Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

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Toxic.

In Book Club Pick,Book Reviews,CannonballReadX 2018,Celebrity Endorsed,Feminism,Fiction,YA literature on April 8, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,

20180408_190609.jpgLouise O’Neill is an accomplished Young Adult writer with two award winning novels under her belt, Almost Love is her first foray in Adult fiction. ( Her third YA book; a feminist re-telling of the little mermaid – The Surface Breaks is due out in May 2018 )

Almost Love follows Sarah Fitzpatrick; Then: In a toxic and manipulative relationship with Matthew and now: Sarah can be found mistreating her current boyfriend Oisín and longing after a man that made her nothing but miserable.

O’Neill is an unashamedly feminist writer and that shines through in her work. Once again she breaks through barriers in women’s fiction, she continues to write about topics that are shied away from, not talked about, brushed under the rug. . . She believes that even toxic people deserve to have their stories told, once again, she has written a ground breaking novel that everyone should read.

Almost Love shines a light on the painful, debilitating and isolating toxic relationships that women allow themselves to be a part of. O’Neill writes a compelling, thought provoking drama that encourages young women to consider the choices they make, to value the genuine friendships they create and most of all to value themselves.

The protagonist, Sarah Fitzgerald is so utterly unlikeable it is very hard to keep rooting for her, we are given little opportunity to love or even like our heroine. She is petty, nasty and about as cruel as they come – but for some reason I just kept wanting the best for her. O’Neill paints Sarah in the context of her relationships to others and that connection is nearly always negative, she doesn’t appear to know how to love anyone, especially herself. We’ve all had tunnel vision about someone we’ve loved, we’ve all made mistakes, we’ve all ignored advice from friends and family – Sarah isn’t unique but O’Neill’s portrait of her is so raw, and so honest – it is at times uncomfortable.

The antagonist in this cautionary tale, Matthew Brennan, is a rich, successful, handsome older man but he comes across as an odious, repugnant excuse of a human being – he treats Sarah as a plaything, he affords her no respect, no dignity and no humanity. He finds comfort, even pleasure, in her neediness. O’Neill’s depiction of his behavior almost eclipses how absolutely horrible Sarah is – there is an underlying question that will not leave me alone. . . Does Brennan treat Sarah badly because he is a knob-end or because Sarah allows herself to be treated that way?

O’Neill forces us to confront the parts of ourselves we want to keep hidden – the vulnerability, the obsessiveness, the irrationality and the desperation, that uncontrollable drive to be loved. She forces us to ask why are we not enough? Why are we so preoccupied with being loved and why does society mold young women to compete for that love? Sarah espouses the idea that she is not interesting enough or not sexy enough to keep Brennan interested. . . Why do we teach young women that they need to be either? Or both?

This book broke me, it had me in tears wishing for years of my life back. It was powerful, moving and utterly heartbreaking. For me relating to Sarah wasn’t actually that hard – I was her or some form of her, for quite a number of years. I fell entirely, obsessively in love with someone who treated me no better than the dirt on the bottom of his shoe. I loved him so unconditionally, I failed to see that it was to the detriment of everyone and everything else in my life. My hope with Almost Love is that it stops one girl from falling down that rabbit hole.

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Dewey #813.08 Short Story Collections

In Book Reviews,CannonballReadX 2018,E books & E readers,Fiction,Short Stories on April 1, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

20180401_131154.jpgWriting short stories takes a special kind of author, one who cam compress language to its densest form, one who can masterfully piece together a believable story arc in just a few pages – They need to be precise in their delivery and they need to capture the attention of their reader quickly. Single serving fiction, a short story, is the perfect for for our digital age.

I first discovered my passion for short stories at University – In my first year I had a favorite spot in the James Hight library which happened to be amongst the English Literature ( Dewey #813.08 ) stacks, not a subject I studied but I liked the view, the quiet and the short stories.

When I first started work for Borders in 2005 Penguin published 70 pocket sized editions to celebrate their 70th birthday. Most of the selections were excerpts from larger works that were characteristic of the depth and breadth of the penguin stable of authors but the collection also included a number of short stories by very well recognized authors; Roald Dahl, F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Orwell, Dave Eggers and John Steinbeck.

I bought #69 John Steinbeck’s Murder as I was in the midst of delving into ‘Of Mice and Men’ and needed a break. . . ( I have no idea why I chose the same author. . . ) I devoured the collection in an afternoon and it has been a little book that has moved house with me too many times for me to count.

First published in 1938 as part of a larger collection; ‘The Long Valley’, Steinbeck’s short stories ( The Chrysanthemums, Breakfast, The vigilante and The Murder ) are full of the unpleasant side of life experienced by the suffering poor in 1930s America. He had the ability to paint a picture of the the grim reality, the gritty, the nasty and the downright ugly. Steinbeck provided a powerful voice to those with no voice in the heart of depression.

Steinbeck’s titular tale, The Murder, tells the story of a Salinas Valley farmer who marries an eastern european woman, while at first they appear happy, their marriage suffers as a result of a massive cultural divide and eventually they drift apart. I won’t spoil the ending but you can probably guess where the story goes by the title. . .

The Chrysanthemums is about a woman living a stifling existence on her husband’s ranch. This narrative is unusual, it forces the reader to think about what is not said, there is a tone, a dull intonation that runs through the story – On the surface the story seems so banal, so uninteresting, yet it is such an important study of the female protagonist trapped in an unequal and restrictive marriage but who’s strength and vitality shine through.

Women were usually one of two things in Steinbeck’s work; a prostitute or a downtrodden appendage, a wife who is by all means and purpose a possession – although written with dignity and compassion, still unfulfilled, desolate and lonely. Steinbeck creates incredibly detailed environment with such an economy of words, he has such an understated writing style which put even the novice reader at complete ease. His stories are so unsettling and so powerful they resonate even today, 80 years later.

Next time you’re in a bookstore, think about trying a collection of short stories, think about stepping out of your comfort zone, I promise it would be worth your while.

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to love, honor and obey. . .

In Book Club Pick,Book Reviews,CannonballReadX 2018,Celebrity Endorsed,Fiction on March 25, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , ,

20180325_172657.jpgTayari Jones’ An American Marriage is at its heart an exploration of loyalty, of marriage and of love. Jones writes in such a sublime way it is hard not to get utterly lost in her world, to let her characters dictate when you eat, sleep and breathe.

An American Marriage is the story of Celestial and Roy; the embodiment of an upwardly mobile couple, as the cover tells us, the American dream. The opening chapters of Jones’ narrative lay out the state of our protagonists marriage prior to Roy being wrongly incarcerated for rape. We then delve into their bond through a series of letters across the five years Roy remains behind bars; We see their love and hope, their pain, their anger and frustration, their misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Jones asks us as readers some very important questions, What does it mean to be married? Is there ever a point at which ones loyalty is no longer expected? When a marriage is tested it will either fall apart or grow even stronger – What happens to Celestial and Roy may well surprise you because it certainly surprised me.

Jones has a remarkable ability to write beautiful dialogue, the conversations within her text are powerful, un-contrived and 100% believable. Her characters are fully filled out and at different points within the narrative each one of them is unlikable, she creates the most complex and thoroughly uncomfortable situations through out and your perception of each character continues to change across the narrative.

There is a message just bubbling under the surface here and I don’t think its unintentional, this book is about more than marriage, it’s about more than Celestial, Roy and Andre. It’s about Justice and the American justice system. It’s a sharp, edgy, honest commentary on the long-term consequences of wrongful conviction. Its about the havoc an injustice can reek on our communities and it is an absolute must read.

Jones has written a novel which should be regarded as a work of classic American fiction – she ticks all the boxes needed to have created a stunning work; her setting is vivid and luminous, her characters are well developed, her story is powerful, interesting and beautifully subtle, her timing is exquisite and the twists she has lying on wait for her readers, and nothing short of genius.

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The Wrong Girl?

In Book Reviews,CannonballReadX 2018,Fiction on February 4, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , , ,

Ellies Oneill’s The Right Girl reads like a fairly standard chick-lit novel, its frivolous, whimsical and a little fluffy. BUT, it has the most fascinating under current – it raises interesting questions about our digital identities and our relationship with privacy.

Two years prior Freya, our protagonist, was a waitress with little or no direction in life, no hope of a partner and no money in the bank. Freya then signed up for the lifestyle app BBest – designed to streamline her life. She surrendered her digital footprint and BBest took her past search history, likes and dislikes and then gave her the best option, the first option – it knows her better than she knows herself. Our heroine no longer has to make those decisions for herself and thanks to Bbest she no longer makes mistakes. Freya becomes a first option chooser, she prefers to let BBest control her life and relishes in the success it brings. BBest chose her fiance, her career and her business model. Bbest told her what to wear, what to eat, what to watch on TV. . . . BBEst gave Freya her best life.

But what happens when Freya doesn’t choose the BBest first option? What happens when she actually makes a decision for herself? When she’s actually got everything she ever wanted what would make her risk it all?

An entertaining holiday read that gives you just that little bit more, perfect fodder for a dinner table discussion. Ellie O’Neills writing is not taxing, her narrative races along and her structure is well crafted. I was a little disappointed with how fast the story came to its conclusion and I wonder of more could have been made of the reveal. But, having said all that, I thoroughly enjoyed The Right Girl – it reminded me of Dave Eggers’ the Circle but it is much lighter in tone, perhaps reminiscent of Lauren Weisberger or Sophie Kinsella.

 

 

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Heather, The Totality. Brilliant.

In Book Reviews,CannonballReadX 2018,Fiction,Short Stories on January 21, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: ,

IMG_3151Matthew Weiner’s first foray into fiction is one of the most striking works I have read, its very clever, very odd, but very clever. At 134 pages long it is more of a novella but still packs an enormous punch – a punch that comes in the most unusual format. The novel is written in a series of short choppy paragraphs with little to no dialogue – you will either love or hate Weiners first work.

Weiner sets his characters on what seems to be an inevitable collision course. New York 80s Power couple Mark & Karen Breakstone and their daughter – the eponymous, Heather, are on a trajectory headed straight for Newark born & bred, raised & incarcerated; Bobby Klasky. They are a collection of people tumbling towards an irrevocable breakdown, and in places, it is terrifying to read.

Weiner establishes the characters histories and their intentions; his writing has echoes of a Woody Allen-esque movie, a little un-funny and quite banal. He establishes, quite early, an underlying feeling of dread – there is something just awful coming but you don’t know what. Bobbys menace and malovelence just grows with each passing paragraph and the way in which Weiner creates the almost unbearable tension is beautiful, compelling and disturbing.

Weiners creative history ( a writer on The Sopranos then writer, creator, director and executive producer of Mad Men and most recently writer, creator, and executive producer of The Romanoffs – an anthology series expected to premiere in the northern spring of 2018 ) is second to none, he has crafted quality television and I wonder whether Heather: the totality was an experiment to see if his writing genius translated onto the page – I think it did, but you need to read it to see for yourself.

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destruction, decimation, desolation, devastation….. Annihilation.

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Fiction,Science Fiction on November 12, 2017 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , ,

anniSo, I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – but, just look at how beautiful its cover is. . . . The artwork is utterly stunning. I found this spectacular edition staring up at me from a display table in Hatchards London at St Pancras. It is not what I would normally read but I could not resist the cover – odd really. Annihilation should open up Vandermeer’s writing to a much larger audience, he’s fast paced, unsettling and compelling, he’ll have you up late at night on the edge of your seat. . . .

Annihilation is equal parts psychological thriller, science fiction adventure, and dark fantasy horror. It’s a completely self-contained story, but it’s also clearly an introduction to a much broader mystery that VanderMeer will explore in the Southern Reach Trilogy sequels Authority and Acceptance.

Decades ago, an inexplicable environmental change occurred, a large swathe of land and sea, was sealed behind an invisible barrier and held under strict quarantine by a mysterious goverment agency. This clandestine agency is known as Southern Reach and they have sent 11, mostly failed, expeditions into Area X, Annihilation is the story of the 12th..

Annihilation focus on the experiences of the four scientists who are part of the 12th expedition, none of them are named, they are identified by their roles with the expedition team. There is a minimum of character development but it is not needed, these women are trimmed back to the bare essentials and we are only told what the narrative needs us to know. The richness in VanderMeer’s work is the environment – he brings the lush overgrown ecosystems of Area X to life, hinting at terrifying invisible animals in the distance. It’s a land of transitional, constantanly changing, even overlapping ecosystems – The expedition are tasked with experiencing and then explaining Area X to the folks back home – if they make it home.

You should all get down to your local bookstore and own it now….. 5 star review from me.

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Freedom, like everything else, is relative,

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Feminism,Fiction on July 14, 2017 by mrsdillemma 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.