Why I Read It: It was the January selection for calico_reaction's Theme Park Book Club.
I had no idea what to expect when I cracked open this book. I had never heard of it before, and frankly, it sounded weird and not up my alley. Meta-fiction is something I have a hard time with because I find a lot of it goes over my head, and I could tell from the get-go that this book would deal with it a lot, and I was right. So I'm sad to say that this book didn't really work for me. I really wanted it to because as much as I knew it wasn't something I would ever read on me, I was kind of excited to be reading something outside of my comfort zone.
I may have just read this at the wrong time. The beginning of the new semester is usually a good time for me because I'm not swamped by essays, but this semester I've been totally inundated with readings (four of the books I read this month alone were read for school) and thus I found myself putting this down a lot. The constant disruptions might have contributed to my feelings of complete "meh"-ness I feel for this book. Or maybe not, I dunno.
The concept of the novel itself is interesting: the main character Charles Yu gets himself stuck in a time-loop when he sees his future self and shoots him the stomach. We watche Charles from that point on as he tries to find a way to get out of the loop while dealing some family issues he has, while reading and writing a book at the same time (the one you're reading.)
So yes, very clever and very original, but I still found myself not really caring for some reason. I was much more invested in sections of the story where Charles revisits his childhood and re-witnesses the relationship he had with his father, which was fraught with regret. Those were some really poignant scenes.
The rest of the book though? It did very little for me. The world-building was kind of strange, in that I never felt like I was in a science fictional universe ever, despite time-travel being commonplace (but maybe that was intentional? Because it very clearly IS a science fictional universe even if it didn't feel like one) and I felt like the snippets in the novel about the "rules" of living in a science fiction universe were pointless; it never felt like they were actually being enacted, nor did I even see them in practice (though maybe they were and I just totally missed it.)
I don't know. I wanted to like it and they were parts that I liked, but when I turned the last page, I really had no feelings about the book one way or the other.
Final Judgment: I'm not even entirely sure how I feel about this book. This is mostly because I don't feel *anything* towards this book: I don't like it, I don't dislike it... I just read it and that was that. I *wanted* to really like it though; it's got a really cool premise, and if you're into meta-fiction, this book has it in SPADES. It's kind of accessible too though, because the main character is very human and the father-son relationship in the book was actually really well done (and I know for sure that I liked those parts.) I'm pretty sure I just read this at a bad time, as I was swamped with a ton of reading for school and rarely had time to really concentrate on this book, so maybe a re-read in the future is in order. ...more
Why I Read It: Required reading for my Gender and Sexuality in Literature class.
I had never heard of this book before finding out it was an assigned text for one of my classes, which is kind of sad because this was written by a Canadian author (though she was born in Ireland and grew up in Trinidad before immigrating to Canada.) It apparently received a lot of critical acclaim when it first came out, but seeing as I was only seven years old, it makes sense that I wouldn't remember THAT. Anyway, my point for all this is that I had zero expectations jumping into this, and had no idea what to expect.
What I got was something incredibly original: the story read a little bit like a gothic story set in the Caribbean with heavy overtones of post-colonialism, with a hint of magic realism and a lot of playing around with gender. These all sound like disparate parts, but Mootoo was somehow able to bring them all together in a cohesive whole.
I should clarify that this isn't really a gothic novel set in the Caribbean. It has gothic elements in it, such as this being a multi-generational story that is full of violence and taboo (most notably the rape of the main character Mala at the hands of her father). There's also a dash of magical realism that gives it a bit of that element of the supernatural that can be found in gothic novels as well. The story of the life of Mala Ramchandin is an incredibly sad one; it made me ache a little with how depressing everything was. I do also feel compelled to warn that anyone who is triggered by scenes of abuse (verbal and sexual) should stay far away from this novel. There was a rape scene closer to the end of the book that had my stomach churning. Ultimately though, the story ends on a note of hope, which was a welcome relief to all the despair that came before it. Despite how depressing it all is though, the story of Mala Ramchandin is incredibly compelling as well, and is perfectly paced by Mootoo. As the story progresses, things wind tighter and tighter as the reader approaches the eminent disaster that unravels Mala's life. It's not told in chronological order, so it was interesting watching the elements of the story that were initially confusing or just had no context all come together in the end.
Throughout the novel, there's a lot of ambiguity regarding gender and sexuality. Nurse Tyler for example, is gay, a cross-dresser, still identifies as male, but is largely characterized in the female spectrum. Then we have Otoh, someone who was born a female, then "transforms" into a male (an instance of the dash of magical realism found in the novel) but it still *biologically* female. Mootoo however, still uses male pronouns whenever referring to Otoh. This brought up some interesting discussion in my class about the nature of Tyler and Otoh's budding relationship. Some people argued that while they both identified as men (which would make their relationship homosexual) they still felt that the book was perpetuating heteronormativity because Otoh was still biologically a woman. Others felt that whether Otoh had a vagina or not irrelevant because he still identified as male (I more a part of the latter camp.) It's a lot of fodder for interesting discussion and I love how Mootoo bent and twisted up gender in this way and presented it as something so fluid.
As I mentioned earlier, the writing is beautiful. It feels like every word is important, and everything is loaded with symbolism, from the recurrence of insects, to the cereus flower (which reflects the climax of the novel perfectly.)
Final Judgment: This is probably one of the most original books I have ever read. It's a story set in the Caribbean that has elements of the gothic, some magic realism and a little gender-bending. These might not sound like they all go together, but Mootoo pulled it off amazingly. The story is an incredibly sad one, but it ultimately ends up being a very hopeful one. There is a lot of scenes of abuse though, so if this is triggering for you, I would advise to stay away. With that, I wholeheartedly recommend this book, especially if you're looking for a book that's doing something completely different from the norm (it doesn't hurt that it's very well written as well.)...more
Why I Read It: Assigned for my Religious Themes in Literature class.
Like Mootoo Shati's Cereus Blooms at Night, Jackie Kay's Trumpet explores the complexity of sexuality and gender. The novel follows the aftermath of the great jazz trumpeter Joss Moody, and follows his wife as she deals with the grief that comes with losing him. We also follow his son Colman, as he struggles with the revelation that his father was in fact born with a female body.
What Kay addresses beautifully in this novel is how people have the tendency to conflate sexuality and gender identity. Joss' wife Millicent knew from before they were married that Joss had a female body bu she didn't care. She loved JOSS, who identified as a man and thus they both still identified as straight. But in the aftermath of Joss's death and the revelation of the gender he was born with, people assume that Millie is a lesbian. This lack of understanding, or willingness to understand drives Millie crazy and she's forced to retreat to her summer home to get away.
Colman was interesting character because despite his disgust at his father's choices he was still a sympathetic character, even when HE himself wasn't making the best choices. It's understandable that he would question his own gender identity when he identifies as male and modeled his masculinity after someone who turns out to NOT be biologically male. That's got to be mind-boggling, especially when you're not expecting and you're already reeling from grief. His reactions to his father's death also displayed an incredible level of complexity with the exploration of his grief and anger.
Reading Sophie's bits were easily the hardest parts to read as she was easily the most frustrating and unlikable character (though she's obviously meant to be). Her desperate search for the REASON for Joss's choice of identifying as male was angering: she pegged it on Joss's wanting to be a famous trumpeter and not being able to do it as a female, on the death of Joss's father at a young age, and on the fact that Joss was obviously just a pervert who got a kick out of tricking people. We as readers KNOW this is all bullshit of course, but unfortunately it's the attitude a lot of people adopt when it comes to transgendered people which is really sad.
Kay's writing is also worth noting; along with addressing very complex issues, she's an incredibly talented and crafty writer. Throughout the novel, she utilizes several points-of-view from several different characters and uses them all to great effect: We have a first-person POV of Colman when he's being interviewed by Sophie, one where he's NOT being interviewed by her, a third-person POV from him, a first-person POV from Millie, first-person from Sophie, as well as at least three more first-person POVs from other adjacent characters. In under 300 pages that's A LOT of POVs and when written down like that, it sounds like way too much. But Kay pulls it off. Each different POV draws out something different from the story and it never comes off as messy.
Oh, and I don't want to reveal too much, but I also loved the ending. Essentially, you're lead to believe that it's going to be one thing, but it ends being something completely different, and for that I was really happy -- it could have taken the obvious route, but then it would have undermined everything it had set out to do. Again, Kay is a great writer who obviously knows what's she doing.
Final Verdict: I loved this book and thinks it's a wonderful example of GLBTQ lit with a focus on transgendered people. Kay explores the complexities of gender identity and sexuality with a deft hand and this is a book I think I could read over and over again and get more out of it every time. The psychology of the characters is spot-on and they are just as complex as the subject matter of the book. The writing was also excellent and Kay displays an incredible handle on POV as she uses A LOT throughout the course of this relatively short novel and pulls it off magnificently....more