Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Book #90

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

BOY Novak turns twenty and decides to try for a brand-new life. Flax Hill, Massachusetts, isn’t exactly a welcoming town, but it does have the virtue of being the last stop on the bus route she took from New York. Flax Hill is also the hometown of Arturo Whitman –- craftsman, widower, and father of Snow. SNOW is mild-mannered, radiant and deeply cherished –- exactly the sort of little girl Boy never was, and Boy is utterly beguiled by her. If Snow displays a certain inscrutability at times, that’s simply a characteristic she shares with her father, harmless until Boy gives birth to Snow’s sister, Bird. When BIRD is born Boy is forced to re-evaluate the image Arturo’s family have presented to her, and Boy, Snow and Bird are broken apart. 

I could have read this book forever.

Oyeyemi weaves a grim tale detailing child abuse, survival, race, and family. It’s a stunning commentary on relationships, the 1950s, and a culture we are striving to outgrow. Yet, despite the heaps of realism, Oyeyemi adds strands of the magical, creating a sometimes beautiful sometimes unsettling tone, and invoking awe.

Although the characters weren’t exactly well-rounded, this added a certain hint of the mystical to them. At one moment, they’d be as real as you or I, traversing similar life problems and desperately trying to scrabble their way out. The next moment they’d become almost fairy tale; unfathomable and seemingly on a higher spiritual plane. It’s wonderfully jarring.

Oyeyemi’s prose was lyrical enough to lend itself to the magical tone. I’m not a highlighter, but some passages and sentences were just too profound not to keep for future reference.

My one issue with this book involves spoilers, so I won’t go into too much detail. Oyeyemi’s first plot twist focuses on one oppressed group, the second on another, in the novel’s final pages. The first plot twist was excellent in its exploration of character, reasoning, and social expectations. The second I found to be distasteful, incorrect in its assertions, and to be frank, harmful. With this happening at the end, I’ve come away feeling that such a wonderful book has been marred for me.

I’ve spent the last week completely in love with this novel; I’m missing the characters, and desperate to know what else could possibly be happening. If you can get past the confusing, ill-fitting, and barbaric ending (you won’t know until you get there), I promise it’s wonderful up until that point. 

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Book #89

The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Missing, presumed dead, for three years, Sherlock Holmes returns triumphantly to his dear companion Dr Watson. And not before time! London has never been in more need of his extraordinary services: a murderous individual with an air gun stalks the city.
Among thirteen further brilliant tales of mystery, detection and deduction, Sherlock Holmes investigates the problem of the Norwood Builder, deciphers the message of the Dancing Men, and cracks the case of the Six Napoleons. 

This collection of short mysteries takes place three years after Holmes’ catastrophic and monumental ‘death’. It’s fascinating to read of the public’s reaction to this at the time, which no doubt led to Doyle’s resurrection of the great detective. Despite my gratitude at his death being nothing but a clever ruse (what else could it be?) these short stories left me longing for another full length adventure with Holmes and Watson.

There’s definitely a formula being followed here, and although it’s noticeable, it isn’t particularly tiresome. Each case brings its own suspicious characters, inconsequential clues, and mind-blowing solutions. There’s a clever way of weaving which makes part of the outcome easy to predict, and yet the final deduction is something our own minds can never parallel. It really is no wonder these stories can stand the test of time, and I’ll never cease to be amazed at how impressive they still are all these years later.

Although not the best of the collection – perhaps Doyle lost a bit of his mojo after only bringing Holmes back on the basis of demand – it still holds everything we already know and love about this pair. As stated above, I am more than ready for a longer mystery, and my next foray with Holmes will be in The Valley of Fear. 

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Book #88

Speaking of Siva

Meditative, deeply personal poems to the god Siva, from four major Hindu saints. 

These are small devotional poems written by four saints, dedicated to the god Siva. I didn’t find this out from Penguin; I had to do some digging on my own to help me better understand the verses Penguin so rudely launched at me without explanation.

The poems themselves felt very emotive and lyrical, yet heavy in their religious piety. There was something quite disengaging and sour about them which I couldn’t quite comprehend.

Call it a lack of context, or a personal distaste for poetry, but these Little Black Classics are completely grating on me now. This was number 79; almost there.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Book #87

HWFG by Chris McQueer

Here We F**king Go (HWFG) is the much-anticipated follow up to Chris McQueer’s hilarious, award-winning debut short story collection Hings. In HWFG...

Your fave Sammy gets a job and Angie goes to Craig Tara.
Plans are made to kick the f*ck out of Kim Jong-Un. 
You’ll find answers to the big questions in life: 

What happens when we die?
What does Brexit actually mean?
Why are moths terrifying?
What are ghosts like to live with?

It’s just a load more short stories ‘n that.

hwfg x

I jumped into this with severe anticipation, but also with an unsettling dread that HWFG could never match its predecessor, Hings. I know now it’s impossible to compare the two. Where Hings is a wee wideo looking to have a laugh and a slagging, HWFG is the psycho uncle who’s just oot the jail.

We still get our old favourites, those characters of gold who seem to be moulded out of a range of faces you’d see walking up the main gaff (Angie at Craig Tara is a total masterpiece), and relatable figures who’ve never shown their face before, like big Leaf the smug west-end hipster; yet, there are some stories here just a wee bit more twisted and a shitload darker than in Hings. There’s a tinge of dystopia, a smear of macabre, and a wee taste of what would happen if Charlie Brooker was born in Cranhill.

I got to explore bits of my mind I’d never accessed before. What is my biggest riddy? Would I save that cow from school if I found myself in a life or death situation with her, or would I just continue the rammy? Would I have my armpits stinking of petrol all day for a prize of fifty quid? See that wasp that flew into my da’s gub one time, was it trying to take over his body? Not questions you should ask out loud.

There were a couple of stories in here I’d read before, but it was glorious to read them again, and it felt fitting to give them a home in this grimoire of Glesga. 

I just love McQueer’s stuff, and I absolutely loved this. I did read the acknowledgements where he states the pressure and stress of writing this one nearly killed him, but mibbe batter some more out sharpish, eh?

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Book #86

 My Sister and I by Sean-Paul Thomas

A young teenage girl and her psychotic twin sister must grow up hard and fast in the unforgiving Scottish Highlands as their father - a sick and twisted, violent man, obsessed with the end of the world - teaches them how to survive out in the wild with no one to rely on but themselves.

Jeezo, I love a bit of dark depravity fiction, but this was absolutely merciless.

Imagine one of those mental guys you meet in the pub, the ones with the unsettling glint in their eye that tells you they would have absolutely no problem taking you outside and stabbing you for a laugh. Imagine that guy colder, lonelier, more sadistic, less human. Imagine that guy with two twin girls he’s training up to become just like him. You just wouldn’t want to, but Thomas will make you.

The narrative here is what gets me the most. Written in first person, from the perspective of the gentler twin, it’s all thoughts and descriptions, with a lack of dialogue. This made the unfolding of the plot all the more terrifying; being unable to tell how the more violent sister was going to react next was utterly disquieting.

There’s a particularly fast pace here, which was excellent. The girls are no sooner released from some form of ‘survival training’ nightmare before being plunged into their next woeful task. The appearances of the clearly mentally ill father are sporadic, frightful, and completely concerning. His beliefs, his upbringing, and his treatment of his daughters, all point towards something we hope we’ll never encounter in our own lifetimes.

It says a lot about our parents, and the people they bring us up to be - that age old nature vs. nurture debate which is destined never to be solved. Thomas hints subtly that we are all products of our parents’ design, but that outside factors can intervene, and in each of us is a true sense of right and wrong, regardless of what we’ve been taught.

Thomas also forces us to consider the lengths we would go to to survive. He gives the girls impossible situations to escape from, and it’s with shame I admit I simply wouldn’t make it. Thank god my da is the type who will wash my car every weekend and tap me money, instead of sending me out into the wilderness to fend for myself.

My only criticism would be that I felt the finale was rounded up far too quickly, with some loose ends in there I wanted tied up (I won’t go into detail as that will mean spoilers). Or maybe I just wanted it to last longer.

You don’t get many horror novels set in the Scottish Highlands, and this one from Thomas was perfect. Thank you so much for allowing me to read this.