Archive for the ‘CannonballReadX 2018’ Category

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to speak, to be heard, to bear witness. . .

In Book Club Pick,Book Reviews,CannonballReadX 2018,Feminism,Fiction,Literary Fiction on December 9, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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The Silence of the Girls is a retelling of Homer’s Iliad from a female perspective. We follow Briseis’ journey from wife to slave to concubine and we, the reader, are educated around the cost of war to women. Barkers novel has a very clear feminist message about the struggle of women to extricate themselves from male dominated narratives and in the hands of any other, less talented, writer it wouldn’t have come off as well as it has.

Homer’s Iliad is a long form poem about war caused by male aggression, It is set during the sacking of Troy. Greek hero Achilles quarrels with King Agamemnon, over a female slave awarded to Achilles. Agamemnon seizes the woman so Achilles withdraws from fighting in a rage, he stays that way for the remainder of the poem. In Homers work women are the objects through which men struggle for status, so Briseis, the female slave in question, is less of a character and more of a plot twist.

Pat Barkers The Silence of the Girls is a revelation, it is a work of the highest quality fiction, her writing is utterly sublime. Barker is part of the wave confronting a literary tradition that has long pushed female voices into the margins of history. If narratives about women hadn’t been disregarded and erased for so many centuries what would we know now? This is a novel that allows these women trapped in a celebrated war to speak, to be heard and to bear witness.

The Silence of the Girls is an important work, it is a work that asks us to look at the Iliad in a different light but it also asks us when we read, or write, to take a look at those stories through another lens. It is an invitation to tell those stories that may have been forgotten, an invitation to listen for those voices that may have been silenced by history and by an others power. Barker was the ideal writer to tackle this overtly aggressive masculine narrative, her writing has a quasi-homeric lyricism to it and there is a quality within to her writing that provides luminosity to a dark subject. Her forte has long been gender relations within conflict so she is in her element here.

I have one, and only one, issue with Barkers work. Being a classics graduate I picked up on this so I am not sure it would be something that might concern every reader – anachronisms. One key example would the existence of a weekend market, the concept of the weekend didn’t exist until the nineteenth century. The anachronisms clash with the more classical sections of prose and slightly un-glue this wonderful retelling.

This book is part of an important growing movement – but it might not be as recent as you think. One of the seminal re-tellings is Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad which was first published back in 2005. In the past year alone we’ve had Madeline Miller’s Circe and Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire as well as Barkers work. Literary revisionism is not something to be afraid of but something to embrace, we are not at risk of losing stories but we might be at risk of listening to another viewpoint – there are as many ways to tell a story as people involved in that story.

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Castle Rock, Maine.

In Book Reviews,CannonballReadX 2018,Fiction,Short Stories,websites on November 25, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , , , , , ,

Photo Collage_20181125_201055650.jpgReleased in the US in time for Halloween & Thanksgiving Stephen Kings latest offering is a novella set in the eternally creepy Castle Rock ( now home to a multitude of Kings works and a hulu television series of the same name https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6548228/ ) We expect a nugget of horror or bite sized terror but this work isn’t really a creepy, or even slightly scary story – it could possibly even been regarded as a story with heart, with soul and with a purpose.

Elevation is two tales woven together; a supernatural narrative and a socially responsible story about community unity, tolerance and overcoming prejudice. The spooky element has a relatively simplistic premise – Scott, our protagonist, is losing weight but not mass. He is steadily progressing towards some point in time at which he will weigh nothing, the horror, it seems, is what happens then?

Intertwining the far fetched and the ordinary has been something King does exceptionally well, he is the master of creating a community, a family, a group of friends within the structure of a short story and then tearing them apart in a multitude of different ways.

With Elevation King demonstrated that once again he is the master of the short story. This novella comes in at 132 pages and works because of its brevity not in spite of it – Just enough knowledge is imparted to create a sense of wonder and keep the reader hooked long enough to finish it.

Kings characters are always relatable; straightforward, honest, run of the mill, everyday folk with the odd rebel in the mix to keep things interesting. Small town American society is filled with these kind of people and within these insular communities, prejudice can rear its ugly head. Kings message to us all is pretty simple, why cant we all just get along?

This novella is surprisingly sweet, its unexpected approach is earnest and powerful, it is a refreshing change to the political commentary we are constantly bombarded with and don’t get me wrong its message is most certainly political. King is preaching tolerance, understanding and a belief that the smallest change, the smallest action can change a community for good. This novella is about weight, the physical manifestations of it or the lack of it, in Scott’s case. But, it is also about the weight close mindedness and prejudice can bring to bear on your soul.

 

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“For those who lack voice. . .”

In Book Club Pick,Book Reviews,CannonballReadX 2018,Fiction,Literary Fiction on November 18, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , , ,

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The themes in this work are so politically relevant and significant they are controversial but they shouldn’t be. Speak No Evil is a coming of age story about a young black man, first generation Nigerian American, figuring out who he is and who he wants to be. The narrative details his experiences with racial injustice and homophobia.

To outline the plot briefly is to give nothing away – Our protagonist Niru rebuffs an advance from his best friend Meredith and in the process admits he is gay. Niru’s father does not accept his sons sexuality and does anything in his power to negate Niru’s attempt to become himself. – in his eyes his son is an abomination, no matter how much he loves him. This relationship is tortured, it’s an exceptionally fraught pairing – he is a dutiful son but one who is eclipsed by his older brother. Niru’s parents are a portrait of the American dream, they have worked hard to provide for their family but even with all the trappings of affluence; the Range Rover, the Georgetown house with the swimming pool, and private school tuition, they are still very Nigerian. As parents they are strict, conservative and devoutly religious.

Meredith, Iweala’s second protagonist is a really powerful diametric opposite to Niru, she’s a character that develops on the fringe of Niru’s story until her place in the story becomes so important it can’t be overlooked. She is not a particularly likeable character but I still haven’t decided why I don’t like her; perhaps its her self centered-ness. . . Meredith is an integral part of the books climatic scene – both surprising and utterly inevitable.

Uzodinma Iweala is an exceptionally talented author, we know that from his debut novel, Beasts of No Nation. His third novel Speak No Evil is outstanding, Iweala’s writing style is delicate and lyrical while ebbing and flowing through sentence length and structure. This work has a unique balance, it is told in two very distinct parts and the change in voice, substance, tone and structure is so unexpected, so clever and so very very powerful.

Speak No Evil is a novel that deals in powerful dualities; African, American, black, white, gay, straight, devout, skeptic, immigrant, homegrown – trying to address each of these within 207 pages is difficult enough, addressing all five is an achievement. The Multiplicity of themes within Iweala’s work at times threatens to stretch it to breaking point but it then appears to make the story even stronger.

At its soul Speak No Evil is about using our voices, they are a powerful tool when used for good. Author Iweala’s dedication “for those who lack voice” didn’t make much sense to me as I started his work but by the time I’d finished I was in tears and I understood his message. We need to speak out, we need to use our voices to counter hatred, to counter prejudice and to overcome silence.

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flicker, gleam, hint. . . Jodi Picoult’s A Spark of Light

In Book Club Pick,Book Reviews,CannonballReadX 2018,Fiction,websites on November 11, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

Photo Collage_20181111_174210495.jpgJodi Picoult has a formula – a longstanding, dependable, recipe for success, her latest offering, Spark of Light switches up that formula; but only a smidge. All of the Jodi elements you have come to expect are still there; controversial subject matter, characters on both sides of the issue and a hefty dose of powerful character driven storytelling – its all there, in spades.

There is a single abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi and our antagonist George is there is exact revenge – George has taken Picoult’s collection of characters hostage and our job as readers is to learn why they are all there on that single day, what life choices did they make or were made for them and why was the clinic the solution. Picoult knows how to create fully three dimensional characters, diverse in race, wealth, sexuality, politics and religion and she has done that here – There are characters I went into the story prepared to dislike, hell, prepared to hate, but I came away thoughtfully challenged. 

In a change of pace for Picoult the characters are not given chapters in which to shine but the action travels in reverse – from the climax to the crux, the supposed beginning of the story. This literary device will not resonate with everyone but it allows Picoult to introduce character backstories to explain what led each individual to be at the same place and time as our antagonist. The timeline might make you think you know how the story is going to play out, but, you would be very wrong.

Her twenty third novel delivers exactly what you expect it to – a meticulously researched best selling novel, fiction with a ethical dilemma at its heart, timely, balanced and certain to inspire debate. Picoult has continued adding an authors note at the conclusion of her work, as with past notes it lays out the current situation in the US, details her research, asks thought provoking questions and offers up her suggestions to move forward. I for one find these notes utterly brilliant, It makes me understand why certain characters made the choices that they do and I am so glad Picoult continues to share this with us. – she also includes a bibliography of works that were useful to her during the writing process.

Picoult is straightforward, fearless and unyielding in her scrutiny of each and every angle of abortion; She provides her readers with a collection of valid and independent viewpoints. Her writing will cause you to pause, take stock and think about what you believe and why you believe it – there are not a lot of authors who can do that.

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Your end is a dead blue wren.

In Biography,Book Reviews,CannonballReadX 2018,Fiction on October 28, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , , , , , ,

Photo Collage_20181028_193238888.jpgI packed this tome in my luggage on an recent island getaway intending to lounge by the pool and dive in and out of the water and my book – the weather was divine but the book was even better. An amazing plot, gorgeous characters and stunning prose, what more could I have wanted?

Our protagonist Eli Bell is one of a kind – his brother is willfully mute, his mum is on her way to jail, his dad is a drunk, is stepdad is a junkie, his babysitter is a convicted murderer and he is falling head over heels in love. . . and so begins Boy Swallows Universe.

Boy Swallows Universe is a uniquely Australian work, Dalton’s use of a clipped, almost poetic vernacular makes his writing sing, it is a distinct language pattern which is highly effective. He has written a novel that is unlike anything I have ever read, there are shades of other work in there, but nothing as unputdownable as this.

Australian fiction ( and screenwriting ) has long been obsessed with a cities underbelly and the degenerate individuals that populate it – its a rare talent to find an author who can give them a voice that is worth listening to.

Dalton has created a wonderfully unexpected portrait of a childhood in Brisbanes suburban fringe, a story that is to hard to classify, to hard to put in one box. It’s a stunningly beautiful piece of literature – its about crime, violence, poverty but its not a crime novel, its about boyhood, masculinity & morality but its not an inspirational narrative – it is a work that shatters genre boundaries, one that is impossible to blurb. It is fresh, original, gritty and an utterly sublime read – what makes it all the more interesting is knowing that the work is in fact semi autobiographical. As a debut author Trent Dalton has taken all of his deepest darkest secrets and turned them into a stunning read. As part of his programmed publicity he has written a piece explaining why he wrote Boy Swallows Universe; in it he states that, for him, Love is the theme that runs through his work, he said “Love, above all else, is threaded through this novel. I wanted to write about how it is possible to love someone who has killed. How it is possible to love someone who has hurt you deeply. How love is the closest thing we have to the truly profound.” This quote should’ve been the jacket blurb.

The ending. . . don’t worry I will not spoil it. . . Dalton has created a juggernaut, the last 100 pages propel you towards the end like a V8 race car, and its a conclusion that is worth waiting for; complex yet simplistic, powerful and profound and most of all, absolutely readable.

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no price? it must be free!

In Biography,Book Reviews,CannonballReadX 2018,Non Fiction,websites on September 9, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , , ,

Photo Collage_20180916_160714037.jpgI am lucky enough to live in a city that holds a biannual literary festival, so every two years I get to spend three days immersed in a different world; meeting new people, listening, reading, writing, getting new author & book recommendations and generally just existing in a state of bliss, I thoroughly enjoyed my self at this years WORD! Christchurch ( https://wordchristchurch.co.nz/ )and longingly look forward to 2020.

An event I wholeheartedly enjoyed was Shaun Bythell ( in conversation with Brian Phillips ) speaking about his first work; Diary of A Bookseller. Held at one of Christchurch’s newer post earthquake venues; The Piano, Bythell addressed a capacity crowd in outstanding surroundings.

Diary of a Bookseller is a memoir that crosses boundaries, it is difficult to categorize and very cleverly demonstrates the real pleasure of reading. The Diary is the day to day life of Bythell – owning and running the largest second hand Bookshop in Scotland, ( https://www.the-bookshop.com/ )  and all the the wild, weird and wonderful escapades that entails. Its a book about books, a book about buying and selling books, a book about the buyers and sellers of books but most importantly, a book about owning a bookshop in the age of Amazon.  

Bythell’s writing is dry, quick witted and full of chuckle worthy asides that just keep you reading. In the book Bythell states that he “took a calculated risk and decided to focus on customer behavior, particularly the stupid questions and rude comments” ( Bythell, 2017, p. 29 ) In this moment he was referring to the Bookshops facebook page ( https://www.facebook.com/thebookshopwigtown/ ) but it most certainly translates to the Diary and will carry over to the sequel due in 2019.

The portrayal of the shops clientele is where the book finds its heart, even though they are quirky, odd and somewhat lovable, it is the customers that keep the Bookshop alive and kicking. Bythells’ Diary is a down to earth, sensible yet visceral rant against the Goliath that is Amazon, it is a message to all of us – Go out and support your local bookshop, our communities will be much less interesting places if we were to lose them.

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“you sexist piece of . . . “

In Book Reviews,CannonballReadX 2018,Feminism,Non Fiction,websites on August 12, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , , , , , ,

20180902_133525.jpgAt 32 Laura Bates is an accomplished woman, Cambridge Graduate, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, holder of the British Empire Medal, author of three works tackling gender inequality and columnist for the Guardian ( https://www.theguardian.com/profile/laura-bates ) the Independent ( https://www.independent.co.uk/author/laura-bates ) and Los Angles based Women’s Media Center. ( http://www.womensmediacenter.com/ )

Bates founded The Everyday Sexism Project ( https://everydaysexism.com/ ) in 2012 – Her goal was to crowdsource women’s stories of discrimination, harassment and violence. Her latest book Misogynation is a collection of previously published columns which attempt to put The Everyday Sexism Project into a broader social, cultural and political context – Bates is helping her readers to gain an understanding of the magnitude of the issues at hand, to see both the detail and the big picture all at once.

To give you an idea of the scope of the work there are chapters titled; Everyday and Insidious, Harassment vs. Free Speech vs. Banter, Our Bodies Our Battlegrounds, #NotAllMen. Because of the structurally ingrained inequality in the society we exist in; economically, professionally, socially, incidents of sexism experienced by women tend to have a much more far reaching impact on their daily lives.

Bates writing is strong, evocative, fast paced & eye opening – brimming with well structured pithy responses to so many everyday insidious issues that are so often overlooked or ignored as unimportant. If you are already comfortable within your feminism this book will still be an interesting read, Bates’ work may not necessarily introduce you to any new topics but perhaps it might just ask you to look at one from a different perspective.

Bates demonstrates the frightening reality of the inequality continuum, with major and minor incidents irrevocably related to one another – the ideas & attitudes that underpin one allow another to flourish. Bates draws attention to the sexism that exists everywhere, from payroll to pavement, from schoolyard to supermarket, from medical office to movie screen.

Its time to recognize everyday sexism and its time to call it out. It’s time to change.