mini review: ‘Orchid & the Wasp’ by Caoilinn Hughes

Caoilinn Hughes - Orchid & the Wasp

2 stars

Whilst I did enjoy aspects of this novel, I can’t help but feel that overall it was aiming for somewhere beyond me. Hughes’ debut struck me as a blend of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing and The Future Won’t Be Long, but less touching and traumatic than the first, and weirdly far more convoluted than the second despite considerably less drug use. In all honesty I probably wouldn’t have finished this one had I not purchased it in hardcover for myself as well as being sent a galley for review.

As unlikely as parts of this plot did seem, I did enjoy the basis of the story mostly, so figure it was the writing style I didn’t quite gel with. This wasn’t an easy read for me. Not in terms of themes or anything, but literally – it didn’t flow very well. On more than one occasion I found myself rereading a paragraph to see if I’d missed a sentence with some vital information. Also, sometimes dialogue is written in dialect to reflect a person’s accent, and sometimes not. With seemingly no reasoning for this disparity, it just further distanced me from a narrative I struggled to invest in.

Gael as a character also confused me. For someone who we are encouraged to believe is altruistic at her core, I often found her motivation and actions pretty shady. She also happens to be one of the most sardonically astute characters I’ve come across, despite being only 11 when we are first introduced to her. I just didn’t believe such a young girl would have her qualities, despite her unusual relationships with her parents. She was more than just older than her years. There is a moment early on, when she catches her Dad naked as he comes out of the shower. She seems to be incredibly aware of the exchange of power that takes place in this confrontation, and the hold this gives her over her father. It was just a little too unbelievable, and more than a little odd. Essentially, I felt apathetic towards the protagonist as I found her unrealistic.

Her brother Guthrie on the other hand, was of great interest to me. Unfortunately, despite being given quite a complex back story, we saw little of him first hand, and only got insight into his character through Gael. Without giving too much away, considering a lot of the emotional stakes are invested in how we feel towards Guthrie and what he goes through, I think we should have been given more time with him in the story.

I really expected to like this one, and suspect many will still do so. I think it simply comes down to the writing style not quite working for me, a wish for the story to be sharper, and the characters a little more sculpted.

Thank you to Oneworld for providing an ebook through Netgalley in exchange for an honest opinion

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mini review: ‘Convenience Store Woman’ by Sayaka Murata

Quietly poignant and touchingly wry, Convenience Store Woman is a delicately astute commentary on the societal expectations placed on women, specifically in Japan, although this is globally relatable.

Murata writes with a facetious wit that you can’t help but warm to instantly. The supporting cast of stereotypical caricatures ironically make the endearing protagonist Keiko appear the most ‘normal’, despite everyone’s disbelief at her peculiarities.

This small book has so much to unpack that it’s begging for a reread already. In short, I really enjoyed this and would highly recommend giving it a read.

Keiko is one convenience store animal I won’t forget in a hurry!

Thank you to Portobello for providing me with an ebook of this through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Jess

review: ‘My Absolute Darling’ by Gabriel Tallent

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2 stars

I’m really quite confused by the majority of positive reviews for this one. I thought I knew what I was letting myself in for. I’d been told that it was absolutely brutal, but ultimately hopeful and the prose was beautiful.

For me, the violence in this book is the epitome of gratuitous. I found the representation of sexual violence in this almost written to titillate, and that’s honestly quite disturbing. The first time a rape is described in the book, Turtle clutches at her ‘engorged pussy’. Later, we are told ‘Turtle’s own pussy is as trim and compact as an anemone bunkered down to wait out the tide’. Is this necessary? Turtle, a 14 year old girl, is being sexualised. I felt like I was reading a screenplay for one of those misogynistic, slasher type, b movies rather than the beautifully written literary thriller I expected.

One of the most shocking things about this novel for me is the dialogue. Who actually talks like any of these characters? There was no legitimacy in Turtle as a character, I didn’t believe she actually existed, so I had no hope invested in her surviving Martin’s abuse. Turtle is apparently physically very plain and unattractive, and she’s hostile and abrasive towards almost everyone she comes in to contact with in this novel. Yet she meets two teenage boys who become somewhat besotted with her, and she’s accepted into their families. It’s clear she has very low self worth, and it takes the introduction of a third party, a more conventionally attractive, ‘normal’ (she reads Twilight) young girl that Turtle finds it necessary to rescue, and thus freeing herself in the process. I don’t understand how people can say her resilience and self worth is inspiring when this is the case.

Several characters in this novel seem to be aware, or at least suspect, the abuse Turtle is suffering. Her Grandfather, her father’s friends, her school teachers, some of whom we are expected to believe are good people, yet none of them attempt to help her. Also, if I am to believe in this narrative, why does she attend school at all? Her father, a survivalist, doesn’t believe in doctors, or any form state run systems. Wouldn’t it be more likely she was homeschooled? Her suspicious Grandfather is also conveniently taken out of the picture when it seems he is finally ready to act on his concern. I had to suspend my disbelief too often.

Also, I thought that survivalism would play more of a part. There is so much description of nature and the wilderness in this book, but unnecessarily so. I think all the adjectives may have actually been used? I don’t see the beauty or intricacy in this prose. Really the aspect of survivalism is just a weak plot point that’s barely examined, and seems to only exist to provide Martin with another dimension aside from abominable abuser.

This novels only saving grace for me is the ending, post trauma, but even this was like reading a fucked up alternative ending to Matilda. They even read Moby Dick. The story is fast paced (apart from the dragged out ending sequence that reminded me of the movie ‘The Guest’) and at times quite compelling, but the conclusion was predictable, so turning the last page I was just relieved to not have to read the sadism any longer. The fact that this was written by a man just further disturbs me. Apparently, Tallent suffered abuse at the hands of a family member, so I can see how this may be a cathartic experience to write, but why make Turtle a teenage girl? It’s just bizarre.

Effectively, I just do not understand the hype. What is the point of this book? It doesn’t serve as an eye opening looking at the truth of abuse, as no aspect of this is realistic. Where is the literary merit and masterful genius that so many have recognised in this book? For me, this could have been another ‘Elmet’ or ‘History of Wolves’ and that’s what I hoped for. But really, it just felt like Quentin Tarantino wrote a novel. And there was a dead dog, and I always fucking hate that.

Unfortunately, I purchased a copy of this book for myself, but I also had an ebook provided to me by Forth Estate through Netgalley for an honest review.

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review: ‘Slay In Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible’ by Yomi Adegoke & Elizabeth Uviebinené

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4 stars

I know what you’re thinking. ‘Girl, you are white? This book isn’t for you’ – and you would be correct. But, here’s the thing. Black women do not need to read this to be educated. They are already living these experiences, and facing these struggles on the daily. Black women should (and will) read this for the affirmation and validation it will provide their experiences, for the sense of inclusive solidarity it provides, and for the practical advice shared throughout by an array of successful, inspirational black women.

White people on the other hand, should read this to be educated. In the same way I’d urge every male who questions the prevalence of sexism in our society to read Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism, I would encourage all white people who still question the scale of racism to read Slay In Your Lane. Even though this is not written for us, we can still learn from it, and anyone who considers themselves an intersectional feminist needs to be aware of the specific challenges black women face throughout all facets of life, and the extent to which sexism and racism will always be interlinked.

I expected this book to be a collection of essays by a variety of different women, much like how The Good Immigrant is laid out. In actuality, it’s written purely by Adegoke and Uviebinené themselves, and they weave the real life experiences of several dynamic black women into their discussion in the form of quotes and interview excerpts. It’s packed full of practical advice from real women, sometimes even providing real resources that can be accessed, such as websites to visit and support groups available.

This book looks at several areas of modern life and discusses how black women can excel in education, get ahead in business and navigate the complex dating scene. It also delves into the honestly depressing lack of representation (and misrepresentation) they still face in all aspects of the media, the apparent oxymoron in identifying as both Black and British, and the sheer frustration in the lack of suitable beauty products and clothing, despite such a huge market calling for it. Further still, this book looks at the unique stigma that black women in particular face when it comes to seeking help for physical and mental health concerns and just generally documents how institutional racism still plagues the majority of public bodies.

What I feel was especially admirable about this book, was the fact that at no point do the authors appear to be straight forward complaining about the oppression they face – although they would have absolutely every right to. They are careful not to victimise their readers, and instead seek to provide constructive advice, and to inspire. Of course they are annoyed, and angered, and rightly so, but this book feels like them saying ‘Look, the odds are stacked against you, the system is rigged, but here’s why you can do it anyway’ This book is a proud celebration of black excellence.

My hope is that the strength, unity and support that young black women will feel in reading this will be priceless in itself, and I’m very happy this book got published.

Thank you to HarperCollins for providing me with an eBook of this via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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mini review: ‘Grabbing Pussy’ by Karen Finley

Can’t say this one’s for me, and I didn’t finish it. There are some moments of real insight in here, but unfortunately they’re buried under what is essentially many pages of foul language. And don’t get me wrong, I am not against a swear word or two (or many), but this was just pure vulgarity for shocks sake in my opinion. This is very much a response to Trump’s America though, and Finley does not mince her words when it comes to sharing her distaste, and for that I am somewhat happy this is out in the world. I’d be interested to see how this is put together in physical format, but I won’t be rushing out and buying a copy on publication in order to do so.

Thank you to OR Books for providing an eBook through Netgalley in exchange for an honest opinion

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mini review: ‘Devoured’ by Anna Mackmin

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3 stars

A commune, rural England, a young girl coming of age… You know those books where the premise sounds *literally* perfect for you, and then the execution just doesn’t really do it for you? This is one of those books for me.

There was a point early on where I wasn’t even sure I wanted to carry on, but I’m glad I finished it. I did love the story, but I just didn’t gel with the way it was told.

This is definitely written in a style that takes a while to get used to. Some will love it straight away, and others will feel like they are wading through black treacle in trying to read it.

It’s written in second person, but in a preteen’s stream of consciousness style. Reminded me very much of both A Girl is a Half Formed Thing and Peach in style, but was harder to consume as this novel is twice the length. By the end I felt I had a good grasp of the characters, but I can’t say I ever felt them fully formed and couldn’t truly picture this commune in my mind until the last quarter of the novel.

Stephen Fry pegs it as ‘equal parts hilarious and terrifying’ and I find I quite agree with this assessment. Trigger warnings for foul language, sexual and emotional abuse, and just generally a pretty toxic environment to raise children in. The humour comes from just how very deluded and hopeless these people are, despite the simplest and possibly purest of intentions. There’s also some haphazardly noted recipes jotted throughout giving it a little Like Water for Chocolate vibe which, ironically, are some of the easiest parts to follow.

Essentially, Devoured is a compellingly experimental novel about the minefield that is youth, the conflicts of community and ultimately the need for belonging. The bones of this story will appeal to many, but beware that the muddied writing style may make for a frustrating read.

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mini review: ‘She Must Be Mad’ by Charly Cox

4 stars

I don’t read much poetry, and would in no way consider myself knowledgeable enough to rate a collection in terms of how ‘good’ it is. But what I do know, is that it’s very rare that I find a poet I can fully understand, let alone connect with, but I felt both of these things whilst reading this collection.

I wouldn’t go as far as to suggest she’s ‘social media’s answer to Carol Ann Duffy’, but I think these poems will definitely appeal to many a millennial. Themes of love, mental health, body image, and even in one case – Trump, fill out this collection of poems ranging in form from traditional verse, to prose poetry.

Irregardless of this being a collection of poetry, I think this would appeal to fans of people like Lena Dunham, Caitlin Moran and Dolly Alderton. I’ve never read Rupi Kaur, but I would take a punt that fans of hers will like Charly Cox too.

Thank you to HQ for providing an ebook copy through Netgalley for an honest opinion

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