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.