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I gave you the background to this novel on Tuesday, but I wanted to spend a bit more time looking at it than I had available then.

As with book 1 of the series, The Year of the Flood sweeps backwards and forwards through time.  There are key differences though: whereas in book 1 we see the world from a point of knowledge about what has occurred, this book shows how people removed from the science and power are able to survive.

The God’s Gardeners religion which was mentioned in book one is a large element of book 2.  It sounds like an eco-cult, with strange saints and a hierarchy where the most senior members are all called Adam or Eve.  There are odd songs and it is made to sound both fantastical and (in light of the world they live in) a compelling kind of fringe society, taking in the waifs and strays left behind by modernity.

It took me a while to get into those elements, especially the songs, because the structure was quite different to book one.

However what worked really well for me was to show the key characters – Toby and Ren – as their situations change over time.  In marked opposition to Oryx and Crake and the pampered lives in the Compounds, Toby and Ren exist in the insecurity and danger of the Pleeblands.  They are at risk, as women, in the world they inhabit, and the risk doesn’t end when the plague comes.

I enjoyed this book, and as part of a series it added intricacy to the world being created.  I wasn’t sure about the God’s Gardeners sermons and saints days but looked at collectively they show how much of the world we know now has been lost to the future, and how mankind has damaged the world in order to keep the Corporations powerful.

I am not sure how well it would stand up on its own but for me that wouldn’t be the best way to approach the middle book of a series anyway!

I will tell you about the final book of the series next time.

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

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This is the 3rd book from my break, and the second in Margaret Atwood’s trilogy based on a possible future for humanity, which started with Oryx and Crake.

It covers the same time period as the first but from different points of view. It introduces the God’s Gardeners, an environmentally-focussed religion/cult, and some of their teachings. Some of these Gardeners have survived the plague – an event their leader foretold as the Waterless Flood – and the book tells their stories before and after the plague.

I want to take more time over this story than I have today so I will write part 2 separately, exploring the novel in more detail.

I will be back soon!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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Book two of my not really holiday reading was Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood.  I first read this about eight years ago (and when I realised that I was a bit shocked!) but it’s one of a series so I got all three to read back to back.

The story is about a man called Jimmy, or Snowman, and is set in a future where science has overwhelmed nature: people, plants and animals are genetically modified.  Society is split into people in the Compounds – the areas of Corporations managing the scientific activities for profit – and the pleeblands, where everyone else lives.

When a global pandemic wipes out virtually all humanity, Jimmy has to save not only himself but the Crakers, a group of bioengineered humanoids created by Jimmy’s best friend, and find a way to survive the new world, with its newly released science experiment animals.

I won’t say more than that because I will be giving away too much of the story!

I chose this book because I enjoy reading Atwood’s work, because I knew I wanted to revisit the book, and because I love a dystopian future.  I didn’t read it for writing purposes.

Having said that, it’s always interesting to read Atwood – the concepts in this book are intriguing and disturbing, and I found myself wondering at what point I would think genetic manipulation had gone too far.  At what point do we as a society move from horrified to accepting?

There is also moral consideration about the behaviour of both Jimmy and Crake in relation to each other, to Oryx who is loved by both men, and to humanity as a whole.

It’s a hard future and much like other dystopian novel, there are elements already creeping into reality which make it particularly unnerving in places.

Reading it on a sun lounger wasn’t really the right environment… Still, I found it moving, thought-provoking and engrossing. It stood up well on second reading, although the gap may have helped 🙂

I have read the next book in the trilogy and am onto the third, so more on the future of humanity will follow!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

 

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I said yesterday that I had three books to discuss, but over the course of today I decided to split them into different posts.  That way, each one gets a bit more space to be discussed!

So the first book to talk about is The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht.  I am going to be totally honest and say I was first drawn to it by the name, and once I saw the cover I was hooked.

This book is a mixture of fact, fantasy, and folktale; from a writing point of view I was interested in how the elements were fused.  This book had a richness to it, a sense of the world being deeper and wider than imagined.   I particularly liked the ‘Deathless Man’ stories, which were like something from Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

The downside of richness is that you can have too much of something.  By the end of the book I did feel that there were so many stories, so many characters, so many details that I didn’t hold on to them all.  That isn’t always a negative but in this case, it’s difficult to write about the content of the book because I can’t remember it all.

So I will focus on the key elements that remain with me.  Firstly, the names of places are made up, but there is a clear sense that the tales take place in the former Yugoslavia – not only because of Obreht’s personal history, but because of the nature of the conflicts within the story.

Secondly, the tale of the Tiger’s Wife herself is of a woman finding freedom and finding her own path, and that being destroyed by people who are scared of the power that gives her.  In effect, it is the personalisation of the story of war.

Thirdly, this is the story of tragedy.  It feels as though whatever happens, violence recurs. It is not a book that leaves you feeling uplifted but it does make you think about how terrible things can happen, and the ramifications of them.

It wasn’t really holiday reading, and it was a bit too heavy going for a sun lounger, but it was an interesting book.

GoingTigers Wife back to the writing perspective, I have to be honest and say that the fusion of different folk tales didn’t always work form me, but I loved the Deathless Man idea, and how it twined in and out of reality.  I often lost track of where I was in time – Obreht did shift forward and backward in time on a number of occasions and it wasn’t alway immediately clear.  As someone who has used the time shift tool themselves I think it’s better to signpost the shift but it’s a narrative choice to make it blurry.

Overall this book was unusual, and poignant, and focussed on loss in a way I hadn’t anticipated.  It was not what I expected to be reading.  As a writer, I think that’s a brave strategy but as a reader I wasn’t prepared for the content!

I am not sure I will re-read this book but I am not willing to pass it on yet either – mind you, that might just be because I love the cover drawing…

This is one I just can’t quite make up my mind about.  Which I see as a writing positive, because at least I am thinking about it!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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As I said on Sunday my reading focus at the moment is about feeling – for which I have decided to read both a novel and a book of poetry.

Obviously the novel is going to be useful as a way of exploring another writer’s techniques and seeing what I can learn.  However,  I thought that adding poetry to the mix might help me think outside the box a little more – perhaps by suggesting more lyrical phrasing or mixing up a few metaphors.

I won’t talk about my findings yet, as I don’t want to pre-empt them and I haven’t finished my reading.  I probably won’t read the entire poetry anthology before next week either, but I will have looked at a few different examples and hopefully will identify something valuable that I can take forward into my own writing.

I am looking forward to finding out!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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I said last week that I was going to approach the Challenge Tuesday posts a little differently this year, and read with purpose.  I actually started reading this particular book in December but feel that it meets my new criteria so am reporting on it anyway!

Alias Grace is a novel by Margaret Atwood, who is one of my favourite writers.  It is a fictionalised story based on the true life character of Grace Marks, who was convicted with her alleged paramour of the murder in 1843.

I enjoy Atwood’s writing style, which is both complex and entirely accessible.  In this particular book though, it wasn’t the style but the approach that I found so intriguing and noteworthy.

There were two murders for which Marks and James McDermott were accused: the killing of Thomas Kinnear, their employer, and of Nancy Montgomery, the housekeeper and likely lover of Kinnear. Montgomery was pregnant at the time of her death, which at the time stood against her: although the pair were convicted of murdering Kinnear, there was no trial for Montgomery.  As the death sentence had been passed there was deemed to be no need.  In fact, Marks was not executed but was pardoned in 1872.

But despite all the dramatic possibility within these elements Atwood doesn’t focus on them.  They set parameters in which the character’s experience of the world is set, but they are not the core of her story.

Instead we are presented with a (fictional) doctor whose interest in what we would now call mental health leads him to meet with Marks, to see if her amnesia about the events of the fateful day is real.

What follows is a mixture of Marks’s life story, interwoven with the doctor’s experiences in the town he has taken up residence, and some of the well-meaning but somewhat frivolous people who are trying to get Marks pardoned.  The crime itself is only described in any detail during a session of something akin to hypnosis.

Marks is humanised through the book.  Her reflections on what is ‘proper’ behaviour for staff in a household are both ironic and heartfelt: her regret with regard to her own breaches of etiquette is completely believable from the character Atwood has created, and yet we are aware the doctor is only interested in understanding her because she is a notorious murderer.

As a whole, the book could be the biography of a murderer, or about a famous crime in Canada in the 19th century, or about life in service, or about mental health.  It is all these things and none: it takes elements from multiple genres to create a rich meal.

Fundamentally, as a reader I took away the fact that in a strong story the crime itself doesn’t need to be the focus, it is the criminal (or accused, at least) who has to be deciphered.  As a writer, I have a better perception of how to take a real event and cast it under a fictional light.

Extremely satisfying, on both counts!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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So it is that time of the year again, when I launch my Challenge Tuesday with a whizzbang starter and get a few under my belt to see me through the first few weeks.

Or not, as the case may be…

Firstly, I’ve got to report my final tally for 2016 being a vaguely disappointing 41 books. It’s not that bad a number, but more that I missed both my original and my revised targets that feels a little negative.

However, it has forced me to accept that I cannot do everything I might want to do – read, write, study, work, act, sew, crochet, play table tennis, go to the gym, spend time with loved ones…  There are only 24 hours in a day, and I like to spend some of them asleep.  I have to make better choices for my time.

So this year’s challenge is to read works with a view to enhancing my writing. It may be something from a relevant genre for style ideas, or a writer I admire for their strong prose or beautiful imagery, their use of themes or metaphors.  It might be research – a biography or history book, for example.  It might be poetry for the rhythm.  Who knows? There’s no set number, just a purpose.

Let’s see where that concept takes me!

In the meantime, here’s the list of books from 2016:

Book 1 – The Path of Daggers, by Robert Jordan

Book 2 – Winter’s Heart, by Robert Jordan

Book 3 – The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith

Book 4 – Tears of the Giraffe, by Alexander McCall  Smith

Book 5 – Morality for Beautiful Girls, by Alexander McCall Smith

Book 6 – The Kalahari Typing School for Men, by Alexander McCall Smith

Book 7 – The Merlin Conspiracy, by Diana Wynne Jones

Book 8 – A Little Love Song, by Michelle Magorian

Book 9 – Stone Mattress, by Margaret Atwood

Book 10 – What We Believe But Cannot Prove, edited by John Brockman

Book 11 – The Full Cupboard of Life, by Alexander McCall Smith

Book 12 – In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, by Alexander McCall Smith

Book 13 – The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy

Book 14 – The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy

Book 15 – Summer, by Edith Wharton

Book 16 – The Double Clue, and other Hercule Poirot Stories, by Agatha Christie

Book 17 – The Dressmaker, by Rosalie Ham

Book 18 – The Beauties and the Furies, by Christina Stead

Book 19 – The Seance, by John Harwood

Book 20 – North of Nowhere, by Liz Kessler

Book 21 – A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin

Book 22 – The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula Le Guin

Book 23 – The Farthest Shore, by Ursula Le Guin

Book 24 – Tehanu, by Ursula Le Guin

Book 25 – A Spot of Bother, by Mark Haddon

Book 26 – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce

Book 27 – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany

Book 28 – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling

Book 29 – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling

Book 30 – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling

Book 31 – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling

Book 32 – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark

Book 33 – The Last Anniversary, by Liane Moriarty

Book 34 – Pyramid, by David Gibbins

Book 35 – My Soul To Take, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Book 36 – Willow, Wine, Mirror, Moon: Women’s Poems from Tang China, translated by Jeanne Larsen 

Book 37 – The Axeman’s Jazz, by Ray Celestin

Book 38 – Chocolat, by Joanne Harris

Book 39 – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Book 40 – Lady Oracle, by Margaret Atwood

Book 41 – A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees, by Kenkō; translated by Meredith McKinney

If you have any ideas for the 2017 list, please let me know in the comments – I’d love to know what makes you sit up and take notice, as a writer!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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