Surfacing by Margaret Atwood
Contemporary Literature: "Atwood's second novel published in 1972 was hailed by the New York Times as 'one of the most important novels of the twentieth century'."
Like many of Atwood's novels, Surfacing is not a barrel of laughs. It's what I'd call 'beautifully depressing'; a quietly haunting and multi-layered story which follows a young woman's journey as she looks into the mystery of her father's disappearance on a remote island off Quebec. It's a deeply emotional book, and the wild, isolated setting provides the perfect backdrop for much contemplation as our unnamed protagonist asks questions of which she's unlikely to find any answers. Atwood's prose is beautiful as always, and the slow pacing throughout adds a strong dreamlike quality to the narrative.
Interwoven within the general storyline of Surfacing are lots of socio-political themes such as the American impact on Canada, and the struggles of women during the 70s; all of which help to increase the tension and turmoil that's felt by our main character. This is not a book that should be rushed - take your time with it and try to really appreciate and understand what Atwood is conveying here. [4/5]The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things by J.T LeRoy
Contemporary / Short Stories: "The extraordinary stories that brought the author a cult following. These are the stories of a young boy on the run, away from his past, hell-bent towards an unknown future."
Having recently watched the J.T LeRoy documentary which explored that whole 90s 'literary hoax' by Laura Albert, I was eager to read something by her just to see what all the fuss had been about. A friend recommended The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things and I immediately ploughed straight into it.
The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things is a collection of ten short stories which together depict a bleak and disturbing road trip across America, as a young boy named Jeremiah is taken away from his foster parents by his crystal meth addicted birth mother. She takes him on the run with her and exposes him to the abuses that she herself experienced as a child of crazy religious parents. It's like reading the worst nightmare social worker case study that you can possibly think of, as Jeremiah is subjected to abuse after abuse. However, between the lines here and there are glimpses of humour, hope, and love, but they quickly spiral into depression, poverty and despair again. An enthralling fast-paced, emotional roller coaster for the reader to embark on, and I highly recommend watching the author's documentary afterwards to help fill in some of the gaps. [3/5]
Other Days, Other Eyes by Bob Shaw
Science Fiction / Dystopia: "Slow glass was an amusing scientific toy. Light travelled through it so slowly that, looking through a pane of it, you might see what had happened five minutes ago on the other side, or five years ago. It was going to change the world."
Other Days, Other Eyes is another of those 'forgotten' 70s science-fiction novels that I've been hunting down recently. This was one of Bob Shaw's sci-fi classics as it explored this new concept of 'slow glass', an innovative type of glass that could record and store events which take place before it, to reveal them months or years later. Slow glass manages to do this by slowing down the light that travels through it, and thus a whole industry emerges that uses this new level of technology, with its inventor, a character named Alban Garrod, quickly becoming rich and famous.
Yet with fame and wealth, comes a whole host of dangers that Garrod has to navigate, as the Government decides that it can use slow glass as a form of mass surveillance to spy on the public. Big Brother starts to get involved and the plot begins to thicken. I liked Other Days, Other Eyes as it utilised a technology that seems so simple, and demonstrates how in the wrong hands, it can become a force for the destruction of privacy everywhere. It's an interesting concept, but the book began to feel very rushed half-way through and went off on a couple of unnecessary tangents, instead of focusing on the main storyline which would have kept me more engaged towards the end. However, if you like sci-fi and Big Brother themes, you'll still enjoy it. [3/5]
In The Country Of Men by Hisham Matar
Historical / Contemporary Fiction: "Libya, 1979. Nine-year-old Suleiman's days are circumscribed by the narrow rituals of childhood: outings to the ruins surrounding Tripoli, games with friends played under the burning sun, exotic gifts from his father's constant business trips abroad. But that's all about to change."
Written from a child's perspective living in war-torn Libya under Gaddafi's evil regime in the late 70s, In The Country of Men is a harrowing fictional account of the brutality of war and its impact on the loss of innocence. It highlights how easy it is for children to become 'men' after they witness first hand the tyranny that men are capable of.
One day, nine-year-old Suleiman is playing in the street with his friends, seemingly oblivious to most of the horrors that are going on around him behind closed doors. But these horrors quickly reveal themselves, and Suleiman's young, innocent mind is catapulted into a very dark and adult world where men regularly go missing, people are interrogated on live TV and everyone lives in fear of what will happen tomorrow. Although compelling, the fact that Suleiman becomes such an unlikeable character makes this book particularly difficult to get through, but I'm glad that I read it. [3/5]
On The Move: Feminism For a New Generation by Natasha Walter
Non-Fiction / Feminism: "In this book more than a dozen young writers outline their vision of the feminist future."
One of my mum's friends wanted a non-fiction book that she could read with her 11-year-old daughter to introduce her to feminism, and I found this one at the library which looked suitable. On The Move was published in 1999, so it's rather dated, but the general themes and goals of feminism are still (sadly) relevant today, and the book is aimed at young girls and teenagers.
It's a good compilation of mini-essays from a range of young British writers who are discussing a variety of topics (politics, media culture/portrayal of female stereotypes, the glass ceiling and sexism at work etc), as well as short opinion pieces on what is means to be a feminist and how this idea is constantly evolving. Having read so much about the subject, this book didn't provide me personally with anything new, but as an introduction to feminism for a young girl/teenager, it still does the job. [2/5]
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