When watching shows like Black Mirror, you are often thrust into immediate alienation from the setting. Perhaps this distance, this immediate self-differentiation, makes such shows easier to digest, despite their clear commentary on today’s society. Luke Kennard’s ‘The Transition’, on the other hand, begins quite the opposite. The protagonist Kyle seems relatively normal – relatable even, to a ‘millennial’ audience. But at some, unidentifiable point things begin to shift, reminding us exactly why dystopian fiction can be so powerful.
Archive for the 'Reviews' Category
Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s debut novel ‘Harmless Like You’ is both subtle and striking. It tells the story of a Japanese-born aspiring artist growing up in New York between 1968 and 1983, and that of a newly married art dealer across late 2016. The narrative is set almost entirely in New York State, with a brief though critical exchange taking place in Berlin. We are presented with Yuki’s time in New York between the ages of about 10 and 30, having lived there for all of her re-collectable life after her parents emigrated from Japan, and where she remains long after her family’s return. We also hear the story of Jay, a recently married art dealer who is struggling with the recent death of his father, and his abandonment by his mother – Yuki – as a young child. These accounts are presented in tandem, the narrative alternating between them despite their separation in time. Each faces similar questions of both past – Yuki’s relationship with her Japanese heritage, Jay’s developing response to his abandonment – and future – the idea of parental responsibility, with Jay having recently become a father.
Happy Weekend Pubbers!
Now that we have a chance to cool our jets for a bit, how about some book-related fun from the interweb?
First, some advice on getting your own Book Vlog started!
Psst… Ever heard of the vlogbrothers? John Green and his brother make snappy little vids about all things BOOK.
Last but not least, listen to England’s own book vlogger JustBeingBelle talk about the books she loves and why.
That’s all for now! Keep your eyes peeled for this Sunday’s events calendar!
“To face the music at last. To be on one’s tod. Do I mean it? Apparently not.” (p7)
Night has been republished by Faber and Faber this year to complement Edna O’Brien’s bestselling memoir Country Girl which details the way she was driven into exile after the publication of her silence-breaking first novel. Edna O’Brien’s first novel The Country Girls was banned and publicly burned after being released in Ireland following World War II, where female sexuality was strictly censored.
Now, thanks to controversial publications like hers, feminist activism, the sexual revolution and their subsequent effects, we can all read Edna O’Brien’s classic novel Night unashamedly on the Tube. Yet what is interesting about Night is that it is much more than a reflection on how the so-called ‘times’ have changed – many of the narrator’s problems resemble our own. Told by an original modern voice Mary Hooligan, as she lies approaching middle-age on a four-poster bed, the story consists of unchronological, often racy accounts which culminate as necessary truths. Delving into the pages of a dazzling novel like this is better than an out-of-body experience, because it forces us out of the in-built, unseeing nooks and crannies in which we like to hide. Mary is lying in a bed foreign from her own, being paid by the couple who own the house to look after it, and perhaps this is why her narration is so perceptive.
In O’Brien’s story you’ll find dreamt up words and fantastical names for the most ordinary of people, feasts of Modernist and Shakespearean assemblies, Old and Modern Irish turns of phrase, Victorian and bitingly contemporary prose. Mary’s memories of her childhood in Coose are as vivid and honest as those of her sexual encounters. She encapsulates the lovers she uses to avert both loneliness and intimacy as “[a] motley crew, all shades, dimensions, breeds, ilks, national characteristics, inflammatingness, and penetratingness” (p27). She is not afraid to spill all the tragi-comic details of her life, whether about her marriage to the cold desperado Dr. Flaggler, her divorce, her loneliness without her son Tutsie who has left to travel around the world, her relationship with her alcoholic father Boss and the death of her mother Lil.
Night teaches us we are all products of language – strings of signifiers and idioms. What makes language so powerful is that it can spread across time and acquire new meaning in different contexts. From her new bed Mary is overcome by memory, but she is still able to command the archaic and elemental, whilst slipping ingeniously into visions of our present. Her linguistic anti-monument celebrates the expression we are all capable of if we travel outside the comfortable, enclosed towers of ourselves.
Mary spins many tales of her love life, but these go beyond the well-worn love formula of lovers, the boundaries they face and the conclusion of resolution or tragedy. Through her astute stream of consciousness human relationships are awkwardly unsteady, unbalanced in power, exposed and unanswerable, showing the way we talk of a lover often reveals more about the way we view ourselves.
Her relationship with her mother is at once suffocating and irreplaceable. Lil’s funeral becomes darkly comedic as Mary jumps into her grave and later Lil makes a bizarre ghostly appearance. Both these moments reveal the way we deal with the painful truths and gruesome details of life – we either laugh or cry – and we all share that strange oscillation between life and death, eros and ending.
Throughout Night Mary recounts vulnerable moments mirroring the emotions we keep hushed and private, whether being ordered to pose in a certain way during her time as a nude model in a life drawing art class, or being instructed during experimental sexual experiences. In doing so, she exposes the scripts we read and the saccharine parts we play in social situations. She continually performs our shared fear of excessive social visibility and being viewed as an outsider; during an upper class dinner party with her mock-eccentric lover the Duke she tells of our simultaneous position as object and voyeur: “I watched their mouths, I watched their tongues, like tentacles, I watched their jaws, I could visualise my own” (p112).
Above all, Mary has a refreshing appetite for everyday life and it is her unique insight which discloses how true revelations come about in un-cinematic ways without glitzy props or dramatic backing music. What’s more, Edna O’Brien’s synaesthesia of the everyday sheds shameful light on our replacement of human nature and relationships with the laminate of ornament, scripts and images. In Mary Hooligan’s world one tiny ordinary stimulus makes every part of us retort involuntarily until we see human experience anew. The mundane and embarrassing become heart-stoppingly beautiful because they are worries shared by us all.
Introduce yourself to Mary Hooligan and prepare for a winter night of woozy lust and misplaced illumination. It will take a long time before O’Brien’s provocative page-dust settles – and perhaps, if you pick up the uncomfortable pleasure of Night, it never will.
Edna, O’Brien, Night (London: Faber and Faber, 2014)
Review by Meg Tobin-O’Drowsky
The moving, heart-wrenching, and painful story that is Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing won the Goldsmiths Prize, Bailey’s Women’s Prize, Kerry Group Award, Desmond Elliott Prize, and was shortlisted for the Folio Prize. So it might be surprising for some to learn that it took McBride nine years to find a publisher for her critically acclaimed and arguably industry-changing book. Galley Beggar Press of Norwich finally picked it up in 2013 (with Faber signing on to publish the paperback and ebook editions in 2014). It’s been a long, hard journey for McBride and her story of a girl doing her best to cope with her family, her brother’s illness, and the difficulties life is throwing her way.
Yes, Eimear McBride’s debut novel is experimental, something for which it has been praised time and again, but that isn’t all it is. It pushes the boundaries of the novel form, it’s told stream of consciousness style, it’s unconcerned with grammar, it spans twenty years…It’s gutsy. McBride takes risks with the form that are even more impressive when one considers she’s a debut novelist. And those are no doubt the reasons she had so much trouble finding a publisher. But beyond the heroics it performs, it is at its heart a story about a girl, a story that makes the reader feel things she didn’t know she could feel, that puts the reader in the mind of the protagonist. These are feats (ones with which even many veteran writers struggle) more impressive than McBride’s unconventional prose. The form doesn’t distract or detract, because the reader is so engrossed with the story at hand.
The range of emotions McBride manages to induce in the reader is unparalleled by anything in recent memory. I can’t begin to list them, and many cannot even be named. To make the reader feel heart-ache, agony, physical discomfort, nausea, and so much more would be simply unbelievable if it weren’t McBride doing it, if it weren’t this story.
Reading A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is work. But it’s the type of work that one really enjoys, like spending hours preparing that difficult-to-make but perfect meal. It isn’t for the lazy reader; it’s for the one who is willing to work a little to be fully transported to another world, a world in which it is often difficult to be. The general consensus though, one with which I whole-heartedly agree, is that while it is a difficult read, it is one that must be read.