About four months ago, I had the great pleasure of meeting a complete stranger who had as little a clue who I was as I did he. That stranger turned out to be the much (much, much, much) acclaimed Alan Hollinghurst. He also turned out to be leaving so our actual encounter was incredibly brief, details of which can be found here.
Having owned up to the shame of turning up to lauch of a book about an author knowing literally nothing about him, I resolved to educate myself on the work of the eponymous author. My partner ensured I made good on this by buying me a copy of The Line of Beauty for Christmas. As usual, I’m way behind the crowd on this one, but the political satire of this treatise in hedonism and conservatism certainly hasn’t expired in the interim.
“She wanted to be her, or be with her, or destroy her” – Paulina & Fran
I received a lovely copy of Rachel B. Glaser’s “Paulina & Fran” from Granta Books in exchange for an unbiased review. I was unfamiliar with the book but the cover really drew me in (I’m a sucker for a funky cover) and I was very excited to give it a read. The results were…a bit of a mixed bag.
The book centres around the larger than life character of Paulina and her trials and tribulations as she bluffs her way through art school, determined to create as much chaos and adventure as possible to facilitate her dreams of living her glamorous life to its fullest. She feels she is too good for the hipster circles in which she finds herself and longs to realise a greater calling – as soon as she discovers what that is. Along the way she meets Fran, a quiet but intoxicating presence in Paulina’s life and they quickly form a close bond. The book follows the girls as their friendship deepens and struggles through the trials and tribulations graduation and harsh life realities throw their way.
I definitely enjoyed this book overall. Glaser’s breezy yet sardonic prose suits the story and the world these characters inhibit. She takes an environment that can seem so vapid and ridiculous and makes you care for characters that, if you met them in reality (and sadly reader, I absolutely have) you would cross the room, road and potentially state lines to avoid. However the book is far more than a particularly drawn out and tedious episode of “Skins”. I found her depiction of the girls’ lives post-university incredibly affecting. Fran’s floundering in comparison to her friends’ perceived success really rang true and I found myself all-to-easily relating to the panic and confusion of exiting the college bubble. Glaser handles this deftly and I definitely found it novel come into its own in its second half.
All this said it is difficult to get past the irritating character of Paulina. I have, in the past, been criticised by friends for needing my protagonists to be likable but I take umbrage at this accusation. I certainly don’t need to “like” my protagonists; however I do ask that they don’t enrage me and make me roll my eyes so much as to cause self-induced headaches. Perhaps it comes from mingling in college circles that featured individuals like Paulina – individuals that elicited sighs and more eye-rolling from this ever-so-cynical Die. There were moments where Glaser allowed glimpses of Paulina’s uncertainty and vulnerability to shine through and these were highlights for me, however they were not plentiful enough to allow me to reassess her overall. Unfortunately I felt the novel needed you to buy into and root for Paulina to be an out-and-out success and alas, I just could not bring myself to care that much.
Overall “Paulina & Fran” is short but enjoyable with enough glimpses of brilliance and curly hair commentary to look forward to future works by this author
TL;DR: Some lovely human moments with annoying human characters. Lots of hair and dancing – 3.5/5
Cover Image via favim.com. Novel Image is Die’s own
I will not cry on the tube.
I will not cry on the tube.
I will try to not cry on the tube.
I will not cry often on the tube.
I have cried on the tube.
Max Porter’s tender, true-to-life first novel, Grief is the Thing with Feathers, made me the man in the verse above. Right from the beginning I knew this wasn’t even close to anything on my shelf. The story begins with feathers on the pillow of the Boys and slowly unfurls around them and their Dad in the wake of Mum’s death.
and understood that this was a new life
and Dad was a different type of Dad now
and we were different boys, we were brave
new boys without a Mum.
As I read the book I really, really could not put it down. I know I say this for almost every book I review here but given the fact I’ve had two assignments and an exam in the last two weeks, this statement is far too true.
Title: Hystopia Author: David Means Publisher: Faber and Faber Available: Now Rating: 5/5 Review-in-Brief: A truly inspired use of form from Means that blew me away. I would almost indulge in the amnesiac drug, Tripizoid, to go on this trip again.
“Did you see what Geraldine Costner wrote?” Erm, no. “Well she said in her latest article that she reckons Teresa May should step down…well she didn’t say it but she meant it…” Controversial political statements aside, we often read into what people “really mean” when they’re writing. Whether it be an article for a respectable publication or a novel of radical ideas, we tend to look for the hidden intentions and political leanings of the writer.
David Means tapped into this perceptive ability of each human being out there and wrote a book in which you do not, in fact, read directly about the main character. Instead, you read the novel,the main character has written, preceded by the editor’s notes and some interviews with other peripheral characters. Therein you have to guess what’s really going on behind this fictitious fiction presented in Hystopia.
I must admit, this sounded so far-fetched to me when I read the description but trusting Faber and Faber as a publisher I decided it had to be worth a look. Adding this to the fact that Means has been regarded as one of the best short story writers there is.
Title: Multiple Choice Author: Alejandro Zambra Published by: Granta (UK Publisher) Available: 13th Oct, ask in your local bookshop for details. Result: A1 (5*)
Earlier this year, I read for my book club The Vegetarian by Han Kang, the winner of the International Man Booker this year. That book on its own is a whole other post which I hope to get around to soon, but it did make me think about the kinds of books I was reading and made me want to cast my net a bit further into the field of translated reads. Luckily, Portobello Books, the publisher of The Vegetarian were there to fill that need and recommend that I read a new book coming our in English for the first time (this side of the pond): Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra.
I have never read anything quite like this book if I’m honest, discounting of course those bizarre exam papers I still dream about in which none of the answers are right. The book begins with a simple Excluded Term type exam in which the reader must eliminate the word unconnected to the question word and the others. The prospect of using this in a novel isn’t one I would ordinarily admire as I’m a bit of a pedant for traditional structures. However, this initial section although it’s literally a multiple choice exam, manage to strike up an atmosphere just as effectively as 20 pages of dense paragraphs. Zambra’s technique kind of crept up on me and immersed me in the world of the novel unexpectedly.
The following sections of the exam-cum-novel ask the reader to complete Sentence Order, Sentence Completion, Sentence Elimination and Reading Comprehension tasks. There are no descriptions I can give here that won’t spoil the book, or in some way hamper your experience. Just think back to those dreams we mentioned earlier in which the exam paper morphs as you read it and begins telling a story.
Indeed, throughout the novel Zambra does manage to create a rich and evocative story using the incredibly prescribed medium of a test as a commentary not only on the constraints of Chilean dictatorship but also on the constraints placed on us socially though family. Even the condensed characters, whom Zambra uses so effectively, do not suffer greatly from being flattened into the even more 2-D space of a multi-choice test. The two main characters manage to intertwine and blur the lines of good and bad choices as we begin to choose the answers most likely. Quite an achievement for a book weighing in at just 101 pages!
Truly I would regard this as one of my favourite reads so far this year, perhaps because I’ve read it just as I’m launching into quite an academic sphere in my personal life, but mostly because it’s an excellent translation of what could be called a genius use of form in literature. (See? I told you I was in academia again).
How would I rate Multiple Choice?
b) 3* c) 5*
d) all of the above
e) none of the above
TL;DR: Answer the questions find the story. Turn in your answer sheet.
5 starts for Louise O’Neill’s ‘Asking for It”. Available now from Quercus publishers, ask in your local booksellers under fiction. RRP 12.99.
Emma O’Donovan doesn’t know who she is. We do: She’s a bitch. Being the epitome of the beautiful dreamgirl of her year, she has literally no idea who she is besides the ‘praise’ lavished on her looks which underscores the lack of attention given to her well-above-average grades. Even Emma’s friends kind of hate her. I know Emma, I went to school with Emma, I wanted to be Emma. Sadly lacking the looks, the “great ass” and “small tits” it wasn’t to be. Of course, the literal mountain of male privilege is what really helped me avoid being Emma.
Emma wasn’t asking for it.
She was preyed on by men who should know better, and let down by a society claiming to support her. She definitely was that word.
Cleverly folding the story into the small-town drama O’Neill captures so exquisitely the internalised sexism of everyday life. We see, through Emma’s eyes, the way the village seemed to conspire to force decisions upon her, to hold her down and ensnare her in her own (historical) bad choices. From the first crack of the spine, O’Neill does the same to us, leaving us no choice but to say yes to turning the page, and the one after, and the one after that, because saying no now means we’re not cool enough to go through with it.