In the midst of writing a dystopia of my own, it strikes me on an almost daily basis the degree to which society has come under the thumb of a very fickle dictator: money. Further, money within the context of an inherently unstable and unjust neoliberal capitalist system. For a searing criticism of the failures of this system, flawlessly melded with a scintillating story, I point you in the direction of Lionel Shriver’s The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047.
The Mandible family has a sizeable fortune, but when a bloodless world war wipes out their millions they, like the rest of America, find themselves out of their homes and on the brink of starvation. Crammed into their poorest relatives’ house, the financial crisis brings out the best in some, and the worst in others. But, as society continues to devolve and culture breaks down, the choices ahead only get tougher. Continue reading Book Review | ‘The Mandibles’ by Lionel Shriver
Spoiler alert: This review contains massive plot spoilers about Fahrenheit 451.
In a year when readers seem to be turning to dystopias for sanity, there seemed to be no better time to return to Bradbury’s sometimes overlooked book, Fahrenheit 451.
Named after the alleged temperature at which books burn, the story follows Guy Montag, who lives in a world where books are banned, as they are thought to be the source of discord and unhappiness. As a fireman, it is Montag’s job to burn any books that are found. Yet, unhappy in his marriage and unsatisfied with life, Montag finds the lure of books too much to resist – and once there are books in his house, there is nothing to stop the feared Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department from tracking him down.
Fifty years on from its initial publication, growing post-truth, anti-intellectual sentiments in Western society have given Fahrenheit 451 new relevance, indeed in parts with almost uncanny precognition on Bradbury’s part. Many elements come into play during this book: the frustrating loss that comes with conformism; the borderline madness that comes with rebellion; the senselessness that must, after a certain point of tyranny, accompany political hope. Yet, to me, it is the end which is most pertinent in the current climate. Continue reading Book review | ‘Fahrenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury
A little literary fiction for you today, The Outsider by Albert Camus. It’s a classic, for many reasons, but perhaps most of all because it’s disarming, desolate and unforgiving.
Our protagonist, Meursault, is an unconformist. Existing in the realms of dysfunctional emotional disconnection, he experiences both the death of his mother and his engagement with a profound unfeeling. Then, a random act of violence on a sunny summer beach catapults his life into shadow. He’s in trouble with the law and experiencing the sharpest edge of the world’s ‘tender indifference’, but even then, his lack of expression and feeling may be enough to condemn him. Continue reading ‘The Outsider’ by Albert Camus
It is a great grievance of mine that Science Fiction and Fantasy are often seen as lesser genres to literary fiction, or that if you write in a literary style you cannot appeal to audiences of these genres. To me, these views are utterly false. Thankfully, I think Karen Thompson Walker would probably agree, and neither of these quite popular views seem to have held her back when she created her extraordinary first book, The Age of Miracles.
Set in the near future, The Age of Miracles explores a world in which the planet Earth has begun to slow on it’s axis, and the experience of this by Julia, an American teenager. It’s a fantastically wrought piece, unfolding beautifully and eloquently across the pages. It’s almost oppressively anxious, without directly expressing much fear. The characters emotions are imparted obliquely and concisely, leading up to the final sentence with absolute poetic clarity. This is a book to read if you want to feel human. Continue reading ‘The Age of Miracles’ by Karen Thompson Walker
I will warn you before we begin, this is not a book for the faint hearted. It is, however, a brilliant, painfully emotive evocation of the powerlessness of women in patriarchal societies, and also in a more subtle way the miseries we inflict on those suffering mental illness by not approaching them with due humanity. As such, I strongly recommend it.
As it typical of Sam Youd (writing here as Hilary Ford), the plot is character-driven, fast-paced and gripping from the outset. Our protagonist is a young lady, apparently orphaned, working for a forward-thinking banker in the 1800s. Without great wealth, but with the love-interest of a solid young man named Michael and a steady income, Sarnia is pragmatic and positive. However, when her unknown relatives, the Jelains, turn up on her doorstep determined on reuniting her with her estranged father, she undertakes a trip to Guernsey which will change her life. Youd paints the darkness into this novel slowly, building an increasing sense of doom and captivity until you can hardly breathe. Continue reading ‘Sarnia’ by Hilary Ford (AKA Sam Youd)
If you like novels which spoon-feed story and tie up all the loose ends in the final chapter, don’t read this book. If you want to read something to relax, wind-down and stop using your brain, don’t read this book. If you want to read a couple of pages before bedtime, don’t read this book.
If you like riddles, being gripped and staying up till five in the morning reading, only to find out that you have to bully your sleep-deprived mind into figuring out what the hell just happened, read this book. The Adjacent has got a lot of flack from critics for this obscureness, but I loved it, and would highly recommend it as a quantum-physics sci-fi mind bender! Continue reading ‘The Adjacent’ by Christopher Priest
There’s been an underground stream of discontent invading the internet concerning Baz Luhrman’s upcoming film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire. However, though I normally wouldn’t pin my hopes to a trailer, I think Baz might just be brilliant.
I first read The Great Gatsby as part of an A Level English Lit. module, ‘Twentieth Century American Literature’. That year opened up the doors to Heller, Steinbeck and J. D. Salinger amongst others, but the two authors who really stole my heart were Capote and Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, with his stark critiques of consumerism and stunningly painted backdrops of the French Riviera, 1920s Hollywood or Gatsby’s fabulous parties, was the writer I wanted – and still wish – to be. Continue reading The Great Gatsby – Baz might be Brilliant
I have a bizarre fascination with visions of the apocalypse. From the twisted tales which came out of Byzantium in 600 AD, to the terrifyingly gripping World War Z. Today, I am going to sing the praises of an often overlooked, and by many unheard of, book: The Death of Grass by John Christopher.
I should say from the start that John Christopher is not the author’s real name. His real name was Sam Youd but he used a pen-name for his fantasy/sci-fi work, in order that his ‘serious work’ might not be tainted. Whatever my personal thoughts on this practice, his writing in The Death of Grass is at once astute, concise and enthralling.
Set in 1950s/60s England, The Death of Grass is part of the ‘floral apocalypse’ phenomenon which began in the late ’40s with books like Ward Moore’s Greener Than You Think. In Christopher’s work, the semi-apocalypse is brought about by a virus affecting all the grass families. That’s lawn, prairie, cereals – in short, as one of of my more cunning friends studying biology said – ‘We’d be f*cked if that actually happened.’ Continue reading ‘The Death of Grass’ by John Christopher
I confess, I have a growing obsession with Orwell’s work, not to mention the man himself. My latest read from his library is Down and Out in Paris and London. Originally printed in 1933, the book is a humorous and stark narrative on contemporary poverty in Paris and London themselves. The book had a controversial reception, not least by Orwell’s own well-to-do family, who disapproved of his exploits.
The opening chapter paints witty portraits of Orwell’s fellow-boarders in the Parisian lodging house where he was staying. The second chapter becomes much darker very quickly, setting the tone for the book’s constant contrast of hilarity and shock. Orwell is ruthless with the truth, something which, according to the introduction by Dervla Murphy and notes by Peter Davison, he later struggled with morally. Continue reading ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ by George Orwell