Archive for the ‘CannonballreadIX 2017’ Category

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Freedom, like everything else, is relative,

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Feminism,Fiction on July 14, 2017 by mrsdilemma Tagged: , , , ,

Margaret Atwoods The Handmaids Tale tells the story of Offred; a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead – a reconstructed United States. Offred witnesses the dissolution of her former way of life and the transformation of society into a totalitarian theocracy. Women are enslaved and stripped of even their most basic rights, they cannot choose who to be in a relationship with, they cannot, read, write, own property, gain employment or even hold on to their own name. Offred is a patronymic, it is a name gifted to the individual to signify ownership, she is of fred, therefore Offred.

Prior to the start of the story an environmental disaster has caused mass infertility and women are only valued if their ovaries are still viable, they have become breeding stock. These women are called Handmaids, they are forced to provide the Commanders with children in a grotesque parody of lovemaking, they exist as a sum total of their biological ability.

Atwoods story is full to the brim of fragments of Offred’s past, remembered with; perhaps, rose colored glasses, juxtaposed against the brutal reality of her life in Gilead. “All of those women having jobs: hard to imagine now, but thousands of them had jobs, millions. It was considered the normal thing.” In an attempt to make life in Gilead believable Atwood only used atrocities that have already occurred in our lifetimes; the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia under Wahhabi Law, The Lebensborn program ad book burning in Nazi Germany and the east German surveillance state.

I devoured this book, not only is Atwoods writing sublime, but the world she has created and the characters that inhabit it are challenging, thought provoking, demanding and above all else utterly real. I would have this book as compulsory reading in each and every American high school – but I guess that would challenge the status quo much to much.

With the inclusion of the seemingly additional final chapter ( Historical Notes ) it appears to me that Atwood wrote the Handmaids Tale as a sort of 1980s Anne Franks Diary – it is the literature of witness, her story has been recorded in the hope of being discovered, the hope of being shared and the hope of being understood so that it never has to happen again. She is an eyewitness to the fallen regime.

In reading a book which was released in 1985 I was interested to read how it was received, there were many positive reviews and a large number of prizes awarded but there is always one that can come back to haunt an author. When first released there was a review in The New York Times by Mary McCarthy. ( http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/03/26/specials/mccarthy-atwood.html?mcubz=0 ) McCarthy deemed Gilead as insufficiently imagined, she suggested that The Handmaids Tale is powerless to scare. She went on to say;  “I just can’t see the intolerance of the far right, presently directed at not only abortion clinics and homosexuals but also at high school librarians…. as leading to super biblical puritanism.” I wonder if she can see it now?

Dystopian literature or as Atwood calls it; Speculative Fiction, should be a cautionary tale not a blueprint for society. She imagines a terrifying world where Women are subjugated by the ruling male patriarchy – its all starting to sound just all to familiar. . . 32 years ago when it was first published it still felt overwhelmingly far fetched, now, not so much. Atwoods tale has taken on a frightening new relevance.

 

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Completely fine. 100% fine. a thousand percent fine.

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Fiction on July 14, 2017 by mrsdilemma Tagged: , , , ,

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the debut novel for author Gail Honeyman. The book rights have sold for huge sums worldwide and the movie rights now belong to Reese Witherspoon’s new company Hello Sunshine.

In writing Eleanor, Honeyman has created a character I would love to get to know – She is unfiltered, forthright, smart, funny and profoundly lonely. Eleanor has no interpersonal skills, no social skills, no concept of what opportunities life could hold for her and she is very very real, there are parts of Eleanor I see in myself and parts I cannot hope to ever understand. She is an utterly contradictory character; She has a quite warmth coupled with a deep and unspoken sadness, She comes across as harsh and yet totally vulnerable and she is smart as hell but exceptionally naive.

When we meet Eleanor she has a 9 – 5 job, a routine and a carefully timetabled and choreographed life, she is physically and psychologically scared through some traumatic childhood event which is slowly but eventually revealed to the reader. We, the reader, are gradually fed morsels of information until we feel we understand Eleanor and it is then we realize that we don’t have a clue.

Through a series of seemingly innocuous events Eleanor is very slowly drawn into the lives of others and she beings to slowly build connections. These characters she connects with may appear as new fixtures in her life or as brief utterances but they are written with such brilliance that they transcend labels; they are not the good guys, they are not the bad guys, they are not just plot devices, they are real people. Honeyman’s character driven writing is faultless and I want to read more.

Reading Eleanor Oliphant will remind you to take a look at the people you love and say thank you to whoever put them in your life, it will remind you of the importance of friendship, and indeed the importance of human interaction and connection. It will remind you that it is never to late to hope.

 

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The beautiful in the ordinary

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Fiction on June 25, 2017 by mrsdilemma Tagged: , , ,

In Sycamore, Bryn Chancellor writes of grief, of regrets, of love but most importantly of loss and the impact one mothers loss can have on an entire community.

One afternoon a new comer to town stumbles across what appears to be human remains in a desert ravine, over the next few days as the news makes it way round small town Sycamore, residents fear it may be missing teenager, Jess Winters, who vanished 18 years previously. Rumors swirl, stories are rekindled and recollections are shared.

The narrative flips back and forward between 1991 and 2009. As the story unfolds in snatches and snipets we learn more and more of the backstory of the differing townspeople; Each chapter is told from a different characters point of view and provides an alternative insight into their role, however large or small, in the disappearance of Jess Winters.

Chancellors writing is upbeat and fresh, while there are unusual changes in form and style throughout the work, they are devices that move the story along rather than faults.  The story as a whole is heartfelt, powerful and well told. There are individual stories within the bigger pictures and they are captivating within their own right – it makes sense that Chancellors previous writing has been short stories.

Chancellor challenges us to think about our preconceived notions about age in relationships, How our communities function and how we interpret lust versus love. There are a number of themes that standout in this work, ones that are fairly stock standard ( A child of divorce, the urge to wander, parental abandonment and sexual exploration )but when combined they are even more interesting and when a flashback narrative is employed it increases the storytelling factor even further.

I thoroughly enjoyed Chancellors take on teen angst, confusion and loneliness and then the comparison provided in the alternate ‘adult’ chapters, the sense of betrayal and forgiveness they still felt as adults is so beautifully crafted – get to your local bookstore and pick up a copy!

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it would have been better for him if he’d died. . . . .

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Short Stories,YA literature on June 25, 2017 by mrsdilemma Tagged: , , , , ,

This title is only 80 pages long and can easily be read cover to cover in one sitting. It is aimed at older teens and is a psychological thrill ride wound up in a short story. It is part of a collection of Dyslexia friendly titles produced by Barrington stoke. ( https://www.barringtonstoke.co.uk/ ) What makes a book dyslexia friendly you ask? Well, the typeface, the layout and the colour of the paper stock all make it much much much easier for someone with dyslexia to read.

Jon for short is the story of a 14 year old boy recounting a grizzly hospital visit in which he faces confusion, turmoil,  malevolence and even amputation.  Whilst in hospital he is sedated and under sedation he repeats the same dream, his dream gets progressively worse throughout the story and the chapter is repeated whilst revealing a little more each time we encounter it – an utterly brilliant story telling device!

Blackman’s writing is superb, the right amount is left unsaid building the horror through until the last page. The writing is eerie, its fairly dark and probably not for the fainthearted, but her ability to create an un-put-down-able suspense filled short story is second to none. The sense of foreboding, the out of left field plot twist, the creepy way in Jon’s choice of words helps us create those characters in our minds and the amazing illustrations that exist throughout the story, ( Vladimir Stankovic ) make it something that teens with a penchant for horror really should pick up.

The reason Jon is in hospital will chill you to the core. . . if you’ve never read a short story or a YA title then this could well be the one for you!

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The aliens are invading silently. . . should I care?

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Childrens Chapter books,YA literature on May 28, 2017 by mrsdilemma Tagged:

silent invasionThe Silent Invasion – spores from space, plants, animals, humans all becoming part of a vast alien intelligence, 2 girls fleeing to the zone – this all sounded like fun, wrapped up in a neat little bundle, packaged in a YA wrapper. I hadn’t read any science fiction recently and I thought this could be a nice little foray into the genre which could lead to more. . . . or it could put me off forever.

James Bradley has produced a post apocalyptic tale following Callie, and her younger sister Grace, fleeing authorities across eastern Australia in an effort to reach the mysterious zone. We are told that Grace has become infected and according to law should be immediate quarantined, we know she and Callie are running from this quarantine but we are never really told why, or what they are hoping to achieve. This lack of direction hampers Bradley’s storytelling and the narrative is very slow moving, I would not hesitate to call it tedious in parts.

Bradley’s story is a little cliche, Callie becomes romantically involved but it seems somewhat pointless, if that portion of the text and the unnecessary violence ( especially the scene in which a dog is tortured ) were removed it could make a great adventure sci-fi read for a slightly younger age range. The Silent Invasion is just trying to hard to be relevant to young adult readers, the writing is clunky and overly wordy, the characters dreary and the plot; all to familiar ( the 5th Wave anyone? )

Perhaps if Bradley had written the Silent Invasion as a standalone title and not the first in a trilogy I would have enjoyed where the story could go, but as it stands, I do not care enough about the characters or the story line, to read volumes 2 and 3.

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“Because, when there is true equality, resentment does not exist.”

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Feminism,Non Fiction on May 14, 2017 by mrsdilemma Tagged:

CBR15Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a writer whose voice should be heard by all, yes all, and heard loud and clear.

Her latest work is entitled “Dear Ijeawele; or a feminist manifesto in fifteen suggestions”. It grew out of a letter written to a friend who had asked for advice on raising her daughter, Chizalum, to be a feminist. This work feels more personal than her previous writing, it feels more urgent and unfortunately more necessary.

When I read Adichie I feel empowered, I feel strong, I feel purposeful but above all I feel hopeful. I read Dear Ijeawele with pencil in hand, underlining ideas, nodding to myself, scribbling notes in the margins, It provided me with a grounded concept of a utopia, but a utopia that can and will actually one day exist. That’s how much hope I feel.

This work is one that is so compelling, it is a call to arms. Its suggestions are invaluable, direct and perceptive. They are important for raising a daughter, or for that matter a son, but they are also important for all of us as human beings. Adichie gets right to the heart of sexual politics in the 21st Century, she writes with an aura of authority, you can’t help but take on board what she has to say – not just about raising children but about being a good adult.

I thought I might highlight one of the suggestions to provide a glimpse of what Adichie is espousing; The third suggestion is to teach Chizalum “that the idea of gender roles is absolute nonsense. Do not ever tell her that she should or should not do something because she is a girl. ‘Because you are a girl’ is never a reason for anything. Ever.” She goes on to discuss the differences in expectations of the sexes; cooking and domestic work, the absurdity of gender neutrality in children’s clothing and toys, individuality and self reliance.

There are a couple of sentences that leapt off the page at me and are already making an impact on my life, less that 24 hours after I finished reading them. I’m going to finish with one in particular – “Because, when there is true equality, resentment does not exist.” Let that sit with you. Let it ruminate around in your head as it has done in mine and then get up and have a conversation about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“High heels on the mossy path. Tippity-tap. Toddle on.”

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Fiction,Short Stories on May 7, 2017 by mrsdilemma Tagged:

CBR9 16Hilary Mantel, twice winner of the Man Booker Prize, released a collection of short stories – titled The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher and other stories –  in 2014 and I have finally finished the compilation.

This collection peruses a host of difficult topics; misogyny, culture shock, adultery,  alternate realities and much more. While the subject matter is different across each story there are similarities that occur throughout the collection; Mantel has a great eye for the minutiae  of suburban life, the dreck of urban reality and even the bleak but often unsettling sunshine of the very English countryside.

There is no doubt Mantel is a master storyteller – every word moves her story forward and every word she uses is chosen and serves a purpose, sometimes, even more than one. I wouldn’t say her writing is ‘wordy’ because, well it isn’t, every word is valuable, Her writing is taut, controlled and acerbic.

The Plot can at times be secondary to the dialogue, and sometimes, even to the environment in which the action is taking place but when this happens it is all in the name of advancing the story, it is done with a  greater purpose in mind. The denouement in most of the collection appears a little forced which can come across as unsatisfying but on a second read is actually completely genius.

Overall I was underwhelmed with Mantel’s collection, I thought she could’ve made more of a number of the stories. While the titular story was provocative, profound, funny and by far the best of the lot the rest were still above par. I went into this the first time round with very high expectations and was disappointed but on that second reading, I loved every word.