Saturday, 22 December 2018

Review: 'Our Life in the Forest' by Marie Darrieussecq, trans. Penny Hueston

I was drawn to Our Life in the Forest for many different reasons. I adore reading literature in translation because it is fascinating to explore a genre through a different culture. I had never heard of Marie Darrieussecq before Our Life in the Forest, but that is another bonus to reading translated literature, you get to discover “new authors”. A big theme in Darrieussecq’s writing has been transformations of the body and that is one of the key theme in Our Life in the Forest that drew me to the book. I went into it with hardly any expectations but was blown away by the book in the end, unwilling for it to end. Thanks to Text Publishing and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 10/25/2018
Publisher: Text Publishing

Translated by Penny Hueston 
In the near future, a woman is writing in the depths of a forest. She’s cold. Her body is falling apart, as is the world around her. She’s lost the use of one eye; she’s down to one kidney, one lung. Before, in the city, she was a psychotherapist, treating patients who had suffered trauma, in particular a man, “the clicker”. Every two weeks, she travelled out to the Rest Centre, to visit her “half”, Marie, her spitting image, who lay in an induced coma, her body parts available whenever the woman needed them. 
As a form of resistance against the terror in the city, the woman flees, along with other fugitives and their halves. But life in the forest is disturbing too—the reanimated halves are behaving like uninhibited adolescents. And when she sees a shocking image of herself on video, are her worst fears confirmed? 
Our Life in the Forest, written in her inimitable concise, vivid prose recalls Darrieussecq’s brilliant debut, Pig Tales. A dystopian tale in the vein of Never Let Me Go, this is a clever novel of chilling suspense that challenges our ideas about the future, about organ-trafficking, about identity, clones, and the place of the individual in a surveillance state
Dystopian novels have never held that much of a fascination for me. I love watching those movies, perhaps because I’m more interested in the aesthetics of it than anything else. But I find that reading about our current reality is providing me with enough moments of ‘Where did we go wrong?’ and ‘I never thought we would end up here?’ so that Dystopian fiction usually falls by the wayside. However, Our Life in the Forest managed to sneak in, in part because of its initially innocuous cover which seems so innocent with its lined note, tree foliage and casual body parts. Somehow it did not prepare me for what was on the inside and yet it gave me a kind of glimpse at both the simplicity and cruelty that is on the inside. Our Life in the Forest will surprise you at every turn. Every new revelation changes the story, changes how you see the characters and what you think of the world Darrieussecq creates. 

In Our Life in the Forest, our recently renamed (by herself) narrator, once Marie and now Valerie, is lying in the forest, close to death. The novel is her final note in which she writes down her story with the awareness her life is about to end. Throughout her narrative she interrupts herself, suddenly aware of how close the end is, and it brings a sense of urgency to her story as she hops anachronistically through her life. We witness her as a young child, a worried psychoanalyst, a moody teenager, a lost rebel, and it all comes together to create a portrait of a tough but worn out woman who has seen too much. The twists and turns of her life surprise even her and there is a freshness to her tone that prevents it from feeling rehashed. 

 Darrieussecq’s writing throughout Our Life in the Forest is very clear and straight forward. She writes in brief sentences that get to the point. Despite her situation, Valerie doesn’t become dramatic and manages the explain the complexities of just what has happened with stunning brevity. What I occasionally dislike about Dystopian novels is just how much detail the authors feel they have to give in order to justify how their world looks. Darrieussecq does the opposite and lets the ordinariness of her narrator speak for itself. Her story feels so normal that it is horrifying in its own right. What scares me more than anything is the mundanity of evil, how simple deceit is and how blindly we trust that the truth we know is the truth. Darrieussecq picks up on these themes and manages to weave a narrative that is both enlightening and scary.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

I was sucked into Our Life in the Forest almost immediately, first because I was trying to figure out what was happening and then because I had secretly become invested in what is happening. Darrieussecq’s novel is an exploration of physical and emotional transformation, of loss and of trust. For anyone open to mindbender, please read Our Life in the Forest!

Review: 'Perfect Silence' (DI Callanach #4) by Helen Fields

When you dip into a series halfway through, you’re not supposed to really realize until you Google the book. For me, that was mostly the case with Perfect Silence. Things had happened before the book started, clearly, but they were never an obstacle and when they came up they made perfect sense to rationalize a character’s actions. That’s what I want to see! Books playing into each other without being co-dependent. I do also have to say that part of what attracted me to this book was that it was set in Scotland and I kind of miss Edinburgh at the moment. But leaving my sentimentality behind, let’s get into it! Thanks to HarperCollins and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange of an honest review. 

Pub. Date: 8/23/2018
Publisher: Avon Books UK

‘Relentless pace, devilish cleverness and a laser-sharp focus on plot.’ Chris Brookmyre 
When silence falls, who will hear their cries? 
The body of a young girl is found dumped on the roadside on the outskirts of Edinburgh. When pathologists examine the remains, they make a gruesome discovery: the outline of a doll carved into the victim’s skin. 
DCI Ava Turner and DI Luc Callanach are struggling to find leads in the case, until a doll made of skin is found nestled beside an abandoned baby. 
After another young woman is found butchered, Luc and Ava realise the babydoll killer is playing a horrifying game. And it’s only a matter of time before he strikes again. Can they stop another victim from being silenced forever – or is it already too late?
 In Perfect Silence one theme stood out to me and that was that of “vigilante justice”/ ”punishment of the immoral”. The book revolves around two different cases but they are united by the shaed ense that someone out there is trying to clean up the streets, get rid of those they deem unworthy and enforce their own set of morals. It is a notion that has always fascinated me when it came to superhero characters like Batman or Daredevil, these deeply tortured men we root for because they only get rid of the bad guys. The main criticism they face in their own stories is that no one gave them the right to decide, even if flawed policing or legislating gave them the opportunity. In Perfect Silence Helen Fields puts us on the side of those who are being punished, who aren’t considered good, as well as on the side of the police officers trying to save these people, no matter who they might be. It was a thought I found really interesting and although Fields doesn’t dig into it very deeply, focusing rather on solving the crimes at hand, I helped keep me intrigued. 

 Perfect Silence starts when  the body of a young girl is found just outside of Edinburg. Shortly after, a doll fashioned out of the girl’s skin is discovered next to an abandoned baby. So begins perhaps one of the most macabre mystery/detective books I have read in a while. Fields puts you both inside the head of the victim, as well as inside her investigators, DCI Ava Turner and DI Luc Callanach. Knowing the victims means that each crime packs even more of an emotional punch, as we see how hard they try to survive. Similarly, Ava and Luc are battling their own demons while chasing the real ones. Supported by a cast of great character, Fields’ protagonists race against time to save whomever they can. Perfect Silence is unapologetic in its harshness, and for some readers it might be a bit too much, but I found that Fields still treats it with a kind of dignity. It is not gory or painful for sensationalism, but to make a point. In the end I found myself enormously invested in the characters and the novel, so I will definitely be looking up the rest of the series soon! 

 Helen Fields hardly needs praise from me but I’m going to give it to her anyway. Fields shies away from the simple black and white, and it is within the grey area that Perfect Silence triumphs. The plot is complex, with different narrators and two different story-lines, but Fields brings it together seamlessly, allowing one crime to inform the other. The personal lives of her protagonists don’t distract from the plot but rather add to it. Another thing I liked about Perfect Silence was the way Fields captured a different side from Edinburgh than you usually see. It’s not touristy or medieval, it is a modern city dealing with a dark underbelly. Finally, Fields manages to let the reader in on information before the main characters, but without giving away the actual identity of the killer. It will throw you for a loop and somehow make it all much more horrifying. In my research for this review I also found out that DI Luc Callanach is usually the main character (the series' name should really have been a hint, but oh well), but Perfect Silence focuses much more on DCI Ava Turner. Nothing about the book gives away that this is a new direction, which is just another sign of Helen Field's command of her writing.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

Perfect Silence kept me captivated throughout and on the edge of my seat. You can’t help but get attached to Fields’ characters and she crafts her novel so clearly that you never once lose the thread. Everything comes together in the end in a way that is very rewarding for a reader constantly looking for clues. I’d recommend this novel to anyone with an appetite for Mystery, but prepare yourself, this one is a hard pill to swallow.

Review: 'We Were Mothers' by Katie Sise

I requested We Were Mothers because the blurb is pure drama. Coming off a year full of brilliant TV and films focusing on women’s lives, I was looking to continue similarly into the winter but unfortunately We Were Mothers didn’t quite take me there. Thanks to Little A and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

 Pub. Date: 10/1/2018
Publisher: Little A

 A brilliant, twisty novel about a missing woman, an unfaithful husband, and the dark secrets that will destroy two perfect families. 
 A scandalous revelation is about to devastate a picturesque town where the houses are immaculate and the neighborhoods are tightly knit. Devoted mother Cora O’Connell has found the journal of her friend Laurel’s daughter—a beautiful college student who lives next door—revealing an illicit encounter. Hours later, Laurel makes a shattering discovery of her own: her daughter has vanished without a trace. Over the course of one weekend, the crises of two close families are about to trigger a chain reaction that will expose a far more disturbing web of secrets. Now everything is at stake as they’re forced to confront the lies they have told in order to survive. 
 Secrets and loss will tear people apart. Set during a single weekend, We Were Mothers shows the unravelling of two families as well as those closest to them, as family secrets come to the surface and threaten everything. That is what you’re expecting from We Were Mothers. Even if it doesn’t quite deliver on the drama. its central themes of secrecy and loss, of hiding behind a façade, are interesting at this particular time in popular culture. Think of Big Little Lies or even Sharper Objects, stories about seemingly privileged women who hide dark and ugly truths behind their shiny front doors. The latter two have stirred debate about everything from motherhood to white feminism and to alcoholism, and We Were Mothers makes an attempt at joining that conversation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite hold the gravitas of its topic, even though it has its own merit.

 During the last few weeks at work there has been a lot of attention on unconscious bias and as I was writing this review I realized I had some unconscious bias myself towards this book filled with mothers, women thinking about being mothers, and children struggling with their mothers. Although Sise does show each woman is more than “just” a mother, it is still presented as something central to a woman’s life. I don’t know if and when I will ever be a mother, so that strong theme kind of kept me away from really appreciating the book as much as I would have liked. On top of that We Were Mothers presents motherhood as something consistently beautiful. No matter how hard things might be or how much a child cries, it is always fulfilling and worth it. For a novel trying to straddle the divide between Mystery and Literary Fiction I would have expected something a little bit more daring.

 Katie Sise has written a range of Young Adult novels and this is her first venture into Adult fiction. Sise’s experience in YA comes through quite strongly at times, especially in the tone of the novel. It is all rather preppy and even if it gets ugly it stays almost PG. We Were Mothers didn’t offer as much suspense or grit as I had anticipated, being at times overly melodramatic when I would have preferred something a little starker. In that sense, it almost feels like a more profound Desperate Housewives at times. Sise hides away some rather astute truths about womanhood, motherhood and loss into her novel, but they don’t get to shine as much as they could as they’re hidden under (at times very campy) plot twists.

I give this novel...

2 Universes!

Overall, We Were Mothers is a quick and engaging read that doesn’t require too much from its readers. Although I enjoyed We Were Mothers, I almost forgot I read it after a month. At the time I was caught up in the twists and the turns of the plot, the drama and excitement of it all, but once the book finished none of it had made a really deep impact on me. Although I’m interested to see what Sise writes next, We Were Mothers is for those readers who want to be engaged but not challenged.