"For eight months we were afloat in amniotic snowfall, two rosy mittens resting on the lining of our mother. I couldn’t imagine anything grander than
"For eight months we were afloat in amniotic snowfall, two rosy mittens resting on the lining of our mother. I couldn’t imagine anything grander than the womb we shared, but after the scaffolds of our brains were ivoried and our spleens were complete, Pearl wanted to see the world beyond us. And so, with newborn pluck, she spat herself out of our mother."
A bit too arty and lacking in plot for my tastes.
I was immediately intrigued when I saw Mischling on Netgalley. Despite having read so many Holocaust stories, this one sounded like it would bring something very different to the table. Josef Mengele's "zoo" has always been an object of morbid fascination for me and, I assume, many others. The cruel experiments conducted on twins and other multiples never cease to be repulsive and frightening. So a story about two such twins who are torn apart by this horror sounded like an emotional read.
But that's just what it isn't - an emotional read. I know it's a bit distasteful to say that about certain subjects - the Holocaust, slavery, 9/11, to give just a few examples - but the author writes like this book is a language exercise, not a look at one of the darkest times in modern history. Perhaps it is even more jarring because, for the most part, it is narrated from the perspective of two twelve-year-old girls, which makes it especially odd when it is very Creative Writing 101.
"Since Pearl’s disappearance, I’d noticed that animal life had become increasingly rare in Auschwitz. There was little hope of any arriving just because I wanted it to, and when no bird appeared, I put one there with my mind. In its beak, I made it carry a sprig of olive branch. But the bird kept dropping it. Even my own imagination, it seemed, had abandoned me."
And, cold as it may seem to say this, Mischling is actually a very by-the-numbers Holocaust story, familiar and predictable. Sure, the writing is flowery and experimental, but the story itself gives nothing new. I feel like very little research went into the book and everything that happened is stuff we all learned in high school: Separation of families upon arrival at Auschwitz, starvation, gas chambers, etc. I was hoping to learn something new about Mengele and his work, to be taken to new places, and yet all I got was a headache as I attempted to fight my way through the dense prose.
It's boring, to be honest. The lyrical writing doesn't seem to suit either the subject matter or the narrators at all. In fact, I feel like it is working as a mask - a pretty way to dress up a story that is nothing new; a plot that is nonexistent. The blurb basically tells you everything that happens. I know some readers enjoy the exploration of language first and foremost, and this book will probably be more suited to them, but it was not for me.
I've heard some different opinions on the two parts of the book - some reviewers saying that the second half (after the liberation of Auschwitz) picks up, others saying that their attention waned at that point - but I found them both equally tedious. The ending is neat and simplistic too, wrapped up in a message-shaped bow.
I knew I was lost inside the world, watching it and trying to understand why too often I felt like I was standing just beyond the frame—of everything
I knew I was lost inside the world, watching it and trying to understand why too often I felt like I was standing just beyond the frame—of everything.
2 1/2 stars. I liked parts of this, but after all the gushing praise the book has received, I was just kind of... underwhelmed.
Another Brooklyn is a short book split between the present, in which August has returned to Brooklyn after her father's death, and the 1970s, in which she grew up. Meeting an old friend in the present triggers childhood memories for August and we are taken back on a coming-of-age journey through friendship, loss and abuse.
Sylvia, Angela, Gigi, August. We were four girls together, amazingly beautiful and terrifyingly alone.
The narrative is flowery, distant and fragmented. I actually found it very hard to be pulled into the story or care about the characters. I feel like fans of purple prose and cold narratives such as Cline's The Girls will enjoy this more. It's definitely not quite as bad as that, but it had a similar feel to it. I personally prefer simple words that craft a perfect scene over flowery words that don't really say much - storytelling, rather than just pretty writing.
I guess I just don't feel like this book was as deep as it tried to be. It was hard to not roll my eyes at some of the sentence choices, especially in the dialogue:
What did you see in me? I’d ask years later. Who did you see standing there? You looked lost, Gigi whispered. Lost and beautiful. And hungry, Angela added.
No one talks like that! If I told one of my friends that they looked "lost and beautiful" when we first met, they'd tell me that was because it was Freshers week at university and the VKs were buy one get one free.
So I found it hard to believe in and take seriously. And it was all just so... melodramatic. It read like emo poetry. Both in the girls' weirdass dialogue and in, oh noes, the terror of the male gaze. Dum dum dum.
Look, I'm sorry, but it felt so silly. I write about feminism, sexism and rape culture all the time, in reviews, essays, and when I'm just pissed at some misogynist on youtube. But I just think it's all a bit ludicrous in this book. It seems like literally every shopkeeper, priest and adult male is trying to get their hands down the girls' pants. It kind of makes a mockery of a very serious issue.
Not for me. Also, my favourite piece of writing is from the blurb - well done, blurb writer:
But beneath the hopeful veneer, there was another Brooklyn, a dangerous place where grown men reached for innocent girls in dark hallways, where ghosts haunted the night, where mothers disappeared. A world where madness was just a sunset away and fathers found hope in religion.
Lib had a dizzying sense that time could fall into itself like the embers. That in these dim huts nothing had changed since the age of the Druids and
Lib had a dizzying sense that time could fall into itself like the embers. That in these dim huts nothing had changed since the age of the Druids and nothing ever would. What was that line in the hymn they’d sung at Lib’s school? The night is dark, and I am far from home.
I loved this book so much. So much. I can easily see why it won't be for everyone - truth be told, the plot moves fairly slow - but I was just so engrossed in the story and atmosphere. I suppose it just depends how much this kind of tale appeals to you; whether or not you want to know more.
It starts in a dreary, rainy Ireland in the latter half of the 19th Century, shortly after the Crimean War. Lib Wright is an English nurse who served under the legendary Ms Nightingale and she has been brought to Ireland to watch over a new patient - 11 year old Anna O'Donnell whose parents claim she has not eaten anything since her last birthday, four months ago. Lib and a nun work shifts to observe the girl - to try to discover if and how she is taking any food, or if she has somehow managed to survive without it.
I was completely absorbed into the mystery of what was going on in this quiet, rural Irish village. How could she have survived without food? Was it all a crazy scheme invented by the family? Could something else underhanded be going on? Or could it really be an act of God like so many of the locals seem to believe?
In Lib’s experience, those who wouldn’t cheat a shopkeeper by a farthing would lie about how much brandy they drank or whose room they’d entered and what they’d done there. Girls bursting out of their stays denied their condition till the pangs gripped them. Husbands swore blind that their wives’ smashed faces were none of their doing. Everybody was a repository of secrets.
Lib's increased frustration was one I shared - a need to discover the truth. A need to solve this simple but baffling mystery. Between the religious fanaticism of 19th Century Ireland and its infuriating sexism, I got so caught up in everything. And I think so much of it comes down to one thing: atmosphere.
The Wonder is a very atmospheric, Gothic, Irish tale. But it's quiet and pastoral too; more of a Wuthering Heights Gothic than a Bram Stoker. Lib is alone in this little bubble, in the very centre of Ireland, far from what many would deem to be "civilization". The family’s superstitions about the little folk and the small discoveries that Lib can’t explain add an eeriness that permeates the entire book.
As I was reading the book, nothing supernatural had actually happened, and yet I felt an overwhelming sense of otherness. Like something was not quite right; like being in this tiny, unknown place in Ireland was somewhat like stepping into another world where the paranormal was possible. I didn't just read this book; I felt it.
I absolutely needed to know what was happening. I needed to know whether something otherworldly was at play, whether this child was being betrayed by those she should have been able to trust most, or whether she herself was behind it. I was pulled in by the atmosphere, by the mystery, and by the sexism that saw the local doctors dismissing Lib's opinions and cutting her off mid-sentence. Modern nursing was a very new thing at the time of this novel's setting and nurses were generally looked down upon by doctors, considered capable of watching and cleaning patients, but not offering a prognosis.
The Wonder was fascinating to me. I think there were many interesting themes floating around in this small-ish book, but I risk giving away spoilers by discussing them. Anyway, if this sounds interesting to you, go read it. I can't stop thinking about it.
A beautiful, pastoral fairy tale set in a fantasy version of medieval Russia.
Narrated in lyrical prose and third-person past tense, Arden weaves a taA beautiful, pastoral fairy tale set in a fantasy version of medieval Russia.
Narrated in lyrical prose and third-person past tense, Arden weaves a tale no less compelling for its slow, gradual development. Like all the best fairy tales, the author draws on the setting - a village in the northern woods of Rus' - to create an atmosphere that promises magic and suggests many horrors.
Atmosphere is the key word here: The Bear and the Nightingale captures that feeling of uncertainty and superstition. The characters are somewhere between the old and the new; believing in modern religion but still deeply tied to the stories of old - the creatures that hide in the dark, the demons lurking in corners, the spirits living in the woods.
The protagonist is Vasya, a feisty, stubborn girl who always manages to find her way into adventure and, often, trouble. Quick-witted and rebellious, it's hard not to fall in love with her instantly. There's a sense throughout that she is at one with nature, belonging to the very setting of the novel - the wild, rugged landscape of her youth. She is most at home when running and playing in the woods.
When her father remarries and brings Vasya's intense and devout new stepmother back to their village, the safety of everyone is threatened. Her stepmother refuses to appease the creatures of the forest and darkness creeps ever closer. The arrival of a young priest who challenges the people's belief in the old spirits endangers them further. It is Vasya - and her own strange gifts - who is the family's only chance against the evil spirits at work.
A haunting story; one so deeply atmospheric that you can almost feel the cold air on your skin as you're reading.
This is my first read by Colson Whitehead and it makes me think his style may not be to my tastes.
It's personal preference, I'm sure. There are some bThis is my first read by Colson Whitehead and it makes me think his style may not be to my tastes.
It's personal preference, I'm sure. There are some beautiful sentences, some genius structural choices, and many great ideas. Indeed, the re-imagining of history where the Underground Railroad is an actual railroad is a great idea in itself. I just found it lacking in anything resembling emotion. It's a cold, distant, impersonal novel and it didn't pull me in.
All of the secondary characters are undeveloped and forgettable, but more than this, Cora herself wasn't given enough personality and development to really drag me into her world. The other central character - Caesar - is even less developed. I will probably have forgotten them both by tomorrow. Perhaps a first-person narrative would have better suited the subject matter and helped warm us to the characters.
In this story, Cora and Caesar are slaves at the Randall estate in Georgia. Caesar proposes an escape via the Underground Railroad, which Cora initially refuses, but later agrees to when her situation becomes more dire. The book is full of every monstrous thing committed by slavers - beatings, sexual assault, executions - but I felt distanced from it because of the impersonal nature of the narrative. It was horrific, but in the way a history textbook is horrific. We should have been right there in the middle of the story with Cora, hearts pounding in fear, and yet I felt somewhat removed, reading - it seemed - an almost clinical account of history.
The jerky structure that jumps from the main plot to some backstory and back again doesn't make it any easier to become invested. My interest in Cora's story waned some more every time the author picked us up and dropped us somewhere else. With no emotional connection to the characters and little opportunity to become connected to the plot, I felt like this book full of clever ideas never became one I was truly affected by - no enjoyment, no sadness, no anger, no nothing.
Colson Whitehead is obviously smart. He obviously did a shitload of research. But I just didn't care.
The Nix is made up of many good parts, some very funny even, but most of them never come together. There were whole chapters of this doorstopper thatThe Nix is made up of many good parts, some very funny even, but most of them never come together. There were whole chapters of this doorstopper that felt like unnecessary padding.
The central story - about a bored college teacher who is commissioned to write a book about the mother he hasn't seen for years - is diluted by hundreds of tangents that wander off in all directions, spending far too much time on inconsequential anecdotes and subplots from Samuel's childhood, as well as side stories about minor characters. Plus, I don't want to be the kind of asshole who says every book over 500 pages is too long but, truly, this is too long. A third could have (and should have) been cut with little effect to the story.
I've started with the negative, but I did enjoy this book. It was much funnier than I expected and there were some really fantastic scenes where Hill's writing just sparkled with charisma. Several people have noted the early exchange between Samuel and one of his female students, in which she attempts to get away with plagiarism by using almost every logical fallacy you can name. It was hilarious perfection.
Moments of brilliance are scattered throughout but, overall, the book just needed another round of editing to sharpen the focus. Detail can be a great thing, but often excessive detail reads like filler. That was the case here. The great writing didn't disguise the pointlessness of certain sections and it was very tempting to skim read them (as I found out later, that would have probably had no effect on my reading experience).
Not bad for a debut, though. I'd happily check out Hill's future work.
“What I know now, my son: Evil begets evil. It grows. It transmutes, so that sometimes you cannot see that the evil in the world began as the evil in
“What I know now, my son: Evil begets evil. It grows. It transmutes, so that sometimes you cannot see that the evil in the world began as the evil in your own home.”
4 1/2 stars. Homegoing is an incredible and horrific look at history, colonialism and slavery in Ghana and America, across 250 years. How the author managed to create such rich characters, cover so much history, and tell such a complex, but compelling story in only 300 pages, I do not know.
I recently said in my review of East of Eden that I love family sagas. Those epic tales spanning generations and pulling you into the lives of so many interesting characters... yeah, they are some of my favourite kind of stories. Spending so long with the same family, watching them grow through the years and seeing their children face their own problems - it just feels so personal. I feel like I've grown with them.
This book, however, is possibly the most ambitious family saga I have ever read. Most books like this feature three generations. Homegoing follows seven generations, fourteen perspectives in total. It all begins with two half sisters - Effia and Esi - who will never know each other. One's experiences lead her and her family to slavery in America, the other's family find themselves mostly in Ghana.
Each chapter is from the perspective of a new character; first Effia and Essi, and then six of their descendants, as the story tracks the cultural changes in both Ghana and America - through colonialism, racism, and attitudes to slavery. Through the characters, we experience life during the tribal wars of the 1700s, the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade, the ways in which prominent leaders in Ghana aided British and American slavers, the fear created by the Fugitive Slave Act, and much more.
I can't quite reconcile the knowledge that I've read only 300 pages with the amount of history and rich characterization I've just experienced. Considering that I usually grumble when a book has more than two perspectives, it's quite something that none of these fourteen perspectives felt lacking. Gyasi is just a great storyteller; she takes important subjects like slavery and colonialism, and peppers them with perfect little conversations and insights into human nature.
“All people on the black continent must give up their heathenism and turn to God. Be thankful that the British are here to show you how to live a good and moral life.”
Also, the British really sucked back then. Thank god we got over that, pulled our heads out of our arses, and started embracing other cultures.
As is to be expected, there's a lot to be disgusted about in this book. True to history, it is full of blood, whippings, racist language, British superiority and other scenes that will turn your stomach. However, Gyasi handles it with sensitivity for her subject, ensuring that the violence is a honest portrayal of history, not gratuitous.
A gritty, detailed story about the long-standing effects of the colonization of Africa and the slave trade. A real accomplishment to cover so much history in so few pages without feeling rushed.
“My lady,” he said gallantly, “I’m willing to stop whenever you are. Perhaps you’d be better off sticking to more womanly pursuits, like embroidery o
“My lady,” he said gallantly, “I’m willing to stop whenever you are. Perhaps you’d be better off sticking to more womanly pursuits, like embroidery or music or-“ She bashed him in the ribs.
4 1/2 stars. This was so much fun. So much fun. Turns out that a good laugh at my country's expense is exactly what I needed right about now.
Before you pick up this book, make sure of two things:
1) You know what you're about to read. This is a silly, lighthearted historical comedy, full of Monty Python-style jokes, puns and mockery. I also thought the story was very well-executed, but don't be expecting a high-angst drama (beyond the comical variety).
2) Be in the mood for it. Like I said, it's a very specific type of book and it won't suit everyone. I usually prefer tension, action and "oh shit, what's going to happen next" books. But I sat down to read this wanting something funny, entertaining and undemanding. That's what I got.
If you meet those two requirements, there's really nothing to dislike. This book does exactly what it promises and it does it very well. It's the kind of laughsnort embarrassingly out loud story that will get you some strange looks from other people. I just couldn't stop giggling to myself.
“I asked him to change back to talk to me, but he won’t,” Jane said. “It’s disrespectful to remain a horse in the bedchamber, I should think.”
This is a Tudor retelling set during the reign of the young Edward VI. In this reimagining, instead of the infamous divide between Protestants and Catholics (fostered by Henry VIII's disregard for the Catholic church), we see a war between Verities and Eðians. The latter have the power to shapeshift into various animals, and the former hate them for it.
Mocking sexist attitudes and the ridiculous social graces of the 16th Century upper classes, the story unveils the "true story" about Lady Jane Grey - the one that history has hidden from us.
She was a woman who wore pants. She couldn’t be trusted.
I've already said that it's very funny, but for such a light, silly book, it is remarkably well-plotted. The story itself, behind the quips and hilarity, is compelling and features all kinds of royal backstabbing, secrets and craziness.
It is a warm, lovable, over-the-top rewriting of history and I enjoyed every minute of it. Unlike most funny books, the humour remains constant throughout, never running dry or feeling forced. I only hope this trio of authors continue to write comedy together. Because it dazzles.
“Stories twist and turn and grow and meet and give birth to other stories. Here and there, one story touches another, and a familiar character, somet
“Stories twist and turn and grow and meet and give birth to other stories. Here and there, one story touches another, and a familiar character, sometimes the hero, walks over the bridge from one story into another.”
I think we need to clear some things up about this book.
This is just my theory, but I'm pretty sure something like this happened: Due to the popularity of fairy tales and retellings in American YA, publishers have been scouting out the next bestseller - both among upcoming manuscripts AND in books already published. They found this book, which is written with certain fairy tale elements, and they rebranded the hell out of it for the market.
Look at that gorgeous cover! And that title! How easy it was to turn that title into something that screamed "fairy tale retelling" without doing any extra work.
But it's not a fairy tale retelling. It's just not. I can foresee all the people bypassing the blurb and hoping for the next Cinder or Cruel Beauty, and this book just isn't anything like that. It's historical fiction - downright weird historical fiction, to tell the truth - and retells the Russian Revolution with allusions to fairy tales and a lot of strange metaphors.
Sedgwick is actually one of my favourite authors. He isn't afraid to do something new and completely different. I get the impression that he sits down to write interesting and unique stories with no thought for what's trending right now or what genre he's going to fit his stories into. Midwinterblood was wonderful, The Ghosts of Heaven was one of my favourite books of last year, Revolver shouldn't be so damn good, but it is.
This one, though, wasn't one of my favourites. I quite liked it in the beginning because MS just sets the scene so well. I could feel the cold of the Russian Winter penetrating the heat of the L.A. Summer I'm currently sat in. I liked the way he told the story of the Russian Revolution almost like it was a fairy tale - it felt magical; strange.
I also really like when stories reveal small, mostly-unknown pockets of history. Sedgwick's protagonist is Arthur Ransome - a real life author of the Swallows and Amazons series and the author of several books on the Russian Revolution, including The Crisis In Russia and Six Weeks In Russia In 1919. I had no idea there was a link between Ransome and Russia until I read this book.
But, after the magical, atmospheric opening where MS retells the fall of the Tsar and the rise of Lenin and Trotsky, the book loses its magic and becomes a dull tale about Arthur as a young journalist and writer. Russia, the Russian revolution, the rise of communism, fairy tales and metaphors... all of these things are interesting, but it just wasn't that interesting to read about a boring British journalist.
Some fantastic ideas here and some interesting metaphors, but definitely not Segdwick's best work, and definitely not the fluffy fairy tale retelling it appears to be.