Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Review: 'History of Wolves' by Emily Fridlund

I love wolves, and that was the first thing that drew me to History of Wolves. Although Emily Fridlund's novel doesn't actually centre around wolves, what attracts me to them is what also ended up tying me to the novel. This is also one of those novels who is done a slight disservice by a book's need for a blurb. I wrestled over whether to include one or not and decided yes, in the end, but truly there is much more to this book than could be encapsulated in a paragraph or two. Despite this, I will attempt to write down my own thoughts in the few paragraphs below. Thanks to Grove Atlantic and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 03/01/2017
Publisher: Grove Atlantic

Fourteen-year-old Madeline lives with her parents in the beautiful, austere woods of northern Minnesota, where their nearly abandoned commune stands as a last vestige of a lost counter-culture world. Isolated at home and an outlander at school, Madeline is drawn to the enigmatic, attractive Lily and new history teacher Mr. Grierson. When Mr. Grierson is charged with possessing child pornography, the implications of his arrest deeply affect Madeline as she wrestles with her own fledgling desires and craving to belong. 
And then the young Gardner family moves in across the lake and Madeline finds herself welcomed into their home as a babysitter for their little boy, Paul. It seems that her life finally has purpose but with this new sense of belonging she is also drawn into secrets she doesn’t understand. Over the course of a few days, Madeline makes a set of choices that reverberate throughout her life. As she struggles to find a way out of the sequestered world into which she was born, Madeline confronts the life-and-death consequences of the things people do—and fail to do—for the people they love.
As I said above, it is difficult, and sometimes close to impossible, to describe certain books. On the one hand History of Wolves is a novel about a young girl growing up, on the other hand it is a novel about the crimes we commit against one another. But you'll need more than two hands to describe this novel, because it's also about emotional isolation, trauma, Christian Science, and so much more. Set in the isolated regions of northern Minnesota, History of Wolves is Madeline's attempt at sorting out her past, present and future. The little decisions we all make daily can have a major impact and that terrifying fact is what History of Wolves dissects. It doesn't always make for a comfortable read, just like Madeline isn't always a likeable main character. But then, no one is perfect and that is the crux of the matter. The discovery of self and the changing of the self is a theme many novels have dedicated themselves to, but not many manage to capture all its facets. History of Wolves is at times beautiful, haunting, terrifying and intense, just like life.

Running through the novel is the theme of wolves, of hunters and prey, strength and weakness. Each of these expresses itself differently. Madline is a predator in her own way, involving herself in the lives of others, stalking them and looking for signs of emotion and warmth. Similarly, Mr. Grierson and many other characters in the book are both incredibly in the wrong and yet sympathetic in how they themselves are victims in one way or another. It makes for a difficult read because we'd all like to rather see the world in black and white, with clear cut heroes and villains, and a morality without questions. History of Wolves is also a novel about love and warmth, about how desperately we humans crave closeness and affection, and will look for it from whichever source, even if we know it's the wrong source. There is also a sense in which the anger we show to others comes back to ourselves. We try to paint them as the aggressors, yet have to face we ourselves are also both victim and aggressor. I like books that come too close for comfort, it makes me face myself, but it's not for everyone. And some days it isn't even for me.

The timeline of History of Wolves jumps around a lot. Seemingly written in hindsight, Fridlund repeatedly takes you back to Madeline's teenage years, before yanking you on to her early childhood, and then onward to her mid-twenties. On the one hand this can get confusing, yet on the other hand it also captures very accurately how memories work. They are disjointed, bring together stories that seem utterly random yet are strangely connected, and throw a fog over the parts of our lives we'd rather forget. It creates a strange atmosphere in the novel which makes it seem slightly detached, and this spreads also to the characters. Although everyone is living, hardly any seem really alive, only going through the motions of every day. This even finds its reflection in the names of the characters. Madeline is referred to as Linda, Madeline and Mattie, occasionally making you question if we truly still are reading about the same girl. And I guess the question is, are we? Do things happen to us that change us irrevocably as people, that disconnect us from who we were before? And what do we do when we find ourselves isolated from our past? History of Wolves throws up a lot of questions and leaves them hanging for you to answer for yourself.

Fridlund's writing is stunning. I adored her descriptions of Minnesota's landscape, how she captures the changing seasons, the vitality of nature and the sheer power of it all. Nature becomes almost like a character in History of Wolves, affecting the characters as much as they do each other. Fridlund also manages to make much explicit without spelling it out. Especially when it comes to her characters' emotions and thoughts, Fridlund gives the smallest motion meaning. Without delving too deeply into Madeline's time at the commune, we can guess at the impact this has had on her. Although Fridlund doesn't spend a lot of time at Madeline's high school, we can tell it's not the best of places for her. I was continuously amazed at how much Fridlund managed to pack into History of Wolves. Although occasionally the narrative perhaps strays a bit, Fridlund always manages to reign it back in. By staying true to Madeline's voice, she doesn't follow every story to its full completion as it loses its relevance to her, yet the novel is filled with stories and moments and observations. The fact History of Wolves is Fridlund's debut novel makes it all the more impressive and personally I cannot wait to read her next book.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

History of Wolves is a stunning novel which I will definitely be rereading numerous times. Although not perfect, there is so much to admire in Fridlund's novel that the occasional confusion is all but forgotten. History of Wolves is a novel to get lost in and a novel in which you have to try to find yourself nonetheless. I'd recommend this to fans of literary fiction and coming-of-age novels.

Short Review: 'God Mocks: A History of Religious Satire' by Terry Lindvall

I've always enjoyed satire, and especially nowadays I find myself watching a lot of political satire, trying to somehow make sense of this world. And in the middle of watching The Daily Show I realised that God Mocks was still patiently waiting on my Kindle bookshelf for me. So naturally I rushed to my Kindle and started reading Lindvall's fascinating history of religious satire, which spans from the Old Testament to Stephen Colbert, another favourite of mine. Thanks to NYU Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 13/11/2015
Publisher: NYU Press

In God Mocks, Terry Lindvall ventures into the muddy and dangerous realm of religious satire, chronicling its evolution from the biblical wit and humor of the Hebrew prophets through the Roman Era and the Middle Ages all the way up to the present. He takes the reader on a journey through the work of Chaucer and his Canterbury Tales, Cervantes, Jonathan Swift, and Mark Twain, and ending with the mediated entertainment of modern wags like Stephen Colbert.  
Lindvall finds that there is a method to the madness of these mockers: true satire, he argues, is at its heart moral outrage expressed in laughter. But there are remarkable differences in how these religious satirists express their outrage.The changing costumes of religious satirists fit their times. The earthy coarse language of Martin Luther and Sir Thomas More during the carnival spirit of the late medieval period was refined with the enlightened wit of Alexander Pope. The sacrilege of Monty Python does not translate well to the ironic voices of Soren Kierkegaard. The religious satirist does not even need to be part of the community of faith. All he needs is an eye and ear for the folly and chicanery of religious poseurs.  
To follow the paths of the satirist, writes Lindvall, is to encounter the odd and peculiar treasures who are God’s mouthpieces. In God Mocks, he offers an engaging look at their religious use of humor toward moral ends.
I have always considered myself Christian, partially because I grew up within Christianity but also because much of it rings true with me. But for me religion and faith are nothing without continuous questioning and self-examination, and I think satire is one of the key ways to do so. As such, it is not surprising that the Bible itself also engages in satire, something that I only truly became aware of while reading God Mocks. The Old Testament is full of prophets who low-key satirise their kings, ridiculing them to make them see their faults and flaws. God, according to Lindvall, is king at this kind of satire, hence the title of his book. And after reading God Mocks I could see exactly what he meant.

What I truly enjoyed was how Lindvall emphasises that the key aspect of satire is that the satirist cares. It is why I believe political satire has been thriving lately, on TV, in printing and on social media. People are starting to care more and more about politics again, recognising their role in it, satirising the political system to effect a change. Whether it's the British bemoaning Brexit, aware that their future is irrevocably tied to it, or Americans trumping Trump on Twitter, knowing his political ignorance affects their lives deeply, all of those who satirise care. Occasionally Lindvall himself seems to lose track of this, however, discussing the satire of non-believers. I see both the benefits and negatives of this, but Lindvall does try to find a balance between the two.

Lindvall is clearly interested in his own topic, which sounds like a given but is actually quite rare. I have read a lot of text books that not only bored me to death but also seemed to have bored the authors to distraction. So reading God Mocks was interesting and often entertaining. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to write about humour and not become aware of just how unfunny writing about humour really is. That is why explaining a joke makes everyone feel sad, it ruins the magic and leaves everyone a little bit disillusioned. However, Limdvall does his best and his wit often saves God Mocks from potentially becoming too dry. I especially enjoyed his last chapter on "modern day" religious satire, starting with Monty Python's Life of Brian, touching on The Onion and praising Colbert. Lindvall clearly researched his book well and writes with an ease that makes his subject seem far from drear. Nonetheless, this is probably not a book for everyone. Coming up to almost 400 pages, a prior interest in both religion and satire is pretty much a must.

I give this book...

3 Universes!

Well-researched and cleverly written, God Mocks is a great look at religious satire, both old and new. Lindvall manages to make the topic consistently interesting, moving easily through history from one key period to another, tracing satire and religion side by side.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Friday Memes and 'A World Gone Mad'

A World Gone Mad: The Diaries of Astrid Lindgren, 1939-45It's Friday and the sun is finally shining again in Shanghai! My sister came to visit me for 10 days and then my housemate moved out, so I have been a little bit preoccupied, but I'm ready to get back in the blogging groove now with some blog hopping fun. I haven't done a post like this in a while, which is really a shame because it's loads of fun.
Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilion over at Rose City Reader and Freda over at Freda's Voice. Please do drop by their blogs to join in the fun!

Today I'm sharing a non-fiction read, one which I'm very excited about and can't wait to really get into. It's A World Gone Mad: The Diaries of Astrid Lindgren, 1393-45. I love Astrid Lindgren's writing, it was a major part of my childhood, so when I saw her diaries were being published, I knew I wanted to get this inside look into her mind. 
As one of the world's most famous children's writers, Astrid Lindgren championed the qualities of courage, hope, love and resistance; and her preoccupation with these qualities was already in evidence in the diaries she kept during the Second World War, long before she achieved her fame. Her diary, published now for the first time in English, provides a fascinating insight into a Europe poisoned by fascism, racism and violence, from the point of view of not only an employee of the Swedish Mail Censorship Office, but also of a wife, mother and budding writer living in a formally neutral country.
In them, she asks questions which are as keenly and distressingly important today as they were in 1939-45: What is Good, what is Evil? What do we do, when jingoism and racism determine the thoughts and actions of humans? How can we, as individuals, take a stand against such malevolent forces?
Alongside the day's political events, Lindgren's intelligent and perceptive diaries include charming and moving descriptions of her domestic life, as well as of her first writing attempts: it was during this terrible period that she composed Pippi Longstocking, one of the most famous, enduring and widely translated children's books of the twentieth century

BB:

'1 September 1939
Oh! War broke out today. Nobody could believe it.
Yesterday afternoon, Elsa Gullander and I were in Vasa Park with the children running and playing around us and we sat there giving Hitler a nice, cosy telling off and agreed that there definitely was not going to be a war - and now today! The Germans bombarded several Polish cities early this morning and are gorging their way into Poland from all directions. I've managed to restrain myself from any hoarding until now, but today I laid in a little cocoa, a little tea, a small amount of soap and a few other things.' 1%
I love seeing contemporary accounts of major world events, such as the start of WWII. Lindgren managed to perfectly encapsulate how life was normal and how suddenly it changed. There are key details here, like how they initially felt comfortable enough to trashtalk Hitler, but are now hoarding food out of fear he'll come.

F56:
'9th of May
I suppose the most disquieting thing of all was that the damned Germans laid a minefield in Swedish waters. It was probably that minefield which decided the Ulven's fate. Because the other they they found the Ulven, for which they'd hunted so intently and desperately. And it was lying more or less in the middle fo that mine belt at a depth of 52 metres.' 56%

The fascinating thing about reading diaries and accounts of the past is that it often provides you with a completely different view of world history. I honestly don't know very much about Sweden's plight during WWII, so that is something I look forward to learning about during A World Gone Mad.

Do you enjoy reading diaries? I loved Sylvia Plath's diaries, they were lyrical and beautiful and she described the growth from girl to woman so well, I thought. Somehow it also feels a little bit like an intrusion, reading their inner thoughts, something they dedicated to paper in private. I think I feel that less while reading A World Gone Mad than with Plath, since Lindgren talks so much about world events.

What are you reading and sharing? Please do leave a link to your Friday post in the comments  so I can drop by!

Friday, 23 June 2017

Review: 'The Shadow Hour' by Kate Riordan


'All governesses have a tale of woe. What's yours?'
Governesses, you say? Mysterious houses and sullen employers? Where do I sign up?! That was basically my thought process when I saw The Shadow Hour. Ever since reading Jane Eyre and Agnes Grey, I have a Bronte-inspired love for novels about governesses. They are the perfect vehicles for authors to explore family relations, class difference and bring in some supernatural or mysterious tones. However, not every novel strikes that perfect balance. So while I happily delved into The Shadow Hour, I finished it slightly confused. Thanks to Penguin - Michael Joseph and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Pub. Date: 25/02/2016
Publisher: Penguin UK - Michael Joseph

Nineteen twenty-two. Grace has been sent to the stately and crumbling Fenix House to follow in her grandmother's footsteps as a governess. But when she meets the house's inhabitants, people who she had only previously heard of in stories, the cracks in her grandmother's tale begin to show. Secrets appear to live in the house's very walls and everybody is resolutely protecting their own.
Why has she been sent here? Why did her grandmother leave after just one summer? And as the past collides with the present, can Grace unravel these secrets and discover who her grandmother, and who she, really is?
The Shadow Hour is told through two different timelines. On the one hand there is Grace, a young woman living in 1922, who is sent to Fenix House as a governess by the gentle order of her grandmother, Harriet, who was once a governess there herself. Harriet's tale, set 50 years prior, forms the second timeline. Grace was raised on stories of Fenix house, making her new residence and employers strangely familiar and yet uncanny as well. As the novel moves between Grace and Harriet's timelines, more and more is revealed about Fenix House, its inhabitants and how Grace and Harriet belong there. Riordan manages to make Harriet and Grace feel quite different, despite being in almost exactly the same situation. Although Harriet's tale is, for a long time, the more interesting one, it is Grace's desire to finally found out what happened at Fenix House that the reader most identifies with. At times Riordan purposefully leaves the reader in the dark, while at other times filling the reader in while leaving Grace in the dark. It creates a nice balance that keeps the novel engaging.

The Shadow Hour only slightly touches upon the England outside of Fenix House. This actively makes the reader feel the isolation of the characters in Fenix House, but sometimes also threatens to make the novel feel a little bit like  a rehash. The First World War is only a vague shadow in the background, addressed here and there but not crucial to the plot. Rather, it is another example of how England has changed between the time of Grace's stay at Fenix House and her grandmother's stay. The same goes for mentions of the colonies, especially India. There, but also not. (Although I did immensely enjoy and appreciate the presence of the Suffragettes in the novel.) Something that receives a lot more attention is the idea of class. Both Grace and her grandmother Harriet walk a fine line as a governess. While their station is clearly above that of maids and cooks, they are also not the family's equals. Both struggle to find their place and both deal with this in different ways.

Sometimes a book manages to leave you both content and conflicted. The Shadow Hour is one of those books for me. It took me a while to really get into it, to enjoy the switching between the different timelines and get invested in either of the stories. Once it got me though, I was very intrigued and desperately wanted to know how the stories would meet, eventually. And then in the end, although almost all the t's were crossed and almost all the i's were dotted, I was left wondering. Had all the questions been answered? Was the plot wrapped up too quickly? And how did I feel about the characters now? Did I have any inclination of what would happen after the end? Sometimes it's nice to be left wondering, to have a novel leave you with questions you can mull over and which make you want to reread the novel almost immediately. But they have to be the right kind of questions, the ones that are slightly existential in nature. Sadly, these aren't the kind of questions that The Shadow Hour leaves open.

Riordan's writing is at times beautifully visual. She brings Fenix House and its inhabitants to life with stunning descriptions of the house, its gardens, the costumes and the atmosphere. Luscious in Harriet's time, the decay of the house in Grace's time feels much more real. Rioridan manages to infuse her governess tale with a lot of different elements, bringing in some mysterious and some supernatural tones. This consistently, and thankfully, shakes up the narrative. As history repeats itself in Grace's story, Riordan mostly manages to make the same events still feel interesting. With how the story is set up, however, it is almost inevitable that at times it feels a bit repetitive. Although these are all minor gripes, it means that the end of the novel felt a little bit unsatisfactory. While Riordan ties all the different stories together into a nice bow, it seems too easy of an ending. I'd have likes for her to have spent a little bit more time describing how the characters go on.

I give this novel...

3 Universes!

Once I got into The Shadow Hour I very much enjoyed it. Governesses will always hold a special place in my heart and I'll remember The Shadow Hour fondly. It touches upon some of the best staples of the genre, even if it doesn't always hit all the notes. I'd recommend this to fans Gothic literature and Women's Fiction.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Review: 'A Whole New World' by Liz Braswell

Who doesn't love Disney movies? I mean, sure, sometimes they're so sugary sweet you want to gag, but they are also intrinsically linked to many of our childhoods in a way that is only rivalled by the Harry Potter books. It is us 20-something year old millennials who are queuing up for Finding Dory and hosting Disney movie nights. And Disney is stepping up its game in bringing out better and better movies (yes, I'm talking about Moana, it's awesome!). So, being as tied to Disney as I am, of course I had to read A Whole New World, an adaptation of the classic Aladdin. And boy was I positively surprised! Thanks to Disney Book Group and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 01/09/2015
Publisher: Disney Book Group
Welcome to a new YA series that reimagines classic Disney stories in surprising new ways. Each book asks the question: What if one key moment from a familiar Disney film was changed? This dark and daring version of Aladdin twists the original story with the question: What if Jafar was the first one to summon the Genie? When Jafar steals the Genie's lamp, he uses his first two wishes to become sultan and the most powerful sorcerer in the world. Agrabah lives in fear, waiting for his third and final wish.To stop the power-mad ruler, Aladdin and the deposed Princess Jasmine must unite the people of Agrabah in rebellion. But soon their fight for freedom threatens to tear the kingdom apart in a costly civil war.  
What happens next? A Street Rat becomes a leader. A princess becomes a revolutionary. And readers will never look at the story of Aladdin in the same way again.
Adaptations aren't easy, especially when the source material is as beloved as the 1992 Aladdin that gave us Robin Williams as the Genie. Him, more than anything, made this movie a favourite for many children, his sheer enthusiasm and spirit making the Genie an unforgettable character. How do you go about adapting a fairy tale so classic, or any Disney-adapted fairy tale really? Liz Braswell set out to adapt a number of fairytales but with a crucial twist. She calls this series Twisted Tales and has adapted Aladdin, Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. This may genuinely be one of the cleverest ways to adapt age old tales; change an aspect and change the whole story. Explore what the characters would do in vastly different situations that are still set in a familiar world.

When A Whole New World started I was a little bit skeptical. It seemed to be following the film way too closely for my liking, even down to dialogue it seemed. Sure, we got some more insight into especially Aladdin's personality, but would that be enough to carry a whole novel? Would the change mentioned in the blurb be enough to actually make this book stand alone? Thankfully, from the moment Aladdin enters the cave, A Whole New World really takes off. Each of the characters now develops along a completely different path and the novel is a lot more complex because of it. Braswell manages to address a whole range of utterly important topics in a book meant for the years 12 and up. Braswell uses Aladdin's position as a street rat to show the face of poverty, the lack of options and choices, the stark divide between the rich and poor within a single city. How should a good sultana look after her people, what should a good government do? How does power corrupt, and is anyone incorruptible? I was consistently and positively surprised every time that Braswell managed to introduce one of these topics and let it resonate within her story. It is social commentary done right for a younger audience, not too obvious or didactic but clear enough that young minds can walk away inspired.

I need to dedicate a few words to how much I loved Jasmine in A Whole New World. While she is an interesting character in Aladdin, she is also a lone female figure in a male world and therefore can't be as active as she would wish. Braswell gives her a lot more agency in a way that never feels disingenuous. As an only daughter without a mother, Jasmine is headstrong and has made sure to educate herself as far as possible. Braswell allows for her to be smart and strong, outspoken and decisive without ever letting male characters "allow" this. As the blurb says, 'a princess becomes a revolutionary' and I loved every second of it. Also, unlike Aladdin, Jasmine isn't the only female character in A Whole New World. There are some people moments with other female characters in this book which made me want to cheer! I would quote some of them but that would be spoiling the fun.

Braswell's writing is perfect for the age she is aiming for, without limiting herself to a children's audience. In this way she definitely does follow in Walt Disney's footsteps, whose movies somehow only get better with age. She describes the fictional Agrabah beautifully, has some great twists and turns and builds up anticipation very well throughout the novel. Although Jafar occasionally feels a little bit like a cliche villain, even he gets a hint at a more extensive backstory. Braswell isn't afraid to go dark, to add real danger to her story and, for once, this danger doesn't feel fake. You're genuinely not entirely sure all her characters will survive until the end. There are real moments of deep emotion, as well as light moments of humour and fun, balancing each other out very well. Here I also must admit to getting a bit emotional while reading about the Genie. I still miss Robin Williams and I adored the way Braswell paid homage to his amazing incarnation of the Genie, as far as she could within her own take on the taleI can't wait to dig into the rest of her Twisted Tales series, if this is what I can expect from Braswell.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

I really loved A Whole New World! It was a great take on a beloved classic which added a lot to Disney's tale. I adore how she changed the tale and how she trusted her readers to be able to grapple with some rather serious issues. More authors should trust their readers that way, no matter their age. I'd recommend this to fans of Disney's Aladdin, fairy tale adaptations and YA fiction.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Review: 'Alice in Brexitland' by Lucien Young

Brexit is one of the most defining political events in, at least, European history since the creation of the European Union. Whereas the latter ushered in a time of ever closer bonds and peace, the former has set off a period of unrest, disenchantment and anger. All throughout the Western world discontent is spreading and the popular vote seems to swing to the right side of the spectrum, although there seems to be a recent return to sanity. Swiftly followed by the election of Donald Tr*mp in America, Brexit is casting long shadows over Britain. So how do you deal with a situation like that? Well, if you're British, it includes a lot of humour and satire.

Pub. Date: 01/06/2017
Publisher: Ebury Press

Lying on a riverbank on a lazy summer’s afternoon – 23rd June 2016, to be precise – Alice spots a flustered-looking white rabbit called Dave calling for a referendum. Following him down a rabbit-hole, she emerges into a strange new land, where up is down, black is white, experts are fools and fools are experts... 
She meets such characters as the Corbynpillar, who sits on a toadstool smoking his hookah and being no help to anyone; Humpty Trumpty, perched on a wall he wants the Mexicans to pay for; the Cheshire Twat, who likes to disappear leaving only his grin, a pint, and the smell of scotch eggs remaining; and the terrifying Queen of Heartlessness, who’ll take off your head if you dare question her plan for Brexit. Will Alice ever be able to find anyone who speaks sense?
So how do you move on when you feel like the country you love is sinking further and further down the Brexit-hole? You find the similarities to one of England's most beloved Classics and write a hilarious book. Or at least, that's the way Young found. It is a typically British book, in many ways. The dark humour, the exasperation, the throwaway nods, the biting social commentary, Alice in Brexitland couldn't be more British. From dedicating it to David Cameron to Alice's immediate disgust to Tr*mp, Young never ones loses his sharpness and humour. This novella is also beautifully illustrated by Ollie Man, his drawings being hilarious, fitting and perfectly in sink with the illustrations we know and love from Alice in Wonderland.

Young tackles almost all the major characters in the Brexit drama and finds their perfect equivalent in Carroll's Wonderland. Jeremy Corbyn is the slightly aloof and puzzling Caterpillar, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are Tweedledee and Tweedledum, Donald Tr*mp is Humpty Dumpty, etc. It makes so much sense in how overdrawn it is that it's a miracle no one thought about it before. It is cathartic to read such an over-the-top story about the mess that is Brexit, even when some of Young's points strike a little bit too close to home. What is the meaning of truth post the Brexit debate and the Tr*mp election? Did the Leave campaign have any plans for after the referendum or is their best bet really to hurl us all to the sun and go down in a blaze of glory? For as long as this novella lasts, Alice in Brexitland can make you slightly forget just how much is up in the air right now, replacing worries with laughs. But in a surprisingly heartfelt finale, Young's Alice does pull at the heartstrings with her pleas for sanity.

Young's writing is a great combination between a tribute to Lewis Carroll and a satire on contemporary political discourse. On the one hand there is the beautiful, nonsensical prose of Alice in Wonderland with its strange words and phrases, while on the other hand there is the disconcerting, frightening prose of Tr*mp, Farage and co. with their strange words and phrases.The fact that Carroll can make sense in his writing, reveal truth by seemingly obscuring it, while many politicians nowaday make no sense in their attempts to obscure the whole concept of truth, is incredibly saddening. Young combines Carroll's sense of humour and fun, with the reality of Brexit and creates a hilarious mishmash of seriously worrying statements by the Cheshire Twat (Farage), over-the-top yet accurate caricatures of the Tea Party, and a befuddled Alice who just wants a straight answer for once. There are many laugh out loud moments in Alice in Brexitland, not least of all whenever a poem or song rears its head. Released at the beginning of this month, I'm almost saddened by the fact Young couldn't factor in the recent General Election, bringing along the downfall of his Heartless Queen and the rise of the Corbynpillar. But perhaps this means there is now room for a sequel? Alice Through the Brexit-Glass?

I give this novella...

4 Universes!

Although rather short, Alice in Brexitland is a delight! Excellently thought through, Young writes the perfect satire for Brexit England, never letting up on his scrutiny of our politicians. However, this book will make you crave for an escape from the Brexithole. I'd recommend this to those interested in contemporary English politics and in an escape from those very same politics.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Review: 'These Mortals' by Margaret Irwin

I felt in the need for something different, something magical and something old. And Margaret Irwin delivered all of this with These Mortals. First published in 1925, These Mortals tells a magical story, all while commenting on humanity with a sharp insight. Also, this novel reminded me once again why parables are actually fascinating reads, when well done. I almost wish I had read this as a child, but adult me is also very pleased to have discovered it now. Thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 27/03/2014
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

A powerful Enchanter, Aldebaran, discoverer of the precious Elixir of Eternal Youth, is tired of playing with the lives of men and retires to his beautiful kingdom located on the path between the earth and the moon. There, he passes his time educating his beautiful daughter, Melusine, in the intricate profession of sorcery; his only worry is that she should never experience the misery of the mortal world.
Melusine, like most children, is deaf to her father’s cautionary words and longs to see life on the mysterious planet at the end of the moon path. One day she disobeys Alderbaran and uses her magic powers to descend to Earth, landing in the peculiar kingdom ruled by the Emperor Eminondas. Melusine’s uncommon beauty causes stir among the royals and courtiers, and she soon finds herself entangled in complicated triangles and love intrigues. Unaccustomed to the etiquette and politics of the court, Melusine uses her magic powers to aid her pilgrimage among humans, but what worked well in the kingdom of her father results in some unexpected complications in the earthly empire.
These Mortals, first published in 1925, tells an enchanting tale of Melusine’s strange incursion into the world of humans where she experiences, for the first time, feelings of love, jealousy and loneliness. These Mortals, written with charm and humour, is a truly enjoyable parable which explores, through fantasy and gentle mockery, some of the ever-puzzling paradoxes of human behaviour.
I always love discovering books from the past. It is something I discovered in my first year at University, that some of the most popular authors of previous decades, even centuries, are virtually unknown to readers now. They could have outsold Charles Dickens or Victor Hugo, but time has not been kind to them. Of course the reason many of these are forgotten is because they are the 18th century equivalent of 50 Shades of Grey, shocking and interesting at the moment but hardly a literary masterpiece that gets to the core of what it is to be human. At University I encountered a number of these "forgotten" best-sellers and it was fascinating to dip into them. Not all of them were as enjoyable as These Mortals, however. Now, Margaret Irwin isn't entirely forgotten, and she definitely hasn't cast aside because her writing wasn't any good. Rather, she is buried under decades of new releases and changing reader preferences. Adult fairy-tales, what These Mortals is categorised as, were not really "in" for very long time, they are definitely making a return and Irwin's beautiful novel should be at the very front of the queue.

Irwin's These Mortals is a parable, a didactic story which illustrates certain principles or lessons. Think of most Bible tales, such as 'The Return of the Prodigal Son', or famous tales like 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf'. They are relatively straight to the point and at the end you've been taught a lesson. Although perhaps nothing could sound drearier, parables make for some of the most fascinating and long lasting stories. They can be absolutely beautiful and iconic and authors have created true masterpieces. Andersen's 'The Emperor's New Clothes' comes to mind here. Irwin's These Mortals is much more similar to Andersen's tale than to Bible tales. She writes a lyrically beautiful story about a half-fairy, half-mortal maiden who encounters the human world and all it brings with it for the first time. Melusine, naive in a way that is charming rather than annoying, encounters deceit, love, heartbreak, fashion and betrayal for the first time and Irwin takes each of these and uses them to comment on the nature of humans. Many of the characters around Melusine are quite despicable at times, and yet their behaviour is also so recognisable to us mere mortals that we can't help but understand them. There is an incredible skill behind writing about humans like this, and Irwin makes it seem easy. She also makes it seem beautiful. These Mortals is steeped in beautiful images, with fairies that are half snake, shells that get turned into ships, and maidens who dance on moonbeams. I'm still thinking about these moments.

I absolutely adored Margaret Irwin's writing. There is something beautifully enchanting about how she weaves her words together. The pace of the novel is very calm, taking its time with Melusine's experiences in the human world, stepping aside for the experiences of the other characters, and never rushing ahead to a big twist or turn. To be cliche, These Mortals runs like a smooth river, delightfully refreshing and invigorating. Irwin also delights in commenting upon her characters in a way that reminded me almost of Jane Austen. Many first time Austen readers mistake her for being sugary sweet and quaint, missing the almost biting observations she makes between the lines. Please read the opening line of Pride & Prejudice with a sarcasm-heavy voice and tell me again it is not meant to be sarcastic. Similarly, Irwin is constantly commenting on her characters, bringing to light the things they would probably prefer to leave in the shadows, thereby actually managing to discuss those 'ever-puzzling paradoxes of human behaviour' while also being a funny read. I will definitely be reading more of Margaret Irwin's work.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

I adored Irwin's These Mortals. It is beautiful and other-worldly, digging into humanity with charm and humour. Irwin creates enchanting images and never questions both the cruelness and the magic of the human world. I'd recommend this to fans of fairy tales and fantasy, as well as those interested in exploring parables.