The Power – Naomi Alderman

Rating: 5 stars

The Power.jpgI was put onto this book by a Guardian article by the author. I think it was around the time of International Women’s Day, and it touched on the idea of what makes a dystopia. The Power is an imagination of a near-future in which women develop the power, like electric eels, to electrocute others, and become the dominant sex.

The best (and most disturbing in their own way) parts of the book are the letters that bookend it, which imagine that the book was written by an aspiring young male author to Naomi herself, asking for her feedback. The same nervous hedging and not-really-jokes that every woman has herself written in an email to a man are there. I won’t spoil the punchline in the final letter, but it’s a killer.

In the story itself, the near-future depicted is a kind of pre-fempocalypse, and the text is punctuated by images of “artefacts” that chart the fall of the patriarchy and the rise of the matriarchy. Biological essentialism is turned on its head because of course women are physically stronger – they have to protect their young after all – and men are subject to the same kind of oppression that women are now.

Of course, it’s a simple premise. Flip things around to see how they really are. Things that we notice when they happen to men but don’t when they happen to women – like the simple but effective race-flipped pictures Elite Daily published recently. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack a punch.

There is one irritation with it, which is the British character, who when she first appears is all “cor blumming blimey babe there’s a bloke over there guv’na”. Thankfully this settles down. I had been going to suggest that a British author should write a book in which all of the American characters speak in “yee haaa howdy” isms so that we could see the process in reverse. However, Google is my friend: Alderman is English, and therefore has no excuse.

Nonetheless, I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone. Female readers be warned: it will make you wish that some power was coming your way.

Louise CAV ReviewsReviewed by Louise

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The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan

DNF

narrow road.jpgYou know, I really wanted to like The Narrow Road to the Deep North. I got it as a Christmas present a few years ago, and because it was a gift and because A.C. Grayling had promised me very earnestly on the dust-cover that it was ‘A masterpiece’, I had high hopes.

Alas, alackaday. Those hopes were dashed.

Thing is, there were lots of promising things at the outset. The setting – a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, mid 20th Century Australia – was unusual and intriguing, and I liked the way the narrative jumped around in time.

So why did I hate it? I promise I tried. I thought I had given up several times, but I kept coming back because surely a Man Booker Prize-winning novel ought to have some merits? Well, the problem with this was not the man booker, but the woman booker. That is to say, the female protagonist (or more correctly, and indeed disturbingly accurately, the love object) was the flimsiest and most implausible female character I have read sine the hoo-er in Rabbit, Run who let the whole thing down. She has eyes like a gas flame (so, like, blue) and has Manic Pixie Dream Girl written all over her. She doesn’t feel authentic at all as a woman for reasons that I will not rehearse in this polite company.

What did it for me (and I have edited this line with the addition of an ‘l’ so as to not offend) was the moment in which this character, feeling amorous towards her gentleman lover, muses that she ‘longed to have his lovely clock in her mouth… in front of them all’.

I couldn’t carry on. I couldn’t take it seriously! This isn’t “what do women think?” this is “what do men like to imagine that women think?” I’m not saying no woman has ever thought this, but what he is selling I ain’t buying. I guess it’s some male fantasy that women exist to give pleasure, but I’ve heard that track a hundred times before.

Masterpiece? Maybe to A.C. Grayling. Not to me.

Louise CAV ReviewsReviewed by Louise

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Lavinia’s Book of the Month: March 2017

A Brief Word

First, an admission and an apology. I had originally earmarked this for Chapter and Verse’s February pick, but through indolence and negligence it got pushed back; I doubt anyone even remembers February by now, so I’m calling it Book of the Month for March.

This is not Lavinia’s fault, but mine. A thousand apologies.

Nick

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

I was given this book several years ago (three; so sorry) by a friend who I trust in all things. But because beneath this veneer of being a responsible citizen I am a deeply awful person I only just got around to reading it. A couple of things put me off.

Firstly, the last piece of “art” I interacted with about the circus was the film Water for Elephants, which was super dull, and I guess I thought this book would be full of people feeding elephants in the night-time. I also thought it was a children’s book, because of the gorgeous cover and decorated pages, and I just wasn’t in the mood for one of those.

night circus 1.jpg           night circus.jpg           night circus 2.jpg

Well, boy, was I sorry that I had put it off. The Night Circus is absolutely magical. The titular circus is a magical travelling affair, and the venue for a contest between two magicians of opposing schools of thought, carried out through their protégés. I’m not going to give too much away, but it’s an absolutely brilliant book. I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

You’ll love this book if:
– You like magic and fantasy
– You’re keen on a “steampunk” aesthetic
– You enjoy fun

You might want to avoid this book if:
– You don’t like fantasy

lavinia collins authorLove Lavinia xoxo
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Lie With Me – Sabine Durrant

Rating: 5 stars

I picked up Sabine Durrant’s Lie With Me in Marylebone station, because I wanted something to read on a long train journey. It was late, and I figured I would read a couple of chapters and then watch something I’d downloaded for the journey. Boy was I mistaken.

Lie With Me tells the story of Paul – playboy, exaggerator, sleazy philanderer and, most of all, liar. Following some literary success in his youth, Paul now flat-sits for more successful friends, passes the flat off as his own, sleeps with much younger women, and lives in fear of ending up living with his mother. When the opportunity to sponge off a widowed woman his own age presents itself, Paul takes up with the apparently vulnerable (but unsettlingly cold) Alice and blags his way on a family holiday to Greece. The rest – I shall not spoil!

lie with me 2.jpgThe great strength of Lie With Me is in its characters: Paul is the narrator we (I?) love to hate – always staring down women’s tops, and at the bums of his girlfriend’s teenage daughter and her friend, always casually putting other people’s things in his pocket; Alice is somehow both vulnerable and unavailable, both worldly and absent.

The narrative is perfectly paced, and we get just enough to guess at the twist before it is revealed, but not so much that we feel as if we know what it is going to be too early on. I read the book in less than twenty-four hours, and I would be surprised if many other readers didn’t – like me – struggle to put it down.

I would strongly recommend this to any readers!

Louise CAV ReviewsReviewed by Louise

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Lavinia’s Book of the Month: January 2017

His Bloody Project – Graeme Macrae Burnet

Hello 2017! Very excited to be writing up my first Book of the Month – especially since I couldn’t recommend this book more.

Now, I know this isn’t a very daring choice – His Bloody Project was shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2016, so I’m not very far off-piste here – but this book was so brilliant that I couldn’t keep quiet about it.

Graeme Macrae Burnet - His Bloody Project.jpgHis Bloody Project is a sort of murder mystery where we know who the killer is from the start (and in fact he is constantly protesting his guilt) and no one can agree on anything about the version of events that led to the killing, other than on who the culprit was. The culprit, one Roderick Macrae, is a young man from the Scottish Highlands who has brutally bludgeoned three members of the same family to death. No one can agree on what he is like – including whether he is sane or not.

In His Bloody Project we are not offered a complete narrative, but instead a series of fragments Roddy’s own account (which is the largest part of the book), his lawyer’s report, the coroner’s report, an account of the trial – and left to consider for ourselves.

I don’t want to say too much more, because there is so much enjoyment for a reader in trying to piece together what actually happened (and knowing that you cannot).

I raced through this book in a couple of days, unable to put it down, and I would strongly recommend it to any readers of any kind.

You’ll love this book if:
– You like a good mystery
– You like vivid historical settings
– You like complex and ambiguous characters

You might want to avoid this book if:
– You are sensitive to graphic sex and violence

lavinia collins authorLove Lavinia xoxo
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The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood

Rating: 4 stars

Margaret Atwood has been a very busy bee lately. I kept telling people I was reading “the new Margaret Atwood novel”, and apparently this wasn’t specific enough. As well as the Tempest-inspired Hag-seed last year, 2015 saw the release of another dystopian sci-fi, The Heart Goes Last. 

the heart goes last.jpgThe Heart Goes Last tells the story of a married couple, Charmaine and Stan. Reading it in a post-Trump world, I was struck by how disturbingly believable Atwood’s vision of the poverty-stricken Rust Belt was. Stan and Charmaine live in their car, struggling to feed themselves and survive in a post-apocalyptic landscape. When an opportunity presents itself to enter a programme called Positron – in which participants are fed, clothed and housed in a settlement that is a kind of fifties version of the Hank Scorpio episode of The Simpsons, in exchange for pretending to be prison inmates half the time – Charmaine (who is something of a fantasist) persuades Stan to join.

Throughout The Heart Goes Last, I couldn’t make up my mind as to whether I was enjoying it or not. It’s certainly written with the liveliness of character and paciness of delivery of Atwood’s usual work, but I couldn’t quite get a handle on the plot. It’s very fact-paced, which is good, but there is so much going on in this post-econopocalptic, brainwashing, organ-farming world – and so much going on with Stan and Charmaine – that despite enjoying reading it, I felt that it was a little bit formless. It was like five dystopian novels rolled into one.

Another problem I had was with the character of Charmaine. I actually thought she was a convincing and believable character, and there was nothing per se wrong with the way she was written, but as a reader I couldn’t engage with her. I’m sure there will be many readers who feel very differently.

Without giving too much away, I also felt as if the ending was a bit “safe”, and shied away from what might have been quite a pleasingly disturbing conclusion.

All in all, this was an all-too-believable version of the future, with (I think) far too much going on in it. I would still recommend it to anyone who would like to prepare themselves for the post-Trumpian hellscape.

Louise CAV ReviewsReviewed by Louise

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The Mothers – Brit Bennett

Rating: 5 stars

the mothers.jpgIf you read one book this year (assuming you still have enough time – it is nearly Christmas), make it Brit Bennett’s The Mothers. The Mothers tells the story of a close-knit African-American Christian community, and centres around the lives of two women within it, Nadia and Aubrey. It relates Nadia’s teenage romance with the local pastor’s son Luke, and the pregnancy, abortion and cover-up that result from it.

It’s a contemporary novel, dealing with a number of difficult issues, but it has a lightness of touch, a complexity and a sensitivity that mean that the story and characters dominate, and it doesn’t feel moralising (perhaps because it’s not).

The Mothers is a story centred on women and their place in a small community, and though it focuses on two relationships with men – Nadia and Aubrey’s with Luke, and Nadia’s with her father – these relationships don’t dominate, and what emerges as the most significant and enduring relationship is that between Nadia and Aubrey.

I would strongly recommend this book to anyone. Although women are the main players, and a lot of it focuses on female experience, it’s a book that ranges widely and touches all areas of society. It’s also pacy and engaging. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. If you haven’t already read it, read it right now. I promise you won’t regret it.

Louise CAV ReviewsReviewed by Louise

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