Review: Doggerland by Ben Smith

42363317Verdict: Bleak, but beautiful.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Literary Fiction, Speculative Fiction

Published by HarperCollins UK/ 4th Estate, April 4th 2019

Find it on Goodreads.

Doggerland is brilliantly inventive, beautifully-crafted and superbly gripping debut novel about loneliness and hope, nature and survival – set on an off-shore windfarm in the not-so-distant future.
‘His father’s breath had been loud in the small room. It had smelled smoky, or maybe more like dust. ‘I’ll get out,’ he’d said. ‘I’ll come back for you, ok?’ The boy remembered that; had always remembered it. And, for a time, he’d believed it too.’
In the North Sea, far from what remains of the coastline, a wind farm stretches for thousands of acres.
The Boy, who is no longer really a boy, and the Old Man, whose age is unguessable, are charged with its maintenance. They carry out their never-ending work as the waves roll, dragging strange shoals of flotsam through the turbine fields. Land is only a memory.
So too is the Boy’s father, who worked on the turbines before him, and disappeared.
The boy has been sent by the Company to take his place, but the question of where he went and why is one for which the Old Man will give no answer.
As the Old Man dredges the sea for lost things, the Boy sifts for the truth of his missing father. Until one day, from the limitless water, a plan for escape emerges…
Doggerland is a haunting and beautifully compelling story of loneliness and hope, nature and survival.

This book is possibly a definite contender for the bleakest book I have read in years. Set in the future on a slowly breaking down wind farm maintained as much as possible by the Old Man and the Boy whose names remain a mystery for most of the book. To say that not much is happening would be unfair (there is actually a lot of action here) but everything crumbles in slow motion and there is not much either person can do against it. The comparisons to The Road are spot-on; this future is bleak and narrow in the way th world can be seen by the protagonists. The atmosphere is equally distressing and overwhelming while the language remains a sharp edge that can dazzle the reader.

That this book was written by an author who also writes poetry, is impossible to overlook – the sentences are beautiful and unusual and by far my favourite thing about this book. The way Ben Smith’s prose flows reminded me of the ocean – something that has to be intentional given that the North Sea is as much of a protagonist as the three other people in this novel.

But I don’t particularly like The Road and I feel a lot of the same feelings towards that book as I do towards this book: I can see how it is very well done, impressive even, but for me the bleakness became overwhelming and I had to force myself to keep reading. But this has everything to do with the kind of reader I am and nothing to do with this book. It is a book I can see many people loving and I hope many people will pick it up – because it is so very well done and so interestingly told.

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and HarperCollins UK/ 4th Estate in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

35099035Verdict: Not quite for me.

My rating: 3 put of 5 stars

Genre: Speculative Fiction

Published by HarperCollins UK, 16th January, 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

FIVE WOMEN. ONE QUESTION: What is a woman for?

In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers.

Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro’s best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling homeopath, or “mender,” who brings all their fates together when she’s arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.

RED CLOCKS is at once a riveting drama whose mysteries unfold with magnetic energy, and a shattering novel of ideas. With the verve of Naomi Alderman’s THE POWER and the prescient brilliance of THE HANDMAID’S TALE, Leni Zumas’ incredible new novel is fierce, fearless and frighteningly plausible.

My thoughts on this are all jumbled up; I thought I would adore this and it is not a bad book by any means but it took me three months to finish this. I could just not get on board and I am not quite sure where my problems lie.

I love the plausibility of the world Leni Zumas has created here, it feels organic in a way that is scary and frustrating. Set in the not so distant future, reproductive rights have been severely limited: abortion is illegal in all and every circumstances (and in fact considered murder), in-vitro fertilization is unavailable, and soon adoption will only be possible for straight, married couples. Told from five different perspectives, Zumas shows the far-reaching consequences these changes to the law might have. Her world is plausible and aggrevating and often feels contemporary rather than speculative.

My main problem were the characters that often felt underdeveloped and not particularly fleshed-out. As they are often refered to by a descriptor (“the mother”, “the daughter” etc.) this was probably on purpose: these things that are happening do not happen to these women because of who they are but rather because of the way the social structure is set up. Intellectually, I get, emotionally, I did not care for their stories at all. There was a large chunk in the middle that did not work for me because of that distance. I do think that the storylines converged nicely in the end and that the character development if slight did work.

I enjoyed Leni Zumas’ particular prose a whole lot and thought it added a nice layer of urgency and intimacy to an otherwise distant book. Her sentences are choppy but have a nice rhythm to them.

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

Review: The Book of M – Peng Shepherd

39899065Verdict: Fairly wonderful.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Speculative Fiction

Published by HarperCollins, June 28th, 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

In the middle of a market in India, a man’s shadow disappears. As rolling twenty-four-hour news coverage tries to explain the event, more cases are discovered. The phenomenon spreads like a plague as people learn the true cost of their lost part: their memories.

Two years later, Ory and his wife Max have escaped ‘the Forgetting’ by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods in Virgina. They have settled into their new reality, until Max, too, loses her shadow.

Knowing the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to the person most precious to her, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up what little time they have left before she loses her memory completely, and desperately follows her trail.

On their separate journeys, each searches for answers: for Ory, about love, about survival, about hope; and for Max, about a mysterious new force growing in the south that may hold the cure. But neither could have guessed at what you gain when you lose your shadow: the power of magic.

A breathtakingly imaginative, timeless story that explores fundamental questions about memory and love—the price of forgetting, the power of connection, and what it means to be human when your world is turned upside down.

I love books that are not easily classifiable – and this is just that. It is speculative fiction but also incorporates a feeling of magical realism, it is a romance (and it is really not), it is just absolutely lovely. I adore the premise above all else: at some point in the not so distant future people start losing their shadows and with them, slowly but inexorably, their memories. First the small things but then bigger and bigger things until they forget to breath. With the loss of memories come weird powers: if a person without a shadow remembers something wrong, that thing becomes just so. Peng Shepherd uses this to create achingly beautiful scenes that edge on unsettling.

The book is told from four perspectives:

  • Orlando Zhang (Ory), whose wife has just lost her shadow and left him behind, is single-minded in his pursuit of his wife,
  • Max, his wife, is losing her memories and keeps recording herself speaking to her husband to make sure she does not remember him wrong,
  • Mahnaz Ahmadi, an Iranian archer, is stuck in Boston, far away from her family and most importantly her younger sister.
  • The Amnesiac has lost his memory in an accident and as such has a unique understanding of memory loss and its effects on sense of self.

My favourite parts by far were those concerned with Max – her journey into forgetting is mesmerizing and her resilience is wonderful. Spending time in her head made what was happening on a grander scale much more personal and affecting. I also loved spending time with Ahmadi – I love sibling relationships anyways and hers just made me weepy. The Amnesiac’s story at points had a feeling of fairy tale, which obviously I adored. My problem lay with Ory (and his perspective encompasses the bulk of this book) – he did not feel like a fully formed person to me. For most of the book he is single-minded in his pursuit of Max, never pausing, never considering her as a person in her own right, to be honest. I have some spoilery thoughts that might explain this but even so, I never really got along with his point of view – even though some of the most stunning scenes were from his perspective.

Overall, I adore the way Peng Shepherd structured her book – I am often a huge fan of multiple perspectives and here they are handled expertly and with a brilliant sense of timing. I thought her language flowed beautifully and her imagination is just breathtaking, many scenes unfolding cinematically in the best possible way. Her use of imagery and colour really added to this already wonderfully layered story.

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

Review: Annihilation (Southern Reach #1) – Jeff VanderMeer

25970139My rating: 5 our of 5 stars

Date read: October 23rd, 2017

Published by HarperCollins, Fourth Estate, 2014

Verdict: Utterly spellbinding, deeply unsettling, hauntingly beautiful.

Find it on Goodreads.

Welcome to Area X. An Edenic wilderness, an environmental disaster zone, a mystery for thirty years.

For thirty years, Area X, monitored by the secret agency known as the Southern Reach, has remained mysterious and remote behind its intangible border– an environmental disaster zone, though to all appearances an abundant wilderness. Eleven expeditions have been sent in to investigate; even for those that have made it out alive, there have been terrible consequences.

‘Annihilation’ is the story of the twelfth expedition and is told by its nameless biologist. Introverted but highly intelligent, the biologist brings her own secrets with her. She is accompanied by a psychologist, an anthropologist and a surveyor, their stated mission: to chart the land, take samples and expand the Southern Reach’s understanding of Area X.

But they soon find out that they are being manipulated by forces both strange and all too familiar. An unmapped tunnel is not as it first appears. An inexplicable moaning calls in the distance at dusk. And while each member of the expedition has surrendered to the authority of the Southern Reach, the power of Area X is far more difficult to resist.

Oh I liked this so.

I had this book on my TBR for what feels like forever and I am so glad I finally read it. Jeff VanderMeer has a brilliant imagination and the world he creates feels utterly original, startlingly so, but still grounded in something like believability.

There is not all that much to the plot: four women embarque on an expedition into Area X; they are the 12th expedition of this kind and all the ones that came before ended somewhat mysteriously. The reader never really learns what Area X is and how it came to be and what exactly happened to the people who went before. It becomes clear that the participants have not been told the truth but also maybe haven’t told the truth either. The biologist, who tells the story, is an unreliable narrator that I still found myself rooting for. This book is vague and does not give any answers but rather than that being annoying for me it only added to its allure. I have been thinking about this book ever since I finished it and the more I do so the more brilliant I find it.

Jeff VanderMeer’s greatest talent lies in creating an atmosphere so all-encompassing that I felt like I was part of the story. The book is highly unsettling and set my pulse running; I could not stop reading and yet dreaded finding out what was going to happen next. This creepy, unsettling, brilliant atmosphere was my favourite part of the book (and I have NO idea how they are going to try and recreate this for the upcoming movie).

First sentence: “The Tower, which was not supposed to be there, plunges into the earth in a place just before the black pine forest begins to give way to swamp and then the reeds and wind-gnarled trees of the marsh flats.”