I kicked off 2018 with some banging books. Let’s dig into ’em!
Reincarnation Blues, Michael Poore
I loved this book. Like, head over heels, completely smitten, symphony orchestra playing whimsy music in the background kind of love. It’s about an old soul called Milo who has lived 9995 lives and has just 5 more available to reach perfection, lest his soul be destined for nothingness. Oh, and he’s also in love with Death, who goes by the name Suzie. And It has everything.
It’s a grand, sweeping love story, but it also offers up a wonderful interpretation of the afterlife and I love me a book that explores ideas of what faces us on the other side. Each life Milo lives takes us to a new world, and some of them are set in the future with a generous dose of sci-fi, while others are set in the past and offer a tantalising glimpse of days gone by.
It’s funny and its poignant. It’s heartwarming and heartbreaking. It’s dark and brutally violent in some places, and light and upliftingly fun in others. It makes you think about your own existence and question your life’s purpose and actions. And it’s all written just so beautifully that it made me go “THIS. I WANT TO WRITE LIKE THIS.”
It’s rare that I find books I wholly dislike. I’m an easy person to please when it comes to stories, or at least I like to think, and I usually come away from reading a book feeling satisfied. But every now and again a book comes along and smacks me round the face with its brilliance and reminds me why I want to write and why story-telling is such a wonderful thing. That’s exactly what this book did.
If you like the weird and wonderful, if you like your genres to intertwine, if you like epic tales about extraordinary characters, read this bloody book.
Devil’s Day, Andrew Michael Hurley
Stories about folklore and superstition always have me hooked, so I was incredibly intrigued when I read the blurb for Devil’s Day. The story is told by John Pentecost, a recently married man who returns periodically to the wild Lancashire farmland, known as the Endlands, upon which he grew up. On this particularly occasion, he returns with his new wife for Devil’s Day, a ritual which has occurred yearly for generations to keep the Devil from harming the farm’s sheep. They say that the devil moves around from person to person and animal to animal, wreaking havoc upon the Endlands as he goes. With a recent death in the family, John feels the pull of family ties and responsibility to keep the devil at bay, while his wife is simply terrified of the place.
Andrew Michael Hurley does a wonderful job of blending legend and folktlore with reality, so you’re never quite sure what is real and what isn’t. So many of the devil’s exploits and the strange goings on at the Endlands could have perfectly normal explanations, but titbits of information, off-hand comments, and snippets of conversations manage to convince you that there is something more sinister loitering upon the moors. Not only that, but the whole tone of the book is so melancholy and sinister that you can feel the constant unease and worry that the Endlands’ inhabitants must be permanently faced with.
My only complaint with Devil’s Day is that the pacing feels a little off. The first two-thirds of the book were incredibly heavy on backstory, with very little gripping action. While written gorgeously and with plenty of rich, vivid imagery of the rugged Lancashire landscape, there were times that I felt like nothing was ever really going to happen. The action picks up towards the second half and that’s where the suspense really kicks in, but then it seems all the juicy action is crammed into the final third. Then, all of a sudden, everything is resolved. Some aspects of the resolution I found unbelievable too, but I won’t go into them lest I risk spoiling things.
Overall, Devil’s Day is a wonderful read and utterly mesmerising in places. However, if you want fast-paced, non-stop action, it probably isn’t for you.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman
You know when you hear so much hype about a book that you’re desperate to read it, but also worried that you won’t love it as much everyone else? That’s how I felt about Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Luckily, it met all the expectations that had been set for it and I absolutely adored it. It was tough to put down, not because it was crammed full of gripping action, but because the protagonist’s voice is mesmerising. Eleanor Oliphant’s only friend is vodka. Her mother is vile, her colleagues are rude, and she’s in love with a man she’s never met. However, her lonely routine is altered for the better when she makes a new friend. It’s a simple premise, but Eleanor’s story is not.
Eleanor’s voice is fresh, funny, and completely charming. Don’t get me wrong – Eleanor herself can be far from charming, but I think this made me love her all the more. At times she’s so socially oblivious that she’s downright insulting, but it was important for her to be unlikeable at times so that we understand how she has come to be so ostracised and cut off from her community.
This is one of those books that has harrowing, deeply emotional moments, but is also unbelievably uplifting at the very same time. It ends on a positive note, but we don’t witness Eleanor walking off into the sunset with a man on her arm and a troupe of newfound best friends on her heels. Instead, we see the journey she is yet to make to become her best self, and feel confident that she is going to succeed. It’s the kind of book that wraps you up in a big hug and makes you cherish human kindness and the love of your friends.
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
I’m doing my best to work my way through some modern classics, because it feels important (to me, at least) to read important books. There’s no doubt that The Handmaid’s Tale is an important book, particularly in world which, at times, feels like its going backwards rather than forwards. Its terrifying to think that we could end up in a position like that of the women in Atwood’s most famous dystopian novel. However, I don’t think I really felt as terrified as I should have done as I read it.
In my opinion, too little was explained about why and how the Gileadean era came about for me to think “Oh shit, this could happen to me.” I understand that many of the elements of Atwood’s story are a reflection of real events and political situations that have occurred throughout the world. Ultimately though, I think it would have resonated with me far more if the book was set at the time when everything changed and women were being stripped of their rights. We do see some of this process when the protagonist, Offred, reflects on them, but personally, I wanted more. I wasn’t satisfied by the fictional Historical Notes which closed off the story, either; it felt like a rushed, ‘easy’ way to give Offred’s story some context, without really giving us much context at all.
Saying that, some moments in the book really resonated with me, such as when Offred reflects on the moment that she was fired from her job and lost control of her bank account. She described how her husband assured her he would look after her, which made her wonder if he may actually enjoy the fact that she was dependent upon him. Then, she wondered if she was simply paranoid and jumping to terrible conclusions about her husband’s nature. It gave a stark insight into the way in which an imbalance of power such as that one could change a relationship in an instant.
Ultimately, I loved the concept of The Handmaid’s Tale, but I think Atwood’s writing style isn’t for me. I felt that the story was too caught up in Offred’s repetitive thoughts, worries, and desperate hopes for change. All of this is important, of course, but I felt it dragged the pace of the story almost to a halt in places. I was far more interested in seeing the ins and outs of why and how she was in the position she was. It’s a personal thing, I guess; loved the dismaying dystopian setting, but the execution just wasn’t to my taste. I will certainly be reading more of Atwood though, so the jury’s still out.
The Restaurant, Adil Rahim Hyder – A brutal (and darkly funny) examination of the ridiculousness of humans, even when they’re dressed in their finery.
The Revised Devil and Billy Romance, DM Gillis (Lost Ironies) – A fun tale about the devil and unrequited love, which apparently should not be combined. Or maybe they should.
A Dark and Sudden Death, Sapphire Calligraphy – It does what is says on the title, really fucking well.
How to Write with Purpose, Danielle Boccelli – A wonderful little reminder about why we continue to write – because it connects us with our fellow human.