November 25, 2013 § 5 Comments
Being a booklover yourself, there’s a good chance that you’ll need to do some holiday shopping for the other bibliophiles in your life. So, what to buy? To some, the answer would be obvious: a book. But we readers know that picking out a book for someone who collects them can be a little hit and miss. What if they already have it? What if it’s not quite their style? It can be kinda risky. So, I’ve put together a list of the top ten book-related gift ideas for the holiday season that booklovers are guaranteed to love.
Okay, apologies for the immediate hypocrisy – I did just say that buying books for other readers can sometimes be risky. However, when the book in question is stamped “Man-Booker Prize Winner” the risk is nearly entirely eliminated. The Man-Booker prize is one of (if not THE) most prestigious literary awards, and this year, twenty-eight year old Eleanor Catton’s hefty historical novel has taken the cake. I treated myself to a beautiful hardcover edition a few weeks ago and I can’t wait to start. By all accounts, The Luminaries is a life-ruiner – you won’t be able to do anything but read once you’ve started it.
2. Frostbeard Studio Candles
Tom and Rox, the married couple behind Frostbeard Studio, are nerds, just like me.Being the creative powerhouse that they are, they drew upon their vast well of nerd-culture knowledge to create beautiful handmade crafts that you can buy online. Frostbeard Studio’s candles take their inspiration from books, games and literary goodness. Tom and Rox are the makers of the infamous Bookstore candle, which will fill your home with the scent of timber, driftwood and just a little coffee. Featuring scents such as Sherlock’s Study, Dumbledore’s Office, Wibbly-Wobbly Timey-Wimey, Mockingjay and The Shire, I guarantee you will find the perfect scent for each and every booklover on your Christmas list. Check them out here.
Spineless Classics are the ultimate wall-art for literature lovers. High quality posters with entire manuscripts printed on a single page, they are designed to fit easily obtainable frames from Ikea. I was lucky enough to be given a Spineless Classics copy of Macbeth, my favourite Shakespeare play, and I love it. Macbeth is printed in the shape of Scotland and although tiny, its text is entirely legible. Spineless Classics are a perfect gift for someone who already has every edition of their favourite book!
4. Megan Lara’s Artwork
Megan Lara is a self-proclaimed pop-culture addict and a highly talented artist. Famous for her stunning art-noveau style portraits, Megan portrays her favourite fictional characters to life. Her digital artwork is nothing short of phenomenal, and I don’t think there’s anything else like it out there. I have her Katniss and Luna Lovegood shirts, and I just placed a rather large order of her prints in sticker-form on Red Bubble. Her art is available on t-shirts, stickers, high-quality prints, tote bags (my next purchase) and more. I suggest checking out her store on Red Bubble and also liking her page on Facebook. She also does a mean Rose Tyler cosplay!
5. Gaming Concept Art books
I am a horrible gamer. I have no hand-eye co-ordination and watching the screen swing around makes me dizzy. I do, however, appreciate the incredible amount of effort that goes into the artwork behind the games. In fact, I love it. I recently bought the art book for The Last of Us, which features countless portraits of Ellie and Joel, as well as in-depth drawings of the transformation of the in-game monsters. The book itself is a lovely keepsake, but the artwork is what really makes it special. The CGI characters are the result of hours of tireless sketching and re-working, and the concept art books let non-gamers like me see this process. On top of that, they explore the story too! Pulp Fiction Booksellers has an excellent range of gaming and general fantasy art books, including a few that you’ll have trouble finding anywhere else!
The Goldfinch is the highly anticipated third novel from reclusive author Donna Tartt. After the wild success of her debut, The Secret History, and the dismal disappointment of The Little Friend, the release of The Goldfinch had fans waiting with bated breath. But the reviews are in, and it’s decided: The Goldfinch is a masterpiece. I’m a quarter of the way through it at the moment (review to come, naturally), and I’m engrossed in it. There’s something about it that reminds me of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind – that intangible compulsion to explore. I tentatively suggest that this book will be beloved by readers all the world over.
7. Pulp calendars
Who doesn’t love pulp art? If it were up to me, I would wallpaper my house with the stuff. Seeing as that option is not available to me, I will have to settle for one of these awesome pulp calendars, available from Pulp Fiction in Brisbane. Give the gift of pulp art all year round!
8. Catching Fire Soundtrack
In the interest of transparency, you should probably know that I am one of the original Katniss fangirls. I also adore Jennifer Lawrence in her own right. On top of this: I love Lorde, cried at a Coldplay concert, secretly believe that The National is the soundtrack to my life, watch Imagine Dragons’ video to Radioactive when I need a pick-me-up and listen to Ellie Goulding just about daily. So I was always going to recommend the Catching Fire soundtrack to you, given that it combines so many of my favourite things. I’m just sorry about the Christina track. I don’t know why it’s there. Otherwise, Catching Fire’s soundtrack is a brilliant album, and a lovely gift for the musically inclined readers out there!
9. Audible Membership
If you haven’t listened to an audiobook recently, you’re missing out. Since the advent of the iPod, audiobooks are enjoying a well-deserved renaissance. No longer are we forced to listen to the droning voice that George Castanza despised when he listened to his books-on-tape. Stephen Fry, beloved by humans in general, read the entire Harry Potter series. Could you think of anyone more perfect to undertake such a task? Listening to your favourite books is a whole new way to experience them, and when it’s done right, it’s wonderful. Audible has a whole variety of gift packs you can buy for the busy reader, starting at $45 for a three month pack, which entitles the giftee to one audiobook per month.
10. Folio Editions
If you know someone’s favourite book, why not treat them to a Folio Edition? I think the Folio editions are some of the most beautiful hardcovers in the world. Although they don’t come cheap, they make a lovely gift for someone special, and are sure to be treasured for a lifetime. The Folio Society has a surprisingly large range of hardcovers available, so you’re bound to find a favourite in stock!
November 17, 2013 § 7 Comments
The debate about the merits of e-readers over books has been raging since the Kindle rose to popularity. There are those who condemn the e-reader for the downfall of the major book stores, and to some extent, I sympathise with that perspective. Yes, e-books led to a decline in the sale of hard-copy books. When the three-story Borders in the middle of my city closed, Brisbane lost something special. Jobs were lost and an important part of the cityscape was gone. I felt this loss acutely, as I visited Borders several times a week since early high school.
But something has begun to bother lately: the statement that one must have an “actual book” in order to read. If I had a page for every time someone said to me, “Oh, I can’t use an e-reader, I need to hold a real book”, I’d have a tome the size of War and Peace. Now, I believe you when you say this. Really, I do. But you’re missing out.
Books are irreplaceable. This, I will not deny. E-readers and digital books cannot replicate the feeling of opening an anticipated book to its first page, or the exhilaration of turning its final one. Books are emotional objects. Every book I own holds a memory – where I got it, why I bought it, how I enjoyed it, the people I shared it with. My first edition of The Hunger Games, with its childish cover and Scholastic branding, is evidence that I trusted my good friend’s recommendation enough to read it long before Jen stepped into Katniss’ worn leather boots.
My copy of Fight Club has seen better days. I’m pretty sure that someone I loaned it to spilled beer on it, but it kind of added to its authenticity, in a meta-fictional sense. My Harry Potter novels are in perfect condition, so much did I treasure them, but their pages are beginning to yellow with age. My handwriting, on the top right corner of each title page, gets more and more legible with each volume, as I grew up in time with my collection’s expansion.
My collection of books is testament to my obsession with fiction. I long since gave up on using a bookshelf. My last one collapsed in on itself with the weight of my books, so for now, three quarters of my collection is housed in air-tight crates. The remaining quarter of it is sitting in stacks all around my house. You’ll find my books on the arms of chairs, under my bed, on my desk, on my living room table. It makes me happy to see all my messy, mismatched editions sitting cheerfully on top of one another, wherever you look in my house. I love to lend my books to others, especially when someone has taken me up on a recommendation. I’ve lost more than a few books to irresponsible readers, but somehow, it’s worth it. Well, mostly.
Above all, my favourite thing about hard-copy books, though: bookstores. I go to a bookstore nearly every day: Second-hand book shops, with unimaginable range and unshakeable character; on-trend book stores with tattooed staff and eclectic selections of vintage novels; academic bookstores with hidden gems tucked in amongst the scholarly volumes; and a specialty bookstore with a genre-specific catalogue and staff patient enough to sit through my constant questions about upcoming releases and ETAs on my many, many orders. If I only ever bought e-books, I would lose out on the richness of these stores, and the books I would never have picked up if they hadn’t been recommended to me by someone who has come to know my tastes. This is what I’m paying for when I buy my novels in hard-copy. These are the experiences that are as much a part of my book collection as the tomes themselves.
However, does not mean that my e-reader does not have value in its own right. Tucked inside a pocket of my hand-bag is an entire collection: hundreds of books, literally at my fingertips. I think I first began to truly appreciate my e-reader when I was reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. If you haven’t heard of WoT, each of the fourteen novels is enormous. Having the entire collection on my e-reader meant that when I finished a book mid-bus ride, I could just open up the next with no pause at all.
Obviously, price is a factor with e-books. With prices so low, I’m much more tempted to try an author or genre that I wouldn’t risk my spending my money on in hard-copy. And thanks to Project Gutenburg, there are many e-books available for free. I have a small confession to make, also. I have, at times, read pirated copies of books on my e-reader. I endeavour to be an ethical pirate. When I finally decided to read Ender’s Game, I couldn’t bring myself to give royalty to Orson Scott Card. So I read a pirated copy, loved it, and didn’t have to feel guilty about having supported a homophobic asshole.
On the flipside, digital publishing offers a legitimate, accessible platform for new authors. I recently read, and loved, A SINGLE GIRL’S GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE. I bought this book purely because the title was funny and it was $5.99. It was an excellent read, and I was glad to be able to support a new author. On top of this, I could recommend this book with complete ease over the internet to my international readers, who could own it within seconds if my review persuaded them to read it!
I believe there are those who love books, and there are those who love to read. Of course, you can be both, but I think many people love the idea of being a bookworm more than they love to read. If you truly love to read, the format of the story is secondary to the story itself. The oft-repeated “I have to have an actual book in my hands” is a materialistic sentiment that belittles the author’s work. You think that just because you’re turning the pages on a screen, you’re not reading the book? You’re wrong. Yes, I prefer print books over digital books, but it’s not because I have to hold the book in order to enjoy it. I regularly use my e-reader in order to read books that aren’t available in print format, and if I refused to do so because it was not a physical copy, I would be cutting myself off from an enormously rich market.
My Gran, who endured endless conversation about the books I was reading, would always remind me, “No matter what, you’ll always have your books.” She’s right, of course – I live in the many worlds of the fiction I read. A piece of me resides in Fillory, another in District Thirteen. Most days, my mind has wandered to the Gryffindor common room, or possibly to the decks of the mad ship, Paragon.
I’m dependent on reading. If I’m having a bad day, I console myself with the fact that I can vacate reality and step into fiction. I am a reader. It is what I do, who I am. And I am bewildered by the fact that this is called into question when people see me reading from my e-reader. Read. Read everything, every way.
October 31, 2013 § 1 Comment
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.
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.
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.
We are phalanx-spread four deep across the floor. Oh, the roaring, if only you knew.
October 22, 2013 § 7 Comments
1. House of Leaves – Mark Z Danielewski
House of Leaves is the tale of a family whose house is expanding on the inside, but not on the outside. What makes this book so disturbing is not the subject matter exactly, but the convoluted way that the story is told. Danielewski paints a portrait of unravelling sanity, but it’s not like anything you’ve ever experienced before. House of Leaves is a book that must be read in print, as there is simply no way to transcribe its format to an e-reader or tablet. It will have you frantically flipping pages, turning the book upside-down and scribbling notes. You’ll sit down to read a few pages one morning, and the first time you look up from the book, it’ll be midnight. In short, House of Leaves will consume you.
2. The Shining and Doctor Sleep – Stephen King
Alright, so it’s a bit of a cop-out to include The Shining in a list of scariest books. The Shining was published in 1977, so surely, it’s a given that it’s one of the top picks for Halloween?
Be that as it may, The Shining deserves special mention this year. Thirty-six years after its publication, Stephen King has released a sequel to his infamous novel – Doctor Sleep. Centring on the son of the protagonist of The Shining, Doctor Sleep is already gathering critical acclaim. I am yet to read it, but I think it will be my go-to on Halloween night!
3. The Descent – Jeff Long
I’m only halfway through The Descent, but I’m calling this one early – this book is scary as hell. Literally. And let me tell you, the 2005 film is but a mere teaser of the horrors that await you in Jeff Long’s original novel. When some unsuspecting hikers are trapped in a cave in remote Tibet, they inadvertently make the biggest discovery in known history. Underneath the surface of the earth is a sub-planet, populated with a species known as “hadals”. The world is rocked by the scientific revelation that should never have been – Hell is a real place, and it is beneath our feet. More detailed review to come, but suffice it to say, since I started this book, I haven’t been sleeping so well…
4. The Silence of the Lambs – Thomas Harris
Although it’s not your traditional spooky Halloween novel, The Silence of the Lambs remains the most frightening novel that I have ever read. I don’t think that there is anything that scares me more than the sheer inescapability of Hannibal Lecter’s will. If he wants something from you, he will find a way to obtain it, and there is very little chance that you will be able to outsmart him in the process. He’s one of the most terrifying characters you will ever encounter. The fact that Hannibal is human (rather than supernatural) makes him all the more monstrous – especially given that he is an amalgamation of real-life serial killers. Side note: The Silence of the Lambs is the exception to the rule that the book is better than the film. In my opinion, the two are equally excellent.
5. World War Z – Max Brooks
Are you concerned about the possibility of a zombie apocalypse? No? Read World War Z and I guarantee, you will be. This is the story of the breakdown of global society, told through the eyes of the UN Postwar Commision in the form of documents from all over the world. Beginning with “patient zero” in rural China, World War Z tracks the transmission of the virus that rapidly decimates the world’s population. Author and zombie aficionado Max Brooks takes the story of the apocalyptic epidemic and traces the environmental, social and political effect it has on the world. World War Z scared me half to death because it’s all so official. It’s easy to remember that other zombie stories are fiction because they’re told to us in a more familiar format. However, when you read governmental reports and WHO press releases detailing the way the international community is going to cope with the end of the world, the actuality of it begins to affect you.
Now, who’s ready to start planning their zombie apocalypse strategies?
What will you be reading this Halloween? Are you a fan of horror, and do you have any recommendations for the rest of us who only dabble?
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
Yes, I let hipster culture ruin Chuck Palahniuk for me. And after reading Damned, I have come to deeply regret this.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.