99 Nights in Logar by by Jamil Jan Kochai

Set in 2005 on a family holiday home to Afghanistan, Marwand has come all the way from America to visit his family in Logar. Staying predominantly with his mother’s family because his father’s home and family were devastated during previous wars, Marwand is most looking forward to seeing the family dog. Since arriving in America, he has been taught that dogs should be trained with rewards and love and he carries with him guilt over torturing the dog when it was still a puppy.

The first thing he does is rush to the dog to make a amends, but Budabash is a fierce guard dog kept on a chain. Budabash eats off the tip of Marwand’s finger. Continue reading

Hazards of Time Travel by Joyce Carol Oates

Adriane Strohl, a seventeen-year-old high school student living in the near future in the North American States, a reconstituted United States including Canada and Mexico, expresses her curiosity about the world at the rehearsal of her graduation speech and is arrested for treason against the state and questioning authority.

Her punishment is to be exiled to a university in Zone 9. This turns out to be Wainscotia University in Wisconsin USA in 1959 where she is forbidden to offer any knowledge of the future or to enter into intimate relationships.

The idea of this transportation, of what it might be to exile someone to the past in the hope that their transgressive personalities might be changed through the loss of their family, friends and technology, makes Hazards of Time Travel a compelling idea. In reality, the book has a tendency to meander. It’s hard to grasp how the novel hangs together as its main character has a shifting awareness of her state. There is an experimental feel to the way the novel unfolds, at one point moving from the first person to an alternative group perspective. And whilst this experimental feel is true to the manipulative possibilities of science and governmental control, there is a part of me that longs for the novel to step outside of the confines of romantic obsession, or to form a greater cohesive narrative. In the end, I’m as unsure of what to feel or believe as Adriane and though this may be the point, it leaves a rather empty feeling on the palate of the mind. Continue reading

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

Three sisters, Grace, Lia and Sky live in a large house that used to be a retreat for suffering women seeking to heal themselves from the wrongs of men. The sisters live there with their father and mother. They undergo treatments and cures, they prepare themselves for the fight against the contaminated world outside the parameters of the house. They survive on goods their father brings from the mainland. He sails away for three days, trading talismans that the women sew, wearing a white suit to deflect contamination.

The rituals and treatments, the cures, are cruel, designed to test obedience and strength, to keep their womanly and dangerous feelings in check.

Then their father is gone with one of the boats. A blood stained shoe washes up on the shore. What will they do now he is gone? Continue reading

Circe by Madeline Miller

I enjoyed reading The Song of Achilles and was excited about turning the pages of Circe. I was not disappointed.

The more I read, the more I thought about the nature of storytelling, the enjoyment it takes in reflecting upon narrative tropes, upon stories of the past, about how it turns life and truth into narrative by retelling those old tropes and stories in new guises. In a way, Circe is the Odyssey newly told, or perhaps the battle between gods and their relationship to mortals newly told. The female perspective is the most delicious of changes and the choice of Circe, banished to her island, her voice weak as a mortals, her beauty dim for a goddess, makes the story more interesting. We see old tales from a perspective that is both divine and at the outskirts of that divinity, able to see it from the outside and judge its flaws. Continue reading

Kudos by Rachel Cusk

I’d been looking forward to reading this novel for such a number of weeks that perhaps my longing to read led to an unnecessary level of anticipation which was undoubtedly going to cause disappointment. It isn’t that I didn’t like this novel, or enjoy the writing in the same way that I enjoyed the writing of the other two novels in the trilogy, I think it’s that I expected more, I wanted it to go further than it did. Continue reading

I Still Dream by James Smythe

Based around the race to create artificial intelligence, mostly begun as computers built to win games, I Still Dream is a fascinating exploration of what it means to be conscious and of the importance of teaching morality.

Laura Bow uses a slow dial up internet connection to create a computer programme in her spare time. Having lost her father at a young age, she creates a programme that will listen, store information, learn how to ask and look after her well-being.

Her father was also a programmer, creating something that learnt how to manage accounting systems and filter knowledge. Laura goes on to work at the company he helped to start and her programme ends up going head to head with her father’s in more ways than one.

To say more about the plot would undoubtedly spoil the novel, but there are some fun 80s music references – her programme is called Organon from the Kate Bush Cloudbusting song – and the story is sufficiently driven by Laura’s life to allow the debate about what AI is and what it could or should be, a thematically relevant, but not always dominant, subject. Continue reading

You Are Not You by Simon Rosenburg

Sam, who has been in therapy for years, is looking to forge a new relationship and a new life. His ex-wife died of cancer and his life fell apart. Roberta, his psychologist, helped him to find a new grasp on life.

But now he has met Nina and Roberta doesn’t seem happy for him.

Sam recognises absences, parts of his days and nights that slip from his consciousness. He starts to wonder if Roberta isn’t helping him heal but is instead using their sessions to implant onto him, gaining control of his mind and his body. Just how dangerous is she? And will Nina believe him? Continue reading

Everything Under by Daisy Johnson

Everything Under is a beautiful book. Sentences twist and burble with an elegance that nonetheless feels etched in stone. That old stories can turn so neatly within a modern world brings a sense of connection to myth, to the land, to the fallibility of supposed progress.

Gretel is a lexicographer, updating dictionary entries. A call from a morgue tugs at her forgotten past and sets her on a quest to find her mother and uncover what happened all those seasons ago.

They lived on the river once and shared a language of words forged to suit only themselves. They spoke of what frightened them as the Bonak.

As Gretel wanders closer and closer to the land of her childhood, she finds another missing person whose story is curled tightly within her own. Continue reading

The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola

It’s 1857 and a young woman of middling birth named Audrey travels to the Isle of Skye to help the lady of the manor collect and edit a collection of Scottish Folk Tales. She is going against her father’s wishes and the advice of her step-mother. She hasn’t even told them where she is going. They consider it unladylike to take a position but would be more horrified that the position was in Skye where her birth mother died.

In part Audrey is running from an experience that clouds her conscience, in part she is running towards information about her mother whose death her father refuses to mention and whose passion was also to collect and record local folk lore. Continue reading

The Choice by Edith Eger

The Choice isn’t the kind of book I usually review. I don’t often write about autobiography or about psychology, but Edith Eger’s story is remarkable. Sent to Auschwitz at sixteen, Edith is a survivor of the Holocaust whose journey to freedom is all about the choices we as individuals are free to make. She recounts the story of her time at Auschwitz, her rescue by American soldiers, and her journey through life as she has her own family and emigrates to America.

Despite the seeming freedom that the end of the war brings, Edith does not feel free. She feels imprisoned by feelings of guilt and fear but it takes her a long time to realise this and to take steps towards a fully-fledged sense of freedom.

Now a clinical psychologist and speaker intent on helping others to help themselves, Edith’s book is full of energy. Once forced to dance for Mengele, she still ends her talks with a high kick. Continue reading