Posts Tagged ‘#CBR9’

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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.

 

Articles

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!

Articles

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.