A futuristic, post-apocalyptic Chicago is where the dystopian world of Divergent is set; where everyone is divided into five factions. At 16 you are r...moreA futuristic, post-apocalyptic Chicago is where the dystopian world of Divergent is set; where everyone is divided into five factions. At 16 you are required to take an aptitude test; this will determine which faction you are best suited for. Abnegation are selfless, Amity are peaceful, Candour are honest, Dauntless are brave and Erudite are intelligent. Following the aptitude test comes the Choosing Day (terrible name) where you are required to pick which faction you wish to belong to based on your score and personal preference. For some, like Celeb Prior this means giving up his family and moving from Abnegation to Erudite.
The novel, Divergent follows Beatrice Prior (later known as Tris) who is one of those rare people who have to hide the fact that the aptitude test was inconclusive. In this world she is known as divergent and would be considered an outcast and a danger to society if this was to come out. Tris’ test shows she has an aptitude towards three factions; Dauntless, Erudite and Abnegation. She picks Dauntless where she is trained up to be courageous and reckless, tools she believes maybe useful if her test scores ever come out.
I read this novel as a social critique; the idea of cliques and groups taken to the extreme. You know what I’m talking about; society likes to create rivals, in sports teams, smart phones, gaming consoles, etc., but more importantly when it comes to DC verse Marvel comic’s social-political stands. In this world the Abnegation are the governing body, since they are the selfless they are tasked with looking after everyone. However the Erudite are conspiring to take control, and a step that they believe will advance the world both socially and technologically.
This makes the novel sound more complex that it actually is; in reality I found that Veronica Roth liked to wave the symbolism in the readers face forcing them to take notice. It is like a child who is proud at what she has produced; jumping up and down and explaining everything detail over and over again in the hopes that we will think she is brilliant. The symbolism is prominent in the story, she didn’t need to try and draw extra attention to it. Most readers are smart enough to figure it out and those who don’t are only interested in the plot.
Take the title of the novel and the factions, if you look at abnegation, amity, candour, dauntless, erudite and divergent in the dictionary you pretty much how the entire book worked out already. However Roth reminded us again and again what each word meant. Reminds me of that old writing tip ‘show, don’t tell’. While this is not always true, I feel within the context of Divergent, it would have been a better solution.
There are a lot of interesting themes within the novel and I really wish Roth had let people discover them on their own; I don’t like having everything pointed out to me. The whole concept of social structures and classes would have given a literary theorist in the school of Marxism a lot to work with. There are other themes including courage verse recklessness, power, choices, secrets and even guilt that made the novel bearable.
While the novel has a protagonist fighting against a totalitarian state, the book is full of Christian themes and concepts. At times you can see Abnegation being depicted as weird/cult-like faction in the back drop of a controlling society but then they come through as righteous and merciful. There is a Christian misconception that stems from the Age of Enlightenment, which seems relevant in some radical churches that still believe that intellectualism is a dangerous thing. This comes across in the novel as well as some other Christian ideals. Veronica Roth states she is a Christian but has also claimed that Divergent is not a religious novel. She even believes that most Christians would consider the novel to be profane. It is unclear if Roth is an advocate for intellectualism or warning the reader of its dangers.
Yet another issue I found with Divergent was the characters and world building felt a little flat; I think Roth spent too much time explaining everything that the plot and the setting suffered. I didn’t care what happened to any of the characters; in fact thought they were all two dimensional, which is possibly the case with most of the characters. The idea of each faction just acting like a giant cookie cutter, forcing everyone to fit into that mould is clear. The divergents (I’m not going to name them) should have been richer, more fleshed out characters. The dystopian world borrows heavily from 1984 and The Hunger Games although it sometimes forgets this and reverts back to a more generic present day world. Then realising the book has gotten off track reverts to borrow again from previous dystopian novels.
Finally I would like to focus a little on the feminist qualities of Divergent, since reading The Fictional Woman this seems to be an area of focus for me. The concept of a woman trying to figure out her place in the world is a positive step for equality; however Divergent also reverts to two old archetypes that need to stop. I’m talking about the idea of a wise intelligent older woman being depicted as a witch or evil character and the female heroine needs to have a female enemy. Divergent does tackle the idea of what happens to a woman when she becomes more successful than the men she is competing against, and while it is not pretty it is a very real issue that needs to be looked at more often.
I would have liked this novel a lot more if the message was subtle and ambiguous; I just feel like everything got over done. As a reader I like to look for the messages but if the author hits me over the head with it and then proceeds to explain everything I lose interest. Dystopian fiction has a unique ability to tackle social issues and just because a book is aimed for a young adult audience doesn’t mean they need to be everything explained to them. I have to wonder how many YA lovers read the book for the themes rather than the plot. I suspect the majority of them read for the story and they probably prefer not to be stepped through themes either. If Veronica Roth left the themes in place and focused on the plot, this may have been a better book.
“A heart is a little bit like a large wardrobe” — Ajatashatru Oghash Rathod
The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe...more“A heart is a little bit like a large wardrobe” — Ajatashatru Oghash Rathod
The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe (or L’extraordinaire voyage du fakir qui était resté coincé dans une armoire Ikea) is the debut novel by Romain Puértolas that has been marketed to fans of The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (or Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann) by Jonas Jonasson. For the purpose of making things easier (and to avoid the insanely long titles) I’ll refer to these two books as The Fakir and The Hundred-Year-Old Man (I hope you can work out which is which. I picked up The Fakir simply because I need to read more translated fiction, with that logic I probably should read The Hundred-Year-Old Man. While the writing styles might not be similar, if you enjoyed The Hundred-Year-Old Man because it was a quirky, fun novel then The Fakir is a book you’ll need to go out and buy.
The novel reminds me of something David Niven (The Pink Panther) or The Marx Brothers would adapt to screen. You know the type of movies I’m talking about; the comedies full of misfortunes and stupidity but everything somehow works out in the end. The novel tells the story of a fakir named Ajatashatru Oghash Rathod flown to Paris for the purpose of visiting Ikea and buying a new bed of nails. Dressed in a fine silk suit to pass himself off as a wealthy Indian business man, the con man had nothing but a counterfeit 100-Euro note (printed on one side only) in his pocket. This trip to Paris sends him off on an adventure that finds him in places like London, Barcelona and Rome and not one sight was seen. No Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Sagrada Família (unfortunately) or Colosseum.
I’m not sure if it is a problem with the translation but I expected a little more from The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe and I can’t tell if it didn’t translate or a deep seeded desire for something more complex. I enjoy that light read but found nothing funny about the novel and thought it was too inconsequential; I wanted more meat to the story. There were opportunities to explore themes of immigration, friendships, celebrities, travel and Europe but all these were just background and the focus remained on trying to write a quirky comedy. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, sometimes a light palate cleanser is all you need, and I was just ready for something with substance. It doesn’t take much effort to read The Fakir and the book did explore the concept of a culture clash but this was to the extent of something like The Gods Must Be Crazy.
Sam Taylor was the translator for this novel and he has worked on a number of great French novels that are all still sitting on my TBR pile. He has translations include A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker and HHhH by Laurent Binet. This leads me to believe that my issues with The Fakir are not with the translation but with the book itself. One other concern I have is not with this book per say but with this need to add real people into the story. I’m not entirely comfortable with basing a novel around a person who is deceased, so it feels a little weird when you have a character named Sophie Marceau in this novel. The Fakir actually refers to Sophie Marceau as the French actress from the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough so we know the author is referring to the celebrity. I often wonder how these people feel about being put into a novel and if they are being portrayed accurately. It doesn’t sit right with me and I’m not sure if I’m the only one that wonders about something as small as using celebrities in a novel; I am sure some novels call for it but it this one didn’t.
I know it sounds like I didn’t enjoy this novel but I tend to pick out the parts of a book that didn’t work for me. I think it is freeing to express all my problems with a book and it may come across as a little negative, but in all honesty, this was a fun, short read. I normally gravitate to books with more substance but something light is a nice change. In all honesty I would have liked the novel to explore at least one of the issues that it presented rather than use them as plot points. Even going deeper into the concept of culture clash could have improved my enjoyment of the novel but I have come to expect that not everyone likes to read complex novels. I suspect The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe to be a runaway success and to be adapted into a film; I wonder who they would get to play Sophie Marceau.
Karin Slaughter is a prolific crime writer whose novels mainly are in the Will Trent or Grant County series. She is a writer I never thought about pic...moreKarin Slaughter is a prolific crime writer whose novels mainly are in the Will Trent or Grant County series. She is a writer I never thought about picking up, mainly because I avoid bestseller crime novels (they are too formulaic) and I don’t like the idea of starting a series that already has so many novels to catch up on. Can you imagine trying to catch up on something like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone (currently on book 23) series? When I saw that Cop Town was a new standalone novel by Slaughter, I knew this was my chance to try her without making a huge investment.
Cop Town is a police procedural focusing on two female officers working for the Atlanta PD in 1974. Kate Murphy is a beautiful new recruit that comes from a wealthy family; she is determined to make it on her own. Maggie Lawson is a hardened no-nonsense type officer from a cop family that has been on the force for a while now. Right off the bat you can pretty much guess the themes within this book; sexism, racism, police corruption/brutality and that is before even understanding what type of crime is involved in the book. However, the central mystery within this novel revolves around the search for a cop killer, but for me this plot took a backseat to the themes.
I feel like Cop Town mainly focused on the gender imbalance in society, though set in 1974 the reader can still see just how far we have come toward sexual equality (not far at all). I want to focus on two little incidences that happen in the book that highlight this and don’t give away any spoilers. Firstly there was an incident in the novel were Kate was basically told by a married man that ‘wives are for babies and women like you are for fun’. Lines like that are not just a feminist issue but it also shows a fundamental flaw in our social thinking. The idea that sexual satisfaction can’t happen in a marriage is still a very real problem nowadays and too often portrayed in the media.
The second issue involved Maggie, with a cop killer on the loose her uncle forcefully asks her to quit the force to keep safe. This scene made me think that the biggest risk to Maggie’s safety was her family more than the cop killer. The idea of wanting a woman to quit the force while you plan to remain and do something about this issue is problematic and raises many questions about equality. I’m not going to go into too much detail about my thoughts with these two scenes but I thought it would be nice to just highlight what this book is dealing with while avoiding spoilers.
Normally when I read a crime novel, I read it for plot and I tend to stick to the ones that dive into the dark and twisted. The exception is obviously hard-boiled and noir but I will admit that even if Cop Town doesn’t fit my preferences in crime novels I was glad to read it. The themes that this novel explores made this both an enjoyable and compelling read, even if I didn’t think much of the plot. Can’t say I will revisit Karin Slaughter again, however if another standalone novel offers a similar experience I may reconsider.
Tara Moss is probably best known as a person you hate; she seems to succeed in everything she puts her mind to. Starting her career early at 14 as a m...moreTara Moss is probably best known as a person you hate; she seems to succeed in everything she puts her mind to. Starting her career early at 14 as a model, she always dreamed about being a writer. People don't encourage others to be writers but they do tell girls that they should be a model. Eventually she did and it took her around the world and taught her so much; the experiences may not have been all good but it helped shape her life. Eventually she did start writing and her Makedde Vanderwall become a huge success and she created this character as a way to explore her interests in forensic science, psychology and other topics. Now with nine fiction novels under her belt Moss is giving us her first non-fiction book, The Fictional Woman.
The title comes from the idea that people tend to dismiss and stereotype others. Tara Moss is no stranger to this; she even took a polygraph test to prove she wrote her books. While this book starts off as a memoir it is important to know that this is a social critique on the world and feminism. The book begins as a memoir to provide context, an understanding of Tara Moss' struggles and her life helps to see where The Fictional Woman is coming from. Historical context is also an important part of understanding feminism as well, especially when it comes to gender equality and pop culture. There have been plenty of Spiderman (too many), Zorro and James Bond movies but there has never been a Wonder Woman movie. In literature, the female archetype stems from fairy tales and medieval fiction, heroines tend to face off another woman, often older and depicted as witches. Cinderella type stories require a man in order to live happily ever after and even chick-lit often portrays a gender inequality.
The Fictional Woman explores this imbalance in pop-culture and society and looks at where these archetypes come from. It is impressive to see the amount of research and information Tara Moss puts into this book; it really was eye opening. I highly recommend people read this book but I need to warn everyone it may contain triggers. I'm surprised to see that the imbalance is so prominent in today’s society and I am trying to make more of an effort to read a balance of authors. The problem I found is I tend to pick up books without taking notice on of the author, sure it sometimes easy to know their gender but I don't research authors before starting a book. I try to make more of an effort and it is an area I need to work on.
I’m really impressed with Tara Moss, she seems to succeed in everything she does; sure I’m a little jealous that she is so talented but I still feel motivated. For those interested, I recently wrote a piece about an author event with Tara Moss on Boomerang Books if you are interested, I talk in a lot more detail about The Fictional Woman. I have never spent so much time thinking about feminism, I plan to do a lot more of it, even read some more books on the topic. I might even incorporate it into my critical reviews; it is an important topic that needs to be addressed.