Archive for March 2nd, 2016

March 2, 2016

February Reading

Stella Gibbons, Pure Juliet: Deserves a longer piece of writing, though it’s far (far) from being a good example of a Stella Gibbons book. Nice to have things to add to the Gauche Girl Canon though.

Frances Hardinge, The Lie Tree: I am writing about this for elsewhere and will link when it is up– I liked it and am glad it won the Costa award, and books about Victorian crises of faith (and dinosaurs) are always going to win me over. But does it have the emotional depth of Cuckoo Song? (I don’t think it does.)

Ken Liu, The Grace of Kings: Okay, so big sweeping epic empire/revolution story with multiple viewpoints is probably a good thing; I like that this book is written as a history; I like that its gods are familiar and that its humans make foolish mistakes for probable reasons (that too feels like history, except maybe not the gods bit). But why is it so LONG?

Ayesha Tariq, Sarah: The Suppressed Anger of the Pakistani Obedient Daughter: This is a graphic … novel, I suppose, though it’s not really; novels imply plot and progress and part of Tariq’s point is precisely a lack of those things. And so our protagonist continues to deal with unthinking sexism, attempts at arranged marriage, men who expect her to cook for them in the middle of the night, a general lack of freedom, gropey uncles. And it’s all well-observed, though full of clunky things like people earnestly telling other people “we live in a male-dominated society”. Obviously there’s no reason to assume that the target audience is roughly the same age as the protagonist, but it does feel surprisingly young–and for a book about suppressed anger, it feels rather insipid.

Samit Basu and Sunaina Coelho. The Adventures of Stoob: Testing Times: I’ve written about this in more detail here.

Ranjit Lal, The Tigers of Taboo Valley: See above.

Elizabeth Goudge, The Little White Horse: Reading this in the context of other recent things, I’m astonished no one’s ever written a substantive piece comparing it to Alan Garner’s The Owl Service. The bare bones of the stories—children in a secluded valley trying to come to terms with horrible events in their histories; particular interpersonal relationships that keep going wrong, generation after generation, in a cycle that needs to be broken—are close to identical, though their resolutions, and their tones, could not be more different. I was a little disappointed by Goudge’s book, though; though there are glimpses of wider, deeper tragedy and joy, they are only glimpses for me (meanwhile the idealised valley itself felt rather too bucolic). Kari Sperring writes here about Goudge’s work and liminality, and I wish I had a stronger sense of that in this particular book.

Shabnam Minwalla, The Strange Haunting of Model High School: I’ve written about this in more detail here.

Geeta Dharmarajan and Ludmilla Chakrabarty, On the tip of a pin was …: see above.

Sowmya Rajendran and Satwik Gade, Bhimrao Ambedkar: The Boy Who Asked Why: see above

William Mayne, The Member for the Marsh: Lovely in mood and character, and everyone just matter-of-factly enters into each other’s own particular games and interests, and there’s a dragon but not really, and a dog has probably died, but is mourned and moved on from. It’s good, but A Swarm in May was published the year before it, and A Grass Rope the year after and in that context it is very much Lesser Mayne.

Robin Stevens, The Case of the Blue Violet: I don’t know that this counts as a “book” (it’s very short, probably under 5000 words) but I bought it separately and it exists as a unique entity in my kindle library, so there we are. It’s enjoyable, though easily solved; I was more interested in the extract from the next book which made up about a third of this. [Note: there’s an older Wells and Wong short story here.]

Katherine Woodfine, The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow: Over the past year I’ve seen this book recommended several times to readers who like Robin Stevens’s series—the commonality, presumably, being “Edwardians + mystery!” It is actually completely different, and does completely different things—rather than the interiority, the humour, and the complex characterisation of Stevens’s books Woodfine gives us a much more straightforward adventure story in a really sumptuous, visual setting. Both authors are intertextual, though in different ways; Woodfine has a major character with a deep devotion to Boy’s Own adventures of the sort that we’re reading. Plus her protagonist’s background is very A Little Princess; a wealthy young woman whose dead father’s fortune was made in the (by now former) empire (in South Africa) has been mysteriously denied her inheritance and is forced to work. Presumably we’re going to discover more over the course of the later book/s in the series. For now, this was enjoyable, if rather superficial.

Snigdha Poonam, Lady Singham’s Mission Against Love: Only a separate “book” for the reasons the Robin Stevens book mentioned above is one; though if anything, this is longer. It was one of the runners up for the Bodley Head essay prize, published in its own little ebook (as were the other runner up and the winner). I love Snigdha Poonam’s writing–it’s observant and restrained and generous–and I’m looking forward to the book of which I’m told this is a modified extract.

Anil Menon and Upamanyu Bhattacharyya, Manikantan Has Enough: Available in its entirety here. What I like about this is that in a small space it really effectively dramatises a particular childhood frustration (i.e. a frustration you don’t admit to as an adult); people keep nagging at you and going on and on and on and also there are elephants and pakodas and Periyar, of which I have fond memories.