Crudo – Olivia Laing (Book Review)

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I saw this book everywhere I went, online and off, and so seeing a copy in Waterstones the other day, I picked it up – avoiding my aversion to usual contemporary writing:

Kathy is a writer. Kathy is getting married. It’s the summer of 2017 and the whole world is falling apart.

Olivia Laing radically rewires the novel in a brilliant, funny and emphatically raw account of love in the apocalypse. A Goodbye to Berlin for the twenty-first century, Crudo charts in real time what it was like to live and love in the horrifying summer of 2017, from the perspective of a commitment-phobic peripatetic artist who may or may not be Kathy Acker.

From a Tuscan hotel for the super-rich to a Brexit-paralysed UK, Kathy spends the first summer of her forties trying to adjust to making a lifelong commitment as Trump is tweeting the world into nuclear war. But it’s not only Kathy who’s changing. Political, social and natural landscapes are all in peril. Fascism is on the rise, truth is dead and the planet is hotting up. Is it really worth learning to love when the end of the world is nigh? And how do you make art, let alone a life, when one rogue tweet could end it all?

I knew little of Kathy Acker going into this, and at first was put off by her character. She seemed at first pretentiously rebellious in a childish sort of way. As the book progressed however, I felt that intentionally or otherwise she developed into view as a more helpless character than first came across. She was lost in a world which she seemed aware to have little direction. A world where, as the above says, a rogue tweet could end it. How could she take life seriously if the situation rested on two men acting like children showing off their toys?

The book felt very much like a modern Beat writer. It was reminiscent of the generation of raw honesty and graphic writing, only in this context I could relate so much more – the rediculousness of the world being talked about being one not so long ago – last year in face. The absurdity or Brexit, Trump, and nuclear showmanship being not something alien to any of us.

Throughout actual quotes for Kathy Acker are used, and these are, as the title suggests, raw. Brutal in a manner which some people won’t be able to deal with.

The book is written in a manner which was at time difficult to read – disjointed and switching between first and third person. Perhaps this created a chaotic atmosphere which the writer intended however, chaotic and disjointed being the time in which it was set.

I think this book as necessary if nothing else. A needed revival of honesty in the face of what the world is becoming – an apocalyptic cartoon – a cultural cul-de-sac.

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Grey Sister – Mark Lawrence (Book Review)

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After finishing Red Sister not so long ago, I pre-ordered the sequel as I was interested enough previously to continue with the characters:

In Mystic Class Nona Grey begins to learn the secrets of the universe. But so often even the deepest truths just make our choices harder. Before she leaves the Convent of Sweet Mercy Nona must choose her path and take the red of a Martial Sister, the grey of a Sister of Discretion, the blue of a Mystic Sister or the simple black of a Bride of the Ancestor and a life of prayer and service.

All that stands between her and these choices are the pride of a thwarted assassin, the ambition of a would-be empress wielding the Inquisition like a blade, and the vengeance of the empire’s richest lord.

As the world narrows around her, and her enemies attack her through the system she has sworn to, Nona must find her own path despite the competing pull of friendship, revenge, ambition, and loyalty.

And in all this only one thing is certain.

There will be blood.

The novel continues where the previous in the series left off – Nona, now in the next year at Sweet Mercy convent, continues to struggle with coming to terms with a friend’s death, all the while training at the convent. Her new peers in Mystic Class are mostly unwelcoming, and one in particular wants to remove Nona from the convent completely.

To make things worse, the Inquisition has set up in Sweet Mercy to route out rumours of heresy. Eventually, driven from the convent, several of the novices and nuns seek to find out the plans of the Emperor’s sister, and stop the complete destruction of Sweet Mercy.

Though not as gripping as the first, I still enjoyed the continuance within the character’s story-lines. The new characters are all unique, and the development in the relationships between characters gradual. My only gripe so far with the series is the frequency with which Nona seems to be either near death or in the hospital wing of the convent – it’s just getting a little repetitive in that regard.

I will continue reading within the series, and hope for the story-line to answer many questions as it progresses. I do appreciate the twist on the typical “prophecy trope” however, and it seems it is being pieced together bit-by-bit by the characters, many of whom have conflicting views on the exact meaning of the prophecy.

The End We Start From – Megan Hunter (Book Review)

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A book recommend by a bookseller friend of mine, under the guise of “give it a go, I’m not sure, see what you think”:

In the midst of a mysterious environmental crisis, as London is submerged below flood waters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, the family are forced to leave their home in search of safety. As they move from place to place, shelter to shelter, their journey traces both fear and wonder as Z’s small fists grasp at the things he sees, as he grows and stretches, thriving and content against all the odds.

The book follows a small, new family evacuating London due to a freak flood, putting even their top floor flat under water. As they, along with many other cities, flee to higher ground in search of refuge, they develop and learn quickly how to deal with their new found parenthood in a desperate world.

Through the travels, challenges are met with dwindling food reserves and the turning of people on one another. Friends are met and made too; companions to suffer alongside.

The book focuses largely though on the relationship between the narrator and her newborn son, Z. All characters are referred to only by letters through the book: R, O, G, N etc. but I felt that this detracted little from the comprehension (though I know it has bothered some). Why just letters? I couldn’t claim to know. Perhaps the identification of the individuals, couple with the un-named narrator,  hints at the lack of need for personifying the individuals, but focus on their relationships instead – community and family above individuality. I don’t know.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve not face the trials and blessings of motherhood (rather difficult as a man) or the unique connection between child and the mother that bore him, but I couldn’t always sympathise entirely with the narrator’s feelings.

Ultimately I guess Z represents new beginning at the end of London as it currently is- taking baby-steps out onto the ruined landscape.

An interesting book, and I appreciate (as I’ve mentioned before) authors who are willing to take a risk in giving a unique writing style. I’d be interested to read more by the author…

Red Sister – Mark Lawrence (Book Review)

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My next step into fantasy:

At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist.

But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.

Stolen from the shadow of the noose, Nona is sought by powerful enemies, and for good reason. Despite the security and isolation of the convent her secret and violent past will find her out. Beneath a dying sun that shines upon a crumbling empire, Nona Grey must come to terms with her demons and learn to become a deadly assassin if she is to survive…

I bought this book for 3 main reasons: the cover caught my eye, the authors name is familiar, and it is the first in a new fantasy series! As I have mentioned before, fantasy isn’t really my go to genre (though most people assume so!) and so I’m venturing out. Joining a new series early on seems like a good idea to not be playing catch up!

The story follows a young girl called Nona as she is rescued from the death penalty by the abbess of a convent. Nona, a poor girl, joins the convent so often reserved for those whose parents can fund their unique education there. As time progresses and friends are made, enemies seek after control through a prophecy foretelling the coming of person with 4-bloods – having the unique ability of the 4 tribes who landed in Abeth.

The book has a twist on the typical prophecy trope which I really appreciated – it wasn’t as predictable as many are, and left me trying to work it out along the way. The characters are all very unique, and Nona is very likable and the type of character you just want to win.

Though at first I found it hard to get into (though I admit that may be my fault – as I said, I’m not used to reading things not set within the realms of reality), by about a quarter of the way through I was hooked and could not stop reading.

I felt at times that I wasn’t quite clear on the “rules” behind the use of magic in the book, but I didn’t too left out of it – I suspect this will become clearer in future sequels.

I pre-ordered the next in the series, Grey Sister, before even finishing this book. I am excited to continue the journey with Nona, Ara, and friends.