Review: Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh

47545450._sy475_Verdict: Uneven but in parts brilliant.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Literary Fiction / Dystopia

Published by Hamish Hamilton, August 27th 2020

Find it on Goodreads.

Calla knows how the lottery works. Everyone does. On the day of your first bleed, you report to the station to learn what kind of woman you will be. A white ticket grants you children. A blue ticket grants you freedom. You are relieved of the terrible burden of choice. And, once you’ve taken your ticket, there is no going back.

But what if the life you’re given is the wrong one?

Blue Ticket is a devastating enquiry into free will and the fraught space of motherhood. Bold and chilling, it pushes beneath the skin of female identity and patriarchal violence, to the point where human longing meets our animal bodies.

First things first: Mackintosh’s prose has gotten even better since her debut, which I already enjoyed a lot. There is something mesmerizing about the way she constructs her sentences and I am always in love with her metaphors and allusions. On a sentence-by-sentence level, this is excellent and cemented what I said after reading her debut: I will always be reading what she writes even if this reading experience was uneven for me.

Her depiction of female longing and female friendship worked exceedingly well for me – and I would indeed argue that this is what she is interested in because where this book falters is in its dystopian elements. Calla’s close first person narration is our entry point into the world Mackintosh has created here and as she knows very little about her society, it remains vague and what we learn makes very little sense. While this is arguably true for her debut as well, there I thought the vagueness worked because it was never quite clear if what the protagonists knew was true at all. This time around, this is very obviously a dystopian society and even if Calla does not know why things came about, the consequences are very true for her life. Again, I do not think the dystopian part is Mackintosh’s strength or even what she really set out to write about. Whenever the story focussed on what Calla experienced and on her inner life and struggles, the book shone and I wish that part had been more prevalent throughout. I knew going in that I probably should not expect the dystopia to be ground-breaking in its political machinations, so the book did overall work for me but I can see where other readers might struggle. In the end, I am such a huge fan of Mackintosh’s prose that even as parts did not work for me, overall I did appreciate the book a lot (and it made me cry).

Content warning: pregnancy, vomit, stillbirth, consumation of alcohol and cigarettes while pregnant, rape, sexual assault, assault (and another very spoilery trigger warning that you can find under the spoiler tag on my goodreads review)

I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

102927My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Date read: November 6th, 2017

Published by Faber and Faber, 2005

Verdict: Precise, clever and so very sad.

Find it on Goodreads.

From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day comes a devastating new novel of innocence, knowledge, and loss. As children Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were.

Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special–and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. Suspenseful, moving, beautifully atmospheric, Never Let Me Go is another classic by the author of The Remains of the Day.

This is the second time I have read this book – I could only remember liking it and not much more so I really wanted to reread this now that Kazuo Ishiguro has wone the Nobel Prize for Literature. And I am certainly glad I did.

The novel is speculative fiction but that speculative part is only at the periphery of the meditation on what makes us human, what makes live worth living, what friendship can do for us and how to make the most of the time we have been given. It is a novel about growing up, about friendship and love, about trust and betrayal, and about loss more than anything else. Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy grow up on what at the beginning sounds like a normal boarding school but as the book progresses turns out to be something else completely. The story is told more or less chronologically by Kathy looking back at her life and greatly influenced by how she sees the world.

This time around Kathy struck me even more so than before as an unreliable narrator. She wants to see the world a certain way and makes everything else fit into that narrative. She puts her head in the sand and refuses to see the horrific reality of her life and those of her friends. But even more so, her relationship with Ruth is what made me think. Ruth sounds awful, do not get me wrong, but then again Kathy always goes out of her way to excuse her own behaviour while only paying lip service to Ruth’s intentions. Kathy’s snide remarks are always in reaction to something Ruth has supposedly done or thought. I liked how Ishiguro made their friendship so ambiguous and how the interactions have different layers to them. It added so much to my reading enjoyment and made me think about narrators in fiction and how we tend to trust them unless they make it clear that they are unreliable.

I adored the way Ishiguro tells his story, thoughtful and slowly and very clever. He builds an atmosphere of both dread and melancholy while creating highly believable characters. It is genre fiction with literary aspects which just is my favourite.

Review: The End We Start From – Megan Hunter

32991198My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Date Read: 2 August 2017

Published by Grove Atlantic, November 2017

Verdict: Beautifully and frustratingly sparse.

Find it on Goodreads.

As London is submerged below flood waters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, she and her baby are forced to leave their home in search of safety. They head north through a newly dangerous country seeking refuge from place to place, shelter to shelter, to a desolate island and back again. The story traces fear and wonder, as the baby’s small fists grasp at the first colors he sees, as he grows and stretches, thriving and content against all the odds.

Written with poise and poeticism, The End We Start From is an indelible and elemental first book—a lyrical vision of the strangeness and beauty of new motherhood, and a portentous tale of endurance in the face of ungovernable change.

Beautifully and frustratingly sparse. This book is written in absolutely stunning prose that in places feels like poetry. It is stylistically wonderful – its sparseness works great in conveying the way the world has shrunk around the protagonist; minimizing her field of vision around the essentials: her new-born son and her husband.

Set in the not so distant future when the oceans have risen dramatically and drowned much of England, the main character has just given birth to her son when she has to leave London to go North. We follow her from place to place, meeting people, losing people, finding people. The plot is near irrelevant though: it is more a meditation on motherhood, on beginnings and endings, on love and loss. All the characters are only referred to by their initials, leaving the reader at a distance and rendering this very personal tale universal.

I adored the way this book was told; I enjoyed the juxtaposition of motherhood and the end-times and I found many sentences beautiful beyond words. It was a highly satisfying reading experience – however, I am not sure how much of it will stick with me. The book is too short and sparse to really tell a story and the language while stunning does not help the feeling of detachment. The book is full with metaphors and foreshadowing and mixes the personal and the universal in a highly stylized matter. But sometimes I like books told in style and glitter and beautiful sentences. Here I did.

First sentence: “I am hours from giving birth, from the event I thought would never happen to me, and R has gone up a mountain.”
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I received an arc of this book curtesy of NetGalley and Grove Atlantic in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for that!

Review: Bitch Planet Vol. 2: President Bitch – Kelly Sue DeConnick & Valentine De Landro

299720291My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Date Read: 25 July 2017

Published by Image Comics, June 2017

Verdict: Beautiful, disturbing, scarily plausible; with a plot that could be better.

Find it on Goodreads.

Eisner Award-nominated writer KELLY SUE DeCONNICK (PRETTY DEADLY, Captain Marvel) and VALENTINE DE LANDRO (X-Factor) follow up on the success of EXTRAORDINARY MACHINE with the second installment of their highly acclaimed and fiercely unapologetic BITCH PLANET. A few years down the road in the wrong direction, a woman’s failure to comply with her patriarchal overlords results in exile to the meanest penal planet in the galaxy. But what happened on Earth that this new world order came to pass in the first place? Return to the grim corridors of Auxiliary Compliance Outpost #2, to uncover the first clues to the history of the world as we know it…and meet PRESIDENT BITCH.

This volume collects issues #6-10, a reader discussion guide and additional bonus materials.

I don’t know how to review this. I always struggle with reviewing graphic novels – especially when it comes to the artwork (somehow “oh look how nice it all looks” really is not all that descriptive). But I also struggle with reviewing this in particular because I am not really sure on my thoughts at all. So, this will be a rambly kind of review where I try to sort my thoughts as I go.

First of all, I did enjoy this. But it also made me umcomfortable. But I also love the characters. But I think it is a bit on the nose maybe. But I love the underlying message of acceptance. But the optimist in me thinks it is a bit to pessimistic. But the pessimist in me thinks it is so plausible, scarily so.

The characters are what sells this book to me: all the women here are brilliant, flawed, believable characters. I adore the way they are drawn (both figuratively and literally) and how unique they feel. However, they sometimes feel to be more of a vehicle to tell this particular feminist story than completely fleshed-out characters in their own right. I kept asking myself if they would exist if they weren’t needed to make particular points; if their reactions would still stay the same; if they would be fundamentally the same people.

The artwork is stunning in way that sometimes feels uncomfortable. The juxtaposition of colour works brilliantly but has at the same time an overwhelming effect. There were some stylistic choices that I found perfect: especially the use of lipstick in a way that subverts its traditional use.

I think ultimately I enjoy the big ideas and the characters and many of the style-choices a lot more than I enjoy the story. The plot is definitely the weak point here but I am interested enough to keep holding on the the ride to see where it all goes in the end.

Review: Amatka – Karin Tidbeck

35110377My Rating: 3/5

Date Read: 8 July 2017

Verdict: Brilliant premise, weak character development.

Find it on Goodreads

Vanja, an information assistant, is sent from her home city of Essre to the austere, wintry colony of Amatka with an assignment to collect intelligence for the government. Immediately she feels that something strange is going on: people act oddly in Amatka, and citizens are monitored for signs of subversion.

Intending to stay just a short while, Vanja falls in love with her housemate, Nina, and prolongs her visit. But when she stumbles on evidence of a growing threat to the colony, and a cover-up by its administration, she embarks on an investigation that puts her at tremendous risk.

In Karin Tidbeck’s world, everyone is suspect, no one is safe, and nothing—not even language, nor the very fabric of reality—can be taken for granted. Amatka is a beguiling and wholly original novel about freedom, love, and artistic creation by a captivating new voice.

That was weird. Seriously weird, but oddly fascinating, but with an ending I found unsatisfying. My thoughts are all over the place for this one, so here they are first in list formate and then a bit more elaborated.

Pros:
World building
Atmosphere
Mood
Pacing

Cons:
Characters
Prose
Conclusion.

Set in the not specified future on I assume different planet, this books reads very much like a classic dystopian novel in the style of Ray Bradbury or George Orwell. The main character, Vanja, arrives in Amatka with the order to do some kind of market research on hygiene products as commercial production has been legalized and her employer wants to know how to sell more stuff to this colony. As she falls in love with her housemate Nina, she decides to stay in this barren place even though things seem odd to her.

The main premise is stunning in its originality (at least it is to me) – things have to be named repeatedly and be marked because otherwise they dissolve into some kind of goo: so a table has a sign saying “table”, doors are labeled “door” and so on. Citizens have to be constantly vigilant lest they lose important possessions. This makes for an interesting social structure where nothing is permanent and in reaction everything is rigid and unchanging. Karin Tidbeck uses this disorienting juxtaposition to paint a very vivid picture of the world she created. I absolutely adored this part.

The characters on the other hand never truly came alive for me. Their reactions are always left mostly unexplained and I had a hard time connecting with them. Especially the love story between Vanja and Nina made very little sense to me – and never understood what they liked about each other and what made Vanja especially abandon her previous life with hardly any second thoughts.

Ultimately, I think this book works best if you study it and analyse it and discuss it with others. There are so many layers that could be talked about and so much to think about, that a casual reading does not do it justice. As it stands, it kept me at arm’s length and I never felt fully engaged with the characters.

First sentence: “Brilars’ Vanja Essre Two, Informant assistant with the Essre Hygiene Specialists, was the only passenger on the auto train bound for Amatka.”

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I received an arc of this book curtesy of NetGalley and Knopf Doubleday Publishing in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for that!