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

Subjunctive Moods by C. G. Menon and Book Giveaway

C. G. Menon is a multiple prize-winning short story writer so it comes as no surprise that her collection feels so accomplished. Not only do the stories range across different countries and counties, they cross into the magical real world of myth and mystery as much as the mundane. From Malaysian vampires – pontianaks – to mermaids and magical mountains filled with trolls, Subjunctive Moods is nonetheless a collection that feels very grounded in the real narratives that we use to shape our identities and journeys through life. Continue reading

Transit by Rachel Cusk

I found Transit, the second in Rachel Cusk’s trilogy,  just as compelling as Outline (which I review here).

The ostensible plot – action, as in Outline, not being the driving force of the novel – is about the narrator moving to London and having her house renovated. Her children are forced to move out for two weeks. Her neighbours, who live below, are aggressive in the extreme – something she was warned about by the previous occupier. She teaches, goes on a date, and visits her cousin who bullies his new wife. This doesn’t tell you what’s actually happening in the novel, however, which expresses a significant shift in the outlook of the narrator.

The distinction between the two novels can, for me, be summed up by the narrator herself who says the following in conversation on a dinner date: Continue reading

Outline by Rachel Cusk

I’ve come to Rachel Cusk late. Having heard so much about her and her work before even turning the first page, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found was a very compelling novel almost of absence. It was as if the main character existed only to hear and record what others said to her, as if she herself were only an excuse for others to express themselves and show their best theories and thoughts. Of course, what I read was actually what the narrator chose to tell me. The self-effacement was a choice which I couldn’t be certain existed for the other characters. Perhaps this character was as verbally present as they were, but that part of the story was elided for the purposes of retelling.

It’s delightful to read a novel that has a sense of movement but no discernible plot as such. The narrator goes to Athens to teach creative writing. She teaches, meets some friends and acquaintances, then prepares to travel back. There is no great moment of epiphany (apart perhaps from the moment at the end with the other woman coming to teach screenwriting and live in the apartment that the narrator has been renting), and the dramatic moments fall quietly into the fabric of her days, so that a verbal attack by a student and an attempted kiss from her neighbour on the airplane she flew in on, aren’t the central moments, as they might be, but are instead part of the stories of these other people’s lives who seem to have taken all the drama, all the comedy and tragedy for themselves. Continue reading