Review: The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Le Guin

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Rating – 2*

The Left Hand of Darkness is a book that I’ve wanted to read for quite a long time. It’s certainly been on my radar for at least 18 months, and I’ve had it on my shelf for around a year. I had high hopes for it, as it seemed to be right up my alley (sci-fi, gender, sexuality etc.) and I so desperately wanted to love this book. As you can tell, I really didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped. This is probably going to get a little ranty, because I have Feelings about this book.

As always with books I have high expectations for, I go in quite harshly. I think maybe if I had read this book at a time when I was more influential – or generally younger. The main selling point of this book is gender/biological sex and the fact that the native species on the planet our protagonist goes to are ambisexual (meaning they are neither gender, but have traits of both) who take on the role of binary male/female when they enter their ‘mating season’. That premise sounded fantastic, but for me it was actually handled quite poorly.

Our main character, Genly Ai, struggles with this fluidity of gender – and as such nearly every character in this book is referred to as he/him, traits associated with women are considered negative in a character and there’s only so much of that I can take without going in to a blind rage. I found myself getting very frustrated throughout, which really took away from a lot of the good things about this book – things like politics and the world building, which had I not been angry would have maybe been more enjoyable. To me, rather than a planet full of ambisexual beings, the planet was full of men who happened to sometimes have babies – for me this missed the mark on exploring the fluidity of gender.

I understand when this was written there wasn’t the acceptance that there is today, or the tact in language, but there are simple things that could have worked which did “exist” back when this was first written – simply put gender neutral pronouns are very simple things, but omitted from use. It’s an alien race, there was scope to create gender neutral pronouns which were unique to the Gethenian people. Why are parents referred to as fathers, children as sons, and siblings as brothers if it’s a genderless society, and all beings are equal? If this book had been set on a planet where it was entirely male and they occasionally gave birth, I probably wouldn’t have read it, but I wouldn’t have this issue. And if you haven’t realised by this point, I have an issue!

Once I had hold of this issue, it got under my skin and completely detracted any of my initial excitement over it. I lost what little emotional connection I had with the characters, reading it felt like a chore, and I found myself very much uncaring as to how it was going to end. I don’t often skim books, but the last 50 to 100 pages of this I did simply speed read to get it over with.

 

Review: The Seamstress and the Wind – César Aria

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Rating – 2*

I feel that this probably wasn’t the best book to introduce myself to Aria’s work with. César Aria is one of the most prolific South American authors there is – he has over 80 published works in his native Spanish, which are slowly being translated in to English. I own the three published by & Other Stories and on reading reviews, I really think this was not the one to start with.

To start, the first chapter felt more like an introduction. I found myself flipping through to see if I’d missed something or if I had pages missing, but no, it’s just a very incoherent first chapter to this incoherent story. Coherence definitely isn’t Aria’s thing, and neither is editing. I’ve been reading about him and apparently he just writes – never looks back, never edits, and sweet mother of Merlin this needed an edit. There wasn’t much mention of the seamstress, nor of the wind. What the very brief description on the inside of this book promised was apparently a blurb for a different book because I didn’t get any of that.

There were so many things I disliked about this – transference of women like property and then casual rape to name just a small portion of what made me uncomfortable. I love weird books, I love magical realism, but this just felt like a poor imitation to me. I think it could have been good, had it have been edited. Also, I felt that there wasn’t really much plot, it was more of a rough draft or a proposal sent to a publisher who never got around to damn well editing it!

The only redeeming quality of this book, and something which means I will pick up the other two books by Aria that I own, is the writing style. While I found the absence of plot, soulless characters, and momentary WTF moments awful the writing – on the whole – was beautiful. When describing the scenery, or even some minute things that were barely worthy of writing about, I was actually quite drawn in. It was quite dream-like in some ways, and parts of it did read like a fairy tale. For that reason alone, this book gets one extra star from me. Beautiful writing doesn’t do it for everyone, it certainly doesn’t redeem things for anyone, but for me it actually made me finish the book – not that it was long at 138 pages. Had it been even 200 pages, I think I may have DNFed it.

Frankly, this is one of the worst books I’ve read this year. Up there only with The Blind Assassin. As I said, I will try some of Aria’s other works that I have as I have read other reviews and it seems that this maybe isn’t the best place to start. I’m really disappointed if I’m honest, because I so hoped I was going to love this!

Review: The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

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Rating – 2*

I really wanted to enjoy this, I really thought I’d enjoy this. Spoiler for you, I didn’t.

There is no denying that Atwood can write, technically this book is brilliant. The prose is – on the whole – incredible but for me, this 600+ page beast was just a disappointment. The characters, the plot, the whole novel-within-the-novel-within-the-novel situation – it was tedious and exhausting. By the time I reached the final 100-150 pages, I had long since lost interest. By that point I was honestly just trying to plod through and finish the damn thing.

The main character, Iris Chase, may be the weakest, most unlikable female character I have ever had the misfortune to read from the perspective of. I had absolutely no connection to her which made this book even more of a challenge. The story of Iris’ life was just so unbelievable that the plot just didn’t grip me, it had me snorting in disbelief instead. Everyone around her dies and it doesn’t feel believable, it feels like everyone dying is just a convenient plot twist in order for the author to write this exact book.

As I said, this book is a story-within-a-story-within-a-story. It was too many layers not executed to their best I feel. Technically, it was very impressive but as a reader it was just too convoluted. Come the end of the story, I was bored with all the layers to this book. I happened to think this structure was overkill, and I wasn’t compelled by anyone or anything. For me, I’d have preferred to have had the book be 200 pages fewer and one less layer to the narrative (because the complexity was, for me, surplus).

However much I disliked it, the prose was – in places – undeniably beautiful and for that, Atwood will never get less than a 2* review from me. But, out of all the Atwood I’ve read, this is by far my least favourite. I know that’s like blasphemy, it’s a Booker Prize winner, it’s probably one of her more  critically acclaimed books but for me, it just fell flat.

If you want good Atwood, I’d recommend The Handmaids Tale or Oryx and Crake/Year of the Flood – they surpass this monumentally in my opinion.

Review: Royal Assassin – Robin Hobb

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Rating – 3*

Unpopular opinion – I didn’t much care for this book. There is no denying that Robin Hobb can build an incredible world, and I really enjoyed book 1 but this was just a really hard slog for me. I was hoping that the pace would really pick up in this book, but if anything I felt it slow down from the first book. Reading other reviews of this, many people do say that “you have to get through this trilogy and then it becomes amazing in the next series” – and I find that really hard to swallow. I wanted this book to be amazing, not a precursor for something amazing – nearly 2000 pages building up to another series, which is itself between 3000 and 4000 pages seems like I’m being cheated a bit!

 

I listened to this as an audiobook. While from the clip I listened to of the first book had me quite dubious about the narrator, I have come to find him quite easy to listen to, and would seriously recommend this on audiobook.

Now, I gave this book 3* – but it was more a 2.5 if I’m honest – and in the goodreads term “I liked it”. It was a good story in parts, it does have merit and I can see why people love it but for me it really, really exhausted me. And, worst of all, everything still felt unresolved come the end. Honestly, I found myself a little disappointed. I don’t want to go too much in to the plot (though I struggle to recall anything of note as I’m writing this), as it is a second book in a series and in doing so some points of the first book would be ruined. But I found the romance (if you can call it that) quite irritating, the trials that Fitz went through could have been resolved in 200 pages less, and all was made worse for me by the characters. If they were better, maybe I’d have enjoyed the plot a bit more.

The primary issue is the characters, as I said above, and I can’t say I feel attached to any of them. Least of all Fitz. When a book is written in first person, I need a connection with the character, I need to have some sort of identification with them and with Fitz I just don’t have that. I found his character really monotonous, and didn’t feel like he grew at all through the course of this book. It wasn’t just Fitz though, I felt all of the characters were more like caricatures or puppets who I just didn’t gel with as a reader.

The fact it was an audiobook actually elevated the rating a bit as I rated the whole experience of the book, and audio definitely made the book a little more enjoyable for me. Without it, I would probably have rated it a 2*.

I just found it very difficult to read, and throughout I just became really despondent with it. I did finish it, I was in two minds as to whether to give up, but I’m a completist by nature. Because of that, I will read the final book in this series but I’m not in any hurry unfortunately. What I find most infuriating is so many people say that this trilogy is not reflective of the rest of the books set in the same world – that you just have to ‘get through’ this one and then it becomes amazing… but I’m really put off reading The Liveship Traders series after my rather rocky relationship with this first trilogy so far!

Review: The Virgin Suicides – Jeffery Eugenides

TVSThis book frustrated me.

I struggled through it, assured by so many people that it was worth it and… nope. I just don’t understand the hype with this. The writing is great, I can’t fault Eugenides writing. I just really didn’t like this book.

The genius, and I think the attraction, lies in the fact that we’re observing these 5 girls from a very outside perspective. I think in a way it sates that curiousness that most people naturally have; that of being nosy in regards to their neighbours! I think that this candid outside view in is what the ‘addictive’ thing about this book is for people who like it. It was also the downfall in some respects, the girls were put on pedestals, their suicides glamorised – the girls were just under scrutiny for the boys to study.

Ultimately, this felt pointless to me. It was a slog, it wasn’t particularly interesting. It wasn’t a book that I was compulsively reading, instead it was a book that I carelessly threw in my bag and didn’t touch for two days. My main problem with this is it was just pretentious.

I will definitely give Middlesex a go. His writing was good. It’s just this book felt so out of touch with reality and I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed it. Sometimes, you just have to accept that you don’t fall in with the trend! 2/5

Review: We Were Liars – E. Lockhart

we were liarsThis is a book I’m really struggling to review. Most people say go in to this blind – know nothing – so I’m going to stick to that and not spoil it for anyone.

I’m in a minority, I didn’t find it lived up to the hype. I read and listened to so many reviews of this book, I was told it was amazing and the plot twist was just ‘so surprising’ but I just didn’t feel it. I found the plot twist a little, well, crappy if I’m honest. It was a cheap way out.

I don’t really have the time to do an in depth review about a book I didn’t particularly enjoy. I only read it because it was a book club book, ordinarily I would never have picked this up. I’m not a fan of YA. I’ll make no bones about that fact and this book was just so full of typical YA stereotypes and words cannot express how much I would not read this book again.

It was an okay book, but it has to be 2/5.