Oh, Christmas. You’re a wonderful thing but you’re also bloody tiring and, quite frankly, thank fuck you’re over with so I can get back to my usual routine of reading all the things and writing all the things.
I managed to find a reasonable amount of time for reading this month and it was much-needed after last month’s paltry Reads. I’ll just jump right in, because I’ve read some cracking books over the past few weeks!
How to Stop Time, Matt Haig
This was my first foray into Matt Haig’s work and I’ll definitely be going back for more. How to Stop Time is about Tom, a 400-year-old man who is never able to stay in one place long enough to figure out who he is or what life is all about. It flits back and forth in time and, initially, I found myself a little frustrated with the short chapters which didn’t allow me to become as immersed in Tom’s past and present worlds as I would have liked. However, this disjointed nature is a good reflection of Tom’s mind, which is brimming over with memories that are centuries old.
In many ways the book reads like a memoir rather than a novel, but once I was hooked into the story I rather liked that aspect. You feel almost as though you’re sitting down and listening to Tom recount his life story and the lessons he’s learned throughout it. Overall, How to Stop Time is a charming read and the historical elements made me feel a strange nostalgia for a past I didn’t know. I rather wish I could live for four centuries and witness the world evolve before my eyes.
The Transition, Luke Kennard
Right the way through this book I found myself picturing the storyline being played out on the television. It’s very Black Mirror and in equal parts funny and terrifying. The Transition is about Karl and Genevieve, a married couple who find themselves on something of an interventional self-help programme after Karl commits a touch of tax fraud and tries to avoid prison. They move in with two mentors – a painfully smug and perfect couple – and Karl soon begins to realise that the Transition is more manipulative and sinister than it first appeared.
It isn’t clear when The Transition is set, but judging by the technology in the book it appears only a decade or so in the future. This, I think, is what makes it so compelling. It feels like it could happen to any one of us. I think Kennard does a wonderful job of slowly revealing vital details about the Transition until you begin to realise just how trapped Karl and Genevieve are and how hopeless they must feel. The tension builds brilliantly and it was a book I genuinely didn’t want to put down.
Unfortunately, though, I felt that the ending was a little rushed. At one point I thought I’d missed something important, because one minute there was victory, the next complete failure, and then all of a sudden everything was resolved and Karl walked off into the sunset. Perhaps I need to give it a second read, at a slow pace, to appreciate the ending, but in any case, The Transition was a fun, gripping read, and I’d definitely recommend it to fans of Black Mirror.
An Almond for a Parrot, Wray Delaney
If you love a little bit of magic in your fiction, and don’t mind a little bit (well, a lot) of reference to genitalia as root vegetables, this book is for you. An Almond for a Parrot is set in the 1700s and tells the story of Tully, a prostitute and a magician, who faces the gallows when she is accused of murder. She recounts her life’s story and the twists and turns which landed her in the courthouse with utter charm and a hell of a lot of intimate detail.
What struck me most about this book is the way it managed to make me feel more and more hopeless the further I read, which is a sound reflection of Tully’s circumstances. It demonstrated the social status of women in the 18th century; they were merely property of their fathers and then of their husbands. Prostitution was a means of being an independent woman, but that alone was dependent upon the whims of men and put women in great amounts of danger. My heart broke for the women and girls whose lives were destroyed by cruel men who saw them as little more than objects. And it soared for those men – Avery, Ned and the wonderful Lord B – who broke societal norms and demonstrated a true love and respect for women.
The book discussed sex in vivid detail with a great deal of mentions of “parsnips”, “machines” and “purses”. Although this language may be in keeping with the dialect of the era, I found it to be too shmaltzy for my tastes; it bordered on cringeworthy rather than erotic. However, these passages, which felt cliché at times, can be forgiven for the beautifully written passages of magic realism which had me completely engrossed to the point I felt like I was almost right there in the action. The pace of the book was perfect, the protagonist and her supporting characters utterly endearing, and the antagonists so convincingly repulsive that I felt I could kill them myself if I were to meet them in real life. I have no idea how historically accurate the story is but to be honest, I couldn’t care; this was one of those books that totally transported me to a different world and it will stay with me for a long time.
The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell
The Bone Clocks is one of those books that makes you want to start again from the beginning as soon as you’ve finished the last page. It is incredible, complex, and so busy that you feel as though you miss valuable details on the first read. Overall, though, it’s exquisitely written and hell of a lot of fun.
The novel follows the life of Holly Sykes and opens with her running away from home at the age of 15 after a falling-out with her mam and a breakup with a cheating boyfriend. All sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. Holly hears things. Radio People, as she’s called them since she was young, come to her in dreams and even appear to her in the flesh. But just as we become gripped by Holly’s story, she’s left behind and we’re reading a story from the point of view of Hugo Lamb, a posh, slimy and immoral Cambridge student who happens to bump into Holly Sykes, 7 years after her running away, while skiing in Switzerland.
We continue to see glimpses of Holly’s life from the first-person perspectives of many different characters; Holly’s husband Ed, an award-winning war reporter, Crispin Hershey, a bitter, washed-up novel writer, and Marinus, an horologist who unlocks the mystery surrounding Holly’s radio people and fights a centuries-old war against immortal beings. If it sounds complicated, it’s because it is.
Initially I found it jarring that I had to say goodbye to Holly’s first-person narrative (which hilariously and accurately harnessed the attitude of a hard-done-by teenage girl), and goodbye thereafter to all the other characters who showed us along Holly’s journey. However, each character quickly engages you in their unique story and it’s difficult not to fall in love with them, no matter how unlikeable they are. Hugo and Crispin in particular have questionable morals and they rarely do the right things, but they’re funny, clever, and both with their own unique voice. Ed is wholly endearing too, and Marinus’ section, despite her dry narrative, has humorous elements and plenty of addictive action to keep us hooked.
What’s wonderful is that each character has a totally unique voice and you feel completely as though you’re in their mind and seeing Holly through their eyes, rather than your own based on the impression we got of her during her first-person narrative. Essentially, it’s like reading six intertwining short stories, each focusing on the trials and tribulations of their own protagonist with Holly in a supporting role. And happily, in the sixth story we return to Holly’s point of view, when she is much older, far wiser, and living in a vastly different world to the one the story started with.
The Bone Clocks is quite a journey and – I don’t say this often – one I really want to read again quite soon. Then again, there are plenty more books from David Mitchell now languishing on my to-be-read list, so it might have to wait a while.
I found so many brilliant blog posts, short stories and flash tales on WordPress this month that I thought I’d share a few of my favourites.
Santa Kramp, Matt W Watson – An elf’s account of what the North Pole (and the South) is really like. This story genuinely made me laugh out loud several times and has so much detail that I’m pretty much convinced Matt is an actual elf.
Perfect Coffee, Matt Daniels – A story about robotics with a heart-wrenching twist.
A Thanksgiving Dinner, Cassidy Dyce – A tale from the dinner table of a family which has an awful lot of secrets and skeletons in its closet.
Hair Trigger, Jessica Jordon – Gruesome, awesome story about a man who is slave to a malevolent old hag.
The Fourth Cat, MJ Smith – This is what happens when humans spend too much time alone with their cats.
The Hunter, Paul Starkey – An alternative and sinister take on the festive season’s favourite fat guy.
Global Uprising, Kat Myrman – The beginning of the end for us humans.
3:21, ABitofHorrorNeverHurtAnyone – About the weird time of night when scary stuff happens.
Christmas Jukebox Series, PasturesFresh – Short, sweet and seasonal music reviews that reminded me of some of the best festive tunes and brought my attention to many I’d never heard before.
A Letter to the Self that Lurks Just Around the Corner, Dominic Lyne, – An important pep-talk for anyone who ever doubts themselves, particularly as we see in the new year.
Thanks for sticking with me!
I couldn’t sign off my last post of the year without offering a small amount of mushy thank you for reading here. All I want is to make people smile with some silly stories, and seeing your likes, comments and simply your views makes me feel as though I’m achieving that goal. Thank you, and I hope I’ll continue to eke out a few more smiles in 2018. Happy New Year!