Archive for ‘Books read in 2016’

January 9, 2017

2016 in books, numbers, and feelings

For the last few years now I’ve been doing this roundup: I talk about what I read and how I read it over the past year, the demographics of the authors I read (adding a disclaimer because obviously these numbers are always going to be inaccurate and these categories too crude) and resolve to do better next year.

So let’s get that over with: I read (as near as I can make out) 81 books in 2016, 60 (see previous parentheses) were by women or other not-cis-male authors, 36 (ditto) were by authors who weren’t white. My PhD thesis has doubtless contributed to this, especially as I haven’t been counting academic criticism; the Carnegie shortlist, once again, turned out to be entirely composed of white authors (and British children’s publishing seems to be determinedly forging ahead on this path)–I may try to read the Jhalak prize longlist this year in order to balance things out.

For the Strange Horizons year in review piece I recommended Wheatle’s Crongton Knights, N.K. Jemisin’s The Obelisk Gate, Sana Takeda and Marjorie Liu’s Monstress, Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement, Helen Oyeyemi’s What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, and Joan Aiken’s The People in the Castle. Non-SF-adjacent things I thought particularly good included both new books in Robin Stevens’s Wells and Wong series, Alice Pung’s Laurinda, and Sarah Moss’s The Tidal Zone (of which more below).

I also wrote some things this year, though not many. Here’s a review at Strange Horizons, here’s a roundtable on South Asian folklore and myth. All other (nonacademic) writing is on this blog– I was quite pleased with my grumpy Carnegie reviews over the summer.

All that said, it has been a resoundingly shit year, both globally and personally, and it’s been harder than ever to think critically or usefully or non-despairingly about anything.

A good way into The Tidal Zone there’s this:

May we forget. It is a pity that the things we learn in crisis are all to be found on fridge magnets and greetings cards: seize the day, savour the moment, tell your love–May we live long enough to despise the clichés again, may we heal enough to take for granted sky and water and light, because the state of blind gratitude for breath and blood is not a position of intelligence.

The Tidal Zone is almost hilariously on the nose for 2016–had it been less good I’d have rolled my eyes at it a bit. But (despite the fact that we’re both academics of one sort or another I have nothing in common with its protagonist and his situation) this. I’ve struggled to think past the most instinctual feelings this year, and given that the world doesn’t seem like it’s getting better in the near future, that is something I (and many of us) am going to have to learn to negotiate. Last year I said that my struggle for 2016 would be to balance kindness and anger–I underestimated how hard that would be. When everything in the world feels vulnerable it’s hard to feel more than a sort of panicked tenderness, that is conducive neither to good criticism nor to actually making things better.

The struggle continues, I suppose.

January 2, 2017

December Reading

I retreated to Delhi for the end of the year and slept on a decent mattress and could really read for the first time in ages.

 

O. Douglas, The Setons: A longer post about this currently in my drafts.

N.K. Jemisin, The Obelisk Gate: I think The Obelisk Gate may be better than The Fifth Season, which I already thought was very good. It’s still doing great things with the form its narrative takes, it’s revealing more and more about its world, but most of all the network of alliances and love and betrayal between its characters grows increasingly complex and difficult to parse, and that is wonderful. (My quibbles with the series remain, but if I’m going to read a story about special people with special powers, this is a brilliant example of the form.)

Rick Riordan, The Trials of Apollo: Talking to friends about holiday reading and our teetering piles of Significant Books a couple of weeks ago I said “I’ll probably just end up reading the new Rick Riordan,” and had to then explain myself. (The explanation is that this is what happens when you’re a series completionist, and this is why series fiction is dangerous to me.) This is the third … sub-series? about Greek gods in Riordan’s larger, interconnected series about various pantheons; so far I’ve restricted myself to the Greek/Roman books, but I can’t be sure I won’t at some point read the others. I thoroughly enjoyed this book but it is rather amusingly earnest, and clearly trying very hard. So, for example, it has to explain the presence of its gay characters by having the protagonist stress that he doesn’t think it’s a big deal and reminding us that the myths have Apollo attracted to both men and women; the phrases “military-industrial complex” and “mansplaining” show up; rather remarkably, towards the end Riordan appears to be suggesting that the roots of modern capitalism can be traced directly back to the Roman empire. I’m intrigued by what the forthcoming books in the series will do with that last idea.

Chris Haughton, Goodnight Everyone: A friend had a baby; I cooed awkwardly (it is a very cute baby) but knew that my real fond-auntie powers lie in the gifting of children’s books. There’s a new Chris Haughton, it has the loveliest endpapers, and is very gentle and soothing with lots of yawning and stretching. (The baby in question also received a copy of Haughton’s Oh No, George, but that was not new to me.)

Mona Awad, Thirteen Ways of Looking At a Fat Girl: I’m underwhelmed by this– I like the structure (series of vignettes, mostly from Elizabeth’s own perspective but bringing in others too), and the general sense of fat as permanently there, and obsessiveness about bodies colouring everything about how one sees the world so that all these characters become unsympathetic, but much of it is just playing to stereotype, and there’s no room for it to go anywhere. And I’d forgotten much of what I’d read once I finished it.

Sarah Moss, The Tidal Zone: I’ll probably be writing more about this in my end of year reading post (which is really a beginning of year post, since it is now next year and I haven’t started it yet) but this really was the book that felt like my experience of this past year, that tied together personal and public tragedy, precariousness, narrative, questions of how to continue to live in the world in 2016.

Gabby Rivera, Juliet Takes a Breath: I started reading this in the summer, stopped for some reason (I was enjoying the book, so I’m not sure what happened there) and then picked it up again a few months later. I’ll come back to it and write about it at length sometime soon, I hope, but I loved the ways in which it thinks about hero-worship (and the uses thereof) and respectability politics and race, particularly in its later sections. Would I have felt a bit preached to if I’d read it when younger? I’m not sure.

Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: It’s frustrating (and probably an indictment of me and the criticism I read) that most of the critical engagement with this book I’ve seen has been of the Does Ghosh Belittle Genre? school, when in fact its thoughts on realism, on empire, on the bourgeois novel are all both more interesting and more fun to quibble with (I mean, he describes Frankenstein as the First SF Novel, and I know you all know to at least be suspicious at this point). I’ll be coming back to it, in large part because it offers a potential frame through which to consider books (both genre and not) that are doing some of the work Ghosh thinks of as necessary.

Shalini Srinivasan, Gangamma’s Gharial: This will merit a longer post at some point in the near future; it’s a story about how a rebellion among a community of weirdly puritanical Yakshas affects the history of a small hillside community over a period of a thousand-and-a-bit years. I wish there’d been a lot more of it, because the yaksha sections still seem incomplete (fair enough, they are immortal) but it’s fun and satisfying, involves a random trip to one of Jupiter’s moons, and I like Srinivasan’s preoccupation with (going by Vanamala and the Cephalopod) literature’s need for stompy, grumpy little girls. Plus, I suspect that Ondu’s perfectly reasonable distrust of masala dosai is one that the author shares, and it is one I share also.

December 5, 2016

November Reading

Well this was a fun and not at all distracting month to read in. Some notes on the things I did manage to finish:

 

Martin Stewart, Riverkeep: I took a while to get into Riverkeep. The first chapter in particular is claustrophobic (deliberately so) and gross about bodies (deliberately so)–I felt the sort of nausea I felt at a particular section of Jesse Bullington’s Sad Tale of the Brother’s Grossbart (also concerned with sea creatures and flesh) and I considered not reading on at all. This is not a criticism, particularly–that first section is brilliant, and accomplished. But then the tone shifts to something less oppressive, and we’re in an easier (for me) children’s adventure, and it’s a bit The Wizard of Oz and a bit Terry Pratchett and a bit Moby Dick and a bit Gormenghast. The language is stunning, the world is weird, it’s very good. I’m told there’s going to be a sequel and I’m not sure how I feel about that–interesting characters were left in interesting places at the end of this book, but I’m not sure that the things I liked about it really reward longer narrative arcs. But I definitely want more of this sort of thing in the world.

Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, A Head Girl’s Difficulties, The Maids of La Rochelle, Seven Scamps: One of the reasons I avoid series fiction is that I’m a series completionist and it’s inconvenient and gets in the way of other things. I’ve read some of the La Rochelle series before, but to have never read three books in a seven book series feels like a huge gap; I’m never sure who anyone is or what their place in this ecosystem is. Having read the whole series now, I still find it scrappy and full of gaps. A Head Girl’s Difficulties is probably the oddest (I enjoyed how a diptheria epidemic that kills multiple students and an outbreak of sentimentality are treated as equally severe crises), but also everyone in Seven Scamps is weird and unlikeable. Having said all of which, I’m glad I at least know who the characters are now, vaguely.

Amandla Stenberg, Sebastian A. Jones, Ashley A. Woods, Darrell May Niobe: She Is Life #3: I am beginning to think I should just read these in one go when there are more of them (as I did with Monstress earlier this year)–I’m finding comics as a form rather unsatisfactory at the moment as chunks of narrative. This series is growing outwards though, and giving glimpses of a fuller world, and Woods’s art continues to be beautiful.

Kiran Millwood Hargrave, The Girl of Ink and Stars: I’ve written about this in more detail elsewhere. The prose is often lovely, the book contains maps and islands and fire underground, all things I have strong feelings about, and yet it did very little for me. It’s short, but I’m a little puzzled by how lightweight it feels.

 

November 2, 2016

October Reading

In October I had a birthday, wrote a few thousand words, spent a lot of time on the beach. I didn’t read very much–though in addition to the books here, I’ve also been (slowly) reading Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement, the new Alice Oswald collection, and several short stories on (shameless plug alert) the beautiful new Strange Horizons site.

 

Malorie Blackman, Chasing The Stars: I’ll be reviewing this properly elsewhere. For now, I’m a bit underwhelmed. For much of the book I thought perhaps conceptually its Shakespeare-in-Space plot wasn’t working for me; having finished it I feel that the Shakespearean core worked fine, whereas the space setting was where it fell down–sometimes in the ways that much classic space-y SF fails, and sometimes in … other ways. Still interesting and ambitious, and I did get tear-y, but I’d have liked this book to be so much more.

Joyce Chng and Kim Miranda, Sundragon’s Song Vol.1 No. 1: A mini review identical to almost every other mini review I’ve ever written about the first volume of a comic series; i.e. I have no idea what’s happening yet, and can’t judge till there’s considerably more of this to work with. At the moment, the art is rather nice, there are dragons, and a small child whose arc I suspect will involve Proving Oneself in some capacity. I like it enough to continue, which is good enough for now.

Evelyn Smith, Nicky of the Lower Fourth: I really like the few Evelyn Smith books I’ve read–more than many of the school stories I’m familiar with, these are interior, good on character and enjoy their own prose. This particular book feels a bit lightweight, and I was a bit disappointed, but it was an enjoying afternoon.

Robin Stevens, Mistletoe and Murder: At the time of writing (this is always liable to change) I think this and Arsenic for Tea may be my favourite Wells and Wong mysteries (see comment below re. emotional narrative). A Christmas murder set in Cambridge, it’s already deliciously trope-y, and then you get: twins, unrequited love, spinster aunts possibly named after Chalet School characters, teenage feelings in several directions, surprise(!) Bengalis (about whom I’m tempted to write much more, but perhaps that can wait). Of these, it’s the teenage feelings I’m particularly into (the emotional narrative that this series manages to present and not talk about is really quite special), but there was also one particular murder that a (detective fiction-loving) friend and I have jokingly wished for in our literature in the past, and there it was.

October 3, 2016

September Reading

 

Alex Wheatle, Liccle Bit and Crongton Knights: Liccle Bit was on the Carnegie longlist and didn’t make the shortlist; Crongton Knights, which follows it, is on the Guardian children’s longlistlist. I’ve written at greater length about these two books elsewhere–here I’ll only note that Wheatle’s invented district of London, and his invented slang for it, lead to some gorgeous prose (I’m not in a position to judge how “authentic” it feels, but it feels respectful and loving and playful in ways that other examples of making up slang often have not), that characters and the relationships between them are complicated and interesting, and that I liked both books a lot.

Chimène Suleyman, Outside Looking On: I’ve been torn about reading this for ages. On the one hand, I like what I’ve read by Suleyman in the past, and I love architecture and personal relationships with buildings; on the other, as an Indian living in Newcastle, I have both postcolonial and Northern reasons to be very tired of books about London. I didn’t love the book for the reasons I thought I might, but I suppose if people must write London-y books this is a pretty good one.

Robin Stevens, The Case of the Deepdean Vampire: This has become a tragic cycle; I buy the Wells and Wong mini-mystery, it ends too quickly, the bulk of the ebook is the first chapter of the next book, and then I have to wait months for the rest. This is a very halloween-y story (ideally it’d have been published around then, but Stevens’s christmas book is out at the end of October), and the Carmilla references are fun, but it’d be nice if there’d been more of it.

Katherine Woodfine (ed.), Mystery and Mayhem: Contains takes on various classic mystery plots by various children’s authors (all women, and I think all white)–naturally it’s a bit uneven. The Frances Hardinge (historical, murder in a hot air balloon!) was good, the Robin Stevens (contemporary, murder in a hotel) disappointing; I genuinely liked Susie Day’s locked room murder, and found Clementine Beauvais’s (also a locked room) to be too easily solved, but delighting in its prose more than the other stories did. On the whole, though, not a very satisfying collection–classic crime is inherently comforting, so it feels unfair to criticise it for doing that, and yet the whole felt lightweight.

September 1, 2016

August Reading

Here is the complete list of (two) books I read in August:

Jack Thorne, J.K. Rowling and John Tiffany, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: I don’t like sweeping statements, but broadly, might one say that the reactions to this script are divided along the lines of those who read fanfiction and those who do not? I’ve been somewhat bewildered by some of the glowing reviews talking about the authors’ excitement at being in this world again, because to me it seemed like clunky fanfic written by someone who, had they read any fanfic, would have learnt to avoid several of the pitfalls into which this text falls. Some of the jokes are good though.

Roshni Chokshi, The Star-Touched Queen: YA fantasy/fairytale based on various scraps of Hindu myth, and featuring Yama quite prominently. I’m ambivalent on this one for various reasons–I think as a work of mythic fiction it manages to tap into a lot of things and be sweeping and interesting, and I’ve been mildly annoyed at reviews that I’ve read failing to engage with its intertexts–not just the Hindu ones (surely to be expected, with mainstream SFF fandom). But I’d like to see more thinking around how this works as a Hindu fantasy, how its fantasy world works as a Hindu country, what one is to do with any of that. Much about this setting makes me suspicious–a conveniently Hindu-myth-ised world which has none of India’s messy pluralism or caste or race politics is uncomfortably close to the history our current political rulers keep trying to sell us. And Chokshi’s writing and I do not get along–this is the sort of book where things are never red or black, but are vermilion or obsidian, and I’m far too prosaic to tolerate that sort of thing patiently. Having said which, the second part of the book, which has Maya bereft, wandering, and trying to remember who she is feels to me to draw on both sets of traditions brilliantly–the iconography of the ascetic, but we’re also in the middle of a version of the black bull of norroway.

I’ve also been rereading Simon Gikandi’s Maps of Englishness (the section on Enoch Powell feels even more current than I’d remembered it being) and Jacquetta Hawkes’s A Land, and spent a couple of days this week in Trinity College Dublin in the manuscripts and archives section, where I read as much of the Michael de Larrabeiti archive as a person can in that short a time, and am therefore rereading the Borrible trilogy (also more current than I’d remembered). I had to re-skim various bits of The Explorers Guild to write this review, and I may have spent some evenings rereading Nicholas Blake.

Meanwhile, N.K. Jemisin’s The Obelisk Gate, Carmen Boullosa’s Before and Alex Wheatle’s two Crongton books have arrived on my Device, and I’m looking forward to all of them.

August 1, 2016

July Reading

A good month for reading, if not for the world in general.

 

Crystal Chan, Bird: A children’s book that I rather liked. Chan’s MG novel about friendship and family is a bit uneven and its mysteries aren’t particularly mysterious, but it’s full of big, sweeping ideas and clever little details, and I found that I really enjoyed it. I’ll be writing more about it soon.

Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, Monstress, #1-6: Whenever I begin a new series I seem to find myself complaining that there’s not enough included in the first issue for me to get into it and decide if I want to continue. Liu and Takeda’s series begins with a huge first issue, and I bought the next five as soon as I’d finished reading it. It’s a big, meaty, sweeping epic fantasy, with hints of huge, inaccessible back story, elements of the just plain weird, almost all the named characters are women, and it’s just satisfying in the ways that secondary world fantasies with chosen-one teenagers and talking cats tend to be. Takeda’s art is beautiful, and the sheer level of detail adds, again, to the sense of the depth of this world.

Jonathan Baird, Kevin Costner and Rick Ross, The Explorers Guild: There isn’t really an appropriate emotion for finding yourself reading a book apparently co-authored by Kevin Costner and enjoying it (though obviously celebrities are people too, and may have interests and talents beyond the ones they’re famous for). I’ll be reviewing this elsewhere–as you’d expect, with a 700+ page imitation imperial adventure novel that keeps asking you to compare it to Kipling (and other reviewers have obliged wholeheartedly) my feelings are many and varied; c.f. my well-documented love of solar topis.

Alice Pung, Laurinda: A school story in which a poor, Chinese-Cambodian teenager wins a scholarship to an exclusive girls’ school. Scholarship student stories are a time-honoured tradition within the school story and I’m hoping, soon, to read this against that genre–and alongside Dear Mrs. Naidu and Robin Stevens’s Wells and Wong books. Soon. For now, I liked it.

Innosanto Nagara, A is for activist: I was in London for a few days, and Erin led me astray into Housmans on a day when something I’d expected to spend a lot of money on had turned out to be free and I was feeling reckless. Result: several books, including things from Stuart Hall’s library, and this board book, which I loved. The art is great, there are several cats, and the entry for “N” is “No”.

Joan Aiken, All But A Few, The People in the Castle: Apparently (I learn from Lizza Aiken’s acknowledgements in another Aiken collection, The Monkey’s Wedding), John Clute has created a bibliography of all of Aiken’s short stories–and there are more than five hundred of them out there in the wild. I suppose I’m glad that such a thing exists, but I’ve always read Aiken in haphazard collections, with occasional surprise repeated stories, and a larger sense that there would always be more, unlimited, Aiken to discover. The People in the Castle is a version of a “best of” anthology, so there are stories I was already familiar with; some of them showed up again in All But A Few when I read it immediately after. But most of each collection was completely new, and all of them astonishingly good. I’ve never yet succeeded in articulating what it is about Aiken that makes her work so good (though if anyone wanted someone to review The People in the Castle, hi, I’d like to) but to read “Watkyn, Comma” or “A Portable Elephant” really is to be in the presence of genius.

 

July 2, 2016

June Reading

Is this going to be another of those months where I disapprove of things? (Yes)

 

Elizabeth McKenzie, The Portable Veblen: I promised a friend I’d attend at least one of her Bailey’s prize shadowing book group sessions, and picked the last one largely because of this book. I’d seen it compared to Karen Joy Fowler’s work (which I love), there was an approving Ursula Le Guin blurb, and various other enthusiastic reviews (including this one from Jeff Vandermeer). It was probably inevitable that I’d be disappointed, and I was, a bit–as a social novel, with lots of exaggeratedly horrible characters, The Portable Veblen is successful; as the sort of thing that KJF does, it is not. I liked its joyous, over-the-top-ness, I liked every moment of Veblen and Paul attempting to figure out how to be those two people in a relationship; reading it against Hannah Rothschild’s The Improbability of Love (also for the abovementioned book group) I enjoyed the ways in which it was big and sweeping and comic in ways that felt stronger than Rothschild’s own invocation of those things. But at moments where I’d have wanted it to be weird it was twee, I wanted it to do more with its Thorstein Veblen references, and Veblen herself in particular embodies a particular sort of precious, whimsical whiteness that I’m strongly put off by. I feel more kindly disposed towards it than Abigail Nussbaum does here, but the comparison with Where’d You Go Bernadette?, which I hadn’t thought of, rings disappointingly true to me.

Patrick Ness, The Rest Of Us Just Live Here: Many (many) words on this here.

Marcus Sedgwick, The Ghosts of Heaven: Many words on this here. Both this and the Ness were a part of my Carnegie shortlist shadowing project.

Garth Nix, Goldenhand: Nix was in my city for a conference and I got to interview him (forthcoming from Strange Horizons!) and also to wheedle an ARC of the next Old Kingdom book out of him–and since I’d just reread the series for the interview, and have been a fan of the Old Kingdom since the 1990s, obviously I stayed up all night and read it immediately. I have many thoughts, but am saving them for a proper review in a couple of months.

Anna Breslaw, Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here: I seem to know a lot of people who deeply loved Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (which is about a young woman who writes very successful fanfic) and have generally attributed the fact that it does nothing for me to my general lack of engagement with fandom. Breslaw’s book is also about a BNF in a fictional fandom but is so clumsy in its engagement with fan culture that it makes me appreciate Rowell’s book a lot more. Scarlett is a fan of a teenage werewolf drama, which is cancelled at the beginning of the book. Undaunted, Scarlett and her friends in fandom (the most popular writers) decide to keep writing fic set in this universe anyway. Scarlett makes this an excuse to write thinly-/not-at-all disguised versions of her schoolmates into a weird RPF that features a) sexbots and b) no werewolves at all and for some reason, rather than turning away in vague embarrassment the fandom decides to embrace this setting and it grows popular enough for there to be ship wars. Naturally, the principal characters (the Mean Girl who is the basis for the main sexbot, the popular boy Scarlett has a crush on) find out and things blow up.

There are the bones of a good book in this–Scarlett’s initial idolisation of her father’s Cultured-ness (vs her mother’s lack thereof), the ways this maps on to her assumptions about who is and is not culturally valuable, these make for thoughtful, nuanced character portraits, and I think the book is reaching for exactly this. But it’s awkward in its relationship to and unnecessary explanations of fandom (and what on earth is that moment when Scarlett is surprised that a writer of m/m slash is a woman???), trite in its discussion of middle-aged white man fiction (to make me want to defend Jonathan Franzen is quite a feat), just generally unimpressive.

 

June 1, 2016

May Reading

This month’s reading was awards-shortlist dominated (only two things on it weren’t on a shortlist I was shadowing, and then one of them actually won a completely different award), and largely underwhelming. I complained on twitter that I feel rather like that moment in Mad Max: Fury Road when Immortan Joe drives past, looks upon the violence, and sneers “mediocre”. On the other hand, new Helen Oyeyemi!

 

Sarah Crossan, One: A Carnegie shortlisted book. I’ve written about it here; it’s alright, I suppose. I wish there was more heft to it, but when don’t I wish this?

Robin Talley, Lies We Tell Ourselves: Another from the Carnegie shortlist. I’ve written about this here; it’s a much more accomplished book, but its strengths can’t outweigh my distaste for some of its most fundamental premises.

Helen Oyeyemi, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours: I’m still working through my feelings about this book. I linked in an earlier post to Nina Allan and Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s reactions to this collection of short stories, and I can sort of see what isn’t working for them, but I also keep wanting to yell “but that’s the  point!”, and haven’t articulated for myself why it is the point. But I think the stories are too wry to truly be whimsical, as Bee suggests they are; and I think there’s a … noncommital (?) tone that feels essential to me. As I say, I’m working through these thoughts, but it feels like exactly the collection I’d have expected/wanted it to be. I suspect I’m going to be in a minority there, though.

Nick Lake, There Will Be Lies: The best thing about this (Carnegie shortlisted) book was going to my reading book and discovering that everyone else liked it about as much as I did. I’ll be writing more about it, when I’ve collected my thoughts; at the moment all I have is NOPE.

Mathangi Subramanian, Dear Mrs. Naidu: Look, a book I liked! I’ll be writing more about this; it has just won a South Asia Book Award and is about friendship and activism and community and feeds my desire for more good middle-grade fiction.

Jenny Valentine, Fire Colour One: I’ve written about this at some length here. It’s probably one of the stronger books on this Carnegie shortlist that I’ve read so far. Unfortunately, all that means is that it’s pretty average.

Hannah Rothschild, The Improbability of Love: I decided to join the final stages of a friend’s Bailey’s prize book group, mainly as an excuse to read The Portable Veblen (which I’m currently reading). The Improbability of Love was a surprisingly quick read, and I’d absolutely watch the very highly stylised film, but as a book I’m not a huge fan. It begins with an exaggerated comic tone (presumably why it was shortlisted for, and eventually won, the Bollinger-Wodehouse prize), and perhaps wisely realises it’s unable to sustain such a thing and slips back into a more mundane register–which is fair enough, and the thought of reading over 400 pages in the earlier style is rather horrifying. But then the huge cast of characters introduced in that introductory chapter just wanders around disconsolately for most of the rest of the book until called upon to appear at the climactic scene. They don’t work as characters; they might work as hilarious exaggerated stereotypes (not a form of humour I find particularly funny, but still a thing that can work) but the book has moved into a lower-key sort of satire where they no longer fit. A lonely, murderous Russian billionaire named Vladimir is the worst sufferer here, but he’s not the only one. What does work is the deliciously improbable and ludicrously French voice of the titular painting itself, which takes you on a mini tour of the important figures of eighteenth century France. Only because it’s in small doses, spread out through the rest of the text, though; I suspect 400 pages of this too might be intolerable. What really matters, though, is that there now exists a pig named “The Improbability of Love”, which is an excellent name for a beast.

May 1, 2016

April Reading

April was mostly a thesis-writing month, as is probably clear; nothing here is very long or heavy, and quite a bit of it is work-relevant. Still.

 

Penelope Lively, The Whispering Knights: Well this is defnitely Lesser Lively, though I did enjoy the image of a witches brew made from canned frog’s legs.

Penelope Farmer, The Summer Birds: I’d have to reread Charlotte Sometimes to check, but this felt very tonally different. I liked it a lot–it’s really good at invoking all the things that make Peter Pan and Wendy work so well: sex and flight and the promise of death.

Sheena Porter, Nordy Bank: At some point I’m going to have to write something making wild generalisations about changing relationships with plot and structure in fiction. I’m reminded of this every time I read children’s books from the 60s and 70s (which, at the moment, is all the time), but even more so when it’s one I didn’t already know well. This was my first time reading Nordy Bank, and I’m not sure how it’s a book about a girl and her dog and a book about being possessed by your Bronze Age ancestors and a book about camping and tramping in a minor key but it certainly is all of those things. I can understand why it’s not one of the Carnegie-winners that has continued to be popular, but I also liked it.

Becky Albertalli, Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda: I’ve written about this here. Short version: I thought it was cute.

Noelle Stevenson, Nimona: Adorable, and has moments where it feels like it’s touching on something raw and wonderful. But it doesn’t feel like enough–I’m not sure you can successfully invoke the depth of trauma that some of these characters have faced, or the scale of violence that they’ve either perpetrated or had to forgive their loved ones for perpetrating, without going a lot further than this comic was willing to.

Jean Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad, Asterix and the Missing Scroll: I didn’t think much of Asterix and the Picts, and rolled my eyes at the Relevant Social Commentary implied in an Asterix comic about leaked documents, and now that I’ve read this I find it rather slight. But then it does this thing on its final page that creates a metanarrative for the whole series, and. Well played.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze, Laura Martin, Black Panther .1: It may need a few issues (perhaps I’ll wait for the first trade) before there’s enough here for me to work out if I like it. For now, all I know is that I really enjoyed the art.

Kate Saunders, Five Children on the Western Front: I’ve written about this at length here. Short version: Touching, but I’ve read better and smarter fanfic than this.

Julia Quinn, Because of Miss Bridgerton: I enjoy Julia Quinn but don’t know what the point of this book was.

William Mayne, Earthfasts: I’m writing about this separately, and I’m not entirely sure what happens in some sections of it but Mayne is such a good writer.