The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Alongside many, I was eagerly awaiting The Testaments. I had it on pre-order and dragged it from the packaging with delight. How was Margaret Atwood going to take The Handmaid’s Tale further? Would it reference the television programme that extended the original novel? What more could be said by June?

Once again, Margaret Atwood showed what a fantastic storyteller she is by choosing a story that could be read on many levels. You could read The Testaments without reading The Handmaid’s Tale; I suspect it would stand as a novel on its own. Similarly you could definitely read The Testaments without having seen the television series. However, there is a greater richness to the story when you can hold them all together. There is something very interesting about this idea of using multiple media to expand and enhance a world. It is not new, of course, but it does provoke interesting opportunities for the writer whose skills are pushed in new directions. It can’t have been possible to write this novel in isolation from the response to the original novel and then the television series. How do you write something new on a subject so many see themselves as being experts in? Continue reading

Sealed by Naomi Booth

Everything I’ve read about Sealed doesn’t really do it justice. Though the story is horrifying and gory with a great deal of menace; though there is an interest in what it means to be a parent when facing difficult times; it is also more than a young parent’s ecological horror story. This is more than the usual gore of birth, toil, poverty and death. It’s about things turning on themselves, about judgements and decisions that come in the face of a world changed by our use of it. Not only a world changed, but our bodies changed.

Cutis, a skin disease where our largest organ grows more than it needs to, sealing over the important orifices like mouths, nostrils, ear canals and anuses, is spreading. Thin stretchy white tendrils seem to form overnight, suffocating, poisoning, deafening, maiming. A disease only the richest can afford to fix, a disease whose spread governments are keen to conceal, where ‘natural causes’ like heart-attack (from panic), or obstructed bowel etc. hide the spread of cutis, leaves Alice, a pregnant housing officer whose mother has recently died from cutis, obsessed by the reality of the disease. Though Alice and her partner Pete attempt to escape Alice’s fears of this disease by moving out into the country, way out to a remote mountain house near the forest, the sense of menace never leaves them and all Alice’s promises to put her obsession behind her are forgotten in the face of an epidemic that no one seems able to escape. Continue reading

Unmastered by Katherine Angel

I loved this book. At first, I was taken aback by all the space; there is an aphoristic feel to the style, to the layout and there are many quotations from Susan Sontag and Virginia Woolf in particular. Was I reading a compilation of other people’s thoughts? Sometimes the simple clarity of the prose knocked me off guard. What was I reading? What would this book give me? 

Then, as I read on, I found myself delighting in the space, embracing all that room for contemplation that the book gave to these simple, difficult words about female desire. I say difficult because, as the book explores, discussing female desire is fraught with conditioned expectations, dichotomies of interpretation, a fear of how it will be interpreted and a culture that prefers women to stay silent about their desire. A woman full of desire, a woman hungry for sexual experience or to be in charge of her sexual experience, a woman who refuses to be good, to be compliant, is threatening. It is far easier to stay silent.

This hunger, this desire to consume and explore, to gorge on pleasure, to take centre stage, is at the heart of a feminism that is all about owning every part of a woman, even the desires that play with misogyny, that sit at the painful edge of a cultural shift away from patriarchy that we are still very much in the middle of.

Unmastered is a totally engrossing read. I know I will go back and back to it. I’ve turned down so many pages the book now has that fan quality, its edges ready to be unfurled, ready to fuel my own thoughts.

Go Katherine Angel! Thanks to Heidi James for suggesting this. What a great read. I’ll be reading and reviewing Sealed by Naomi Booth next.

What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky is a beautiful, diverse collection of stories. There is no one genre and yet all the stories have a definite voice that make it clear they belong together and to Arimah. This is impressive in a short story collection, to have such different stories feel as if they speak from the same place, a place that feels like a longing for home, love and freedom of expression. Lesley Nneka Arimah is a true and mesmerising storyteller.  Continue reading

Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Rosewater is not only the winner of the inaugural Nommo Award for Best Novel (Africa’s first award for speculative fiction), but also the winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award 2019, shortlisted for the Kitschie Award for Best Novel 2019 and finalist in the John W. Campbells Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. With all of these accolades you open Rosewater filled with expectations and the novel, the first in the Wormwood trilogy, does not disappoint. I was gripped right from the start.

Centred around Kaaro, a government agent and sensitive – meaning he can read people’s minds using the xensophere, an interconnected series of spores that live in the air and link everything and everyone together. His day job is in bank security, stopping other sensitives from accessing important data that might allow them to steal from the bank. His government work is more complicated, more dangerous and centred around the biodome.  Continue reading

Water Shall Refuse Them by Lucie McKnight Hardy

It’s the summer of 1976 in England. The hottest summer on record. Nif’s little sister, Petra drowned in the bath four months ago and the family take off to a small village on the Welsh border to escape the grief that seems to be sucking the life from their family.

Nif is sixteen and no stranger to looking after Petra’s twin, her little brother Lorry. His speech is slow and he’s just come out of nappies even though he’s four years old. When he falls over on the gravel path outside the cottage in Wales, Nif rubs gravel into his other knee – it’s the Creed, the Creed that makes her do it. Things need to be balanced out. Continue reading

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

I raced through The Grace Year. Think of all the speculative fiction you’ve read about how men control women, particularly in religious communities – Vox, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Farm, The Power – and you’ll understand where The Grace Year is coming from, though it feels a bit like The Hunger Games has had an influence too. If you like this kind of book, you won’t be able to resist The Grace Year.

Tierney is approaching her sixteenth year and is therefore next in her family to be sent away for her grace year. Her community believes that a girl on the cusp of womanhood is filled with magic, the evil witchcraft used by Eve to deceive Adam and curse the human race, and must be banished for a year to release their wayward, dangerous powers into the wilderness before they return.  Continue reading

The Contortionist’s Handbook by Craig Clevenger

How do you hide from a difficult past when you have a left hand with an extra ring finger and bright red hair? Even if you’re exceedingly clever with a phenomenal talent for drawing? If you’re John Dolan Vincent of The Contortionist’s Handbook, you become a forger.

Initially running from a rough childhood – an abusive father in and out of jail; a school record that mistakes his savant abilities for special needs – the lure of reinvention becomes a habit, especially after the doctors can’t diagnose his headaches and conclude they are psychologically induced. In order to avoid the mental hospital – each headache episode ends in overdose as he takes more and more drugs to control the pain – every headache requires a new identity. Continue reading

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage starts with a newly married couple, Celestial and Roy, enjoying a romantic night in a hotel. A romantic night that begins a new and troubling era in their lives when Roy is arrested for a crime he did not commit.

The novel has three parts and is mostly told from three main first person perspectives, those of Celestial, Roy and Andre, Celestial’s childhood friend who introduced the couple. Interspersed between these first person narratives are letters sent between the characters, for the most part between Celestial and Roy but this structure also allows for letters to and from other characters, such as parents, lawyers etc. Continue reading