel is especially strong, setting the parameters of R’s (un-?)life with next to no dialogue. A lot of emphasis at this stage is placed on character building, crafting emotional depth and connection with the reader, which helps sustain the novel through its weaker aspects.
Zombie sex…. It’s more thought-provoking than you’d think.
Other than R, his zombie friend M was the only character I really enjoyed; his humour and … deadstyle (?) were hilarious. The female lead Julie didn’t leave much of an influence. She’s not terrible as a character – her personality is okay, and she doesn’t wave too far into action-girl or wimp territory, but she’s almost a LINETS. Her presence in the plot is passive at best, and the romance aspect takes away from the true potential of the plot. Personally, I would have enjoyed it more if R was responsible for his own change, but Julie is the constant guide, shifting all blame from him. If the plot had focused more on R’s need for redemption and his struggle to procure it, and less on Julie and her paradigm altering existence, I think the novel would be much more striking. If Julie is not essential, then for me, Perry is useless. Past the first few meetings with him, his presence is just available to speed up the falling-in-love process, and it’s irritating (and again, explanation free).
The story itself is strong enough; it moves fluidly from chapter-to-chapter, with a good action-to-development ratio. However, Marion doesn’t do much in the explanation department. So many details are never clarified. How did the world get ‘infected’? Why do brains reveal memories? Why does death erase personal memories and yet not tamper with general knowledge? These questions aren’t so much brushed past as ignored, and the world building suffers immensely for it. Other than the airport, there’s not much atmosphere building. I wasn’t scared at any point. There are a lot of flashbacks; they’re unnecessary. The romance isn’t great either, Julie and R (and dear golly, if you don’t get the constant references, Shakespeare wasn’t drilled into you nearly enough in school), have a standard engagement as far as these things go; don’t understand each other, laugh a bit, cry a bit, fall in love, etc etc. It isn’t dire, but it isn’t new, and was of little consequence to me. The best thing about the story is the humour; the situation and characters lead to some hilarious moments and dialogue, and the deadpan narrative at the beginning makes for some unique irony and dark jokes.
As I said, R hold this together, tying up the themes and scenarios, and I was with him every step of the way. The plot was never boring or overly serious, and it does have both genuine emotion and meaning. I can understand why some people wouldn’t like it, but it kept me entertained.
The movie is going to be all kinds of strange....more
**spoiler alert** There were so many ways this could have failed; the premise of Room just can’t work without exact precision of its content. The narr**spoiler alert** There were so many ways this could have failed; the premise of Room just can’t work without exact precision of its content. The narrative could’ve so easily been over-dramatic, the story predictable and poorly paced, and the characters lost to emotional plugging. Fortunately, none of this happened, and what we have in Room is a well-written, well-paced, and realistic portrayal of a somewhat convoluted situation. Donoghue hit every nail on the head. But what makes this so precise, where it could have fallen into the depths of pretention, and over-zealous details? I think the power is actually in keeping everything simple, and spending so much time delivering characters while slowly unravelling the scenarios behind them. The whole story is told via the first-person perspective of five-year-old Jack, in a present tense narrative. Sentence structure and wording are kept within the realms of a young-boy’s stream of consciousness, and does take some getting used to. I think this is one of the book’s core strengths; going back to the idea the novel could’ve so easily derailed, told in any other voice, or even in an unrealistic one, the narrative stance probably wouldn’t have been as striking as it is. Jack has the often over-used innocent viewpoint of a child, but here we are allowed to explore this perspective more deeply. We aren’t just introduced to a saint of a kid, locked in unfavourable conditions, and yet maintaining the strength and courage to overcome it; no, instead we are taken into the mind of a child. While there are aspects he doesn’t favour, Jack is perfectly happy with his universe, and realistically, that makes sense, because it’s all he’d ever known. He sulks, he ponders, he becomes restless, and asks unanswerable questions, he acts like you’d expect a five-year-old to behave. That doesn’t mean we don’t get a sense of the damage the situation has done to him, in fact this tactic actually causes the tragedy of the situation to stand-out. We know what’s considered normal, and Jack doesn’t; he doesn’t know what he’s missing, or failing to comprehend, and we do. We relate to Jack through our own expectations of him, and this creates a memorable and touching character, by just acting how a kid would act. Powerful stuff. The situation is one of those ugly ideas nobody really wants to talk about, and like Jack, we’re kept away from the severity of it for a while. Donoghue drops hints as to what’s going on, and its not all that hard to just guess the issues surrounding the unfolding events, but somehow we always remain as removed from the unnaturalness of it, as Jack is. This brings out the strength in other characters. Ma is a constant presence, trying to make nice of her unpleasant living conditions; she’s the infallible mother figure, but while we’re on Jack’s line of thinking for some time, there are many subtle revelations about what’s really going on inside her head. We see a woman crumbling in on herself, and yet doing her best to maintain a healthy environment for her son. I think most parents can in some way relate to this. Though Donoghue never pushes Ma’s pain or fear in our faces, it’s easy to care about her as much as Jack. Our investment in Ma is presented via Jack, through the undertones that we can see, and he can’t. The same goes for our only antagonist, simply referred to as Old Nick. I love the fairy-tale badness of his name, and it really ties in well with some of the themes of the story, but we’ll get to that. It doesn’t take much to dislike this guy, he’s a stand-up, basic, bad-man, and while usually this might be considered poor characterisation, here it really works. He doesn’t really appear very often in the story, just a couple of scenes, but his impact is very strong. Donoghue has allowed for your own prejudices and ideas about kidnappers, rapists, and criminals to create a picture of him, and really that’s more than enough. We get a sense he has a story, maybe even his own twisted reasons for doing what he does, but that’s never a focus, and it doesn’t need to be. Once again, Jack’s mind-set becomes ours. Heck, Jack doesn’t even seem to dislike him at first, seeing him as a god-like being able to conjure treats and presents, but even he seems to comprehend something’s not right about Nick’s actions. One of the most emotional details is Jack’s reaction to the creaking bed. Subtle in playing with our perceptions in comparison, this detail tells us everything we need to know about Nick, almost without any other introduction to him at all. There were areas of the novel where the threads of realism did start to unravel. Donoghue is always tittering on the line between real and dramatic, and sometimes she over-steps her boundary. I know that a lot of thorough research went into this work, and I’m not denying the truth belying the events, but once we actually leave Room, I think Donoghue tries too hard to gain emotional responses. The reaction of the press is used too much, the interview is rushed and a major exposition spinner, and Ma being reunited with loved ones feels like she’s just come back from the shops. I know this is partly coming from Jack’s viewpoint, but often I thought that if this was how Jack preserved everything, with such little detail and importance, then why include it at all? There’s another scene in which Jack is rejected by his Grandfather, and I thought this was a hurried addition, to try and add another obstacle to adjusting to the outside world, but this is seen once and never really touched upon again. These were minor inconveniences in an otherwise solid plot, so that’s probably why they stick out so much. They don’t undermine the experience of the story so much as distract from it. The plot has an odd, but logical pacing, and includes one of the tensest scenes I’ve read for some time. We start slow, building upon setting and characters with ease, but the compelling voice of Jack never makes anything boring. With such a childlike tone, it’s hard to be uninterested even with such a narrow setting. Exploring the outer world with Jack is synonymous with investigating society and it’s influences on us as people as we grow. The way Donoghue establishes a fresh look at what we already know is astounding, and shows the efficiency and craftsmanship of her writing. Jack asks questions I never thought to, and in doing so poses questions about how strange the normalness of our world can be. The second half of the book both compliments and contrasts with the first. There are a lot of themes centring mostly on childhood, and freedom, but in very interesting ways; the fantasy and fairy-tale notion I mentioned earlier is probably one of the most poignant. This crops up in books, on TV, and stories told by Ma, but mostly it’s part of Jack’s imagination, and is the best window we have into just how the lack of true freedom, and then the suddenness of it, affects him. This is one of those rare books where the effort behind it’s creation is always observable; the characters are real, the storyline compelling, and the intentions clear. The book, while often getting close, never veers of course, and uses every word of content to its best. The research and planning spent crafting this novel make it one of great heart; it brings emotion out of its readership by appealing to the humanity within us. It’s unique, inspiring, and the world doesn’t seem quite the same when you’ve finished. ...more
This is a very strange read; strange in a way you wouldn’t expect. The story is weird, the characterisation is weird, the tone is weird, and yet somehThis is a very strange read; strange in a way you wouldn’t expect. The story is weird, the characterisation is weird, the tone is weird, and yet somehow, it’s a novel that’s oddly consistent. There’s a lot going on here; a lot. The book is choc full of characters and plot changes, and the content isn’t easy to read in subject, style or structure. A quick summery would be ‘whack-a-doodle’, but unlike many Japanese contemporary novels known internationally, this is a form of ‘whack-a-doodle’ you won’t quite comprehend for a large portion of the story. Seriously, it’s all kinds of ‘huh?’.
It’s obvious Murakami (no, not that Murakami, the other Murakami) is trying to make a bold statement, but there’s so much going on the message is often as easy to find as an elephant among elephants. There’s so much to take from the story that everything becomes a little washed out. Sometimes you’ll get the point of what is happening, and sometimes you won’t. Paragraphs have a habit of rattling on (to the point of skimming), and often minor details that needn’t have been included have three or four lines dedicated to them. However, it’s a guarantee, this isn’t a story you will have experienced before. It’s nice to read a book that isn’t afraid to go anywhere or do anything in terms of plot, and yet keeps its narrative comprehension entirely intact. The tone is almost flippant, like it doesn’t care what the reader will think, and in terms of matching its subject matter, it works really well. This style won’t be for everyone, and it does take some getting used to, but it’s very unique.
There are some grotesque scenes, but the tone of writing actually removes from the over-all shock value. Not all the violence seems necessary. There are definitely a few odd little sex scenes that could easily have been removed. Sometimes it felt like vile moments had been added simply for the ‘shock’ factor. If nothing else, Murakami (no not that Murakami, the other, other Murakami) definitely wants to shock. He doesn’t always succeed, especially as the book continues. It’s a very masculine read; not a single female character (major or minor) gets through the novel un-sexualised, and again, I’m not entirely sure if I grasped the point of this. Most of the characters are very unrealistic, especially the women; I found the female lead annoying and un-relatable, and most of the men fall into the same masculine-asshole stereotype, creating a flavourless lump where often one can’t be distinguished from another. Perhaps this was intentional? The main characters, however, are the drive of the story; it’s hard not to care about what happens to them, despite the fact they’re often unlikeable. Their tale is a backward coming-of-age story, stressing the issues of childhood trauma and identity. It’s a dance through male insanity, exploring matriarchal bonds. At least, that’s what I got.
If you like weird (really weird), and your into contemporary Japanese fiction give this a go; it’s unique, it has some well-written scenes, and it’s dark without being on an ego trip. You can take from it a number of interpretations, and the darker angle on Japanese culture is interesting. Give it a miss if you’re easily offended.
This book is all kinds of eerie, and while I won't say it scared me, it did send frequent shivers down my spine. There's something a little off-settinThis book is all kinds of eerie, and while I won't say it scared me, it did send frequent shivers down my spine. There's something a little off-setting about it's style, which disturbs the mind right from the get-go, before a premise is really even introduced. Clever. And that subtle, unnerving feeling continues through a sequence of discomforting short-stories told by a woman to a young-boy, when their train journey comes to an abrupt stop outside the entrance of a tunnel. Interestingly, intermittent between these ghostly fables are snippets of a interaction between the protagonist and his mysterious storyteller, and the two formats of narrative are woven together well: the first person viewpoint of Robert, and the third person perception of the short-stories. We know somethings up, but it's difficult to determine what, despite all the wonderful little hints dropped surreptitiously along the way, this keeps the tension on a steady increase, forcing you to endure the pleasant creepiness of the tall-tales, to learn the mystery of their teller. Again, clever.
The stories themselves are varied, but not wide in theme. Though most follow a similar pattern of events, they all differ in what I shall term here as "the creep factor", meaning theres certain to be at least one short-story you'll find making you shudder. For children these will probably be haunting images, but older and adult readers shouldn't worry, this isn't the kind of horror that lingers long after reading. Characterization within these stories isn't done particularly well, but really the narratives aren't long enough for much development or revelation anyway, and the foundations for deeper characters is enough in the time-frame to hold our interest. The tales end abruptly, but not without interpretive resolution, and are quickly forgotten in the wake of the next one.
Meanwhile, pictures help to illustrate and escalate the weirdness of the novel, both in style and in story. Monochrome depictions of disturbing scenes, drawn in a pseudo-childlike manner, break up the narrative nicely, and reinforce a Gothic aesthetic which goes along well with the Victorian language of the novel (and short-stories).
Unique is design, simple and subtle in content, this is a tense and spooky read you'll want to enjoy during the day....more
Tackling the increasing adolescent problem of eating disorders has been done with literature many times, but not like this; this it’s a mouth-wateringTackling the increasing adolescent problem of eating disorders has been done with literature many times, but not like this; this it’s a mouth-watering idea (que rim-shot). An attempt to take on anorexia utilising the mythology of the Horseman of the Apocalypse is a concept never dabbled in before, I can assure you, and it’s a stunning, shocking, and frank look at both the illness, and the allegorical characters. The two subjects are weaved together intricately, when Lisa, our heroine, is given the position of Famine, and thus, the ability to control the world’s hunger. Kessler explores the emotional and psychological factors behind the illness, by introducing her character to a world where people don’t have enough to eat, and the terrible repercussions of malnutrition. Despite it’s thin (boom!) stature, the content of this novel(la?) is actually pretty meaty (haha!), delving into the daily life on an anorexic, and even a bulimic, how it affects relationships and self-esteem, and vise-versa. We start at the lowest point in Lisa’s life, whereby she tries to overdose, and instead receives the scales and stead of Famine. Even then we’re kept on route with Lisa’s natural world, following her throughout her reluctant new career, and her attempts to maintain a “normal” life.
Characters are depicted by the third-person-viewpoint of the protagonist, at war with a world she can’t quite digest (dum-dum-tish), and for this reason readers are shown the difficulties placed on the loved ones of those effected by an eating disorder. Kessler portrays the circumstances surrounding anorexia, the need for control, the lack of self-esteem, and the break-down of familial relationships. Lisa has a boy-friend, an estranged mother, a reassuring bulimic best-friend, and a neglected ex-friend; amazingly, Kessler manages to delve into each on of these threads individually, taking on all aspects of hiding an illness along the way. Characters are realistic, but protagonist centric, and strangely, given the subject matter of the story, this doesn’t hinder the book, only furthers to increase tension, and stress the seriousness of Lisa’s emotional pain. On the flip side, we have the majestic characters, Death and Rage being the most prominent, equipped with their own brand of quirky, and oddly, introducing the satirical elements of the narrative. Death spurts one liners worthy of a brick-wall-backdrop, while Rage engages with another part of Lisa’s persona. They’re an interesting take on the mythos, but we never hear about their personal struggles (I’m told there are sequels to come, involving their rise as deities). In fact, the book could have been a lot thicker, and bitten deeper into the world of the Horsemen, and the gut-wrenching pains of hunger, but instead we are given a few brief, but significant glimpses of life without enough to eat, establishing further Lisa’s confusing complex with food. This both accentuates the protagonists plight, and yet dismisses any true comparison between people who have hunger forced upon them, and those who suffer through it because of an eating disorder. A shame, but not something which really bucks the plot.
The plot is solid, short but to the point, and leading to all the obvious life lessons you would expect, without all the obvious, cheesy (cheesy, ha! You get it? … okay, thus ends the bad food related humour) plot points. I was impressed by an unexpected twist towards the end, which really grounded the severity of the novel’s themes. As someone whose never had to deal with Anorexia, it was an insight into a hidden world, mixed with emotive moral choices, and paranormal elements which reinforced eating disorders as a physiological conditioning. Quick and powerful and gripping.
The idea was intriguing; vintage photographs used to perpetuate the aesthetic off an otherwise traditional novel. Even the story concept has a unique,The idea was intriguing; vintage photographs used to perpetuate the aesthetic off an otherwise traditional novel. Even the story concept has a unique, gothicy feel. If they had blended together this could’ve been fantastic; all the potential is there. Unfortunately, I don’t think the merging of these formats worked too well most of the time. Instead of the pictures strengthening the plot, the story bends-over-backwards to accommodate the photos. As strangely beautiful as they are, some of the photographs become distracting, having been forced into a plot without necessity. Riggs does form great characters from the materials he’s found. The peculiar children are particularly well handled and varied, if a touch underdeveloped, and some of the pictures helped to fortify their identities, and aided the imagination in constructing their odd appearances. Ultimately, this is what spurred me through the book, the want to know more about this strange, well-imagined people. It’s a shame Riggs doesn’t do more with it.
Personally I didn’t connect with the plot; I wanted and expected something a lot different. The story took sometime to really get going, but picks up when Jacob, our reluctant protagonist, reaches Wales. For a brief time real mystery shrouded his movements, I wanted to know what he wanted to know, and I adored the descriptions of the rural island, and the decrepit house. Unfortunately, the thrill is quickly lost to the ensuing adventure. The adventure is by no means bad, but the tone of the book, so well-established, is replaced by a more whimsical treatment of the subject matter, which conflicts not only with what has gone before, but also the vintage photographs. The underlying issues driving the story became too convoluted for my tastes, and the focus shifts away from what interested me. The action moments are superbly crafted; Riggs can use large numbers of characters well in these instances, keeping everyone in an important role. He especially uses the children and their powers well, and I loved these moments, but overall the plotline didn’t inspire me.
Perhaps there will be a sequel? The ending doesn’t necessarily give rise for one, but there is great opportunity to extend the work in doing so. All respect to Mr Riggs for his ambitious project; I’d say the book is worth reading simply for his unique presentation of the novel, and the characters derived from the photography. ...more