The Top 5 Books I Read in 2016

The Top 5 Books I Read in 2016

Ah the holidays. A wonderful time of year, filled with fun, festivities and as many arbitrary and pointless lists as your brain can handle. As dumb as Top 10 lists actually are, there’s something to them, something that even I can’t escape. It’s like those stupid clickbait articles, where you have to click on the link to see which celebrities had a sex change and you don’t know why you’re doing it, but in that moment – that one pre-click moment – you realise that your entire life has been leading up to this point and all you want from now on is indeed to know which celebrities got a sex change. It’s a primal guttural urge. And even though you know, that website’s probably gonna give you malware you have to do it.

Of course Top 10 lists are good for reflection, but every time I read one, I feel it’s probably best experienced by the person who wrote it. This is precisely because they are good for reflection. As the writer, the structured list helps you to organise your thoughts – create your own time capsule of the year – one that you can come back to forever…or at least until Google gets drunk on power and burns the internet down.

So yeah, that’s my long-winded way of saying I’m probably writing this for myself more than you. And I hope that by establishing that upfront, this whole thing is going to feel slightly less masturbatory. But for anyone who does want to wrench their eyes through this list, I guess I better try and make it entertaining. So we’re going to lay down some ground rules here. Because nothing is more entertaining than rules.

This is the Top 5 books I read in 2016. That’s because I actually didn’t read that many books that came out in 2016. I mean, that truly would be a pointless list. Secondly, we’re only going to give an author one slot. Mainly because I don’t want this list to be dominated by Sarah Lotz (although that is a list I could truly get behind). And finally, original review scores are going to be thrown out the window. There’s a few review scores I look back on that I gave, but don’t ring true to how I feel now. Also, if I was just going to list the top 5 from my review scores I wouldn’t have to think about it. It’s just numbers at that point.

Alright, I think we’re ready. So with no further ado, here are the top 5 books I read in 2016:

 

Honourable Mentions: Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin (for being a hyped-up novel that actually kinda lived up to the hype), Skios by Michael Frayn (for being an entertaining farce novel) and Animal Farm by George Orwell (of course this would win best book really, but that would be unfair.)

 

5. In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

in-a-dark-dark-wood-cover

In a Dark Dark Wood took me by surprise towards the start of this year. In many ways it’s an unremarkable story. A hen party weekend in the middle of a wood goes south when the groom-to-be gets murdered. It’s a classic whodunit but it’s told really well. Ware crafts a great debut using familiar tropes of the genre to tell a solid story.

It’s old-school. A confined location. A limited set of suspects. It has echoes of a Christie novel. The protagonist, Nora, is flawed and convincing – the novel’s greatest strength, as the outsider who gets invited to her old friend’s hen party weekend. The novel explores themes of darkness, not just in the wood that surrounds the house, but in the characters themselves.

It’s not going to blow you away, but In a Dark Dark Wood is a really solid novel. It’s a shame Ware’s second novel The Woman in Cabin 10 burned up a lot of the goodwill I had for her.

 

4. The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

tkwk

The Kind Worth Killing is about a guy called Ted and a plot to kill his cheating wife. At an airport bar, he meets the mysterious Lily, who agrees to help him. One of the beautiful things about this book is how simply it starts, and how quickly it manages to ramp up.

Another big part of The Kind Worth Killing is something I wasn’t able to mention in my review. And I don’t really want to mention it here either. See, The Kind Worth Killing is more three interconnected novellas, than a novel as a whole. Ted’s plight is only Part One. Two thirds of the novel are fantastic, and although the final part seems to get ahead of itself and trip over it’s own feet, it doesn’t affect my overall enjoyment.

The Kind Worth Killing is worth reading….

 

 

…Yougedit?

 

 

3. Slade House by David Mitchell

slade-house

So I ended up not reviewing Slade House, mainly because I read it while doing Christmas hours at work. By the time I got a day off to review it, it seemed like the moment had passed. I tend to write a review the second I finish a book so it’s fresh. That was why Slade House fell off.

But that doesn’t mean Slade House isn’t great. A horror novel by David Mitchell, Slade House is about an old quaint manor house that cannot possibly exist. Accessible only through a small door in a dark alley, Slade House sits on land that was built over decades ago. Anyone who sets foot on the grounds of the manor is doomed to be the meals of two powerful entities, Norah and Jonah, a brother and sister who have found the secret of immortality.

Slade House reignited my interest in horror fiction, providing a set of vignettes about the various victims to fall prey of Norah and Jonah’s facades. It’s not perfect in any way, but I found it to be a enthralling and captivating read.

And it’s real spooky.

 

2. The Burning Air by Erin Kelly

the-burning-air

The Burning Air was the first book I read this year. And it was almost the best. The Burning Air is a brutal revenge story centered around one family and their secrets. It’s beautifully written, packing in an insane amount of content in a way other authors rarely manage. There’s something almost An Inspector Calls-ish about the unfurling of the mystery, which sees the reader spending years with the characters. By the end, they almost feel like your own family. Which makes the final act all the more tense.

The Burning Air is a standard length novel, but it’s so rich and detailed that it feels a lot longer (in a really good way though). And the title actually makes sense after you’ve read it.

Simply put, The Burning Air is phenomenal.

 

1. Day Four by Sarah Lotz

day four

Hot damn, Sarah Lotz is an amazing writer. Her high-concept, multi-layered novels had me giddy with excitement when I found them in the middle of the year. Her debut, The Three, was a world-encompassing science fiction thriller about creepy children that inexplicably survived separate plane crashes. It was fantastic, but Lotz’s follow-up Day Four just edged it.

In Day Four, the passengers on a cruise ship start to come down with a mysterious illness. Through the eyes of five protagonists, we see the horror unfold as the ship’s engines fail and the situation goes from bad to worse. Toying with sci-fi horror elements, Day Four can be deeply unsettling.

The best part? Day Four exists in the same universe as The Three, and the story manages to tie itself in with the events of it’s predecessor.  It seems that Lotz is laying the groundwork for something big. Even bigger than the end of Day Four which is pretty mind-blowing in it’s own right.

Sarah Lotz’s writing and storytelling excited me in a way nothing else did in 2016. It speaks to me as a reader and as a writer. Ratchet everything up to 11 straight away for maximum entertainment and fun. The Three and Day Four are massively entertaining and it’s easy to tell that Lotz is having a great time writing it.

Day Four is, without question, my favourite book of 2016.

 

And there we have it. But the festivities aren’t over. Tomorrow, I will be braving the garbage fire and looking at the 5 worst books I read in 2016 and oh boy, is it a doozy!

City Crime 2016 Anthology By Various Review – A Book of Chapter Ones

City Crime 2016 Anthology By Various Review – A Book of Chapter Ones

img_1743

So I just finished reading the City Crime 2016 Anthology and of course this isn’t really a review. If nothing else, there’s a rather significant conflict of interest here… seeing as I wrote 1/16th of it. See, this isn’t a book you’ll ever read. You’ve never seen it before and you’ll never see it again. You’ll never read what’s inside. But for at least 16 people (myself included) this book means something. It represents a significant part of our lives. Hundreds and thousands of hours of work. Two years of hard graft. Working and reworking and reworking until we forgot what we were doing in the first place. Sixteen novels that are, at the very least, complete.

For the last two years, I have been sitting a Masters in Creative Writing (Crime) at City University London. Before that I had written three novels, all of which were comedies. The first was called Sculpture to a Block of Marble and was inspired by my school life. No one’ll ever see it, because I pretty much copied the style of Joshua Ferris’ And Then We Came To The End. (I never told my family that. They just thought I was being clever) It was also slightly more depressing than I intended. The other two – The Dog That Turned Into A Cat and Amateurs are actually available to read and they’re about a heartbroken young boy taking drastic measures to protect himself and my observations about being part of an amateur theatre group respectively. They’re not phenomenal by any means, and I wouldn’t necessarily advise seeking them out. But they’re things what I did. So I guess that’s a good thing.

Starting the MA course was interesting because I had to totally switch genre. Turns out, it wasn’t so hard. I think because one of the key components of my comedy was parody and satire, aping concepts and aspects of other genres. So maybe at the start, I was basically parodying crime fiction, just without the jokes. But quickly enough I was actually writing crime, something which I had only read before. I started to use my love of Christie and Conan Doyle (and my inherent love of showing off) to craft something impossible. It’s brash, it’s a little silly, but it’s (at least I hope) a lot of fun. A high-concept thriller called Dead Room, a novel which takes place (almost) entirely in one hotel room. To quote an agent I recently had a conversation with, it’s ‘Saw meets And Then There Were None’ (or at least it will be in a few edits time) I did four drafts of Dead Room during the course, each clocking in at around 80,000 words. I probably poured at least 500 hours into each. That’s a big thing. At times, I was spending more time with my fictional characters than I was actual humans.

Why am I telling you all this? It’s just an example. The anthology is the collection of the starts of all sixteen students’ novels. That’s sixteen stories like mine. Not the novels. The stories behind the stories. Sixteen two years. And what we made of them. And the anthology also represents whats to come. Sixteen potential careers. Some of us will keep trying. Some of us will give up. Some of us will keep writing for the joy of it. And some of us might never write again> Some of us might even get published. So this is truly a book of chapter ones. A book of beginnings. But they’re not necessarily the beginnings on the pages.

That’s what I feel when I look at this book. This big dumb book that won’t mean a thing to most people. A sense of pride – not just for me but for everyone. And I wish everyone all the luck in the world, because the number one thing I learnt on the MA is that getting published is damn hard. Sometimes it’s not just about writing talent. There’s a lot of luck involved, a good sense of timing, sending off to the right agent in the light of a full moon after sacrificing a lamb atop a mountain. We need all the luck we can get.

What does this mean for you, reader? Nothing really. I’m going to continue running this blog with the bald-faced passion that I hope sufficiently comes across. And every time I tear someone’s work apart just remember I would only expect the same for my own book. And remember that I love fiction. I love it so much I want it to be better. I want every book to earn it’s right to be essential. Because when it comes down to it, stories are the best human invention. And I enjoy every one of them.

 

 

Even Rush of Blood by Mark Billingham.

 

 

Which was fucking shite.

The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey Review – Zombies!!! (I guess…)

The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey Review – Zombies!!! (I guess…)

girl-gifts

So I’ve just finished reading The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey and for about 99% of the novel, I despised it. The first thing your eyes are probably drawn to on the cover is the woefully misguided phrase ‘The Most Original Thriller You’ll Read This Year’ above the title. I was questioning this sentiment throughout the entire thing and going ‘Really? Fucking really?’ Did marketing have to skimp on printing costs and cut a U and an N from the front of the word Original. Maybe it was all about cover symmetry – like the extra letters threw it off-centre creating a more displeasing composition? Now, I get this phrase is kinda worthless because it doesn’t have quotation marks around it – therefore it was just thought up by some marketing arsehole. But still ‘Really? Fucking really?’

Because you see The Girl With All The Gifts is another one of those zombie novels. And in my opinion, anything with zombies in it lost it’s right to call itself original around about 2010. Zombies are everywhere, penetrating every part of our culture, be it film, television, books, or video games – so much so that it can sometimes feel like we’re living in some kind of zombie invasion ourselves. Let’s take a look at some of the most egregious examples of things with zombies in, shall we my lovelies?

You got Plants Vs ZombiesiZombie (a TV show about a zombie detective). Warm Bodies (a story about zombies who fall in love). Pride and Prejudice and Zombies the book. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies the movie. Cockneys Vs ZombiesWorld War Z the film (which trashed the book to make a completely generic film). Call of Duty: Zombies Mode. Marvel Comics: Zombies miniseries (with a zombie Spider-Man). The UK government’s Zombie Defence Plan (it’s real). Fear The Walking Dead (a bad TV show spin off of a bad TV show). Those bath salts from America that make you want to eat people’s faces (also real). And whatever Resident Evil film they’re up to now. My point is that zombies have lost whatever horror or shock value they once had. They’re just incredibly old hat and kinda dumb. So much so that even the people writing these things are starting to see how silly they are – and you know that they’re usually the last to figure it out.

To bring this back to The Girl With All The Gifts what I found was a mostly generic and rather dull zombie story that not only used the concepts of a traditional zombie story, but also hit all the supplementary beats you would expect. For example, the not calling zombies zombies cliche (they are called ‘hungries’ here). Of course this whole thing comes with a giant asterisk, in that in the final 1% of the book The Girl With All The Gifts delivers an ending that is very interesting and recontextualises some of the major things that came before it. It’s sad that a little more of that intrigue and ingenuity couldn’t have been spread throughout, because I don’t think it’s worth wading through the preceding 450 pages to get to it.

The Girl With All The Gifts follows Melanie, a child who is imprisoned in a military camp. Every day, she gets strapped into a chair and taken to a classroom, with other children similarly restrained. A teacher comes in to give the children a lesson, and if it’s a lucky day it’s a woman called Miss Justineau. Melanie likes Mrs Justineau the most, because she is kind and loving and tells them the best stories. But quickly we find out that this isn’t a regular class and these aren’t regular kids – they’re half zombie and are on the base to be experimented on by sinister scientist Dr Caroline Caldwell. Justineau regularly argues with Caldwell about the treatment of the children, while Caldwell and armyman Seargent Parks remain resolute – the children are monsters. But when the base gets invaded by a swarm of zombies, Justineau and Melanie find themselves thrust together with Caldwell, Parks and armyboy Gallagher as they flee, having to fight for survival beyond the base’s walls.

The idea of human-hybrid-zombies is not particularly new, and the idea of a child being the cure is even less so, but The Girl With All The Gifts does explore the idea a bit more in-depth than most. Melanie has to come to terms with the fact that she is not human, and that she will most likely knaw her favourite teacher’s face off is she got the chance. Melanie is an interesting character, but her arc wavers a bit too much, treading water until a final gutpunch. And that’s a big problem with The Girl With All The Gifts. Characters don’t really change and they’re all rather one note. Melanie loves Mrs Justineau. Mrs Justineau will do anything to protect Melanie. Caldwell will sacrifice anything in the name of science. Parks is a proud man bound to his station. Gallagher is a scaredy cat. That’s all you really need to know.

Another big issue with The Girl With All The Gifts ties into an even bigger one. I don’t like the writing at all. The opening chapters relinquish any type of nuance or subtlety, feeling like Carey is shouting the story into your ear and making sure you ‘get it’. The question of what the children are is resolved quickly, where it could have been left in the wind for a while, leaving readers to puzzle it out. There’s a terrible early chapter where Caldwell and Justineau have a conversation about the zombie virus which screams ‘EXPOSITION’. It doesn’t get much better either. All this added up to me being extremely bored while reading The Girl With All The Gifts. I wasn’t given anything to emotionally or cognitively challenge me. The entire story was laid out for me, and I didn’t have to do any of the work, leading to it all feeling dull as dishwater.

Carey chooses to tell the story in a rather bizarre way. We get present tense and an omniscient narrator. We’re constantly popping around character’s head willy nilly, bouncing around like a goddamn pinball machine. I don’t like pinball so this was a problem for me. One minute we’re inside Melanie’s head and then we’re inside Parks’ head and then we’re inside Justineau’s head. And that’s without any chapter or paragraph breaks. And this happens all throughout the novel, leading to the problem that I don’t actually know who the main character of this story is. Is it Justineau – as she tries to shield Melanie from the world? Is it Caldwell – who is hellbent on understanding the virus? Is it Melanie – because she’s the one mentioned in the blurb? Probably  – but I don’t know for sure.

The characters sometimes get a little annoying. Seeing as they don’t really have arcs or any kind of complex emotional tapestry, they seem to end up repeating themselves a lot. Justineau is a particular sufferer of this, as she complains every single time Parks wants to tie Melanie up – because you know, she’s a zombie. Justineau gets so goddamn annoying, that any sympathies for her character go out the window, and that’s ironic seeing as I wish someone had thrown her out the window. Yes, there is an argument for Justineau’s blind loyalty being essential during the late-game but it still doesn’t make it any better while experiencing it. Just shut up, Justineau. Shut up. Even when Melanie’s like ‘Yeah you should tie me up, I am a motherfucking zombie after all.’ Justineau still complains. Arrrgh!

The Girl With All The Gifts trundles along to a conclusion that, in some ways, it doesn’t earn. But to be entirely fair, it’s definitely neat (although I probably wouldn’t go as far as ‘cool’). Everything you’d think would be in this zombie book is here – people getting bitten and contemplating their existence as they slowly turn, self-sacrifice, a tense trip into a zombie-populated area, a clear set-up of the zombie ‘rules’ and a terribly shoe-horned in romantic subplot because fuck it, right? There are neat things in The Girl With All The Gifts but unless you really love zombies, it’s not worth reading it to find them.

This might be the first and last time I ever say this, but if you really want to consume The Girl With All The Gifts I would probably just go and see the film instead. I haven’t seen it but I assume it’ll follow the story, and you can’t stop a film in the cinema. Like it’s just going to keep going in front of your eyeballs, and you can’t put it down like a book.

 

In Short…

The Girl With All The Gifts is an underwhelming and frequently annoying zombie tale that doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself from the crowd. Yes, it’s got a girl who’s half zombie in it, but that’s not enough to combat every time this novel falls back into cliche. One dimensional characters have the same conversations over and over, or worse they drop heavy-handed exposition to anyone who’ll listen. The ending is interesting and offers up some questions – it’s just sad that the rest of the novel couldn’t be imbued with that spirit.

 

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS by M.R. CAREY

3.5/10

 

The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle Review – The Dirtbag Chronicles

The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle Review – The Dirtbag Chronicles

the-good-liar

So I’ve just finished reading The Good Liar by Nichloas Searle and it ain’t no lie (huh, huh???) to say that it’s pretty alright. The Good Liar is the first book I’ve read for this blog since getting a new job so I digested it (comparatively to the other books I’ve reviewed) rather slowly. Reading a chapter here and there on lunch breaks probably did the book a lot of favours, as looking back, if I’d read it all in one day, I doubt it would have left much of an impact. But as I consumed it, The Good Liar was a sufficiently intriguing and compelling read. Even if there are some caveats.

The Good Liar follows an old conman called Roy Courtenay who’s out to do one last con before he retires. He meets a woman, Betty, on a dating site and then organises a date. The two hit it off and begin a relationship. But Roy only has eyes for her money. So why is Betty making it so easy for him to get it?

The Good Liar has two narrative strands – the first is in the present day where Roy is planning his last con, and the second is in a backwards past where we see Roy’s life before his current conquest, and learn how he became such a bastard. In the present narrative, we also see things from Betty’s point of view as things become a little more than they first seem.

The main issue with The Good Liar is that it’s way too predictable. You can easily guess the thrust of the narrative from the blurb alone, and it’s an age old story – the conman getting conned. Betty is not what she first seems (because of course she’s not) and Roy’s plan is not as secure as he would like to think (because of course it’s not). If the story acknowledged this at the start, it would have been fine but it’s not totally upfront with it, placing the reader ahead of the narrative for much of the novel. If it had owned what it was at the start, I feel it would have been better off.

Of course, ‘why’ is still a mystery, and The Good Liar keeps it’s box of secrets well. And it was definitely compelling to try and puzzle out what was happening. In Roy’s past, we see, theoretically at least, what happens to make him such a dirtbag. But I felt that Roy, as a character, was pretty much fully formed from the start. It’s hard to go into it without spoilers but Roy doesn’t really have an arc…at all. He was always a dirtbag. He is still a dirtbag. There isn’t much to find out, which makes the past chapters a little dull. He cons people – that’s pretty much the sum of all of it. Eventually things hot up as Roy’s origins are revealed, but still it feels a little slow and flat because there’s nothing changing.

Of course, Roy is a horrible person. And as the novel goes along, he only gets worse. So our protagonist turns out to be our antagonist. And our ‘antagonist’ (to Roy) being Betty, turns out to be our protagonist I guess… It’s just a weirdly shifting story where we don’t really get enough of a grip on any of the characters. I guess what I mean is that it feels rather thin.

I don’t think The Good Liar is as clever as it thinks it is. As most of the books I’ve reviewed in 2016, I compare it to The Burning Air by Erin Kelly, a novel that has similar themes of revenge and anger over generations. That novel felt so rich – there was so much content in it, so much story. The Good Liar by comparison feels too light, too obvious. Even the title, The Good Liar, is a bit bland and bleugh.

Saying all that though, I can’t pretend I didn’t enjoy The Good Liar. The mystery kept me intrigued enough to see it through to the end, and every lunch break I was, at the very least, compelled to see what was going on with Roy and Betty. If anything, when things ramp up towards the end, it seems to lose some of it’s charm. But still, The Good Liar was a competent and interesting novel.

 

In Short…

The Good Liar is a good lunch break read over a few weeks. You don’t have to think about it too much and you don’t have to retain much information. But The Good Liar never manages to elevate itself much beyond that. It’s rather too obvious and rather too plain – even when it attempts to shock. The tale of a conman being conned is just that… and that’s fine I guess, as long as you don’t expect anything better than that.

 

THE GOOD LIAR by NICHOLAS SEARLE

6/10

 

 

 

 

Born Scared by Kevin Brooks Review – Absolutely Everything

Born Scared by Kevin Brooks Review – Absolutely Everything

Thank you to Netgalley and Egmont Publishing for sending me an advance copy of Born Scared for review…

born scared

So I’ve just finished reading Born Scared by Kevin Brooks and initially it was pretty good, in a kind of surface way. The novel seemed to be channelling Home Alone but also making it into something less goofy and more affecting. Unfortunately, just as the novel casts off this homage it turns into something unwieldy, shoving pointless characters into the narrative with an almost gleeful abandon. Born Scared turns into a bit of a mess. Which is a shame because there was definitely something there at one point.

 

Born Scared follows Elliot, a boy who has been scared of absolutely everything ever since he was born. People, animals, cars…even colours seem to scare the bejezzuz out of him and nothing seems to help. He lives out his life in his bedroom shielding himself from the world, only interacting with his mum and his imaginary twin sister, Ellamay. Well, she’s not totally imaginary but she is dead. Ellamay (as Elliot names her) died soon after birth while Elliot survived, and he believes she talks to him in an otherworldly way.

Born Scared takes place on Christmas Eve. Elliot has been put on an anti-anxiety pill, which either actually works or works as a placebo (it’s never really stated and it’s never really important to the story). Moloxetine keeps the fear beast at bay, but due to a cock-up at the pharmacy Elliot finds himself dangerously close to running out of pills. Events transpire and Elliot’s mother has to leave him home alone to go and get the pills. But Mum’s been gone way too long and Elliot has to deal with the prospect of leaving his home to go and find her.

You may not be getting too many Home Alone vibes from that summary, because Born Scared has a parallel plot going on, with two seemingly inept criminals in a van both dressed as Santa Claus scoping out a house. It’s really weird, and it’s not initially clear how this affects the main plotline, especially when it starts intentionally confusing the reader (at least I hope it was intentional). Because the house they’re scoping out isn’t Elliot’s, and the woman they’ve been talking about while in the van is not Elliot’s mother…

Which is the main problem with Born Scared. The abundance of characters gets almost comical at times because by the end, I didn’t really know who the story was meant to be about. Of course, the answer is Elliot – and he is the strongest and most interesting character. But it’s also about these guys, Jenner and Dake, in the van. And then it seems to be also about this guy called Gordon. And then an old couple in a car. And then it’s a little bit about this woman called Kaylee. And then it’s about Shirley. And Grace, Elliot’s mum. And who can forget Officer Annie Hobbes?

Yes, all the characters I just named have their own point of view chapters in Born Scared. And I’m probably forgetting some. Yeah, it’s a little ridiculous. Especially by the later stages of the novel where different point of views are used in the same chapter. The story gets so fragmented and confusing, that I found myself having to read things over several times to actually understand who was being talked about. And I think I’m correct by saying that this story is meant to be about Elliot. And it’s just really frustrating when it’s not. Because I don’t care about Gordon, or Officer Annie Hobbes (definitely the most egregious of the bunch) and it doesn’t seem like we’re meant to. The other characters just serve to take time away from Elliot, who is the biggest strength of this novel.

Unfortunately, as Born Scared skips around characters, it also highlights a few fumbles in the writing. Elliot’s chapters are told from a first person viewpoint in the present tense whilst everyone else is told in third person past tense. This isn’t too bad when each character has their own chapter, but when the viewpoints quickly switch in the final third of the novel, the effect is something like tense whiplash. The story is both existing in the present and past simultaneously and it’s just really confusing.

Born Scared surprised me, but not in a good way. The small tale of a boy with his fears is great, and the first 30%ish of the novel is really solid, but it just becomes something of a jumble. I really didn’t know what to make of it by the end. I felt like Brooks wanted to make me feel something about characters he hadn’t even introduced me to. And Elliot’s journey was just totally lost. Which is kinda sad.

In Short…

Born Scared starts strong, but quickly manages to unravel. The tale of a scared little boy overcoming his illness should have been just that, but an unnecessary amount of minor characters and sub-plots drown it in a flurry of words and tenses. It all adds up to make Born Scared an unbalanced and unfortunate novel which should have been a lot more.

 

BORN SCARED by KEVIN BROOKS

3.5/10

The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent Review – Pulped Fiction

The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent Review – Pulped Fiction

the reader

So I’ve just finished reading The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent and it was perfectly okay. I definitely enjoyed it while I was reading it, but I also understood that it was the lightest of light entertainment. Indeed, The Reader on the 6.27 is literally light (it’s just shy of 200 pages) but also figuratively so, with no real standout moments or characters. It was the equivalent of a little literary snack – fairly enjoyable at the time but of little consequence in the end. I have no doubt that someday (sooner rather than later) I’ll have forgotten all about it.

The Reader on the 6.27 follows Guylain Vignolles, a man living a rather boring and unsatisfactory life. He works in a book pulping plant, where everyday he sees thousands of novels get murdered and smushed into a pulp in a vast and unrelenting machine called the Zerstor. His only source of escapism (other than his esteemed goldfish) is the 6.27 train into work, where he pulls out pages of different, ill fated novels that he has rescued from the machine and reads them out loud to the train carriage. He starts to become known for this, and he often finds he has a captive audience who can’t wait to hear disjointed bits of prose on the morning commute. The actual plot of Reader begins when Guylain finds a memory stick on the train one day which happens to contain the diary of Julie, a young woman who is similarly bewildered by life. Guylain starts to read out pieces of her diary, and soon becomes infatuated with her, resolving that he must find her.

It is interesting getting to know Guylain and seeing his life at the pulping plant. There are a few oddball characters there that liven things up, and there are a few sections which have some nice imagery or implications. Exemplifying them would take away from the best reason to read this novel however, so I’m not going to do it. It is good that the general writing is enjoyable enough, because the first beat of the ‘plot’ doesn’t actually happen till 100 pages in, when Guylain finds Julie’s diary.

I also have a pretty major gripe with this too. The finding of the diary was glossed over in the blurb on the back of the book, and it wasn’t told how and where Guylain found it. Therefore, I assumed that Guylain would find the diary as being a result of (a) him working in the pulping plant or (b) him reading on the train. When you think of a novel as cause and effect, one of these two has to be the case. I thought, personally, Guylain would find the diary in a pile of books ready to be pulped, thus tying everything together. But no, Guylain finds the diary on a memory stick, which doesn’t really have to do with much of anything. Yes, he finds it on the train, but that doesn’t really mean much either. He could have found it anywhere, and it wouldn’t have made any difference. Therefore, there’s no real central ‘thing’ tying this novel together. The two elements – the pulping/the reading and then the diary – exist separate from each other and it feels very disjointed.

It’s just all very nice, really. There’s not much else to it. There’s no sharp edge to it, there’s no deep philosophy (at least not one worth seeking). It’s just nice. And it’s also short, which may be the source of many of it’s problems. If I had more time to get to know Guylain and his friends, something may have sparked. I read Reader in about 3 ½ hours so I can’t really not recommend it. Because I come back to what I said at the start of the review. It was enjoyable at the time. And I guess that’s good, right?

 

In Short…

The Reader on the 6.27 is a novel that suffers from it’s brevity. The brief glimpse into the life of Guylain Vignolles really doesn’t feel substantial enough to leave a lasting impression. If it was a bit beefier, both in length and scope, there could have really been something special in it. However, Reader feels like it’s over before it’s begun, leading to a tale that is nice enough while it’s occurring, but feels of little consequence in the end.

 

THE READER ON THE 6.27 by JEAN-PAUL DIDIERLAURENT

5/10

 

Zero K by Don Delillo Review – Cryo-Sleep

Zero K by Don Delillo Review – Cryo-Sleep

zero k

So I’ve just finished Zero K by Don Delillo and am quite relieved to put it down. Although the novel is only 270ish pages long, it felt a hell of a lot longer. Over the few days I was reading it, it seemed to hang over me like a fog – a weighty idea-laden fog that wouldn’t let up. By the end of the novel, I was left questioning why I read it in the first place. Because, this novel was clearly not for me. The trouble is, apart from fusty award bodies and people who drink cognac in bathtubs, I have no idea who it actually is for.

In Zero K, we follow Jeffrey Lockhart, a man who has a billionaire for a father. Ross Lockhart is the primary investor of a secret scientific compound, where various doctors and physicians are looking into the possibility of placing bodies in cryostasis until cures for their diseases are found. Ross’ wife, and Jeffrey’s step-mother, Artis is dying and she is ready to undergo the treatment herself. Ross and Jeffrey meet at the compound to see her off, and Jeffrey is exposed to many questions about his, and everyone else’s, humanity.

The word ‘literary’ cannot begin to describe Zero K. If you were at all intrigued by the science fiction-esque plot, there’s no way you won’t be disappointed. The plot exists solely as a springboard for the ideas that Delillo wants to discuss. And you gosh-darn bet he wants to discuss them in detail. As such, not much really happens. It’s a shame, because in the little moments where Zero K does decide to concern itself with what is actually happening, it becomes really interesting. But these moments are incredibly few.

Zero K suffers from being flat, with a painful pace. There’s never an escalation, a turn, a rhythm. It’s all just slow and meditative, with characters talking their musings and musing their talkings out loud. The actual setting of the compound seems fascinating, and little details were interesting. Early on, it, along with subject matter, reminded me of the (bloody awesome) film Ex Machina, as Jeffrey is issued a key card that only allows him into certain rooms. However where Ex Machina explored its idea through characterisation and skillful plot, Zero K merely presents Delillo’s ideas plainly and directly.

Characters are all the same. Jeffrey is the same as Ross is the same as Artis is the same as a randomer Jeffrey meets in a walled garden. Every character is a philosopher, waxing lyrical about the meaning of life, talking only in metaphor-laden soliloquy, sometimes with another character if they happen to meet each other. None of these characters seem to actually have conversations. They merely talk at the same time. Characterisation is a foreign concept here. It seems to have been discarded, something Delillo decided not to include. Not of his concern.

It’s just all droll, one-note. Concepts come and go before your eyes. There’s nothing to ground them, make them relatable. We are offered up bizarre and confusing imagery and then expected to contextualise it in the proper way. And most of the time, this is mixed in to a scene – so it’s hard to work out what is actually going on, as opposed to what is happening in someone’s head. Zero K has the literary staple – ‘A Novel’ – just to remind the reader. This is actually needed here, as Zero K reads more like Delillo’s personal dream journal.

Zero K had me intrigued when I read the blurb, but I can’t help feeling it was a rather serious case of false advertising. The threadbare plot sags under the weight of so many themes and images. It’s hard to find your way around inside its pages. Never have I read a book where the ideas presented seem so baffling, but also incredibly laboured at the same time.

 

In Short…

Zero K is a rather impenetrable look at the science fiction concept of cryostasis, dealing with life, death and the bit inbetween. Where the novel could have introduced many of the concepts it tackles through the plot, Delillo seems largely unconcerned with such a device. Some good ideas and imagery cannot combat dry, unrealistic characters and a plodding tone. All this adds up to make Zero K a rather dull affair indeed.

 

ZERO K by DON DELILLO

3/10