December 28, 2013 § 1 Comment

I am addicted to list-articles. So naturally, I had to join the reflection trend, and provide you guys with a list of my five most beloved books of 2013.

1. The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

Far from the romanticised lycanthropes of paranormal literature, Duncan’s werewolf is raw and confronting. At times gruesome, always lyrical, The Last Werewolf is unexpectedly moving. If you’re refusing to read it because it’s about a werewolf, you probably couldn’t handle it anyway. (Yes, that is an attempt at reverse psychology. Just go and read it.)

I know, you're sick of seeing "Keep Calm" posters. But this one will work, I swear!

I know, you’re sick of seeing “Keep Calm” posters. But this one will work, I swear!

2. Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

I’ll spare my regular readers yet more rhapsodising about Skulduggery Pleasant, and simply direct you to the post where I rambled about how much I loved it for ten dot points. Why these books don’t have a bigger following, I will never understand.

3. Bury Me Deep by Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott is my most cherished discovery of 2013. I read Bury Me Deep after Die a Little and Dare Me, and by the time I finished it, Abbott had well and truly altered my opinion of crime fiction. Famous for her retro noir and for the femme fatales that also feature as protagonists, Megan Abbott is an underrated gem. Bury Me Deep is the second book on this list that I only found because I listened to the recommendation of my friends at Pulp Fiction. Thanks guys!

4. More Than This by Patrick Ness

I don’t know why I put off reading Patrick Ness until this year. More Than This is both mind-bending and emotionally resonant, and I carried it around for four days straight until I finished it. Recalling the psychological torment of The Matrix, More Than This is also an exploration of a young man’s first relationship. I really liked the fact that the protagonist’s relationship is a same-sex one, but this is simply par for the course in the novel, and not a feature point. Highly recommended.

5. Red Moon by Benjamin Percy

Red Moon raised the bar for supernatural novels in 2013. It’s filled with action, military intrigue and thinly veiled social commentary, and I loved every page. At the risk of sounding like a bland movie review, I have to go ahead and give it five stars. If you thought Cronin’s The Passage was addictive, cancel your plans for a few days and pick up a copy of Red Moon.

THANK YOU I’d like to thank a few people for their help, support and encouragement throughout 2013.
Ana and the team of Books Rock My World for their unending encouragement and their friendship from all corners of the globe. We admins are kindred spirits.
Beau, Iain and Ron of Pulp Fiction Booksellers, for your recommendations, advice, endless knowledge and for being the best bookstore I know of.
All the publishers, agents and authors who generously offered me review copies of their novels. I’m sorry that I couldn’t read them all, but the fact that you offered means the world. Thank you.
Alex, my old friend, and Nicola, my new, who submitted guest reviews. Thank you for your contributions!

Wishing you all the happiest year in 2014. May it be filled with the books that will change you for the better.


Robin Sloan’s Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A Review

December 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

The yellow on the cover glows, in true alchemical style!

The yellow on the cover glows, in true alchemical style!

Tell me, reader, are you a self-professed bibliophile? A lover of literature? A fan of fiction? If so, this book is for you.

Or are you a techie, trending the most up-to-date applications on the internet? This book is for you too.

Maybe you’re the quintessential thinker, Saint-Exupéry or Jostein Gaarder style? Then this book is for you.

This first novel by Robin Sloan is a quaint gem, blending story, technology and philosophy into a heartwarming page-turner. Old meets new meets the universal in this memorable triptych, which is a mystery, romance and fantasy rolled into one.

Sounds confusing already? It might. But Robin Sloan never lets you feel it, even as the characters fly from West to East (San Francisco to New York, to be precise), fall in and out of love, discovering and losing great secrets before rediscovering them. At its simplest and deepest, his message is a tribute to the power of friendship and the importance of faith in those whom you love. Which is not really a new lesson for anyone, is it?

Twenty-something-almost-thirty year-old Clay Jannon is a San Francisan IT savant recently retrenched from his job as web designer and social media manager of a tiny bagel outfit, which went under in the recent fast-food industry slump. To Clay, it was a “great food-chain contraction” that left “bankrupt burger chains and shuttered sushi empires in its wake”, which gives you an idea of Sloan’s flair for the imaginative and dramatic right from the start.

Clay is demoralised by his mediocre accomplishments, especially when compared to those of his peers. Walking around his city, Clay stumbles upon the titular bookshop which eventually becomes his new place of employment. The eccentric owner, Mr. Penumbra (which owner of a dusty little bookshop would not be eccentric?), hires Clay on the spot after he successfully answers some questions, chiefly: “What do you seek in these shelves?”; “Tell me about a book you love”; and “Can you climb a ladder?”

Brisbane's iconic BENT BOOKS, a beloved 2nd-hand bookstore in the city's West End.

Brisbane’s iconic BENT BOOKS, a beloved 2nd-hand bookstore in the city’s West End.

As he serves as book clerk, Clay soon learns that there is a deeper meaning to at least one of these questions, playing host to a slew of puzzling patrons who seem less interested in the bookshop’s main fare than the mysterious volumes tucked deep inside the shadowy shelves he dubs the “Waybacklist”. Together with his friends, Clay digs deeper into the secret of Mr Penumbra’s bookstore and realises that the readers are really searching for the answer to Man’s greatest question of all: “How do you live forever?”

Top-secret cults, baffling codex vitae (roughly translated “book of life”) and sinister robed figures feature prominently in the story, and you might be forgiven for thinking this is not totally out of Da Vinci Code territory. Yet there are pleasant surprises via Sloan’s injections of modernity; with a background involving a stint at Twitter and colloquialism. Ruby, a programming language, is “friendly, accessible poetry”, while Hadoop (a large-scale data-processing software) and Mechanical Turk (a web service that can request for human assistance with various tasks) becomes “King Hadoop and ten thousand Estonian footmen”. Even Google itself features in lots of code-cracking and impressive displays of technology. It doesn’t hurt that Clay and more than a few of his friends happen to be really smart and/or good with computers–his buddies include a Google employee, a special effects artist, and a self-made CEO of a software company. Just how lucky can one get, really?

Bent Books has all the character you expect of a 2nd hand bookstore.

Bent Books has all the character you expect of a 2nd hand bookstore.

Sloan would argue that such characters are essential to the story, because each of them has a particular role to fill. Clay is the rogue who does the dirty and dangerous work; Kat, his love interest, is a wizard of data and code, while his childhood best friend Neel is the warrior with a horde of gold to boot (fun fact: he made his money inventing a software that allows computer game and movie companies to create really realistic-looking boobs). In searching for the answer on how to live forever, the characters and their journey attain a kind of immortality themselves — through the literary motif of the quest. That Clay’s all-time favourite book was a fantasy tome is no coincidence; even the author returns from the grave to give help and reveal himself as a secret cult member. Yet the final treasure for these characters isn’t gold or even mere heroism, but the wisdom that immortality can come in more than one way or one form.

Sloan’s novel reveals nothing new, no lesson that was not already apparent. His gift is the combination of seemingly disparate ideas, transformed into alchemical perfection. For any book-lover who has bemoaned the death of brick-and-mortar bookshops while fervently clutching a Kindle in his hand, any technophile who still yearns for the good old schooldays of yore playing ‘Dungeons and Dragons’, this story will help them bring those threads together, with the assurance that eternal life is available to all and that “all the secrets in the world worth knowing are hiding in plain sight”. It is a story will make you pause, wonder and understand, eventually, the truth of how to live.

This review was written by a guest writer for The Novelettes, Nicola Cheong. Thanks Nicola!

Want to visit Bent Books, but don’t live in Brisbane? Thanks to the wonders of technology, you can! What an age we live in, right folks? Take a virtual tour of Bent Books by clicking on the link here. 

Ten Things I loved about Derek Landy’s SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT

December 15, 2013 § 3 Comments

1. Skulduggery is a magical skeleton detective.
Just stop and think about that for a second. So many children’s authors would expect their young readers to simply suspend their disbelief and accept that, in the world of this novel, magical skeleton detectives are just part of how things roll. Not so Derek Landy. Instead, Skulduggery’s past and his current status as animate skeleton are explained so matter-of-factly that the reader is able to place complete trust in the potential of this world to exist. Skulduggery is witty, droll, powerful, loyal and just a little bit shifty. Few titular characters are as likable as the skeleton detective.

Skulduggery is illustrated by Tom Percival

Skulduggery is illustrated by Tom Percival


2. The meta-fictional sense of humour
Skulduggery Pleasant is a book that is constantly aware of its genre, and of the reader’s scepticism. Rather than trying to overcome this with detailed descriptions and overwhelming world-building, Landy instead turns this into a basis for humour.  Skulduggery Pleasant literally made me laugh out loud so often that I repeatedly garnered odd looks from my fellow passengers on public transport.

“China is the same age as I am, and even I have to admit that she wears it better!” He laughed, then stopped and peered at her. “Because I’m a skeleton” he explained.” 

“A living skeleton isn’t enough for you, is it? What does it take to impress young people these days?”

“Doesn’t sunlight kill them? Doesn’t it turn them to dust, or make them burst into flames or something?”
“Nope. Vampires tan, just like you and me. Well, just like you. I tend to bleach.”

3. The character’s names are excellent.
The magic system in the world of Skulduggery Pleasant is based upon names. Individuals are given three names – their given name, the name they choose, and their true name. Some of the names that characters choose for themselves are simply wonderful:  Skulduggery Pleasant, for one, but also: Mevolent, the evil sorcerer; Meritorious, one of the wise Elders; Ghastly, the scarred but kindly tailor; and China Sorrows, dangerously beautiful librarian.

I really love Tom Percival's illustrations!

Meet Valkyrie Cain, also known as Stephanie Edgley. I love Tom Percival’s illustrations!

4. Stephanie’s inquisitive and enjoyably bossy personality
I’m so tired of reading reviews that praise “strong female characters.” It’s a concept I can no longer be bothered engaging with, because I think I believe it is more detrimental than it is helpful to depictions of female characters. What fiction, especially children’s fiction, needs more of are characters like Stephanie. Through a combination of inheritance and conscious choice, Stephanie finds herself fully immersed in the magical world of Skulduggery and his companions. Certain that she is now on the path to realising her life’s goals, she pesters, annoys and frustrates Skulduggery into taking her on as an apprentice. Stephanie is whip-smart, insolent and determined. In other words, she’s an actual twelve-year-old girl, and not an idealised “role model” coming to us from the top of an unrealistically high pedestal.

Well said.

Well said.


5. The book does not speak down to its readers
This is not a book dumbed down for its young readers. Now, it should be noted that the narration, content and language used are all age-appropriate, but in no way is it lowered in either quality or context for the younger reader. This means that Skulduggery Pleasant is just as enjoyable for the adult readers as it is for the kids!

6. The cleverly revealed layers of the plot
In addition to the highly entertaining dialogue, the plot of the first novel is fast-paced, action-packed and character-driven. All the things that you need to make a compulsive read. The author pays homage to the noir tradition, but also splices in all manner of pop-culture references (not the least of which is Lovecraftian!).

Mr Landy and Mr Pleasant - creator and creation.

Mr Landy and Mr Pleasant – creator and creation.

7. The relationship between Skulduggery and Stephanie (later Valkyrie)
Skulduggery is Stephanie’s teacher, mentor and protector. In turn, she is his loyal protégée. At times, they act like bickering siblings, and they’re certainly not afraid of being open with one another, but it’s quite clear that they are fiercely protective friends. It is refreshing and endearing to read about a genuinely caring relationship which is not based on romance. Skulduggery and Stephanie are simply in this together because they want to be, and that’s lovely.

“…what I was going to say is there’s something about you that is really annoying, and you never do what you’re told, and sometimes I question your intelligence—but even so, I’m going to train you, because I like having someone follow me around like a little puppy. It makes me feel good about myself.”
She rolled her eyes. “You are such a moron.”
“Don’t be jealous of my genius.”
“Can you get over yourself for just a moment?”
“If only that were possible.”
“For a guy with no internal organs, you’ve got quite the ego.”
“And for a girl who can’t stand up without falling over, you’re quite the critic.”
“My leg will be fine.”
“And my ego will flourish. What a pair we are.”

8. The fact that Skulduggery Pleasant is not yet a movie franchise
This is surprising, because it’s a series bound for the silver screen. I’m delighted to have found these books before they get to movie-stage, because it could be done so very badly. Derek Landy’s novels are eccentric, quintessentially Irish and highly imaginative, and I worry that they would not translate effectively through the lens of a Hollywood camera. Read them before a film comes out, so you can make up your own mind.

Does this logo not scream "opening credits" to you?

Does this logo not scream “opening credits” to you?

9. The darkness that counterbalances the humour
Many children’s novels lean toward the saccharine in order to avoid frightening young readers. Few authors manage to walk the line between humour and darkness, but Landy carries it off without a hitch. There are scenes of surprising darkness in Skulduggery Pleasant, but the characters balance this out with unexpected quips and flippant commentary. Indeed, when Skulduggery is faced with somewhat graphic torture, he lightens the mood considerably by  simply laughing at his captor.

10. The fact that this is a whole series I get to discover
These are the kind of books I look forward to reading during my breaks, on the bus and before bed – an escape into a world with vivid characters, a multi-faceted magic system and an endless font of humour.

And they're the good guys.

If the first book is anything to go by – I love this series.

Dare Me – Megan Abbott

October 31, 2013 § 1 Comment

DARE ME, Megan Abbot

DARE ME, Megan Abbot

You know how people ask those questions about where you were when something monumental occurred, and you can immediately recall the day, the hour, the very moment that you heard the news? I can tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing when I turned the final page of Lev Grossman’s THE MAGICIANS. Sitting on a bus, with one of my headphones in, Placebo wailing away in the background, trying to come to terms with the fact that I had to start a shift at my retail job and carry on as usual after having just finished one of the most incredible books I’d ever read. Finishing THE MAGICIANS was, in some inexplicable way, a life-changing event for me: a new kind of reading experience, fiction with a different kind of resonance.

THE MAGICIANS is, if not my favourite book, one of the best books I’ve ever read. Oddly, this book is a kind of sacrilegious mix of Harry Potter and The Secret History, both of which are my favourites. Since I finished it about a year ago, I hadn’t come across another novel that had the same kind of impact (although THE MAGICIAN KING came pretty damn close). Today, I finished Megan Abbott’s DARE ME, and for the second time, my world has ever-so-slightly shifted.

Football players throw a ball around. We throw each other.

At first, the squad is reluctant to accept the new Coach. Regal, closed-off and hard as nails, she is everything the cheerleaders aspire to. Under her regiment, they begin to flourish: as their bodies shed excess fat in favour of hard muscle, their determination to better their routine turns to obsession. Every girl wants to be the lightest, the fastest, the lithest, so that she may be chosen as the Flyer. Before Coach, there would have been no doubt that Beth would be Top Girl, the apex of the pyramid. Captain of the squad and dictator of the group, Beth and Addy have been best friends since before they even had a choice.
But now that Coach has commanded Addy’s loyalty, Beth finds herself backed into a corner. No longer Top Girl, Captain or even Addy’s priority, she sinks into a maelstrom of destruction and betrayal. Beth invests her body, mind and soul in bringing the Coach to her knees, and never once stops to consider the cost.
The fraying rope in a tug-of-war, Addy is forced to decide who to trust, maybe with her life: her lifelong best friend, or the Coach who remade her?

The world of cheer makes Tyler Durden’s Fight Club look like a casual warm up. The physical demands of a cheerleader’s body are akin to a ballerina’s, and each and every stunt is a calculated risk. To successfully pull off the stunning moves they aspire to, Addy and her squad are dependent on their own strength and the capability of their teammates. I don’t think anyone would underestimate the athleticism involved in being a cheerleader, but before I read DARE ME, I never considered the fact that so many of the stunts we see cheerleaders do are truly a matter of life and death.  If someone falls from the top of a pyramid, or lands badly from a basket toss, they could very easily break their neck. At least with Fight Club, if someone goes limp, taps out or says stop, the fight is over…

Eyes on the Flyer’s eyes, shoulders, hips, vigilant for any sign of misalignment, instability, panic.
This is how you stop falls.
This is how you keep everything from collapsing.
You never get to see the stunt at all.
Eyes on your girl.
And it’s only ever a partial vision, because that’s the only way to keep everyone up in the air.

… Standing back, it’s like you’re trying to kill each other and yourselves.

Mrs Abbott, you have a new convert in me.

Mrs Abbott has a new convert in me.

In DARE ME, Abbott brutalises female relationships. She unflinchingly portrays the co-dependency of female friendships with such honesty that I actually found it a bit uncomfortable to read. Addy and Beth’s lives are so entwined, their personalities so enmeshed that they are sometimes indistinguishable from one another. I found Collette (Coach) and Addy’s friendship a little disturbing, however; a twenty-seven year old woman should not need a seventeen year old girl to affirm her life decisions. In a lot of ways, I saw Coach as Beth, ten years after high school graduation – living a cold, empty life, with little to be happy about and much to obsess over.

I don’t think there’s a single, truly likeable character in DARE ME. Like DIE A LITTLE, I didn’t trust or fully invest in the narrator, but for entirely different reasons. DIE A LITTLE is quite clearly a mystery novel, so I was suspicious of Lora from the outset. Entering into DARE ME, however, I wasn’t entirely sure of the novel’s genre. Something about the way that Addy cowed to everyone’s agenda, and then secretly seethed about it set my teeth on edge. It just didn’t feel right, and it was very unsettling. I loved it.

Gone is the affectionately critical portrayal of female adolescence (not that it wasn’t appreciated, Tina). Here is the truth, the essence of competitive femininity. Here is female power, and its cost. Here is the cult of cheerleading. I’m still not sure if I want to join.
DARE ME is an odd mix of Fight Club, Black Swan and Special Topics in Calamity Physics. It taps into a culture of vicious obsession and explores the relationship between determination and desperation. It’s the second novel I’ve read by Abbott, and I’m possibly even more impressed with it than DIE A LITTLE. Buy the book, set aside a few hours and prepare to be impressed.

Contact Pulp Fiction Booksellers on  (07) 3236-2750, visit them online or add them as a friend on Facebook.
If you haven’t already, check out my review of DIE A LITTLE, Megan Abbott’s first novel.

I pair the books I read with the music I listen to…
Sixteen year old New Zealand singer LORDE is wise beyond her years. Her breakout record Pure Heroine is topping charts left, right and centre, so if you don’t know her name by now, you will soon. Lorde’s first single Tennis Court is the perfect musical representation of DARE ME, particularly when paired with its stark, unsettling film clip. Lorde, who writes about the “loneliness, fake friends and real friends” that are all a part the life of a sixteen year old girl, is the ideal accompaniment to Abbott’s brilliant novel. Check out the video by clicking on the photo below.

LORDE - Click for a link to the video for Tennis Court

LORDE – Click for a link to the video for Tennis Court

We are phalanx-spread four deep across the floor. Oh, the roaring, if only you knew.

The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

October 17, 2013 § 2 Comments

Werewolves have always been a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. Occasionally, I allow myself to indulge in a mini-spree of lupine literature. When I requested that The Craving (the sequel to The Pack) be held for me at Pulp Fiction, my trusted source recommended that I give The Last Werewolf a try. Given my affection for werewolves and the fact that Pulp Fiction’s recommendations have never let me down, I didn’t need to deliberate too long before deciding to buy it, too.

The Last Werewolf is a punch in the gut. You think you know what to expect, but it floors you anyway. And even once the shock of it is over, you can still feel the persistent ache from the impact. It’s that good.

“The first horror is there's horror. The second is you accommodate it.”

“The first horror is there’s horror. The second is you accommodate it.”

Now, there are a few things you need to know before you pick this book up.

Firstly, The Last Werewolf is NOT another post-Twilight foray into human-lupine relationships. There is no paranormal romance here, readers, and if that’s what you’re into, I’d advise you to leave The Last Werewolf on the shelf.
Jake Marlowe is (as you might have guessed) the last known werewolf in the world. For centuries, he’s been hunted by the World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena (WOCOP), but he’s managed to avoid being caught. Although he’d like to be able to say that this was due to his own cunning, the fact of the matter is that for the last fifty years, he’s had a man on the inside – his best friend Harley.

Glen Duncan's The Last Werewolf

Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf

Now that he’s been confirmed as the very last of his kind, Jake has jumped to the very top of the wanted list. Harley, now in his seventies, begs him to flee from civilisation, but Jake refuses. After nearly three hundred years of life as a werewolf, he’s ready for the end. Tortured by the Curse that falls upon him with the turning of the moon, Jake is at the constant mercy of the wolf that shares his soul. He is a monster and a man at once, and the impossibility of this existence has readied him for death.
Unfortunately for Jake, this isn’t good enough for WOCOP. They’re ready for a fight, and they’re pulling every dirty trick they know to try coax the lupine aggression out of Jake. He’s not willing to play, though – the way he sees it, if WOCOP want his life, they can take it on his own terms. But then the impossible happens, and Jake finds that his priority is no longer to seek death – rather, he’s found a reason to stay alive.
Yes, there is love in this book. A huge, transcendent love. Romance, though? Not a skerrick.

Second thing to consider before reading The Last Werewolf: this book is heavy on the prose.I don’t mean that the author throws in one too many adverbs; in parts, The Last Werewolf reads like song lyrics (which is not all that surprising, given that Nick Cave’s recommendation is on its cover). It’s not an easy read, and you need to invest yourself in the novel if you really want to get something out of it. If you’re not keen on abstract, poetic prose, it’s not for you.

Duncan’s writing makes Jake’s experiences intensely personal. His observations, his actions and his thoughts are relayed to the reader with astonishing clarity and poignancy.  In fact, Duncan’s narration is so intimate that the reader begins to truly suffer alongside Jake.
When I first started the book, I became quite bogged down in Duncan’s writing. It might even be fair to say that the beginning of the book is a little overwritten. However, I had been warned that this might happen, and I was determined to get past it. About a quarter into the story, something clicked for me and the author’s obsessively descriptive prose became the rhythm of the narrative. The beauty of Duncan’s writing contrasts sharply with the brutality of the story, and the book itself becomes an embodiment of the werewolf dichotomy – the hideous and the human, bound in a singularity.

In their cellular prison my devoured dead roused. (A consequence of eating people: the ingested crave company. Every new victim adds a voice to the monthly chorus.)

I'm actually convinced Glen Duncan IS a werewolf.

I’m actually convinced Glen Duncan IS a werewolf.

Lastly, The Last Werewolf is a very dark book. At its heart, it is a gritty exploration of a semi-suicidal mentality. It would be heartbreaking if it weren’t for the fact that Jake is a werewolf. The supernatural aspect allows the reader to distance themselves from the reality of such a mindset, given that it forces the narrative into the realm of the fictional. As his relationships are altered and developed, Jake’s psychological state changes, but it’s not an easy shift to endure. I became so emotionally invested in this book that I had to set it aside more than once. Unable to process any more devastation, I simply would have to close the novel and read something cheerfully trashy for a while, until I had prepared myself to re-enter Jake’s life.

Duncan demolishes the werewolf and builds it back up again, crafting an explosively convincing portrayal of a very modern monster. A highly literary, heavily written deconstruction of the traditional werewolf mythos, this book is not for the faint hearted, nor for the casual reader.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I keep telling myself I’m just an outmoded idea. But you know, you find yourself ripping a child open and swallowing its heart, it’s tough not to be overwhelmed by… the concrete reality of yourself.’ 

I honestly couldn’t decide whether to post a review of this book or not. I loved it so much, but it’s so hard to explain why I loved it that I felt I couldn’t do it justice. In the end, I decided to just do it anyway. If I convince someone else to read this book, I’ll have done it a service. If you would like a copy, give Pulp Fiction Booksellers a call on (07) 3236-2750.

Incidentally, my copy of the sequel to The Last Werewolf, Tallula Rising, should arrive on Tuesday. To say that I am impatient would be a gross understatement.

My thanks, as always, go out to Pulp Fiction Booksellers, for yet another excellent recommendation. If you haven’t friended them on Facebook yet, you should do so here.

Damned – Chuck Palahniuk

October 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

There came a time, several years ago, when I renounced my affection for Chuck Palahniuk novels. As he quite explicitly acknowledges on his website, Palahniuk readers form a cult of sorts. The cult-followers, and not the author himself, are the reason that I stopped reading Palahniuk. I have met one too many hipster-types who cite Chuck as their favourite author. These cultists can often be heard remarking that most people “can’t handle his stuff”, and describe Invisible Monsters as “kind of off-the-wall”. Cue the Tumblr devotees espousing their overly defensive opinions, interspersed with Palahniuk quotes and flashes of their their hilariously ironic tattoos… I’m out.

Case in point.

Case in point.

Yes, I let hipster culture ruin Chuck Palahniuk for me. And after reading Damned, I have come to deeply regret this.

Damned, Chuck Palahniuk

Damned, Chuck Palahniuk

When Chuck Palanhiuk’s AMA hit the top post on Reddit, I had a look at the synopsis for his upcoming new release, Doomed. The overview told me that it was about a thirteen year old girl living in Hell, about to bring about the end of the world. Naturally, interest was piqued, and not just because it was bound to stray into my favourite genre. Chuck writing from the perspective of a thirteen year old girl? This, I had to read. No sooner had I inquired about its release date in Australia than I realised that Doomed is actually a sequel, to the 2011 release, Damned.

Damned is a really strange book, even by Palahniuk’s standards. I don’t think I ever expected Chuck to write a novel from the perspective of a thirteen-year-old girl, and I know I never expected him to do so with compassion. I spent the weekend reading about Madison Spencer – precocious child of obscenely wealthy celebrity parents, and one of Hell’s newest inductees.

Madison finds herself in Hades after she dies, presumably from an overdose of cannabis (she’s not too sure on the details). She’s locked in a cage, and there are ravenous demons roaming about, but she’s determined to see the bright side in this situation. For example, she was wearing her sturdy, reliable loafers when she died, so at least she’s got her footwear sorted. In the filth-encrusted cell next to hers is Babette, who is polishing her counterfeit Manolo Blahniks when she introduces herself to Maddy. Clearly, the heels aren’t holding up in Hell, and so score one for Maddy. Soon after, Maddy meets Patterson, Hell’s resident teenage jock; Archer, a punk kid with a safety pin through his cheek; and Leonard, token dweeb and demonology expert.
Together, Madison and her newfound friends traverse the landscape of Hell. They encounter a giant demon, determined to eat them, and manage to diffuse her appetite through teamwork and creative thinking. Exploring their surroundings, they cross lakes of blood and saliva to reach their destination – Hell’s headquarters. Madison takes up a job as a telemarketer, phoning the living from Hell with the sole purpose of frustrating the living as much as possible. Instead of infuriating the unsuspecting living, Madison finds that she has a knack for convincing people of Hell’s good side. In fact, she’s so good at this that Hell sees the biggest increase in numbers of the Damned in…well…ever!

Taking its structure from Judy Blume’s Are you There God, It’s Me Margaret, Damned is a bizarre twist on the coming of age story. Now that she’s deceased, Madison is forced to come to terms with the fact that she will never mature into the person she thought she would be. She comes to this realisation via satirical, one-sided conversations with Satan, who she petitions in much the same way Margaret did God.
While musing about all the things she won’t become, Madison begins to accept all the things that she was. Despite never being able to reach physical maturity, Madison finds that Hell is exactly the place she needed to experience in order to mature as a person.

…despite so many options, I chose to be smart – the intelligent fat girl who possessed the shining brain, the straight-A student who’d wear sensible, durable shoes and eschew volleyball and manicures and giggling.

In Hell, it’s our attachments to a fixed identity that torture us.

Doomed Cover Art

Cover art – Doomed, sequel to Damned

Isn’t that sweet? Uh, no, it’s not really. No matter how compassionately he may write about the trials and tribulations of being a thirteen year old girl, this is still Chuck Palahniuk we’re talking about. This book is gory, grotesque and most definitely R-rated. It’s a sick and purposeful of inversion of The Lovely Bones. Where Susie Salmon longs to be back with her family on Earth, Madison successfully lures the living down to Hell to be with her. Where Susie was innocent in so many ways, Madison’s former-hippie parents have “liberated” (read: corrupted) her well beyond her years. And, obviously, while Susie was enjoying Heaven, Madison finds that she begins to appreciate Hell. Damned is so closely related to The Lovely Bones that one could even go so far as to call it a companion piece. I certainly think that if you’ve read the former, you’d enjoy the latter much more!

Madison is a fun narrator to read. In his most vulnerable character yet, Palahniuk encapsulates the contradictory mix of self-consciousness and absolute certainty that is the mindset of thirteen year old girls.

My biggest gripe is still hope. In hell, hope is a really, really bad habit, like smoking cigarettes or fingernail biting. Hope is something really tough and tenacious you have to give up. It’s an addiction to break. Yes, I know the word tenacious. I’m thirteen and disillusioned and a little lonely, but I’m not simpleminded.

Damned is often funny, occasionally awful, predictably extreme and unexpectedly tender. It’s far from the explosive masculinity of Fight Club, but it retains Palahniuk’s signature quotability. As with most of Chuck’s books, Damned is raw and harsh, but it’s also insightful. And it ends with a cliffhanger…I fully expect Madison Spencer to continue to raise Hell in Doomed.

Doomed is available November 1, and you can grab your copy of Damned here from Book Depository, or talk to Pulp Fiction Booksellers if you’re in Brisbane.

What is a post about Palahniuk without gratuitous Fight Club art?

What is a post about Palahniuk without gratuitous Fight Club art?

Disclaimer: my final submission for high school art class was a collage storyboard of Fight Club. I know, I know. I’m a hypocrite. And I have a tattoo on  my wrist.

The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

October 5, 2013 § 4 Comments

I buy books frequently and with very little impulse control. I am surrounded by stacks of novels, both at home and at my desk at work. I lend out my novels like I’m donating a kidney – with a wrench of effort, but no hesitation. I reread books whenever I can, because I believe that if you really love something, you can’t let it go. I recommend books to anyone who will listen to me, and sometimes, to those who won’t. I have read hundreds of books – maybe even thousands. I have read across many genres, countless authors, and endless topics.

Sometimes, I come across a book that is such a blinding example of originality that it is shocking; a book with some kind of intangible element I have never come across before. Being a seasoned reader (albeit a young one), I think that this must mean that these books are something special.
The Knife of Never Letting Go is one of these books.

The Knife of Never Letting Go

The Knife of Never Letting Go

After reading Patrick Ness’ recent release, More Than This, I decided to bite the bullet and delve into his prolific trilogy, Chaos Walking. I had a vague idea of what the book was about, but didn’t really know much about why this series was lauded so much more than many of the other dystopian trilogies that have recently populated the YA market.

Todd lives in Prentisstown. There are no women in this place, and therefore no children. Todd is the youngest boy in the community, and in a few short weeks, he will become a man. Prentisstown is an agricultural society, and Todd has been raised by two sheep farmers, Ben and Cillian. He is forever accompanied by his dog Manchee, who he begrudgingly loves.
Prentisstown is a settlement on New World. The colonists of Prentisstown, who are loosely based on the Aamish, established their lives there in order to live a simpler, more wholesome lifestyle. When they landed on New World, the settlers were shocked to find it already inhabited. The indigenous aliens, referred to as the Spackle, launch a biological attack on their invaders. While the settlers are able to decimate any Spackle opposition to their newly claimed land, they find that their culture has been permanently altered by the Spackle’s attack. Animals can now talk, and, more importantly, the settlers of Prentisstown find that their thoughts and emotions are now projected, constantly and involuntarily, for anyone around them to hear. The settlers call this “Noise”.

The Noise has two main effects: firstly, the settlers can’t help but project their own thoughts and feelings at all times; and secondly, that they cannot stop themselves from hearing the Noise of others. This dramatically alters the interactions of the people of Prentisstown.

To tell you any more about the plot might be to give important information away, but I can tell you this: there’s a girl. The first Prentisstown has seen since all the women died, and she brings with her an unexpected silence. There’s a lie, and it’s a big one. There’s a death, and it’s heart-wrenchingly awful. There’s a murderous preacher with the violence only a zealot can truly possess. And there’s a secret…Oh man, is there ever a secret.

The Knife of Never Letting Go is written from Todd’s perspective. Never having been taught to read, Todd has some odd pronunciations and verbal tics. These are a little difficult to get used to at first, but I found that they quickly became quite endearing. Todd is forcibly innocent (a concept you will understand once you finish the book), but he isn’t naïve. It’s impossible to be, when you are constantly in the presence of the most intimate, base thoughts and feelings of everyone you’ve ever known. Ness writes with a simplicity that is both lovely and brutal, a dichotomy which encapsulates Todd’s story in general. Incidentally, I think this passage is beautiful:

Each of us knowing the other.

Each of us knowing the other.

In Todd, Patrick Ness has created a highly original incarnation of the unreliable narrator, and he does this with finesse that many adult novels are lacking. Todd is an interesting mixture of ignorance and worldliness; although he has only ever known the tiny world of Prentisstown, his access to the entire town’s thoughts and memories mean that he has been exposed to concepts and ideals far beyond the reach of his own experience. Trust means something entirely different when you can hear what everyone is thinking.
Also, just as an aside, Todd’s dog, Manchee, is hilarious. Although he can speak, he still has the intellectual and philosophical concerns of a dog. Usually, this manifests itself in him bugging Todd to let him do a poo (which I, being very immature in my sense of humour, find unspeakably funny).

The Knife of Never Letting Go has joined the ranks of Books That Have Made Me Cry on the Bus. I think I can safely say that this book was a much more emotional read than I was expecting. Although it is technically classed as young adult fiction, this is only because the protagonist is young. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys dystopian fiction, or sci fi in general, regardless of their fondness (or otherwise) for YA. You might think you’ve read about every kind of dystopia that could possibly eventuate, but Patrick Ness is here to tell you you’re wrong. This book is different, and this author might just be my new favourite.

Tanya, over at The Yeti Says, wrote a letter to The Knife of Never Letting Go. You should check it out here.

Without a filter, a man is just chaos walking.

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