Review: Trick Mirror – Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino

44282599._sy475_Verdict: Sharp, rambling, wonderful.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Essay collection

Published by Fourth Estate, August 6th 2019

Find it on Goodreads.

We are living in the era of the self, in an era of malleable truth and widespread personal and political delusion. In these nine interlinked essays, Jia Tolentino, the New Yorker’s brightest young talent, explores her own coming of age in this warped and confusing landscape.

From the rise of the internet to her own appearance on an early reality TV show; from her experiences of ecstasy – both religious and chemical – to her uneasy engagement with our culture’s endless drive towards ‘self-optimisation’; from the phenomenon of the successful American scammer to her generation’s obsession with extravagant weddings, Jia Tolentino writes with style, humour and a fierce clarity about these strangest of times.

Following in the footsteps of American luminaries such as Susan Sontag, Joan Didion and Rebecca Solnit, yet with a voice and vision all her own, Jia Tolentino writes with a rare gift for elucidating nuance and complexity, coupled with a disarming warmth. This debut collection of her essays announces her exactly the sort of voice we need to hear from right now – and for many years to come.

This is an incredibly strong essay collection, brought down by a first essay that did not work for me and made picking this back up difficult for me. But once I finished that first essay, Jia Tolentino gives the reader an incredibly well-structured and presented collection. I know why this was one of my most anticipated reads for this year.

Jia Tolentino writes about many different things but always through a lense of feminism and internet culture – something I particularly adore as a feminist who is very much online. Her essays have a rambling quality that worked exceedingly well for me because I could trust her to pull her different strands of argument back together by the end of each essay. She combines the personal with the political, always underpinning her arguments with quotes and statistics in a highly effective way. This is the type of essay collection I adore.

My absolute favourite essay of this collection is about ecstacy – both the drug and the concept in religion. Tolentino reflects on her own religious upbringing, her relationship to drugs, her discovery of Houston’s hip hop scene, and her experience with god in a way that should not work for me (I am not particularly interested in any of these topics on their own) but that was just incredible. If you are only going to read one essay from this collection, make sure it is this one.

Content warning: discussions of rape culture and rape, bigotry, misogyny, racism.

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Fourth Estate in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Authority (Southern Reach #2) – Jeff VanderMeer

25984284Verdict: I don’t even know

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Date read: December 3rd, 2017

Published by 4th Estate, 2015

Find it on Goodreads.

The Southern Reach is a government agency so secret it has almost been forgotten.

Following the disastrous twelfth expedition chronicled in ‘Annihilation’, the second book of the Southern Reach trilogy introduces John Rodriguez, the new head of the government agency responsible for the safeguarding of Area X. His first day is spent grappling with the fall-out from the last expedition. Area X itself remains a mystery. But, as instructed by a higher authority known only as The Voice, the self-styled Control must battle to ‘put his house in order’.

From a series of interrogations, a cache of hidden notes and hours of profoundly troubling video footage, the mysteries of Area X begin to reveal themselves―and what they expose pushes Control to confront disturbing truths about both himself and the agency he’s promised to serve.

Undermined and under pressure to make sense of everything, Rodriguez retreats into his past in a labyrinthine search for answers. Yet the more he uncovers, the more he risks, for the secrets of the Southern Reach are more sinister than anyone could have known.

My thoughts on this are, you guessed it, complicated. This follow-up to Annhililation (which I LOVED.) is a very different beast. Set shortly after the events of the first book, it is completely different in feeling and in genre. It does not take place in Area X but rather in the Southern Reach itself where a new director has been placed who will have to try and figure out what is really going on.

There is one thing I am absolutely sure of: Jeff VanderMeer is a genius. He has a way of writing that I find exciting and fresh and original and super brilliant. I adore the way he writes weird books where the weirdness is always grounded in what we know of the world he creates. The world he created here is unsettling and just on the edge of ours; close enough to upset, far away enough to intrigue.

But there were lenghty parts of this book that I was bored to near tears. It felt much longer than it is and reading it often felt like a chore. I have a sneaking suspicion though: maybe that was the point; maybe I was supposed to be bored; maybe this was supposed to drag. Of course, I can never know for sure if that is the case – but then I don’t think an author’s intent is all that important when compared to what the reader gets out of it. This boredom feels intentional – it fits into the themes of bureaucracy and lack of autonomy. It is in direct contrast to what we know of Area X: which is untamed and unblemished by humanity – this feeling is mirrored in the sprawling, unfocussed, fascinating narrative voice of the first book. But this book is set outside of Area X, in the organization that is trying to contain whatever is happening; and doing this in an increasingly rigid way.

So yes, I do not even know what I make of this book. Again, Jeff VanderMeer keeps me at arm’s length from the characters – who do not  know who they are themselves (or if they are themselves even), but impresses me with his vivid language.

First sentence: “In Control’s dream it is early morning, the sky deep blue with just a twinge of light.”