#Book Review: Peach by Emma Glass

peachSomething terrible has happened to Peach, but she just wants life to go back to normal.

Something terrible has happened to Peach, but her parents are too wrapped up in themselves and their new baby to notice it.

Something terrible has happened to Peach, so she cleans herself up and self-administers stitches, tries to ignore the stench of meat and oil that follows her everywhere, tries to ignore flashbacks of a strangers gaping mouth and sausage fingers.

This short powerful book is visceral. Several of the passages are painful to read, they are so harrowingly descriptive. Peach starts off in shades of Eimear McBride and ends up in shades of Beckett, while always holding its own distinctive style. It is utterly absorbing – the reader is sucked into the impressionistic world (Peach is soft and easily bruised, sweet baby leaves powdered sugar on the lips that kiss him…) without question. A heart-breaking examination of the traumatic aftermath of sexual assault, it is astounding that this is a debut novel. Not an easy read, but a hugely important one.

Peach will be published by Bloomsbury in January 2018. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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#Book Review: Bitch Doctrine by Laurie Penny

bitch doctrineThis was a weird book to read on honeymoon I guess, but that’s how I roll.  Laurie Penny is a brilliant writer, and while I don’t always completely agree with her I love how her white hot passion for equality and her humour jump off the page. This is not a boring treatise, or a dry feminist tract, this is a collection of writing on a variety of subjects ranging from reactions to the US Presidential Campaign in 2016 to transgender rights to online bullying that reads like a page turner.

“When you’re used to privilege, equality feels like prejudice.”

 It will come a surprise to no one that I consider myself a feminist, and I have read a lot of books on the subject. As a result, I can’t say that I learned much I didn’t know from this book – but many people would, and I can highly recommend it on that basis. For readers like myself, to whom the content may not be news per se, I can assure you it is still a brilliantly engaging read that will remind you why you think the way you do. Penny is eminently quotable. Seriously I highlighted so much of the book it would have been easier to highlight what I didn’t like. This is the best form of polemical writing – thoughtful yet action orientated, engaging, and darkly humorous. Read it!

Bitch Doctrine: Essays for Dissenting Adults is published by Bloomsbury Circus. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

#Book Review: Indelible by Adelia Saunders

IndelibleI was fascinated by the premise of this debut novel, where a young Lithuanian woman named Magdalena is trying to escape an unusual gift/curse. She can see words written on people’s skin – banal details or profound warnings – and she moves to a country where she can’t speak the language to get some respite from the onslaught of information. As she slowly learns English, she stops wearing her glasses in an attempt to avoid the words on faces and resorts to stumbling around short-sightedly rather than seeing clearly.

I expected the novel to follow Magdalena exclusively, but her story is mixed with two others – Neil, a history student who has Magdalena’s name written under his eye; and his father Richard, who is haunted by a memory of his mother visiting him as a child, even though all the biographers of the now famous writer and beauty say she abandoned him as a baby refusing to ever look at him. The linkages between their lives are developed as the book progresses.

I’ll be honest, I never much cared for Richard, and his passages dragged the novel down for me. Even though he had a better storyline than Neil, he was such a needy drip that I couldn’t warm to him or care about the ‘mystery’ of his mother. I would have liked to have spent more time with Magdalena; her beautiful tragic friend Lena; her mother and her grandmother and left the boys out of it. There is some great writing here, but there is also a lot of meandering and loose ends. It is worth reading, but I can’t say that I was wholly satisfied. That said – the premise was intriguing, the parts I enjoyed were excellent, poignant and haunting. I will be keeping an eye on what this author produces next.

Indelible is published by Bloomsbury. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

#Book Review: The Many Selves of Katherine North – Emma Geen

9781408858431This book has such an original concept, so well executed, that I can’t believe I haven’t heard more hype about it. In a bleak near future, Katherine ‘Kit’ North is a nineteen-year-old woman who has been working for seven years as a phenomenaut. Her role is to project her consciousness into the bodies of lab grown animals to study creatures in their natural settings, and the ‘plasticity’ of brain required to do this usually only exists for a short time in young teenagers. When we first meet Kit, she is a fox, and throughout the book we experience several glorious sections of total immersion in another environment as Kit embodies creatures from whales to snakes. However, Kit has begun to have doubts about the ethics of her company, and embarks on a dangerous investigation in the ‘real’ world.

At the moment of projecting consciousness into another creature, phenomenauts experience ‘Sperlman’s Shock’ – a painful sensory overload and panic as they adjust to their new forms. One of the best elements of the book is the bleeding of the rich life of any other being to the paucity of reality for humans “where Sperlman’s Shock is temporary torture, Come Home is insidious chronic doubt”. Kit’s identity crises readjusting to the human world will resonate with anyone who struggles to feel at home where they are supposed to belong.

“I weave through the morning commute. The humans here always strike me as improbably perpendicular, every chin thrust out with the confidence of a silverback. What is it that gives them such assurance? As if they’re all alphas. A suited man jostles past and I bare my teeth at his glare. This is what the city reduces you to – meat, meat that’s in the way”.

The Many Selves of Katherine North is more of a psychological book than it is purely science fiction, but the best speculative fiction is always more than the setting. This is a skilful examination of empathy and the capacity of the written word (and perhaps ultimately technology) for embodied simulation. As Kit’s perception of the world begins to fragment, the narrative of course becomes more disjointed and paranoid – but in a completely convincing way. This book deserves to be more widely read, and I look forward to more from Emma Geen.

The Many Selves of Katherine North is published by Bloomsbury Circus. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Earth – an Object Lessons book review

earthI loved the sound of Earth by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Linda T. Elkins-Tanton (one of the Object Lessons series published in partnership with an essay series in The Atlantic). Object Lessons is an essay and book series about the hidden lives of ordinary things – however, this book takes a different approach to the others. We don’t often consciously think of the earth as an object, and certainly it seems incongruous listed among the other objects in the series – Bookshelf, Egg, High Heel, or Tumour for example. Earth is more philosophical than factual, a thoroughly human depiction of the Earth in the form of letters between a planetary scientist and a medievalist.

It is rare to find a truly co-disciplinary approach to any subject, but the form of this book – a back and forth of letters/skype/FB messages between Elkins-Tanton and Cohen – allows viewpoints equal weighting of disciplines while creating an interplay of ideas. Both share a fascination with the wonder of the pale blue dot we call home, and it is a pleasure to ‘eavesdrop’ on their correspondence, which is increasingly personal as a friendship develops. This book really helped me to visualise the beauty and complexity of the Earth as they examine it from different scales and perspectives, veering off into asides on beauty, perception, creativity and the imagination. The writers describe this as a “little book about an impossibly large subject”, albeit a subject every reader will view with fresh eyes for having read it. I was expecting more facts, less philosophy (although there are some science bits) but this is my favourite of the Object Lessons series I have read so far.

Earth is published by Bloomsbury Academic. I received an ecopy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

The Improbability of Love – Book Review

improbWhen lovelorn Annie McDee stumbles across a dirty painting in a junk shop while looking for a present for an unsuitable man, she has no idea what she has discovered. Soon she finds herself drawn unwillingly into the tumultuous London art world, populated by art dealers with mixed motivations, exiled Russian oligarchs, fixers, museum chiefs and wealthy patrons all scheming to get their hands on her painting – a lost eighteenth-century masterpiece called ‘The Improbability of Love’. Uncovering the painting’s past will not only uncover an illustrious list of former owners, but some of the darkest secrets of European history… and unfortunately I can’t say much more about the plot without spoilers and I won’t do that to you!

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild has been generating a lot of buzz, increasing since its inclusion on the 2016 shortlist for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. It’s not every day that you can read a satire on the art world by a banking heiress who includes ‘Chair of the National Gallery’ on her impressive CV, and it’s hard not to wonder how many of the walk-on parts in this novel are inspired by real people. Her family also had more works of art stolen during World War II than any other (over 3000 pieces), and the reverberations of art theft in this dark era, the correlation between the possession of art and power, are felt throughout this novel. Continue reading “The Improbability of Love – Book Review”