This is the first John MgGregor I've read. It is very seductive, a mix of Beatrix Potter, Midsommer Murders, and Under Milkwood. The village ensembleThis is the first John MgGregor I've read. It is very seductive, a mix of Beatrix Potter, Midsommer Murders, and Under Milkwood. The village ensemble cast includes not only the residents but every bird and badger and turn of the seasons. Reading it is like the literary equivalent of looking at an intricate form of craft, like a doll's house with every room perfected in its details. Some characters drew me in more than others but that feels right and part of the rhythm of the book, always turning and shifting, never stopping in one place too long. I admired it more than I loved it but recommend it for sheer originality of form and technical achievement. ...more
This is a mixed bag. The central relationship between Tracey and the narrator is the most interesting part of the book and the scenes from their adoleThis is a mixed bag. The central relationship between Tracey and the narrator is the most interesting part of the book and the scenes from their adolescence are incredibly acute in showing the painful dynamic of girls' friendships. So when the book veers into the story of Aimee, set up in the opening chapter, it lost my interest to some degree and it stayed that way for the duration. I didn't believe in Aimee. She's much less finely drawn then the other characters and her 'screen time' wasn't proportionate to her quality of characterisation. The narrator's mother is an incredible portrait, perhaps cruelly observed in parts, but almost certainly drawn from the author's own experiences.
Smith is at her best when her characters are the Londoners she knows so well; she is incandescent in these aspects: the mixed race school girls playing with a Barbie, the mother's frustrations with cooking and domestic life, the narrator's raw delight in music. The scenes with Aimee and in Africa (with a few notable exceptions), aim for biting social satire but it feels like something else: an easy target perhaps? Create a superficial character and then knock her down? I'm not sure. Of course supremely rich people are out of touch. It's not an especially insightful observation. But the complex feelings of teenage girls she stone cold nails to the wall.
I really slogged through this one and didn't enjoy it.
On the upside it does provide interesting insights into the institution of slavery and its corrI really slogged through this one and didn't enjoy it.
On the upside it does provide interesting insights into the institution of slavery and its corrosive effects.
But as a novel it didn't work for me. Very few characters have shades of grey, they are generally morally upstanding or sadistically evil, with some notable exceptions. Worse, I didn't believe in any of them, I wasn't able to buy into the world or its inhabitants beyond archetypes: the cruel master in Georgia, the misguided white people working for sterilisation in South Carolina, the brave and suspicious Cora. Cora's narrative voice is the least effective which is a significant issue given it is her story. The vocabulary weaves unevenly between her voice as an illiterate plantation slave and that of Whitehead himself commenting from modernity, and it's jarring and inconsistent.
The device of a real railroad also feels tonally out of kilter with the rest of the book, like it is a separate story that intrudes from time to time.
It is so heavily weighted by ethical and political commentary that its didactic purpose overwhelms the humanity and idiosyncrasy of the characters. It is a worthy project but in my view a failure. I appreciate I'm out of step with the majority here.
Two stars for some occasionally well-executed passages and for being a genuinely informative read....more
So original and charming! Told by graveyard spitis not yet resigned to their deaths, they are fascinated and moved by Lincoln's grief for his son, theSo original and charming! Told by graveyard spitis not yet resigned to their deaths, they are fascinated and moved by Lincoln's grief for his son, the most recent arrival. Told almost like a play with fast shifting dialogue-based perspectives, I've not read anything quite like it. It is full of humour, sentiment (a good thing in my view), and acute observation. A treat. ...more
Written in a deceptively simple prose style, Exit West charts a war, a romance and several migrations through a speculative fiction device - doors thrWritten in a deceptively simple prose style, Exit West charts a war, a romance and several migrations through a speculative fiction device - doors through which you can move all over the globe - that feels comfortably unremarkable by the end. The most powerful section is during the increased fighting in the lovers' home city before they exit: the fear and claustrophobia is visceral and it increases the tempo of their relationship in a way that has lasting effects. Hamid captures precisely how the stages of the lovers' experience unfold and the way the events around them shape this.
For me, this doesn't reach the heights of How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, but it is moving and thought-provoking and has its share of sentences that demand to be read several times....more