Review: The Third Reel – S J Naudé

046 - The Third Reel

046 - The Third Reel

Rating – 3*

As those of you who have followed this blog for some time will know, one of my favourite short story collections of recent years was The Alphabet of Birds so when I found out that not only was Naudé writing a novel but that it was to be published by Salt, I got very excited.

The Third Reel is set in an interesting point in history – Thatcher’s Britain, Apartheid South Africa, the beginning of the AIDS crisis. Our main character, Etienne is a young man who has fled conscription in South Africa and sought asylum in the UK. He is enraptured by film, and wins a scholarship to study at London Film School but then his world is flipped upside down by a young German artist who makes art and moonlights as a paediatric nurse. While researching for a project on lost film, Etienne is introduced to this lost German wartime reel, and he becomes obsessed with finding the other two. There is so much more to this book as this is just the surface, but finding the words is difficult.

As someone who only has remedial knowledge about 1980’s Britain, I think the way this is written suits that time period. It feels very artsy, but also very industrial and brutal much like that period of history was. Nothing in this book was what it appeared on the surface, it was so multifaceted with art and music and architecture all layering on top of each other to build this really quite unsettling – yet oddly beautiful – environment.

A lot of this book feels unsettling, and I think the reason for that is simply that it’s so beautifully written yet the content isn’t always very pretty. The relationship between Etienne and Axel is a bizarre one and one I’m not entirely comfortable with, but as a reader I don’t think I was meant to be comfortable with it.

Ultimately, this didn’t quite match up with the high bar I set it based on The Alphabet of Birds but it’s nonetheless a good book. Had I not been familiar with his writing style, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it as much however. So it’s very swings and roundabouts as to how much I enjoyed this, which is why I settled at 3* – because it wasn’t a bad book, it just wasn’t as good as I was hoping.

Review: Record of a Spaceborn Few – Becky Chambers

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From the ground, we stand. From our ships, we live. By the stars, we hope

045 - Record of a Spaceborn Few

Rating – 5*

Oh my word, where to start with this book. I just don’t even know. Trying to  form a coherent thought about something I love so passionately is difficult because while this book is very different to The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, the insight it gives in to this universe that Becky Chambers has created is magical.

This book was incredible, and I won’t lie, it made me cry. The characters in this book are from the Exodan fleet, these are humans that live on ships and the insight in to their lives is beautiful. This feels a lot quieter and more homey than the two previous books, focusing more on family and the circle of life than anything else.

Something I found really interesting in this book is the way that the fleet live – the structure of their space ships, the hierarchy of their society, and also their sustainable nature. I also think that the focus on how humans are not the superior race in this universe is something that we need to be reminded of and is put across so well in this, the humans of the fleet are not top dog, in fact their entire existence is dependent on technology from other races and “hand outs” and it’s something we’re constantly being reminded of throughout.

As with all of Becky Chambers’ books, the characters in this are beautiful. All of them. Tessa is Ashby’s (from TLWtaSAP) sister, and her portions of this story are very domestic as she’s a mother to two young children, one of which seems to be suffering from some form of PTSD and is struggling living in space. Isobel is an archivist – essentially a historian slash registrar – in the fleet who lives with her wife and is housing a harmagian who is researching humans and the Fleet. Eyas is a young woman who works as a groundskeeper, which is more than what it sounds, she’s responsible for caring for the dead and interring them back in to their ecosystem once they’re fully degraded. Finally we have Kip, a young boy who is struggling to find his place in the fleet and has questionable friends, ultimately he’s bored and we follow the growth of him as an individual in to what I can only describe as a fully fledged young adult.

All of these characters has a story which overlaps and brings them together seamlessly. It’s not exactly the happiest of stories but it’s quite a powerful one with a really important message about being inclusive and welcoming. I think it’s also really important to realise just how insignificant humans are in this universe, and to realise the fragility but also the incredible improbability that we exist. I could nerd out about this series for days. I really could.

A small point, and something I absolutely loved, is the insight in to the life-cycle of humans in the Fleet. I found both their naming rituals and also their funerary rituals fascinating. Maybe I’m a bit morbid, but I really love how death is approached in this book – in that bodies decompose and then they turn in to compost, to bring life to plants which in turn bring life to us meaning that our loved ones are always with us in the air we breathe. I mean, does it get any more beautiful than that?!

Along with all of this, there’s the seamless inclusion of all types of ‘people’ – sexuality, gender identity, touches on mental health, physical disabilities – all of them are beautifully interwoven in a way that doesn’t make them tropey. They just are and it’s exactly how it should be.

I also had the amazing opportunity to meet Becky at an event at my local Waterstones and oh my word, she’s one of the most intelligent, eloquent, wonderful humans I’ve ever had the chance to be in the same room as, never mind hold a conversation with. Her mind is incredible, and I really want to see where she takes this universe because it’s ever expanding and has endless possibilities and I just want to see all of them. She said herself she doesn’t know where she’ll go next, but I really hope we get a look in to a species who aren’t human, because the alien races she’s created are truly fascinating.

If you haven’t read A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, then please do. Then promptly read the next two books in this universe.

 

Review: Written on the Body – Jeanette Winterson

020 - Written on the Body

020 - Written on the Body

Rating – 5*

After saying not so long ago that I was going to forgo Winterson for a little while, I caved. This more than made up for the issues I had with Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. It was beautiful. It’s a work of art. It absolutely blew me away.

This book is, essentially, a book about worshipping a lovers body. It’s sensual, it’s captivating, and it’s intricate. It’s the first time with one of Winterson’s books that I’ve felt a full connection with the narrator – and I think this might be the book that I fall in love with her.

The main character remains not only nameless, but genderless. At the beginning I felt so sure that they were female, then in the middle I questioned it (and promptly changed my mind again), but by the end I was absolutely certain that they were female. It remains unsaid, it remains unnecessary to the story, and it also makes you as a reader question why you need to know in the first place – what does it matter? They have had female and male lovers, but focuses primarily on the love they had for one woman – Louise – and the fall out of their relationship.

The first section of the book focuses on the narrators love life, past lovers, sexual experiences, pitfalls of romance, and love. We see them in a stagnating relationship with a woman, which is comfortable but not passionate. Then they meet Louise, and things change. But Louise is married, and we get an insight in to her marriage and all the faults with it. Then something happens, which changes how our narrator looks at their relationship – and they follow their head not their heart, leaving Louise behind.

I want to say more, but I also want others to experience the beauty of this book first hand. I was blown away by it. I always felt that Jeanette Winterson was going to be just not in my grasp and then I go and read this. For me, it’s a slightly sexed up, more modern version of Orlando and I think that having read Orlando recently really helped with my enjoyment of this. There were a lot of similar themes across the two, so maybe if you like Orlando as much as me, you’ll love this too.

Oh, and the ending isn’t all sad, I promise.

Review: Orlando – Virginia Woolf

018 - Orlando

018 - Orlando

Rating – 5*

He – for there could be no doubt of his sex” is how this book opens, and it is one of my favourite opening lines in literature. Anyone who has been following this blog for a while knows how I feel about Virginia Woolf, and in particular this book. Orlando. This is my 3rd or 4th time reading the book, and this time I took more away than I ever have before.

Orlando is a book written long before its time and it is no spoiler to say that the character of Orlando starts as a boy of 16 in an Elizabethan court and one day, some years later, wakes up as a woman. This book astounded me this time because Woolf was essentially pointing out that sex and gender are two different things in this book. Gender is a social construct which is built around stereotypes of what society expects from people of a particular sex. It explores things like Male Privilege in a time where that wasn’t even a talking point, illustrated by Orlando (as a woman) needing to marry in order to claim her estate.

I don’t think I will ever be able to coherently express my feelings for this book. I absolutely adore it. Parts of this book I just read over and over again. There are so many beautiful passages in these pages, I wish I could share them all but I’d basically just be typing the book out. I think though, the passage below sums up this book quite well:-

“And as all Orlando’s loves had been women, now, through the culpable laggardry of the human frame to adapt itself to convention, though she herself was a woman, it was still a woman she loved; and if the consciousness of being of the same sex had any effect at all, it was to quicken and deepen those feelings which she had had as a man.”

I also feel it important to mention that this book was a love letter from Woolf to her female lover, Vita Sackville-West, on whom Orlando was based. They definitely don’t write love letters like this any more! This book is, ultimately, about freedom to be yourself, and to love who you want to love, and to be happy with whoever makes you happy.

I said when I first read this book 3 years ago that every time I reread it I would find something new to love, and this time around I took it more slowly and enjoyed the prose – because Woolf writes the most beautiful prose. I don’t regret it.

Honestly, I urge anyone to read this book, and when you do take it slowly. It may be a 220 page book but it’s a book that needs time taken on it to fully appreciate!

Review: The Gloaming – Kirsty Logan

015 - The Gloaming

015 - The Gloaming

Rating – 5*

I am so, so excited that I was able to receive an ARC of this from NetGalley in exchange for a review. The Gloaming will be published by Harvill Secker on April 19th – and I’m going to urge anyone reading this to pick it up because it is gorgeous. Much like with all Kirsty’s previous books it focuses on Scottish folklore and queer themes – lesbian mermaids. Need I say any more? But it has been one of my most anticipated books of 2018, it didn’t let me down, it didn’t suffer with Second Novel Syndrome – if anything I may love this just a little bit more than The Gracekeepers.

I had very high hopes for this book ever since I saw Kirsty talking about it on Twitter and it didn’t disappoint. It focuses around the Scottish myth of Selkies and deals with it in a much more tasteful way than my last encounter with a book which revolved around the myth. I’ve loved everything about it, and while it wasn’t what I was expecting it was still absolutely gorgeous.

The book follows the story of Mara Ross and her family. They live on a small, unnamed island off the coast of Scotland and it’s a magical, but dark place. Her family are haunted by many things, in a house that’s not quite right on an island which just seems to be filled with ghosts. It felt a lot more grown up, a lot more rounded than her previous novel – the characters were more real and the relationships between them also felt very believable. The relationships between parents and children, sisters, lovers; all of them felt real.

Something else I loved about this book is the nod to her short stories. I loved how she wove things like The Rental Heart in to this so seamlessly, and how that in this slightly fantastical reality it was believable. It also made me want to go back and reread her entire back catalogue – so keep an eye out for reviews of me rereading her books!

Honestly, I cannot praise this book enough. It was absolutely gorgeous and I cannot wait to get my hands on a physical copy in April. If you have a chance to get your hands on this, do, and let it wash over you because it’s beautiful. I read it in one sitting, on a rainy Saturday afternoon, and come the end I wanted to read it all over again. I feel so lucky that I was able to read this 2 months before release, and it’s genuinely one of the books I have been most excited for this year. I can’t wait to share it with my friends.

Review: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson

2017 - oranges are not the only fruit

059 - oranges

Rating – 3*

I have been looking forward to reading Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit for a very, very long time. It’s a cornerstone of LGBTQ+ fiction, and it is a book that I’ve had on my shelf for a good 3 or 4 years and just never been in the mood to pick up. I have held it on such a pedestal that on reading it, I’ve been a little let down.

As always with Winterson’s prose, it’s beautiful. But I’m glad this wasn’t my first foray in to her writing. While I found the semi-autobiographical nature of it interesting, and I enjoyed the main crux of the plot surrounding the coming-of-age of Jeanette, I did find it disjointing on the whole. There are several side stories within the book, which while beautifully written, distracted me from the main plot. They probably had purpose, in literary circles they’re probably genius 5 page long metaphors but to the average reader (me, hi) they were a bit off putting.

One thing I will say is I listened to this as an audiobook which Jeanette Winterson read – and it was glorious. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, authors reading their own works is a pleasure and something that should be done more often. I attribute a lot of my enjoyment of this book to the audiobook as I think were I reading a physical copy alone I may have actually put the book down.

On the whole, this was okay. I will definitely continue to read Winterson’s work, but so far this has been a low point for me. I’m glad I read it, of course I am, and I can understand on reading it how it has impacted so heavily on society. It just didn’t meet the expectations I had for it unfortunately.

 

Review: Kissing the Witch – Emma Donoghue

057 - Kissing the Witch

Rating – 4*

What can I say about this collection other than I absolutely loved it? Some background first, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Emma Donoghue in that I either really love, or really dislike, her books. Room was amazing, so was one of her historical novels, then came along Frog Music which is one of the few books I have DNF’d over the years. This was definitely a hit, in spite of my trepidation going in to it.

Essentially this is a collection of fairy tale retellings – people like Kirsty Logan have cited it as a source of inspiration for their work. High praise like that really puts a book on a pedestal, but on reading it I fully understand why it is so highly regarded. All of the stories in this book, or rather snippets in to the characters lives, twist the well known version of the story in to feminist, slightly queer retellings which still (somehow) keep the character of the original. How Donoghue worked all of the fairy tales in to the same world, and had them seamlessly flow in to each other was genius and it made the collection flow absolutely perfectly.

Each tale is the story of a female character before they became the trope in the original fairy tale – their story before they were witches, stepmothers, crones or spinsters; their stories of being girls, sisters and daughters. Each story flows in to the next by the protagonist simply asking who they were, and we go through generations of women, and ending with the origin of the kiss-seeking witch.

Frankly, this collection is genius – and having read a lot of works which have been influenced by it, I can now see the influence it has had on some of my favourite authors (particularly Kirsty Logan’s A Portable Shelter). It is definitely up there with my favourite short story collections, and one I will be reading again in the future for certain.

I listened to this as an audiobook and can’t recommend it highly enough – it was narrated beautifully and while it was the same narrator for each story, every character had their own voice, it wasn’t flat or monotone like a lot of short story collections, or multiple personality audiobooks suffer with!

Identity Crisis?|| Blogmas Day 15

15 - header

So today it’s a bit of a late one, and not really book-oriented, because I’m not having the best of days.

The last few days I’ve definitely been having a bit of a wobble (primarily due to my GP not seeing my anti-depressants as an urgent prescription and thinking it acceptable to make me go 3 days without them. They still haven’t done the prescription, but I have enough for a week from the pharmacy, and I can kick up a fuss on Monday if I still don’t have my repeat). However, that isn’t what I want to talk about today (as the rainbow in the header may indicate).

The other week, while on holiday, my friend made an offhand comment about how her dad misunderstood something I put on facebook (he misunderstood my “omg I’m going to be a bridesmaid” post as “omg I’m getting married”). And that she was proud of him because “He congratulated you even though if you were getting married, we all know it’d be to a woman.”

Thinking about it, I realised I’ve never actually ‘come out’. I’ve never felt the need to. It’s not that I’m ashamed of my sexuality, I know I prefer women, I just never felt the need to actually go and label myself. But do I need to tell my friends I’m gay? (or more gay than straight, or as I told my mother when I was all of 12 years old “not as straight as a ruler”).

I feel like I’ve lied to them, which is stupid because when I started uni and met them I never hid myself away. I was always 100% me. I make jokes about myself like “Doc Martens and a plaid shirt, you must be a lesbian!” at least twice a month, I frequently make references to particularly nice looking women, rant about the heteronormativity of the institution of marriage, talk very passionately about my favourite fictional lesbians, and regularly update them on LGBTQ+ news.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t exactly think I’m hiding in Narnia.

I told my mum I was (at the very least) bisexual when I was 12 – as I said above. It was a result of a pretty problematic set of circumstances as to why, involving a much older girl taking advantage of me (and it wasn’t just me, as I came to find out). My parents were cool with it, never told me it was just a phase or any of those cliche things. From what I recall, my actual ‘coming out experience’ with my parents was positive – it was so long ago, and the circumstances around it are those I want to forget, meaning I have sort of blurred it in my head.

But, 12 years on, and with a whole new set of friends around me do I actually need to do the whole coming out thing with the words “hey, guess what, I’m gay(ish)?” or is what I’ve already done – just being me, hella gay, and rocking it – enough?

So, if anyone ever wondered what going 3 days without antidepressants did to you, it is this. It makes you unable to sleep and have anxiety attacks over things people probably already know. It makes you question your whole identity, bring up trauma you thought was long behind you and question your entire existence.

Thank goodness for pharmacists and emergency prescriptions.