So, it turns out that an excellent reason exists for the state of the world...more~*~ For this review and others, visit the EditorialEyes Blog. ~*~ 3.5 out of 5
So, it turns out that an excellent reason exists for the state of the world, for its suffering and contradictions and occasional wondrousness. But the philosophers who have spent their lives searching for the answer aren’t going to like it. God, you see, supreme and almighty creator, happens to be a shiftless, emo teenager who was handed the job by his mother after she won it in a cosmic game of poker. And his name is Bob.
This is the glorious, zany, and often dark conceit of There Is No Dog, by Meg Rosoff. A British YA title (which is far more adult in certain aspects than a lot of North American YA), this book is at once light and dark, hilarious and serious (well, a little serious, anyway). Our God, Bob, is an eternal teenager who sleeps late, mixes up Africa and America and then blames the subsequent droughts and floods on his non-existent dyslexia, and tends to fall in love with beautiful human girls, generally with disastrous results. Bob is taken care of by his majordomo, the mild-mannered and long-suffering Mr. B, who does his best to sort out the prayers, the catastrophes, and the suffering of the humans, whales (how Mr. B loves his whales), and everyone else on this mixed-up little planet.
Bob falls for Lucy, a mortal assistant zookeeper, and his hormones jack into Earth’s weather systems and create havoc in the form of floods, sheet lightning, hail, and rising and falling temperatures. In the meantime, Bob’s pet Eck (described as a sort of penguiny creature with a long snout who eats as though his stomach has no bottom) ends up on another deity’s menu after Bob’s mother drunkenly bets the little fellow in a round of cards. Mr. B decides that at long last, he’s had enough and puts in his resignation, leaving the fate of humankind (and whalekind) in the hands of a kid who has flashes of brilliance but mostly insists that all the bad stuff that’s happened as a direct result of his negligence, his whims, or his deep misunderstandings about how things should be, is simply not his fault!
This book is, overall, a delight to read. Rosoff’s writing style is reminiscent of Douglas Adams at his most tongue-in-cheek, and she pulls of the surreal with grace and ease. She doesn’t bother us with too many unnecessary details in the back story (we don’t know who exactly these deities are or how the overarching hierarchy or governing system of the universe works, for example). She knows what she needs to tell her story, and leaves it at that.
And this book has Eck (who is of the species Eck, and who makes the sound “eck!”), who is just marvelous. Bob’s pet is endlessly entertaining for the reader. I picture him as a cross between the evil penguin from Wallace & Gromit and Max Rebo from Return of the Jedi, only with infinitely more cuddles.
When we see the world through Eck’s eyes, as he falls rather in love with his new friend Estelle, ponders his own mortality, or finds yet another wonderful food to eat, the whole book sparkles. Eck’s is a simple and wonderful world view, and his infinite capacity to forgive and love underscores all of the problems with his owner.
Actually, all of the characters are this well created. You want to smack Bob for his teenaged stupidity but you can never quite hate him, even at his most hateful. You want to give Mr. B a sympathetic hug and a cup of tea. And you want to throttle Bob’s mother Mona for her flippancy and frivolousness. The book is saying some interesting things about bad parenting underneath its froth. Equally good are Lucy, the hapless love interest, Luke, her growly boss, and Skype, Luke’s upstairs neighbor, whose irritating teenaged upspeak (“Anyway, I can’t stay cos I’ve got tai chi this morning? You ought to come, it would do you, like, so much good?”) is so perfectly captured you’d think you were sitting next to her on the subway, hearing all of her words out loud.
The pacing is a bit uneven, dwelling on Bob’s ongoing quest to quench his lust and Lucy’s mother’s love for her priest friend longer than necessary. Switches between past and present tense, sometimes within the same chapter and even from the same point of view, are somewhat jarring as well—this kind of tense jumping can be done successfully, of course, but it’s unnecessary here. But the humour never flags, and Rosoff does a good job of drawing on a deep philosophical well for what is otherwise a fantastic premise with a fairly slight plot. Bob’s great creative act near the end is a bit too reminiscent of a few movies I’ve seen, though I won’t spoil it for you with details.
I’m a bit perplexed by the title as well. It sounds like something thought up by committee—kind of a joke, a bit of a pun, definitely meant to convey some flippancy, but it really doesn’t fit the narrative or the point of the novel. Surely there was a better name for this book, even “There is No Bob”? At least they got some lovely cover art from it.
That said, don’t let these small grievances deter you. This is a great, fun read with many snicker-out-loud moments. And if you’re like me, you’ll want to get an Eck of your very own.(less)
I read the first three in this series when I was a kid and it stayed with me. Delightful to re-read it as an adult. A book that deserves to be better...moreI read the first three in this series when I was a kid and it stayed with me. Delightful to re-read it as an adult. A book that deserves to be better known today.(less)
What can you say about a girl with a hole through her middle, or a boy with bees living in his stomach? Or immortal pigeons and impossible creatures? They’re pretty peculiar. In Hollow City, Ransom Riggs’s sequel to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Jacob Portman also calls them his friends. Jacob is Peculiar too. His particular talent is for seeing the monsters, particularly wights and hollowgast, that stalk the Peculiar children for unknown but undoubtedly sinister reasons. And when last we left them, they were on the run from their time loop haven in 1940 after rescuing their ymbryne, or bird-shapeshifting protector, Miss Peregrine from evil hollow clutches.
And the fact that Jacob is from our present, trapped in the wartorn British 1940 countryside, is the least of his worries. The hollowgast are on the Peculiar Children’s trail, and Miss Peregrine is injured and unable to escape her bird form. Worse, the other Peculiar havens have been destroyed, their ymbrynes kidnapped. If this seems like a lot to catch up on, it is: you don’t want to pick up Hollow City without having read the first volume of Miss Peregrine adventures.
But once you’re caught up, Hollow City is a worthy second installment. Dropping directly into the action without a breather, we find the children having just rescued Miss Peregrine and rowing their way from their destroyed island to Mainland England. The gast have infiltrated the German army and are after the children in submarines and planes. The children’s flight takes them from a hidden Peculiar menagerie to a Gyspy camp to the heart of London and their only hope of saving Miss Peregrine before she’s trapped in bird form forever.
Like its predecessor, the immediate draw of Hollow City is Riggs’s use of very strange antique photographs he’s culled from flea markets and estate sales. These creepy (one shows a girl floating off the ground, another a child with a mouth on the back of her head) and atmospheric (dead horses strewn along a country road, trees growing from a skull-shaped island) images served as Riggss’ guide for shaping his story. He had the photos first, and he wrote the story from them. The book is positively peppered with pictures, and they are very much a part of the story, adding to the tone and narrative. While the story could stand alone without them, it would be the poorer for it. You’ll want to read this book to see what visual the next page brings. The writing is cinematic in description and scope. This series will easily be adapted into movies (it’s already been optioned by Tim Burton).
In this one, Riggs wisely weeds out a few Peculiar characters for the flight to London. By concentrating on a smaller number of them, the children are given a chance to stand on their own and escape one-dimensional characterization. Free from their safe, familiar time loop and the watchful eye of their ymbryne in human form, the children have a chance to show fear and bravery, as well as their advanced age (most of them are pushing a hundred, though they still look and mostly act like children). They’re able to grow, and so are the hollowgast, whose powers and motivations become clearer and scarier in this volume.
The weak note is Jacob, whose thoughts and dialogue are often too stiff and adult. Jacob is meant to be a teenaged boy from our present, but he comes across as stilted and not quite real. While this formal voice works well for the children, who have been living in 1940 for decades, it feels false in Jacob And we never get as clear a picture of him as we do of the people surrounding him. This stiltedness sometimes extends to the shape the story takes, as well. Because the story is formed around existing strange pictures, plot points at times feel artificial, taking the story to a place it might not organically have gone if such a photograph didn’t exist and Riggs didn’t want to include it.
Even so this is a highly readable book, and it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Harrowing chases over sea and land, new discoveries about Peculiar people, animals, mythology, geography, and history, and the urgency of finding a way to save Miss Peregrine make for a breathless pace. The Peculiar plight is combined with a World War II setting, upping the danger factor the children find themselves in. New characters are interesting and move the plot forward, and it’s exciting read about the children using their Peculiar powers to get out of suspenseful scrapes. And the book itself, with its layout and paper and footers and chapter dividers, is a thing of beauty. (Avoid the ebook. I read the first installment on my Kindle, and it loses a lot of its inherent creepiness when it’s not a beautifully crafted object.)
While this book tends toward the artificial and at times slightly awkward because of its incorporation of preexisting photographs, it’s nevertheless a highly worthwhile strange, escapist read. Its world is well imagined, its circumstances dire. Like the first book, this one ends on a big cliffhanger. I didn’t see the ending coming at all, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.(less)
When she opens her eyes into the glaring light of a hospital room, Emma Burke has no idea wh...more3/5. This and other reviews at EditorialEyes Book Blog.
When she opens her eyes into the glaring light of a hospital room, Emma Burke has no idea where she is—or even who she is. And it’s only after intensive therapy and visits from her doting husband Declan that she begins to understand that she is a wife who has been through an ordeal too terrible to describe. But in MD Waters’s future dystopian debut Archetype, nothing is as it seems. This pageturner blends the amnesiac suspense of SJ Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep with the fertility-challenged future patriarchy of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and a dash of Philip K. Dick’s ”We Can Remember it For you Wholesale” (the basis of the Total Recall films).
How well it manages to do so is the question. Emma is plagued with nightmares (or are they memories? Visions?) of a life that doesn’t fit the picture Declan paints for her—especially of another man she seems to have intense feelings for and a revolution in which she is a warrior. She lives in a society where too much genetic modification has caused a plague of infertility and a shortage of women in general, where girls are brought up in facilities that train them to be wives. America is in the throes of a Man in the High Castle–like war, and security cameras are pushing 1984 levels of intrusiveness. There’s a lot going on in Emma’s life, not the least of which is how she can figure out who she is, if she doesn’t remember who she used to be (and if the memories she does have don’t fit the life she sees before her).
The writing is what makes this fast-paced thriller. Through Emma’s innocent eyes (and for some reason, her inability to use contractions in sentences even though everyone around her uses them), we are able to explore the world she is mired in: the subservience of the women, the advanced nature of the biological sciences. The descriptions are vivid, and Emma’s limited point of view allows Waters to reveal the plot in tantalizing fragments. As Emma runs up against the boundaries carefully set around her by Declan and the scientist overseeing her recovery, Dr. Travista, she uncovers inconsistencies in their story. And she has a voice in her head, whom she refers to as Her, that is trying to push its own agenda. Is Emma some kind of revolutionary? And who is the strange man she is in love in this alternate life she can only remember in snatches?
While it’s clear that Declan is not all he seems, I appreciate the nuances of his love for Emma, even when that love is controlling. He’s never reduced to a one-note villain, and Emma’s complex, at times tragic feelings for him, which are complicated by the man in her dreams, are compelling. This mysterious dream man Noah is less interesting, and her dream best friend Foster isn’t a fully conceived character. The glimpses of her brutally oppressive past are some of the most interesting moments in the book, but they take a backseat to the male characters and her immediate predicament.
What is jarring here is the tone the book goes for. Emma’s voice is strong and well crafted, but with its emotional, first person present tense, very me-centric point of view, its dystopian elements, and its well-defined love triangle, this book feels extremely Young Adult. And yet Emma is 26, and she has a lot of sex with her husband throughout the book. That sex, too, is problematic. This is a woman who is told she has been brutally attacked, and who falls in love with a man who is manipulating her into his bed, and not enough time is spent exploring these knotty issues. The focus instead is on how tough it is to decide between two equally hot, equally dangerous guys. And because Emma’s point of view is so limited, we don’t get much plot beyond her immediate dilemma of who she is and what she should do next. Everything is about her, leaving the plot feeling a bit shallow. This book is reaching for a crossover audience but missing the mark: YA readers will find it absorbing because it reads like YA, but that voice, and the fact that the plot is singular and unbranching, with less time spent on worldbuilding and more on the love triangle, means this book won’t resonate as well with readers of adult thrillers or sci-fi.
Despite my issues with it, though, it’s a quick, enjoyable read that urges you on to just one more chapter, and then another. Waters does interesting things with old speculative tropes. The big reveal of Emma’s true identity isn’t that surprising, and yet, the book uses its old themes in new ways, creating a fast-paced, action-packed thriller that also poses some interesting questions about the nature of memory and the soul. Just as it’s an experiment in crossover fiction, this book is also an experiment in serial-like publication. Archetype ends on a truly excellent cliffhanger that will leave you needing more, and you only have to wait six months: its sequel Prototype will publish in July 2014.
While this isn’t as inventive and breathtaking as the advance buzz made me imagine, and while the tone was far more coming of age than hard science fiction or gritty dystopian survival, Archetype is nonetheless highly readable—and I’m most curious to see if some of my issues will be resolved when Prototype completes the story arc. (less)