mini review: ‘Her Body and Other Parties’ by Carmen Maria Machado

Image result for her body and other parties

3 stars

2.5 stars.

I’m almost heartbroken I didn’t enjoy this as much as expected. I bought and read this in hardback, I was so certain. I was also provided with an ebook copy from Netgalley and Serpent’s Tail for review.

Great concepts, and undoubtedly beautifully written. I felt these were somber in nature, and the surrealism used in crafting them took away from the importance of the stories being told. Essentially, I think this should of been a more realist collection, because the topics deserved it. I don’t think the quirkiness did this collection any favours. Style over substance? Maybe.

sign off heartJess

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mini review: ‘A Line Becomes a River’ by Francisco Cantú

a line becomes a river

3 stars

Whilst I was continually intrigued by the premise of this book, and eager to hear from the unique standpoint Cantú speaks from, I’m sorry to say that I felt the first half of this rather dry and detached. Rather like the desert landscape and laddish culture he starts work among.

However, as Cantú begins to fall deeper down the rabbit hole that is his job, I began to get sucked in behind him. When he speaks from personal experience there is emotion there for sure.

Still I feel this occasionally gets bogged down in the facts and legalities, which are obviously very important, but it makes this quite a dense read.

Definitely would recommend this though. It’s a fascinating look at border relations from an informed and honest standpoint.

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mini review: ‘Riot Days’ by Maria Alyokhina

Riot Days by Maria Alyokhina

4 stars

4.5 stars. Punchy, frank, and unapologetically angry. This is a big ol’ feminist middle finger and I loved every word. Riot Days is structured fairly chaotically for a piece of non fiction, but rather than feeling disorienting, this works in its favour. Not neat, nor necessarily ‘eloquent’, it’s arresting and compulsively readable. Urgent, illuminating, and strangely poetic. Go read it!

Thanks to Netgalley and Allen Lane for providing this ebook for review.

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review: ‘Sing, Unburied, Sing’ by Jesmyn Ward

sing, unburied, sing

4 stars

This was my first encounter with Jesmyn Ward, and on the basis of this beautifully written novel, it certainly won’t be my last.

Sing, Unburied, Sing is a story told by three central characters: mixed race 13-year-old JoJo, his black mother Leonie, and Richie – a friend of JoJos’ Pop ‘Riv’ who he knew as a young man whilst serving time at Parchman, a nearby penitentiary. Coincidentally, the same prison that JoJo and his little sister Kayla’s white father, Michael, is currently serving time.

When Leonie learns of Michael’s release from prison, she packs herself up with friend Misty, and her two reluctant children, to go meet him at the gates. They leave Pop and Mam behind, Pop who is struggling with his own demons whilst looking after Mam, who is dying of cancer.

What follows this decision is a journey filled with the truth of race in America, the bonds and battles of family, of drugs and visions, of the struggle between mother and a son coming of age, of ghosts, of memories most would leave forgotten, and somewhat, of magic.

The way Ward writes is so raw, so emotive, and her depiction of the bond between JoJo and Kayla was both heartwarming to experience and heartbreaking to see challenged. Whilst Leonie is unquestionably a terrible mother, and absent father Michael is no better, Ward does well in showing us how these characters come to be this way. We aren’t meant to like these characters, but in looking at their backgrounds and personal challenges, by the end we are well on our way to somewhat understanding them.

Such a great novel, and one that I would definitely recommend. Not an easy read at times, but an important one that’s beautifully told.

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some thoughts: ‘Days Without End’ by Sebastian Barry

Image result for days without end sebastian barry

2 stars

Got over 100 pages in, but I’m putting it down for now.

I was really expecting the relationship to be at the forefront at this novel, and although I’m told it begins to develop as you read on, the actual war aspect is very much dominating the novel at this point. I’m not really a fan of the brash, very testosterone filled narrative, and our protagonists voice isn’t sitting quite right with me for some reason.

I appreciate that a romantic, sexual relationship between two men would be very much kept under wraps during this time period, and especially in this setting. But I can’t help feel that as a reader I should be privy to more of the nuances of their relationship. Especially as it’s the main character recounting his experiences to us personally. Just being told that this man is the love of his life isn’t enough, I need to see it.

The initial reveal of them being lovers is written in very casually, and whilst I appreciate this blasé approach, at the same time the line ‘and then we quietly fucked and went to sleep’ seemed quite crass. The blunt language appears purposely chosen to shock the reader, and jolted me out of the story a bit. I would have felt exactly the same way if this phrasing was used in regards to a heterosexual couple. It just seems to me that in trying to not make a big deal of a gay relationship being portrayed in this story, we’re actually not given enough and it’s hard to buy into this intimacy.

A few of my colleagues have read this one and have really enjoyed it, and maybe I’m missing out of some gems as the book goes on. But I think I’ve read enough so far to assume I just don’t have that much invested in this particular story. I guess I’m not doing the best job in articulating why I’m not feeling this one right now, but regardless, I’m setting it aside.

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review: ‘Elmet’ by Fiona Mozley

elmet

5 stars

A modern gothic, rural melodrama. At it’s heart ‘Elmet’ is the gritty story of a complex family dynamic and a good vs. evil battle that has us rooting for the questionably deplorable underdog. A solid 4 stars to start with, with a few days to mull over this story, this has crept up to a well deserved 5 stars from me.

At the head of our tight knit familial trio, we have ‘Daddy’. A violent and damaged man who is driven by a primal love and need to care for his family and those less fortunate. Daddy has an almost Robin Hood type quality that endears us to him despite his obvious flaws. Whilst he clearly loves his children, he also lets them drink and smoke, exposes them to violence and often deserts them for long periods at a time. A bare knuckle fighter, for want of an honest trade, he manages to be a formidable fighter, masculine and intimidating, whilst carrying a fierce need to protect what is his and having a strong sense of honour.

Fourteen year old Daniel, son of Daddy, narrates this story. A quiet, somewhat effeminate boy with a kind nature, who cares more about ‘making house’ than following in the barbarous footsteps of his father. His sister, the far less inhibited Cathy, is a year older and a clear tomboy. She is far closer to her fathers nature, and appears to take after him in looks too, both dark and brooding. There is a strength to her character that I think was really interesting to play with. Looking at the offspring of this man in this way, one boy and one girl, manages to say a lot about the intricacies of gender without doing so explicitly, and I felt this aspect of the novel was really unique.

On the surface, this is a fairly uneventful story, yet the poetic language draws greatly on the landscape and creates a wonderfully rustic environment which acts as the backdrop to this curious life. For most of their lives Daniel and Cathy live with Granny Morley, who acts as a constant presence in their lives, whilst Daddy and the briefly mentioned (yet equally tortured) mother, flutter in and out of their lives. Their childhoods appear strained, but in many ways they live a normal life. Events lead Daddy to take his children away from this normality, to the place their mother was from. He builds a house purely from scratch sourcing materials from the surrounding forests, and they live primitively but happily. Unfortunately, but not entirely unintentionally, he happens to be building on a piece of woodland that isn’t his to build on. From this point on, the melodrama begins to creep in, and we are drawn towards a surprising and intense climax.

I really, really enjoyed this book. Whilst admittedly not for everyone, this is a fantastic debut, and Mozley has a voice that I definitely want to hear more from. I’d love some short stories from this author, another novel, to hear her speak – it’s safe to say I’m excited for what might be to come. I’m so glad a novel like this is being recognised by the Man Booker Prize this year. Whilst I’m doubtful it could win, I hope it at least makes the shortlist, as it’s my absolute favourite of the list so far.

sign off heartJess

some thoughts: ‘Reservoir 13’ by Jon McGregor

Image result for reservoir 13

2 stars

I appear to be missing something here. Granted, I only gave this two chapters. It’s wise to expect at least some form of ‘set up’ at the beginning of a novel. We need to meet the characters, set the scene, get a feel for the writing. Unfortunately for me, this set up lasted the entire two chapters. And as two chapters signifies two years passing, that doesn’t bode well.

I just felt it was failing to really take off, the intrigue I was meant to feel was nonexistent. It’s possible that this is just not the kind of writing style, or story, I gel with. I’ve come to realise recently that I love me some dialogue. And the technique used here (someone tell me the name if there is one?!), where any dialogue is simply written into the text without the use of speech marks, just does not work for me.

I was also expecting some kind of murder mystery, but it appears to be a more subtle exploration of an intimate community that draws on the natural landscape. From reviews I’ve read, we don’t ever even find out what happens to aforementioned girl. And really, if I cared about anything I read of this, that was it…

If I’m missing something phenomenal in putting this down for now, please let me know. But something tells me that if I’m not hooked by now, it’s unlikely I will be further in.

sign off heartJess