Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Books – A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan’s experimental and brilliant book, A Visit From the Goon Squad came out in 2010. I hesitate to call it a novel – although it was marketed as one – because it seems to lie half way between a novel and a collection of short stories. I would probably call it a collection of interconnected short stories – but I suppose if Egan had called it that, perhaps less people would have bought it. And I’m not going to complain about anything that made more people read this book, because it’s strangely and thoroughly brilliant.

In the first story of the book, we meet Sasha, PA to the CEO of a record company, with an obsessive addiction to stealing. In the second we meet Bennie, Sasha’s boss. In the third we meet Rhea, a friend of Bennie’s from his days of teenager punk rock. In the fourth we meet Charlie, daughter of Lou, who is the boyfriend of an old friend of Rhea’s. And so on and so on. Each story is linked in some way to a character we’ve met or heard of before, often in the previous story. Sasha and Bennie crop up more than the rest, and threads of families and connections weave through these stories in the most incredibly exciting way.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Things – The Classics Book Tag

Subtitle: Yes I watch too much Booktube and read too many classics.

For those of you who don’t know what “Booktube” is, it’s pretty much Youtube videos for/about books. A lot of reviewers seem to be using vlogs nowadays to talk about books, and I am a big fan of this. However, like many bookish people out there I am much better at written communication than verbal communication. Besides that, I am also somewhat afraid of technology (or perhaps it is afraid of me, which is probably why it always breaks whenever I go near it), and my internet existence has only fairly recently stretched to an understanding of what on earth hashtags are for. So I think I’ll stick to blogging.

However, this morning I watched a tag video by the Booktuber Jen Campbell, who is also the author of Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops and other such glorious books. This tag video was ‘The Classics Book Tag’ (again, if you don’t know what tag videos are, it’s basically a series of questions, and you ‘tag’ other people to answer them; often with Booktube tags it’s picking a book or two for each question). So, as I read a lot of classics and don’t talk about them that much on this blog of mine, I thought I’d have some fun and answer the questions myself.

So, without further ado, here is the classics book tag:

1. An overhyped classic you really didn’t like

I have two answers for this. The first is George Eliot’s Middlemarch. I absolutely love Victorian literature but I just found Middlemarch a bit slow. I did eventually get into it after the first four-hundred pages, but even for an-thousand-and-something page novel that’s a bit of a slow start.

The second is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I am very used to gender stereotyping and the subordination of women in Victorian literature, but Dracula takes this to a whole new level. I studied it for A Level and got rather angry at the book quite a lot.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Books – Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie

Published in 2013, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice has taken the sci-fi world by storm. It won basically every sci-fi prize there is, from the Hugo Award to the Arthur C. Clarke to the Nebula, and has had brilliant reviews pretty much all round. And I can see why. It’s a brave and somewhat brilliant novel. Set thousands of years in the future, in a universe controlled by the imperial power the Radch, the book is narrated by a soldier known as Breq. Yet Breq has not always been what she/it seems (more on gender and pronouns later). Twelve years earlier she was an artificial intelligence controlling the spaceship Justice of Toren, and the minds and bodies of all its ancillaries. Now she’s confined to a single body and interweaved with her present mission, we discover how she became what she is now.

It’s a fascinating premise, both in terms of its narrative perspective and the world Leckie creates. We’re immediately plunged into this world, and I’ll admit I spent the first fifty pages a little confused. There are a lot of names and races and classes to get your head around – and seeing a new world through the eyes of a narrator who is both exceedingly familiar with that world and exceedingly intelligent, doesn’t necessarily help. However, I soon got very into the story and setting. The Radch run most of the galaxy, and have been annexing planets for centuries, although this process has slowed now. The Radch Empire is presided over by The Lord of Radch, who has cloned her/himself into thousands of bodies, in order to fully control her/his vast empire. Part of the Radch system involves the use of ancillaries, soldiers whose once-human bodies have been cyberneticly enhanced, and who are now controlled by their ship’s AI. It’s a great set up for a novel, and Leckie carries it off well.