I am really ambivalent about this book. I have not been so ambivalent about a book for a long time. Maybe it has given me my own brand of bipolar neur...moreI am really ambivalent about this book. I have not been so ambivalent about a book for a long time. Maybe it has given me my own brand of bipolar neurosis. If only I could weaponize that.
The premise is certainly fresh and different. There is no butt-kicking or fairies or werecreatures or vamps or ghosties or ghouls or zombies or any other supernatural nasties in of any kind*. The story revolves around a vigilante squad of neurotics who change the world for the better by flushing their crazy into unsuspecting criminals, thereby plunging them into a pit of despair, making them lose all their money and scrambling and rebooting their personalities.
*although there are people called highcaps with special abilities (telekinesis, telepathy, dream invasion, force fields, that sort of stuff)
The heroine, Justine (ok, not the best name and I had a really hard time trying to get rid of the De Sade connotations) Jones is a regular non-highcap human, except she is a raging hypochondriac who dreads that she has a condition called the vein star syndrome (of which her mother died) which could cause one of the veins in her brain to burst causing immediate and sudden death. She obsesses about every single twinge and pinprick in her forehead, spends her free time trolling the internet for new medical info and sudden death stories involving the decease, attends ER for cat scans on a regular basis and expects to die any minute now. You would have thought someone so whiney and paranoid about their health would be extremely annoying. But, surprisingly, no. On the contrary, it was rather endearing. In fact Justine reminded me a lot of my other favourite kook, Emma Pillsbury:
Their fashion sense seemed sorta similar too (or did I just make them have the same fashion sense in my head?) so that's how I ended up picturing Justine. I adored her, she was charming and funny and kooky. I mean how can you not like a girl who says things like this:
"I say this nonchalantly, as if I'm accepting a mint bonbon from a butler instead of a new vigilante lifestyle from a slightly maniacal mutant."
The only thing that really annoyed me about Justine was her tendency to blame herself for everything. I mean (view spoiler)[she comes home to find her boyfriend having clearly just slept with another woman and proceeds to give herself a hard time because she is making him bitter (hide spoiler)].
And now we get to the love interests:
Cubby. I don't really need to say anything do I? With a name like that the guy was doomed as a love interest from the start. He is a self-absorbed dickhead and I'd very much like to punch him in the face.
Packard. My favourite of the lot. Anyone so deliciously diabolical gets my vote.
Otto. Creeps me out. The name also doesn't speak in his favour. And what's with the beret, dude? I mean, I know what's with the beret, of course, I did read the book, but really? A beret? This was the kind of image I had of him throughout most of the book:
Until I managed to think of this which wasn't much of an improvement but now Otto is forever Che in my mind:
Also, all the hot cold I love you how could you crap. Not for me, thank you.
Overall, the world building was good but I struggled with the writing style for a bit. It felt quite distanced. Like watching marionettes with visible strings. It took me a while to get used to, but I think it worked in the end because that is how Justine views herself. Distanced. Apart from other people. There were some plot holes and inconsistencies. I also didn't like the ending. The climax was very anti-climatic. On the other hand, I loved the characters. Even the secondary ones were pretty well drawn. Shelby was my favourite. Love love love Shelby. The story was interesting and I haven't come across a UF series I have enjoyed quite so much recently and I will most definitely be finishing it off.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I needed something starting with A to read for the A to Z book challenge and this has been sitting on my shelf since I went through a frenzy of buying...moreI needed something starting with A to read for the A to Z book challenge and this has been sitting on my shelf since I went through a frenzy of buying booker shortlisted novels several years ago, back when I was still keen to impress myself and fellow commuters with my reading choices.
The books starts with a funeral of Molly Lane, a member of that happy breed of fabulous women who has a horde of ex and current lovers with all of whom she remains friends. We never learn much else about her but she is not important, since she is merely a plot device and the people who matter are the three ex-lovers who attend her funeral. Every single one of them is a self-absorbed, self-aggrandising selfish snob and they set on their course towards a resolution which is both hilarious and tragic.
I was surprised, because I enjoyed this quite a lot more than I thought I would. I settled on three stars but it's somewhere in between three and four. I didn't expect it to be funny yet it was. Not in an obvious laugh out loud kind of way but the more I think about it the funnier it is. It's a great example of an enjoyable read about despicable people and it's under 200 pages long. (less)
Have you ever done one of those big 5000+ piece jigsaw puzzles, ones that can take weeks to complete? When we were younger, my sister used to love the...moreHave you ever done one of those big 5000+ piece jigsaw puzzles, ones that can take weeks to complete? When we were younger, my sister used to love them and I inevitably got suckered into helping her, on occasion. It was engrossing but not straight away. It was a bit frustrating and tedious to begin with, and then all of a sudden you'd find that several hours have passed and you've forgotten to eat but you can't stop, you just need to find that one next piece. This is what the experience of reading this book reminded me of. Completing a jigsaw puzzle, except without the helpful picture that is usually provided with a jigsaw to tell you where the various pieces are supposed to fit, so instead you see the picture emerging very slowly bit by bit and you are not quite sure how the various pieces fit together until the very end.
I was a bit apprehensive about the structure to begin with. All this book within a book within a book nonsense just sounded too convoluted and I didn't expect to enjoy the experience. There are, in fact, at least 5 different narrative strands interwoven in this book. There is the story of Iris and Laura Chase, two sisters growing up at the beginning of the 20th century between the two world wars as told by 83 year old Iris. Then there are descriptions of Iris' present life. I was quite surprised by those. I didn't expect to enjoy descriptions of day to day goings on of an old woman, attempting to do laundry, walking to the cemetery and the doughnut shop and reading the scribbles on the walls of public lavatories, yet I did end up enjoying them a great deal because those passages are so dry, so self-deprecatingly hilarious and reveal so much about Iris as a person. There are also extracts from Laura Chase's novel "The Blind Assassin", published posthumously and describing an affair between two lovers meeting in secret and, within that novel, the lurid fantasy/science-fiction story set on planet Zycron, told by the hero to the heroine, of a blind assassin and a mute sacrificial virgin who fall in love. And finally, there are extracts from obituaries and various other newspaper articles concerning the newsworthy events in Iris' life.
I am still ambivalent about whether this complicated structure works better than a more simple straightforward narrative would have. I did find the story a bit too fractured at times but, perhaps, this is a story that can only be told in this way. Perhaps, that's what gives it its punch. We essentially end at about the same place we start. The narrative is circular and the circle is used as a symbol:
"She’s the round O, the zero at the bone. A space that defines itself by not being there at all. That’s why they can’t reach her, lay a finger on her. That’s why they can’t pin anything on her. She has such a good smile, but she doesn’t stand behind it."
The story that Iris tells is the circle of rock and mountains that she imagines surrounding her, the round dome of the fake sky that suffocates her.
The writing is exquisite. I truly believe that this may well be the most beautifully written book I have read, ever. Atwood has an amazing ability to say something really profound in very few words. This is not a book to be raced through just to find out what happens. Don't expect to be able to finish it quickly, you need a bit of patience, time to pause and to think to truly appreciate this book. There were so many passages that I read and re-read so many times just for the sheer pleasure of reading them. And every so often you come across a paragraph that is so startlingly beautiful, it is almost painful.
"Farewells can be shattering, but returns are surely worse. Solid flesh can never live up to the bright shadow cast by its absence. Time and distance blur the edges; then suddenly the beloved has arrived, and it’s noon with its merciless light, and every spot and pore and wrinkle and bristle stands clear."
"There’s a lipstick heart on the cement, surrounding four initials. An L connects them: L for Loves. Only those concerned would know whose initials they are—that they’ve been here, that they’ve done this. Proclaiming love, withholding the particulars. Outside the heart, four other letters, like the four points of the compass:
F U C K
The word torn apart, splayed open: the implacable topography of sex."
"When I look in the mirror I see an old woman; or not old, because nobody is allowed to be old any more. Older, then. Sometimes I see an older woman who might look like the grandmother I never knew, or like my own mother, if she’d managed to reach this age. But sometimes I see instead the young girl’s face I once spent so much time rearranging and deploring, drowned and floating just beneath my present face, which seems—especially in the afternoons, with the light on a slant—so loose and transparent I could peel it off like a stocking."
"The French are connoisseurs of sadness, they know all the kinds. This is why they have bidets."
"When you're young, you think everything you do is disposable. You move from now to now, crumpling time up in your hands, tossing it away. You're your own speeding car. You think you can get rid of things, and people too - leave them behind. You don't yet know about the habit they have, of coming back."
I could go on and on and on.
And then there was Iris. She is so drily amusing and snarky, just the kind of character I usually love. Yet she is so flawed and frustrating at the same time. She seems spineless, she accepts and crumbles. There is no resistance, no spine. Yet, perhaps, this is really a strength rather than a weakness. The strength of grass which bends to the wind and survives where trees are uprooted and destroyed by the hurricane. Does s/he who survives the longest win? Can subsequent actions truly atone for choices and mistakes made? I wonder whether my inability to forgive Iris has to do with the fact that I saw too much of myself in her or the opposite. I don't know. I was never faced with her choices. I would like to think that I would have had the backbone to stand up not just for the people I love but for myself and my own dignity. But would I really? I have pretty much always done what has been expected of me and I do quite often choose the path of least resistance. The only difference is that I grew up in a different time and environment and things that were and are expected of me are quite different to those that were expected of Iris and Laura. When the hero of the Blind Assassin, the novel written by Laura Chase, asks the heroine to leave her home (not quite with him but to wait for him) and she responds with "But I wouldn’t have any money… Where would I live? In some rented room, all by myself?", it is quite easy for me to despise her. But would my own response really have been any different given the same upbringing and social environment? In the end, I don't think Iris really needs our forgiveness. Atonement through the act of writing is not, in my view, what this book is about. It is much more complex than that.
Overall this was a very contemplative and melancholy read. Not easy or quick but very rewarding. A book to fall in love with, word by word and sentence by sentence. Beautifully written, with complex interesting characters, engaging plot and some interesting explorations of the writing process and the motivation behind setting pen to paper. Not for everyone, perhaps, but it is going straight to my favourites shelf. I intend to re-read it when I have a bit more time on my hands as I think it is one of those books that needs to be read more than once. I expect I may even enjoy the second reading more, as I already know what is going to happen and can appreciate the little clues and significant details much better. (less)
Once upon a time there lived a werewolf. And his name was Jacob. Uhhummm.
I suppose the idea was to take the paranormal genre conventions and to put th...moreOnce upon a time there lived a werewolf. And his name was Jacob. Uhhummm.
I suppose the idea was to take the paranormal genre conventions and to put them on their head… or rather back on their feet where they belong.
Jacob (Jake) Marlowe of Glen Duncan's imagination is very very far from a walking talking impersonation of every female fantasy which has inhabited almost every urban fantasy book in recent years. This werewolf is a foul mouthed, smoking, hard-liquor drinking, emotionless sex engaging, layered character. Jake has lived for over two hundred years and though he does not look it, he feels it. He has had enough of life and living (even though living is all there is), he is desperately lonely and is ready to just… end:
"For ten, twenty, thirty years now I've been dragging myself through the motions. How long do werewolves live? Madeline asked recently. According to WOCOP around four hundred years. I don't know how. Naturally one sets oneself challenges – Sanskrit, Kant, advanced calculus, t'ai chi – but that only addresses the problem of Time. The bigger problem, of Being, just keeps getting bigger. (Vampires, not surprisingly, have an on-off love affair with catatonia.) One by one I've exhausted the modes: hedonism, ascetism, spontaneity, reflection, everything from miserable Socrates to the happy pig. My mechanism's worn out. I don't have what it takes. I still have feelings but I am sick of having them. Which is another feeling I am sick of having. I just… I just don't want any more life."
Duncan has given a much needed injection of masculinity to his werewolf but has avoided making him into a grotesque emotionless Rambo-style* action hero (*I have not seen a single Rambo move, so I have no idea whether Rambo is in fact emotionless, but you get the gist). It was also nice that the lycanthropy wasn't used simply to give the hero an air of mystery and an excuse for constant brooding. Being a werewolf in this world means being a monster. There is nothing romantic or mysterious about it. You don't get any super strength or transformation at will or become unnaturally hawt. Being a werewolf means being transformed once a month into a savage beast which kills and eats people. (view spoiler)[Sometimes people you love. (hide spoiler)] It is brutal, it is ugly, it is horrific and for the rest of the time you have to live with yourself:
"The first horror is there's horror. The second is you accommodate it."
Werewolves are hunted and exterminated by the World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena (WOCOP) until, at the start of the book, the hero finds out that he is the only one left and is, therefore, next on the list. Which he does not mind much, until, that is, fate intervenes and certain events unfold and then, suddenly, everything is changed.
The plot was by and large uncomplicated and moved things along nicely without getting in the way. It was a good balance of action and reflection, overall. And reflection is what I mostly loved about this book. Glen Duncan has a way with words. His style seemed fresh and different to me and he is clever and witty and peppers his narrative with literary allusions ("Reader, I ate him." and "Talulla, light of my light, fire of my loins… Ta-loo-la: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate… Ta. Lu. La." particularly cracked me up) and cultural observations (e.g. "Humanity's getting its metamorphic kicks elsewhere these days. When you can watch the alchemy that turns morons into millionaires and gimps into global icons, where's the thrill in men who turn into wolves?" and "Two nights ago I'd eaten a forty-three-year-old hedge fund specialist. I've been in a phase of taking the ones no one wants.") and his sentences were a joy to read (e.g. "The snow was coming down with the implacability of an Old Testament plague."). Duncan is also (as one of the other reviewers referred to him) "wonderfully obscene" and, frankly, any book that features a woman who has a c*nt which has a mind like Lucifer deserves to be read.
My main beef with this book is the same one the reviewer I linked to mentions. There is a twist two thirds of the way in and then too much plot and melodrama gets in the way and the hero's personality does a sharp veer off into… but this is major spoiler territory. If you really, really must know (view spoiler)[ Instalove happens. And I really really hate the instalove bollocks, no matter who does it or how well it is done. I even hated it in Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Laini Taylor is a goddess. Plus Talulla essentially has the same narrative voice as Jake, which was annoying. (hide spoiler)] ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
This book is fantastic. It has that rare combination of gorgeously rich language and a complex engaging plot full to the brim of diabolical schemes, v...moreThis book is fantastic. It has that rare combination of gorgeously rich language and a complex engaging plot full to the brim of diabolical schemes, villains, thieves, madhouses, violence, lesbians, murder, love, betrayal and the kind of twists that will make your head spin.
It is a story of two girls, Sue and Maud, whose destinies are indelibly linked, though layer upon layer upon layer of deceit will need to be stripped away before it is revealed exactly what that link is.
Sue has been brought up among thieves, though she has been largely sheltered from the harsh realities of life in the poor part of Victorian London by the kind care of Mrs Sucksby, who earns her living by "farming" infants. Sue's life changes when she is drawn into a plot by Gentleman, Richard Rivers, to help him convice Maud Lilly, a rich but simple-minded heiress living in a gloomy country manor with her "scholar" uncle, to run away with him to marry, whereupon Maud would be stripped of her inheritance and deposited in a madhouse for safekeeping.
So the story begins but before too long you find out that practically nothing that you see in the first part is what it seems and there are lots of layers to peel away before we get to the root of it all.
The characters, including the secondary ones like John Vroom and Dainty, the servants at Briar, the nurses and other inhabitants of the madhouse and so on are vividly drawn and fascinating. Really, I do not have enough words to praise this book highly enough, suffice to say that all the glowing reviews (on this site and elsewhere) and accolades that this book has received are richly deserved and if you have not yet read this, you are in for a treat. (less)
- there are vicious killer rabbits out there, so watch out;
- you can make a bomb out of pretty much anything, even a f...moreThings I learned from this book:
- there are vicious killer rabbits out there, so watch out;
- you can make a bomb out of pretty much anything, even a five year old can do it;
- if you let a psychotic hippy with a penchant for psychological experiments bring up kids on an isolated island, the kids will invariably turn out to be looneys (well, duh).
This was good overall. I enjoy Banks' writing style and the characterisation was superb. The demented world of a teenage psychopath is delightfully realistic and logical and the book is full of black humour, the telephone conversations with the brother who is on the run from a mental institution were particularly hilarious.
"Porteneil 531." Pips sounded.
"Fuck it, Frank, I've got luna maria callouses on me feet. How the hell are ye, me young bucko?"
I looked at the handset, then up at my father, who was leaning over the rail from the floor above, tucking his pyjama top into his trousers. I spoke into the phone: "Hello there, Jamie, what are you doing calling me this late?"
"Wha-? Oh, the old man's there, is he?" Eric said. "T-ell him he's a bag of effervescent pus, from me."
"Jamie sends his regards," I called up to my father..."
"And how are you keeping?" I said quickly. "I mean, you must be sleeping rough. Aren't you catching cold or something?"
"I'm not sleeping."
"You're not sleeping?"
"Of course not. You don't have to sleep. That's just something they tell you to keep control over you. Nobody has to sleep; you're taught to sleep when you're a kid. If you're really determined, you can get over it. I've got over the need to sleep. I never sleep now. That way it's a lot easier to keep watch and make sure they don't creep up on you, and you can keep going as well. Nothing like keeping going. You become like a ship."
"Yeah? What did you forget?"
"Forget? I didn't forget anything! I remember everything! Everything!" screamed a familiar voice at the other end of the line.
I froze, then gulped, said: "Er-"
"Why are you accusing me of forgetting things? What are you accusing me of forgetting? What? I haven't forgotten anything!" Eric gasped and spluttered.
"Eric, I'm sorry! I thought you were somebody else!"
"I'm me!" he yelled. "I'm not anybody else! I'm me! Me!"
"I thought you were Jamie!" I wailed, closing my eyes.
"That dwarf? You bastard!"
"I'm sorry, I-" Then I broke off and thought. "What do you mean, 'that dwarf', in that tone? He's my friend. It isn't his fault he's small," I told him.
"Oh, yeah?" came the reply. "How do you know?"
"What do you mean how do I know? It wasn't his fault he was born like that!" I said, getting quite angry.
"You only have his word for that."
"I only have his word for what?" I said.
"That he's a dwarf!" Eric spat.
"What?" I shouted, scarcely able to believe my ears. "I can see he's a dwarf, you idiot!"
"That's what he wants you to think! Maybe he's really an alien! Maybe the rest of them are even smaller than he is! How do you know he isn't really a giant alien from a very small race of aliens? Eh?"
"Don't be stupid!" I screamed into the phone, gripping it sorely with my burned hand.
"Well, don't say I didn't warn you!" Eric shouted.
"Don't worry!" I shouted back.
"Anyway," Eric said in a suddenly calm voice, so that for a second or two I thought somebody else had come on the line, and I was left somewhat nonplussed as he went on in level, ordinary speech: "How are you?"
The ending was really disappointing though, and not the big reveal either, but the protagonists' musings afterwards. I was kind of enjoying the fact that Frank is a sociopath, misogynist and generally bat-shit crazy, so to have all of that rationalised, wiped clean and brushed under the carpet at the end (a) was a complete betrayal of the rest of the book and (b) just didn't make any logical, metaphysical or any other kind of sense. Oh yeah, I killed all those kids because I believed the ability to procreate had been taken away from me by cruel fate and they represented that very promise which I was forever denied. What? Frank was 5 at the time of the first kill, supposedly. I'm sorry but a 5 year old feeling seriously bereaved by the fact that he cannot have sex or kids to the point of homicide is ridiculous.
P.S. When I was very young (maybe 4 or 5 but the memory is very vague so I cannot be sure) and visiting my grandparents for the summer, one of my cousins (there were three of us in attendance) suggested we play concentration camp with catepillars. None of us thought this was in any way objectionable and we got as far as collecting a load of them in a jar, which we then put in the fridge for safekeeping. The story ended rather badly for us as we didn't bother putting a lid on the jar and the caterpillars went literally everywhere. Let's just say our grandmother was not best pleased. I'm not sure what my point is here, really. Both my cousins and I grew up to be reasonably well-adjusted adults despite our early sadistic tendencies so, maybe, it is that there is a little bit of a psycho in all of us and, given the right set of circumstances, it is totallly possible that I could now be checking sacrifice poles, fighting killer rabbits and collecting belly button fluff for ritual use. (less)
I meant to write a review but I was feeling quite ambivalent about this book. Still do. I guess I'd better jot some thoughts down before I get complet...moreI meant to write a review but I was feeling quite ambivalent about this book. Still do. I guess I'd better jot some thoughts down before I get completely diverted onto other things.
I definitely thought this was interesting. The idea of an alien race that functions as a single organism (almost) and the problems that humanity would have in communicating with and understanding such a race, the ideas about military manipulation, war tactics and online political debate influencing the real world were all pretty good. I saw a lot of reviews where folks thought that the book was boring and had trouble visualising the fight scenes. I actually had no problem with this aspect, though I do agree that the whole thing was very repetitive. I had too many other problems with this book to truly enjoy it, though.
The writing was primitive. I get that he was trying to write for kids and make it as simple as possible in terms of language but it all read forced and fake to me. The way these kids spoke and acted just didn't ring true and this whole they are all geniuses so that's why they don't act or talk like kids just didn't work for me. Characterisation was appalling. Barely anyone had any character at all. Mostly they all seemed like carbon copies of each other with the only thing to differentiate them being their attitudes to Ender. And those seemed to be always polar opposites. Love or hate. No one was allowed to be indifferent to Ender.
The Russians as the head bad guys was completely cliche. I also didn't really like the little description of the earth politics that we saw. It seemed too much a reflection of the international politics as they were at the time the book was written, in early to mid eighties, with Cold War in its dying throws but still alive and, it seems, very much in Card's mind.
The treatment of women in this book was appalling, with most of the female characters mainly serving the purpose of manipulating Ender and Graff stating at one point that there were hardly any girls at this super genius military school because "too many centuries of evolution are working against them". One could argue, I suppose, that this is a reflection of Graff's prejudice and those of the military establishment in this world, rather than the author. But, again, I don't buy that. The author at no point indicates that he might disagree with this point of view and he is the one who has created this world in this fashion.
But most of all, I just couldn't believe in the whole premise that space warfare is really indistinguishable from playing computer games (as much as it may stroke the ego of computer nerds everywhere) and that the military command would put a bunch of kids who don't even realise they are fighting a war in charge of all military strategy and operations. Up until the very last moment I kept on believing that he would not go there. That he could not possibly expect his readers to believe this. Of course, he did.
I also wondered whether I might have enjoyed this book more if I wasn't aware of and disliked intensely the author's views on subjects which are not necessarily connected with the book. It's possible. I do believe the author's conceit and prejudice played a big part in my being unable to enjoy this book. Perhaps, it wouldn't have been so apparent without that awareness. Who knows. At the very least, it threw the homo-, perhaps even paedo-, erotic undertones of this book, that other reviewers have referred to, into starker relief.