Archive for the ‘Fiction’ 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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“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.

 

 

 

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There is no such thing as Perfect. . .

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Feminism,Fiction,YA literature on April 16, 2017 by mrsdilemma Tagged: , , ,

Perfect is the conclusion of the duology which began with Flawed, it is their author Cecelia Ahern’s first time writing for a Young Adult audience.

The narrative is set in the not-too-distant future, in an unnamed European country where anyone deemed to have transgressed the social rules is branded – literally – as Flawed. After she was branded Flawed by a morality court, Celestine’s life has completely fractured – all her freedoms gone. Since Judge Crevan has declared her the number one threat to the public, she has been on the run. Celestine has a secret – one that could bring the entire Flawed system crumbling to the ground. Can she prove that to be human in itself is to be Flawed…?

Ahern’s writing is crisp, well paced and packs an emotional punch. Her take on a done-to-death YA genre is fresh and refreshingly simple. All of the classic YA story-lines are there but they are not over stated; yes; the good girl goes bad but she’s not really bad after all. . . Celestine’s story is so so much more than that – her character growth and development are superb.

Ahern provides us with what I would call a YA futuristic thriller – there are enough nail biting scenes and out of left field plot twists to keep any thriller fan happy. Perfect is often described as dystopian but Ahern has said she doesn’t regard it as so, whilst it does appear to meet the definition of said genre, I see her point. She has said she sees it as part social commentary on how our global society is becoming more and more judgemental, as a reaction to society’s finger pointing culture.

I think this is a work young ( and not-so-young ) readers should devour and then discuss – I think it is a ‘perfect’ book club read. I think Ahern’s message; That there really is no such thing as perfect, we all make mistakes – is one that needs shouting from the rooftops.

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off to bed with a good book. . . .

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Fiction,what i'm reading now. . .,YA literature on April 9, 2017 by mrsdilemma

CBR914

It’s 8:45 on a Sunday night and I am off to bed with what I hope will be a good book; Perfect – the second in what I imagine is a trilogy from Irish powerhouse Cecelia Ahern.

The trilogy opened with Flawed – the world in which the series is set is defined simplistically ( in Flawed ) through this quote from the protagonist, Celestine; “Before I was born, there was a great recession in this country, banks folded, the government collapsed, the economy was ravaged, unemployment and emigration soared.” In addition to the criminal code there is a moral code by which society lives, the moral code is in response to what was believed to be the moral causes of the great recession. If you break this code you are branded; flawed.

 

 

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#dontfollowtheherd

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Feminism,Fiction on April 9, 2017 by mrsdilemma Tagged:

The Cows by Dawn O’Porter

“The Cows is a powerful novel about three women – judging each other but also themselves. In all the noise of modern life they need to find their own voice.”

The Cows tells the story of 3 seemingly unconnected women living in the same city – Cam, is a feminist lifestyle blogger with no desire to be married or to be a mother, Tara is a TV documentary producer and a single mum and Stella is PA dealing with the grief of losing her mother and her twin sister to cancer. Eventually all three women are connected and their lives are changed forever ( telling you anymore would take away from what they narrative has to offer. . . ).

Dawn O’Porter’s first foray into adult fiction ( she has previously written for young adults ) will be a resounding success – and, I hope, the promise of so much more to come.

O’Porters writing style is accessible, its casual and its easy to read, her prose discusses the conflicts and contradictions within contemporary feminism in everyday language and situations that will get even the most ardent anti-feminist talking. She uses trolling, sexuality, reproductive rights and stereotypes as backgrounds to her narrative – they are important issues but they never overpower the characters and their motivations – it all intertwines perfectly.

O’Porter is searingly perceptive, she is fearlessly frank – this novel is not one for the prudish, she is bold, brilliant and bad ass. The Cows is for women ( and open minded men ) to laugh out loud, to throw across the room in anger, to scream No! at the top of your lungs, its about being different, its about being smart and above all its about being yourself.  I cannot recommend this highly enough.