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Review: ‘Sleeping Giants’ by Sylvain Neuvel

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain NeuvelOn paper Sylvain Neuvel’s  Sleeping Giants was brilliant. In execution, not so much. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where it went wrong, but it just felt somehow lacking. The book centres around the discovery of a large hand after a young girl falls in to a hole and is found nestled in its palm. It follows the process of recovering the rest of the body parts, covering the politics of ownership and the history of the figure itself.

Epistolary style is difficult for even the most talented of writers. Neuvel has a strong basis for its use, but it didn’t read as realistic. With the exception of a very few, the documents were primarily a collection of transcribed interviews by a shadowy protagonist who seems to be the puppet master of the piece. The way he speaks however simply isn’t natural or realistic. He asks questions to further the plot and develop character, but they are questions which simply wouldn’t be relevant or realistic in that particular context. Why would he be asking about personal relationships rather than say, a psychologist?

Despite these unrealistically probing questions attempting to create a sense of character, it was not particularly effective in this. The characters of the scientists and pilots involved in the recovery operations and subsequent study of the mysterious figure were shallow and two dimensional. I felt no sense of kinship, interest or empathy with any of them. The only character I had any strong feeling toward was a scientist whom I assume was meant to act as the antagonist, but this was simply because the way she was written was so utterly annoying that I didn’t like reading about her. Her inclusion in the project at the later stages defied logic. She was almost a caricature of an evil scientist.

I still enjoyed this novel, because conceptually it was brilliant. I just really wanted more out of it. I’ll read the rest of the series when it’s released because I can see a lot of potential in this book. Let’s hope book two is a bit more polished and believable than this installment.

 

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Review: ‘Outlander’ by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander by Diana GabalonBy complete accident, due to a mis-clicking incident while I was making my lunch, I happened to see the first episode of Outlander on Netflix a few days ago.  It was not something that had appealed to me as I’d heard the novel was a bit of a sweeping romance which is not the kind of genre I usually go in for, but I watched the whole episode and ended up completely hooked.  I couldn’t stop watching.  I finished the whole first series in three days and was blown away by its scope and content. 

Was it a sweeping romance?  Sure it was, but it was so much more than that.  Here I had finally found a show that was not afraid to tackle big issues like accountability, assault, both physical and sexual of both genders, and for me, the biggest and most impressive feat, really delving in to the psychological implications that come with each of these, regardless of gender and sexuality. The very last episode absolutely blew me away with it’s violence and tragedy, and its willingness to show the psychological impact and vulnerabilities in the aftermath of sexual assault when all too often your body will respond physically when your mind, soul and spirit could not be more unwilling. 

With a television show that managed to do so much in only 16 episodes I figured I simply had to read the book that inspired it.  The books are always more detailed so I couldn’t wait to pick it up and give it a go.  Last night I hit 52% and put it down in disgust.  Where was the strong, independent Claire who is finding her feet in a world she doesn’t understand?  Where was the powerful but vulnerable Jamie who easily navigates the dangers of his existence while still finding himself as the leader of his clan?  They didn’t exist.  Instead I was given a first person Claire who’s selfishness and arrogance abounded at every turn, a Jamie who really was a sadistic brute, and worst of all, a Captain Randall who’s behaviour was purely antagonistic, until he showed homosexual proclivities at which point he was viewed with abject disgust.

I read as far as Claire’s beating at the hand of her husband and then put down the book, never to be picked up again.  Instead of strong characters with personality and depth I was treated to a series of female denigrations which Claire accepts after very little fight, a complete lack of depth to any of the characters beyond their gender and sexual stereotypes and a general feel of patriarchal dominance which I just couldn’t get past.

Very rarely does a different medium so vastly improve on its source content, but in the case of Outlander I can say with absolute certainty that the Starz series is a vast improvement.  I can’t judge the book too harshly as the basic plot is the same and the series couldn’t exist without it.  What I must say is kudos to the writers at Starz and their ability to take two dimensional, stereotyped characters and create something with so much depth and feeling.

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Review: ‘Esther The Wonder Pig’ by Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter

Esther The Wonder PigI’ve followed Esther the Wonder Pig on social media for a while now. It’s amazing how quickly my partner Owen and I became invested in her life, and by extension, the lives of Steve and Derek, the men who adopted her.

Reading about their journey raising Esther was an absolute joy. I also think it was an important book because due to Esther’s popularity I think a lot of people have started to fantasize about the idea of owning their own pigs. Esther The Wonder Pig doesn’t glorify pig ownership. In fact, Steve as the narrator gives all the disgusting, grimy cringing little details of raising Esther mixed in with the stories of love and friendship. It was a great mix that I really felt captured Esther’s unique personality and extreme intelligence, while also outlining the hard (but rewarding) work that owning a 400 pound pig truly is.

My only criticism of Esther the Wonder Pig is that sometimes the prose felt a little forced. The voice of the narrative just didn’t feel believable or convincing, and some of the humour was a little too on the nose. The bits that were truly funny and delightful were the straight up anecdotes about Esther, but when Steve and Derek’s private lives entered in to it, the humour wasn’t quite as natural. It didn’t make the book bad, it just made it seem a little less polished than I would ordinarily have liked it to be. But the anecdotes managed to completely override that small criticism to ensure that this was still absolutely delightful to read.

It was fantastic to read about how Esther, Steve and Derek got to where they are along with their extended menagerie of furry friends. I loved that they spoke about how Esther changed their lives completely for the better, as she’s done for so many of us. I also really loved their refreshing approach to talking about the ethical reasons for Veganism without it being preachy and aggressive. I wish more people could talk about it that way.

In this book Esther feels like a person, and it’s hard not to relate to and fall in love with her delightful antics. Steve and Derek have done a wonderful thing with their farm sanctuary, and the more people who read this book and find sympathy for our fellow living creatures the better. It was an easy read, and one that I would recommend to absolutely everyone.

Peace. Love. Esther.

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Review: “Flawed” by Cecilia Ahern

Flawed - Cecilia AhernOne day Cecilia Ahern got bored writing the same romance novels over and over. She read ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy and then read the ‘Divergent’ trilogy and thought “I can do that.” And then proceeded to do that, exactly.

But here’s the surprising bit; Flawed is really good! It is miles ahead of the Divergent series, and while not as good as the first hunger games book, took what Katniss should have been and made Celestine that. Celestine makes her own choices, and is weak but strong in the face of that weakness. She’s intelligent and unwilling to be manipulated, but aware of the danger and weakness of her situation.

I would have liked some more development of the satellite characters, but Flawed had some genuinely moving and tragic moments. I read the whole book on a flight, and despite not being terribly original, I found it impossible to put down.

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Review: ‘The Dead House’ by Dawn Kurtagich

The Dead House, by Dawn KurtagichEverything about The Dead House should have been good. The ‘found footage’ approach is always something different, the premise was fantastic and the atmosphere for most of the book was really spooky and immersive.

But when I got to the end, all I could think was ‘what was the point’? I felt like Dawn Kurtagich bit off a little bit more than she could chew and was trying to write too many different novels all at once. The two (?) main characters were well developed, but with so many satellite characters introduced so early on it was far too difficult to really get a sense of them as characters, especially since the male characters were poorly characterised.

The plot itself was quite formulaic, which in and of itself was not a terrible thing as it did feel like Kurtagich was going somewhere with it, but all of the disparate plot elements simply didn’t come together to form a cohesive whole. The mystery with the parents went nowhere, the two girls and their ‘situation’ didn’t get enough attention, mysterious fires, asylums, disappearances, and don’t even get me started on the rubbish that was the fictional Scottish voodoo cult which could have been left out completely and the strange characterisation of the diary as personified. It was just mystery piled on top of mystery, without any form of resolution and some poorly developed character arc’s.

There is definitely a good book in here. I would go so far as to say there is definitely a great book in here. But in its current form it is completely unrealised. It’s too complicated and ultimately collapses under its own weight.

 

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