The Power – Naomi Alderman

31195557For anyone who has their ear on the ground about feminist reads or new books by female authors, this is probably pretty well-known, especially since it won Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2017. I thought this would be the perfect book to fill that Handmaid’s Tale shaped gap in my life since the end of the TV series and finishing the book – especially as Margaret Atwood mentored Alderman for this book!

It all begins when teenage girls suddenly start developing this power – this ability to transmit electricity from their fingertips. As it is passed from woman to woman, the power at women’s fingertips suddenly starts to unbalance the power within the world, overthrowing dictatorships, rebelling against patriarchal structures and empowering women to take over from the oppression they’ve always experienced. The book follows four people coping with this new found power dynamic – Allie, a mixed race foster child; Roxy, the daughter of London’s biggest mob boss; Margot, an American middle-class politician stuck in a system full of men and Tunde, a Nigerian teenage boy seizing the opportunity to document the rise of The Power.

This book made me feel a lot of things. At different points throughout, I felt empowered, disgusted, saddened, angered and hopeful in ways I haven’t before in other books (as a side note, I’d be interested to hear whether women and men have different reactions to this book!).

The Power creates a world both so unlike and yet so similar to our own one now – I found myself thinking certain events unimaginable to some extent, but really at face value, any of the events in this book could happen if a group of people was given something extraordinary and powerful. The narrative has moments reminisce of the Arab Springs,  ISIS terror attacks or even protests in recent years both here in the UK and in America. Regardless of motivation and the type of power – sci-fi or reality – Alderman puts a mirror up to our own world barely clothed with its sci-fi element.

The main two elements I loved about this novel was its characters and its complexity. Its characters all felt equally well-developed and rich – their individual narratives all getting equal time to one another. No narrative feels less important than another, which I feel is something had to do when you have a multitude of narratives interlaced with one another.

The word ‘rich’ truly defines what I loved about this book – its characters, its plot, its writing had such a depth to them that allowed the book to explore so many themes and their relationship to one another from gender equality and its unbalances to rape culture, religion and the role of government in a way I didn’t find too preachy.

My only criticism is that, while I took a way a lot from this novel, for me, it was not clear exactly what Alderman wanted to get across as the ending just finishes very suddenly and ambiguously. Maybe that is the point or maybe it is open for your own interpretations based on your own experiences – who knows. However, I think the problem for me here lies in its framing as a history book which felt a little unnecessary by the end – I felt it would have been just as good without.

I don’t think this is a book that everyone would like for its choppy narrative and, at times, its global setting tends to lean on stereotypes potentially in its representation. This was a hard book to review because it was hard to put my finger on why I liked it so much. Ultimately, I have not enjoyed a book like this in a long old while and it was refreshing to read an absorbing, complex and rich narrative without feeling a little overwhelmed.

I give it a 5 out of 5

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The One Memory of Flora Banks – Emily Barr

30849412A strange thing happened to me in January. One Wednesday in early 2017, I found myself at a launch for a book I had just about heard of at the Ice Bar in London with my friend Lorna (she has a Book Tube channel called Suddenly Lorna – highly recommend!). We had furry ponchos on and were standing next to an ice sculpture of a gorilla (no joke) talking to other book bloggers, free cocktails in our hands. Considering the day before, I was probably trying to stop a child’s tantrum with a sticker in the children’s area of the bookshop I worked at and cleaning up spilt coffee, it felt a little different. We were there for the launch of The One Memory of Flora Banks published by Penguin and dubbed the best YA book of the year – it was a good nice and it definitely set the scene in my mind for the book.

The book itself is about seventeen year-old, Flora Banks, who has a very short term memory and cannot form any new memories since she was ten years-old. The night before her best friend’s boyfriend leaves town for good, she kisses him and wakes up the next morning remembering the moment over and over in her head – the first time she has been able to form a memory. With only written notes on her hands and a limited memory, she sets off to the Norway to follow him and find out the truth.

I was a bit skeptical whether I’d like this book or not based on the synopsis (the kind of thing that normally makes me roll my eyes), but thought I’d give it a go anyway after hearing good praise for it at the event.

I actually did start getting into this novel for the first half, although the amount of times the narrator repeats THE SAME THING over and over again gets really irritating after a while even if you understand it’s because of her amnesia.

The first part of the book felt very concrete plot wise and introduced the characters well allowing an element of mystery and a feeling that everything doesn’t quite make sense – is that because of the amnesia of our narrator, Flora or something else underlying?

However, the narrative suddenly grew very flat to the point where, in all honesty, I skim read and skipped a big chunk of the middle section. I felt the narrative sort of went off on a tangent and not a very interesting one either. The main story I was most intrigued by was put aside and replaced with a narrative that I didn’t really care about, didn’t understand its relevance and just didn’t find interesting. I tuned back in for the last 80 odd pages and raced through to the end which for me was actually pretty satisfactory and almost empowering in some sense.

This book was predictable (although I did question myself a few times), but sometimes that is the kind of book you want. This book really attempted to take on some great themes near the end and I think that if these had been carried through the whole novel rather than introduced at the end, it would have made for a much more enjoyable read. The characters were unlikeable in my opinion – Flora was plain annoying, native and pathetic at times while I was too suspicious of the other characters to like them in any way.

This book had a lot of potential for me, but its middle section, its lack of continuous topical themes and badly written characters really let this book down for me. The story at the beginning and the end bring this book up a star, however, apart from that, this book disappointed me.

I give it a 1 out of 5 stars

(I was invited to the event as a book blogger, I was not paid to write this review or attend the event and I appreciate being invited entirely. This book has some great reviews on Goodreads – this review is a true reflection of my thoughts on this book that I wanted to share. I believe in the freedom of speech and sharing of opinions on blogs and by no means should this review be seen as a personal attack on the author or publisher in question – it is just my personal opinion of the book I read)

The Girl On The Train – Paula Hawkins

413uEtL4GzL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_I started reading this book mostly to discover what the hype was about after hearing people praising it and finding my colleagues at Foyles talking about the plot in hushed tones.

Those looking for an eloquently written book deserving of maximum high brow literature success, I doubt you’d find that in this book. For me, the writing wasn’t the highlight of this book, but it was made up for in other ways.

However, I zoomed through this book in three days in between working and sleeping. The final hundred pages were utterly compelling and by this point, I was completely absorbed in Hawkins’ narrative. In between reading sessions, I was finding myself constantly thinking about returning to this book because of how thrilling this book was in my opinion.

The role of the unreliable narrator is one that is used a lot (maybe too much you could argue) to add another layer to a plot that is perhaps not all it seems. In The Girl On The Train, it worked perfectly to provide a background of intrigue and surprise throughout its pages. I loved not knowing everything the narrator did to add to the thrilling aspect of this book and start to make you think whether the events recalled are fiction or truth. The plot and this narration is ultimately what keeps you reading.

My only problem was that I found the main female characters quite pathetic and part of me began to think about the sexist implications of the female representation, especially with the wide power difference between the men and women it seems. I found at times the female characters never got quite past their stereotypes, which I found quite problematic.

Despite this, however, the saving grace in terms of female representation is arguably the themes the book explores, such as domestic abuse, marital abuse, pregnancy, miscarriage, alcoholism and emotional turmoil. From multiple perspectives, this book provides a great starter and some awareness for conversations around these important topics, which is in some ways refreshing to see these topics tackled without adding some blame around the female.

In summary, I feel that some people would find some issues with this book, whether its the narrative style or the feminist (or lack thereof) representation. However, for the sheer pleasure of reading and reading something that completely absorbed me, this is a book I would recommend and I thoroughly enjoyed reading, even if it was for just reading something a little different to my usual reading list.

I give it a 4 out of 5

Girlfriend in a Coma – Douglas Coupland

863058While not a great sentence to start a 4* review, it’s true that I’m still not entirely sure why I picked up this book to read in the first place. Maybe it was the cover? Maybe the £2 price tag? Maybe it was my memories of shelving Coupland’s ‘Generation X’ from my previous bookselling job? Whatever the reason, I’m glad I did though for my first experience of the weird and wonderful Coupland.

It’s best to start reading this book, not knowing too much past the basic premise – this book is set around a group of friends in the 1970’s, mainly through Richard’s eyes whose girlfriend, Karen, goes into a coma one evening.

What precedes is one of the most interesting and strangest books I think I’ve read in a while, but there was something incredibly original and so enjoyable about this book. However, like I saw in many Goodreads reviews, this book is quite literally a book of two halves.

As I expressed to my friends, the first half feels like a drama – a coming-of-age story following Richard as he copes with his girlfriend suddenly being in a coma and coping with being in a place where Karen is not quite dead, but also not quite alive either. This part was great, I particularly loved Richard as a character and his narration. I imagine him particularly like a teenage Chief Jim Hopper from Stranger Things.

However, suddenly, this coming-of-age story transforms into a sci-fi and then a supernatural novel without (for me anyway) too much warning. At this point, although I enjoyed the book as a whole, the second half I felt was not as well-crafted as the first half and at times felt like Coupland had two ideas for a novel and just decided to combine them both. In some ways, it works well, but, for me, it was such a change that it left me slightly disengaged from the book latterly.

This book has been described as a moral fable or a post-apocalyptic novel – whatever it is, it’s clear that Coupland is concerned about how the human race is progressing, how people are more lonely than ever, choosing advertising over friends and family, going with the motions of the day rather than doing something productive. These arguments are still relevant now, nearly two decades after this book’s release, and they are arguments that make you think about what we are prioritising in our day-to-day lives. As I saw in a review, Coupland makes you think deeply about the world around you without overwhelming you or feeling too preachy.

This is a novel for people who love multiple genres, particularly if you’re looking for something different. Coupland twists the boundaries of the literary genre to provide a tale that debates the morals in ourselves, our perceptions of the world and particularly, the media. I’m interested to know what Coupland thinks of our world in 2017…

I give this book a 4 out of 5

The Girls – Emma Cline

the girlsSet in the late 1960s in Northern California, it is the start of the summer for Evie before she will start at a new boarding school. Lonely and stuck in the suburbs, Evie becomes enchanted by a group of girls, carelessly dressed and surrounded in an aura of danger and freedom. Evie befriends one of them, Suzanne, and becomes part of their cult run by a charismatic older man. As she becomes engrossed more and more into their cult, Evie does not realise that she is being pulled closer and closer to the danger and violence that awaits them.

~~~

I wanted to read this after becoming compelled by the cover last summer and hearing some great reviews. The background behind The Girls sparks from an interesting place, partly based on the Charles Manson murders that killed five people at the house of film director, Roman Polanski.

It reminded me a lot of Girls On Fire by Robin Wasserman – taking bored, young suburban girls into these real life adult situations, testing their friendships and to some extent, their naivety. I enjoyed Girls on Fire somewhat, and would definitely recommend The Girls if you’re a fan of this one and the other intense, young friendship stories that seem to be littering bookshops currently.

I did really enjoy The Girls and definitely enjoyed more than Girls On Fire. The language is probably the element of this book which sticks out in my mind the most. Looking at some reviews, others found Cline’s poetic language a bit too distracting from the plot and its characters. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how much the language tied into the story as well as Evie’s narration in a way that really brought the whole novel together. I’m personally not always a fan of this kind of storytelling, however, in The Girls it really worked to tie it all together.

The book’s structure flicks between the present and past as there is this undeniable sense of unnerving inevitability becoming more and more intense as the novel progresses towards the final act. It is this that I think kept me engrossed in the narrative as well as Evie’s own narration, telling the story of a girl caught in the middle of adolescence and womanhood – a feeling I definitely can relate to.

I really enjoyed this book and I would highly recommend. It is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year – perhaps not the most original premise with the whole hoards of books, TV shows and films that seem to be bringing the horrible Manson murders to light again. Nonetheless, it is done with maturity and becomes a story much bigger than just the murders. If you’re looking for that last summer read before autumn well and truly comes, I would definitely recommend this one.

I give it 5 out of 5

Instagram – for better or for worse?

instagram feedI remember when Instagram hit the world in 2011. It was this shiny new app that no-one really knew much about, but changed everything about the way people posted on social media. Instead of forming words to describe your feelings or your life in one moment, now your photographs were front stage and centre, which is pretty incredible really thinking about it as, now, I no longer had to download my images onto my laptop from my Samsung flip phone and then post them on Facebook even though they definitely weren’t in focus. It’s amazing to think how easy it became to post photos of ourselves online within seconds of taking it, even in 2011.

Since then, Instagram has been developed from a personal social network amongst friends to a marketing tool for brands to a place for bloggers and vloggers to thrive behind the scenes. In recent months, I’ve heard increasingly about people proving accounts have been photo shopped, buying followers or Instagram being used by brands to advertise next to your best friend’s selfie. However, most of all, I’ve heard more and more about people’s sudden realisation about how augmented, how unrealistic and how constructed Instagram has become as a medium. On one Instagram feed, you can see posts of your friends and family interlaced with celebrities’, bloggers and brands’ photos – all ranging in quality of their images and the quality of the lives perceived online.

For some, this is a surprise. For me, in all honesty, it’s not. Most of all, it’s not a surprise because I did my dissertation looking at the representation of women on Instagram. I chose to tackle gender representation originally because it’s a cause I’m passionate about, while I chose Instagram as both something different to talk about and because it was – and still is – the social network I use the most.  Throughout the many months and tears shed over my dissertation, I learnt a number of things, but nothing quite as clear as truly what Instagram is and what is represents. I had case studies like Kim Kardashian’s naked selfie; parody account Sociality Barbie; Instagrammer Essena O’Neill; Taylor Swift’s Instagram account and finally, many self-harm and anorexic Instagram accounts, which, for some people, becomes the result of all that pressure and perfectibility filling our heads.

It wasn’t a positive conclusion for my dissertation by all means. My overall research and analysis came to the conclusion that Instagram is a trick. While this is just a short summary of what my conclusion actually said, it’s important to remember that while we all have the accessibility and choice to post what we want, the majority of pictures of our lives and of ourselves essentially showing off without consciously doing it. The constant perfection of Instagram accounts, like celebrities or bloggers or brands, means it brings about this constant self-assessment – “How do I look?”, “Do I look successful, pretty, thin etc?” – as well as this constant higher set of standards to live up to. We literally don’t think about it and even if we do, the majority of us move on and keep posting those Boomerangs. It is accounts like Socality Barbie that really put into perspective what we’re posting.

louise delage

Considering this however, I was incredibly enlightened and interested when I heard recently at work about Louise Delage. She was a French Instagrammer that gained thousands of followers and links within a few weeks. Her Instagram was full of her travels, her social events and showing what most of us would perceive as a good life. However, because we were so used to seeing these photos of a ‘good life’ – selfies, laughter, friends, trendy clothes – a lot of people missed one important similarity to all her photos…an alcoholic beverage.

It wasn’t until the last Instagram video posted that it became clear that Louise Delage did not exist. Instead, she was a character made up to show the subtle signs of alcoholism for a charity, Addict Aide, in France. While I have some issues with perpetuating the Instagram lifestyle for marketing, I was impressed by their intuitive thinking of using Instagram for what it is and what it represents now as well as a marketing tool. This begs the question – can Instagram actually have a positive effect? Can it actually be a place for people to share their woes, get it out on paper [or a screen] or carry positive, important messages from person to person? 

Who knows – I’m not a professional Instagrammer or a doctor of Instagram. Neither do I have the answers to everything, but it’s a topic I find incredibly interesting. I love Instagram even now, but sometimes it’s easy to lose yourself in the world it creates, the perfect lifestyle of even your best friends that it creates. It’s definitely important to take a step back sometimes and see the real world for what it is with #nofilter. 

5 Great Graphic Novels

 

Over the last few years, I’ve got more and more into graphic novels, mostly I think because it combines my appreciation for beautiful design and my love of reading into one. Graphic novels is honestly one of the most diverse and interesting genres of literature, as many authors and artists use the format to explore a number of social issues, personal stories and debates that can’t be explored in the same way with purely words.

Here are just some of my favourite graphic novels:

Soppy by Philippa Rice

This is one of the cutest books I have ever had the fortune to read!

If you’ve ever been in a serious relationship, had an awkward first date or ever purely appreciated just being in the company of someone else, this is the perfect book to reminisce with, bring a smile to your face and give you an appreciation of the small things in life we miss.

Take It As a Compliment by Maria Stoian

A beautiful mix of an incredible and stunning changing art style with distressing yet powerful real stories of sexual abuse victims and survivors. This graphic novel blew me away in the 15-20 minutes it took me to read it and so quickly resonated with me in such a permanent way. Maria Stoian displays so much respect for the stories of these victims – I highly recommend this to everyone!

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

Saga is simultaneously amazing and incredibly frustrating a series to read. On one hand this book holds such a great narrative set in this futuristic world. It has some diverse, amazing characters, particularly the family at the focus of its narrative. However, the narrative is so well planned and so absorbing that each of these books are almost too short, you finish one and already want the next one. I’ve so far read the first three books and already ready/saving up money to buy the rest.

Brian K. Vaughan also writes the Paper Girls series with Cliff Chiang which has a great Back to the Future meets Stranger Things meets 10 Things I Hate About You vibe. Image Comics are one of my favourite graphic novel publishers for sure.

Maus by Art Spiegelman

Spiegelman recalls his conversations with his father, a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust. This adds something special and unique to literature about the Holocaust, depicting WWII as literally a game of cat and mouse – the mice are the Jews, the fat cats are the Nazis.

I remember reading this around Christmas time and staying awake until the early hours of the morning over the week leading up to Christmas because I was so absorbed in this book. This is a powerful and heartbreaking read both about a personal account of the Holocaust, but also about the relationship between father and son. If you have any interest in reading a graphic novel, I urge you to make sure you read this one.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

This is the first graphic novel I read a couple of years ago. It is completely different to anything I had ever read before and I loved the mixture of history interwoven in this book with simply the story of a girl growing up and trying to navigate both adolescence and then adulthood.

This has since been turned into a film – all animated in the same art style as the graphic novel. On the first day I celebrated International Women’s Day a few years ago, I went to a local coffee shop to catch the film with my boyfriend who had lent me the book. He was one of the only men there, but absolutely loved the atmosphere and the film.