Search This Blog

Monday, 14 May 2018

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

So A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was another book that I picked up in a bundle. It wasn't necessarily something that I would have picked up on the strength of its blurb or subject matter alone, but I did find my interest piqued by the fact that it won the Pulitzer Prize. I have found prize winners to be something of a mixed bag, but there's still something about them that makes me want to try them, just to see how I compare to an "expert" panel.


A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is a memoir following the author's life in the years following his parents' cancer-related deaths. He must take responsibility for his younger brother, Toph, who is only 8 when their parents pass away. Thrust suddenly into the role of parent, he has to try and deal with the fact that his new responsibilities prevent him from a lot of activities that he would like to do as a man in his early-twenties.
I haven't actually finished A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I honestly tried, but the thought of trying to slog through any more of this tripe is just depressing. Until this point, I couldn't understand how there are people out there who genuinely don't like reading, but I think this book has made me realise how they feel.
So, I suppose the big question is what made me not want to finish this one. What it was that made me break the one rule that I have had since starting this blog in January 2011. It was the writing style. While I have expressed a liking for postmodern fiction in previous blog entries, there was something a little too manufactured and artificial about the way that it was presented in A Heartbreaking Work. Metafiction is just one of those things that needs to be properly signposted, instead of thrown into the mix whenever you feel like it. Eggers also seemed to have a grudge against the humble full stop, as his book was full of sentences that went on for-fucking-ever. I get it, you like fragments. How about a sentence that doesn't make me want to throat punch you and force you to draw breath like a regular human being. Overall, I just got an impression of some dumb twenty-something who is trying to be way too clever in order to compensate for some deep-seated issues that he really should have worked out with a therapist beforehand. Maybe that's exactly the sort of impression that I was meant to get, but it doesn't do anything for my enjoyment of the novel. And it's sort of a shame, because from what I've read of him, Eggers seems like a nice guy, with a lot of worthy philanthropic causes that he supports. I feel like he could have given a better account of himself.
So there's a thing that I feel that I should probably address. Why did this book make me DNF and not one of the other books that I have rated 1/5? It's a fair question. I think the reason that I got through some other terrible books successfully because they invoked an active emotion out of me. Most of the time my response to my 1/5 rated books has been anger, or occasionally horrified amusement. Regardless of which, both of those states make me feel energised, make me feel like my mind is going a mile a minute, and I absolutely love those moments when I can get that on paper. Since starting this blog, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is the first book that made me feel like my soul was being sapped with every extraneous fragment and with every time he referred to himself or his brother as god-like. Usually my less pleasant reads leave me feeling shaky or overwrought, but never before have I felt sapped of energy. The only word that I can think of for this is grey, like it's wrung out all the interest in my brain and left me with dishwater for a soul. If this is what some people's experience of reading is, then I can see why you wouldn't want to try it again. So yeah, I'm altering my rule. I will now allow for DNFs if a book makes me actively wonder why I like reading in the first place.

Never before has a book left me so drained of enthusiasm. Usually I get angry at books I don't like. This time, I just don't have the energy. It's the first book I've DNF'd in over 7 years, and I am just stunned that I found something that could beat even my stamina for not-so-great books. I'm sure there's an audience for this, but I couldn't even begin to understand who it would consist of. 1/5

Next review: Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett

Signing off,
Nisa.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

It's been far too long since my last Discworld novel, and after a string of books that I only kind of liked at best, I was hoping for something that I could be pretty certain that I would enjoy. Perhaps not the best reason to read something, but after a while you just get tired.


Small Gods follows the god Om who manifested on the Disc just as his next prophet is due to be chosen, only to find that he is stuck in the body of a tortoise and has lost his divine powers. Desperately trying to regain his former powers, he finds that the only person who can hear him is Brutha, a lowly novice who seems to be destined for mediocrity at best.
I was right to pick another Discworld, because this was just what I needed right now. Entertaining as always, but with a really interesting subject to satirise. Considering that Small Gods is focusing on religious institutes, a subject that can get people very angry if executed poorly or heavy-handedly, I was pleasantly surprised by how subtle this manages to be. This is despite the gods being arrogant and undeserving of praise and the clergy either being too cowed to do anything productive or sadistic enough that they're actively participating in the perversion of religious faith. This is probably down to the relationship between Om and Brutha, which is the kind of entertaining bickering that I love. On the one hand, Brutha is understandably a little doubtful that the talking turtle is his god given the distinct lack of divine power, but is quite happy to look after the little guy nevertheless. And then on the other is Om, who is endlessly frustrated by his lack of power and struggles to remember just who any of these former prophets are that Brutha keeps quoting. On top of those two, Pratchett has provided a fascinating villain in the form of Vorbis. In a way, he reminds me of Lilith from Witches Abroad. There is no doubt that what he does and what he makes other people do is evil, but because he is safe in the knowledge that he carries out his faith's doctrine, he can reason that it is all in the cause of a greater good. He is certainly not likeable, but he is intriguing to observe and in some ways incredibly pitiable.

Small Gods is, by far, my favourite of the standalone Discworld novels that I've read thus far. It's an intriguing criticism of the harm that can be perpetrated when faith is replaced in day-to-day life with aggrandising the institutions that have grown around them. I would definitely recommend this one. 4.5/5

Next review: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

Signing off,
Nisa.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix

So Found is probably not a book that I would have picked up, had I found it outside of a book bundle. While I don't have any problem reading books aimed at children, I find that my standards for them are tougher than they are for adult books. Maybe because I grew up with things like Pixar films that can be appreciated by all ages, but dumbed down children's fiction does nothing for me. But in this case, the premise seemed interesting enough that I could take more of a chance.


Found follows Jonah Skidmore, an ordinary teenage boy who has never thought anything about his being adopted as a baby. It is only when he and his new friend Chip, who has only just discovered that he was adopted, start getting mysterious letters of warning that he wonders whether he should be concerned about who his birth parents were. When he digs into his origins though, he finds himself entangled in a mystery that involves the FBI, a vast smuggling operation and people who appear and disappear in seemingly impossible ways.
When Found started on a really intriguing scene, that of an aeroplane appearing out of thin air and containing 36 babies and no flight crew, I was really hopeful. It's nothing if not an arresting image, so you can imagine what I hoped that it would turn into. As it turned out, I would be disappointed. Don't get me wrong, the story itself was decent enough, but it just needed to be tighter, go through a few rewrites. As it was, Found was decent enough, but had a few things just annoying enough to ruin the expectations that I'd had for this.
First of all, the characters mostly ended up being generically teenager instead of especially interesting by themselves. They were all kind of dim, overly concerned with what is and is not "cool" for their age group, and seemed to have really spotty memories about a topic that they've been focusing on for several weeks by the end of the book. For instance, there's a bit where they meet a woman who saw the plane that Jonah and Chip were on as babies, and she posits that there was time travel involved. Chip's reaction to this is to mock her relentlessly for her crackpot theories, completely ignoring the fact that one of the documents he has in his possession at that very moment contains information that they had previously established would be impossible to have without something like, oh I don't know, fucking TIME TRAVEL! Like, if you wanted to have him be that sceptical, don't provide him with reason to believe the theories that he mocks. Additionally, it seems at odds with his willingness to believe another character's assertion that she saw a ghost, just because she says so. I just need consistency, please.
Secondly, there seems to be this weirdly specific body language or voice tone going on throughout the book. I can appreciate communicating additional information or context with either body language or tone of voice, because that's a thing that people do, obviously. But in Found this is made into so specific and exact a form of communication that it becomes really distracting.
Lastly, it just started to drag, with little of actual substance happening between Jonah and his family meeting the FBI to discuss his adoption, and the showdown in the latter third. It's the three main characters investigating, poorly, and getting more and more panicky because of the vague and menacing dangers around them. It did pick up at the end, but by then my experience had been tainted by the slog of the beginning and middle thirds. And if I'm bored then I can't imagine a child or young teenager will do much better.

Found ends on a cliff-hanger, but I don't know if I'd deliberately go out of my way to continue reading the series. The characters are pretty much just generic young teens and haven't got much interesting about each of them individually. The writing can be distracting at times, with the sort of annoying writing tics that draw you out of your immersion. And while it did pick up towards the end, the first two thirds seemed to drag interminably through a pretty shabby investigation. Not terrible, but not particularly great either. 3/5

Next review: Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

Signing off,
Nisa.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Junky by William S. Burroughs

Growing up, my dad was part of Customs and Excise, or Border Force as it is now (though for how long remains to be seen). As such, there was a loudly spoken rule in my house that drugs were bad and that under no circumstances should my sister or I ever partake in them. Considering that we lived in the most bumfuck nowhere type of village whilst still having a bus connection, I'm not sure looking back how they expected me to initiate such a habit, let alone maintain it. In any case, since starting further education my opinions on drug use have somewhat softened, with my perspective shifting more from the criminal to the medical. But I still hadn't ever read what addiction was like, so when Junky turned up on my shelf, I saw an opportunity to delve into a topic that is somewhat dangerous to look into first-hand.


Junky is the semi-autobiographical tale of Burroughs, under the pseudonym William Lee, and his experiences of opioid addiction. It covers the experience of the drug itself, the process of pushing drugs, run-ins with the law across the United States, and several episodes of withdrawal.
I don't know quite what I expected, but I hadn't expected the experience of drug addiction to be so mundane. After the first description of his initial kick, any positives are kind of toned down. It soon becomes just a background element of the narration, the way that you assume that characters in books obviously eat, sleep and clean themselves but don't need to explicitly say so unless there is something to be implied from this routine. There's a point where he states that no-one deliberately sets out to be a drug addict, and instead fall into it out of a lack of passion for anything else. It's kind of a weird realisation, and it makes the scenes of withdrawal all the more intense. You can usually see them coming as they're signposted by some downturn in personal circumstances, whether that be a lack of funds or increasing pressure from the law, but each is sufficiently different from the previous detox to maintain interest. It's in these moments where Burroughs describes trying to minimise the symptoms of "junk sickness" that the writing is at its most vivid, where all the visceral processes are drawn out with grotesque, but somehow still clinical, detail.
It's a strange realisation, but the main thing that I took away from Junky is the feeling that this was just a drawn out musing on the nature of decay. Once a habit is sufficiently established, maintaining the habit is described more in terms of staving off the symptoms of junk sickness rather than for any kick that the addict may get. There doesn't seem to be any pleasure in it after a while, but just a resigned continuation of a state of self-poisoning in order to avoid the worst of the symptoms. And oftentimes, the attempts at a self-administered cure make the addict worse off than they otherwise would have. Bodies seem to decay at alarming rates, and often at odds with the personalities behind them.

Junky is a strange read, although that may be due in large part to my aggressively anti-drug upbringing. The drug itself sort of fades into the background, fuelling a tone of low-key desperation and disquietude. What stands out most are the episodes of withdrawal, where the body seems to fall apart in the most agonising ways possible. Honestly, I'm not sure why anyone thought that this would encourage people to try drugs, because I come away from this with a sense of sadness more than anything. 3.5/5

Next review: Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Signing off,
Nisa.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Abandon by Meg Cabot

Having been thoroughly disappointed with my last read, I was hoping that my next Young Adult book would be more my style. I had read Meg Cabot books previously, specifically the first couple of volumes of both her Princess Diaries series and her Heather Wells series. The latter series I was quite fond of, and the former was far enough in the past that my recollections of reading it were hazy at best. So I had hopes that Abandon would at least be decent.


Abandon follows Pierce Oliviera, a teenager who had a near-death experience. Following her parents' divorce and a mysterious incident that caused her to be expelled from her previous school, she moves with her mother to Isla Huesos in Florida. Wanting a fresh start, Pierce can't help but be fearful, because when she came back to life, she brought something strange and possibly cursed back with her.
I wanted to like this. I'm something of a Greek myth buff, and while the Persephone myth isn't my favourite, I was interested in seeing how it would be reinterpreted. But Abandon just seemed to defy my efforts at every turn.
First of all, since I've mentioned that it's a re-write of the myth of Persephone's kidnap/marriage to Hades, of course there will be a death-god figure for Pierce to both run from and fall in love with. That relation could be interesting, if you went for the whole "I love the person, but I can't give up my life or family to be with them" angle. But despite the in-depth descriptions of John's good looks and the attempts to do the whole "they bicker, so they must be in love!" trope, there is so little chemistry that it all falls flat. And honestly, you have to be concerned when your main character's attempts to reach out emotionally to him devolves to her consciously using tactics learnt from working with wild animals. If you're treating someone you're attracted to like some kind of humanoid badger, then you have issues. Additionally, they don't seem to have actually spent more than a few hours in each other's company over all their encounters, and yet they're quite happy to talk about loving each other. I can barely get a general impression of someone in a few hours, let alone fall in love, so it smacks of obligation more than anything.
This lack of chemistry stems largely from the second issue that I have with Abandon. Pierce doesn't really seem to have a great deal of personality beyond the fact that she died and now has a magic necklace that warns her of danger. And considering that a huge chunk of the plot doesn't deal with supernatural stuff, but her attempts to settle into a new school following some severe traumas, that's a problem. She just sorts of gets carried along by events there, and all that I could take from those sections is that she's drawn to meddling in other people's problems without permission, and isn't especially suited to it. After a while, her incessant whining that somehow people think you're crazy when you tell them "I can protect you from the evil!" get really annoying, along with her repeated exclamations of "Check yourself before you wreck yourself". I don't care if it's even a little bit sarcastic, it soon starts to grate on your nerves. It wasn't long before I had concluded that I couldn't care less what happened to her, which is the kiss of death for a first-person narrative.
The third issue that I have with Abandon is that it takes far too long to get Pierce's backstory over and done with. So, there are two main issues that have impacted on Pierce's life within the past two years that are deemed to be important: her near-death experience where she met and escaped from the Love Interest, and an incident at her former school involving scandal and one of her teachers. What I would have done is maybe dedicate a couple chapters to each event and intersperse them with present-day events, but focus on the entirety of the event at one time. Cabot instead decides to drip feed both of them over the space of two thirds of the book, with both events frequently interrupted by mundane bullshit like school assemblies and queuing for ice cream. This is aggravating to the extreme, as it's obviously meant to raise tension, but there's a massive flaw that means that whatever tension is achieved falls flat. The events themselves are easy to work out. The scandal at her old school for instance? As soon as I heard that a teacher was involved and that Pierce had gotten herself in hot water by trying to get evidence against him, I knew that it would involve the teacher being pervy with his female students. And wouldn't you know, I was absolutely right. Now, compare Abandon with a property that takes this tired "Hot for Student" scenario and makes it work, namely the game Persona 5. Being a video game, it amps the tension by making it the focus of the consumer's attention and it raises the stakes with elements like a time restriction. It also spends a decent amount of time actually building up the secondary characters, so that when they start being harmed because of the teacher's abuse of power, you actually give a shit. In comparison, Abandon spends so much time stalling that you're praying to get the backstory over and done with, rather than being left on-edge to find out how it all turns out.
The fourth issue that I have is the role of the Furies. The Furies are depicted as enemies of John, and by extension Pierce, because they are damned souls who are angry at their treatment. This bugs me for two reasons. Firstly because according to Greek myths, the Furies were deities of vengeance who would target those who committed crimes like matricide or swearing false oaths. They're vicious, but their targets have traditionally been guilty in some fashion, they're the idea that certain crimes won't go unpunished even if mortal justice proves inadequate. To make them mindlessly evil is disingenuous to their mythic origins. Secondly, it seems weird that these all-powerful beings who exist solely to torment the deity running the Underworld are just the souls of evil people. If it's such a problem that Furies are actively possessing and corrupting living people to carry out their plans, then surely you would try and find out what the fuck it is that Hell is doing to make these things and stop it, not just keep shipping souls in to become new Furies only to wonder why your quality of life has plummeted. There's a line from Shakespeare's The Tempest that states "Hell is empty and all the devils are here", but I somehow doubt that it was meant to be taken literally.
Fifth issue is a bit of a spoiler. So it turns out that Furies have been targeting Pierce, and John is concerned that he can't protect her. His solution is to kidnap her again. But it's okay this time, because it's for her own good, and hey, if she gives it time then maybe she'll come to like being in the Underworld. Seriously, what is it with my reading list at the moment? I can't seem to get away from YA books that try to tone down kidnapping at the moment. I explored my issues with this last review, so just assume that it applies here too. Also, it ends having resolved absolutely fuck all of the issues that had been brought up. What was the point of spending so much time with the nasty popular kids in order to help her cousin work through some undefined issues that he has with them, if the main character is ripped out of the world before anything happens with it?
The last issue is just something that bewildered me to the point of exasperation. It turns out that Furies like tassels, so whenever they turn up in the narrative they signal oncoming danger. Let me state that again for the record. Tassels are a legitimate harbinger of doom. I don't think I need to point out the idiocy of that.

Abandon is a book that I wanted to like, but it manages to brain itself at every hurdle. The main character is a charming mix of annoying and boring. Her relationship with the love interest lacks any chemistry, having spent at most a few hours in each other's company over the entirety of their encounters and at times she treats him more like a wild animal than a person. The backstory is spoon-fed to the reader at such an excruciatingly slow pace that whatever tension the author hoped to create is destroyed. The present-day plot is boring and more or less entirely pointless by the end. The mythology that it reports to take inspiration from is cherry-picked and not especially well. It tries to justify kidnapping by the time it ends, and TASSELS of all things are harbingers of doom. Do not bother. 1.5/5

Next review: Junky by William S. Burroughs

Signing off,
Nisa.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Stolen by Lucy Christopher

If I hadn't gotten Stolen as part of an audiobook bundle, I probably would have passed it by. While I'm not averse to Young Adult novels, I usually end up pairing them with other genres like Fantasy or Science Fiction, rather than Contemporary. If I want to read about real life, my first instinct would be to reach for Non-Fiction. Nonetheless, the premise did intrigue me somewhat, and if I already had a copy there seemed no point avoiding it.


Stolen is narrated by Gemma, a 16-year-old girl who is kidnapped while en route with her parents to Vietnam. When she steps away to get a coffee, an older man buys coffee for her, drugging it to make sure she doesn't try and struggle. He takes her to the Australian outback, to a desolate outpost of his own making that she can only survive in with his aid.
I wanted to like Stolen because the blurb made it sound like a bid for survival against incredible odds. It is most certainly not that. I read this in what was a barely contained simmer of anger and frustration. There were a few reasons for this, and they can be embodied in the two main characters: the victim, Gemma, and the kidnapper, Ty.
So, first of all, Gemma. There were a couple things that bugged me about her. First was the fact that she didn't seem to have a whole lot of personality. I appreciate that when confined to an isolated outpost in the Australian bush, there's only a certain amount that you can do to signpost character building, but even the flashbacks she had about before she was kidnapped were more or less bare of personality. So it transpires that the kidnapper was first drawn to Gemma when she was a child, and her make-believe involved flower fairies, and the fact that she engaged in imaginative play like every other child in existence somehow made her special. When she got into her teenage years, she started resenting her parents for controlling her life! So special! So utterly normal for someone going through massive hormonal changes! The only other thing that comes up is her getting wasted in the park with her friends, which is also, say it with me, entirely mundane and not at all special for someone of her age group. At the end of the book, I knew practically nothing about her as a person beyond the stereotype of a middle class teenager. There are no hobbies that I can list, I know nothing about her friends despite her name-checking them multiple times during the narrative, there are no personality traits that I can name now that it's all over. So there's not much incentive for me to want her to get home. Additionally, and this is probably a personal issue, she doesn't seem to make much of the opportunities that she gets to escape. My husband finds it endlessly amusing that my reaction to most conflict in films can boil down to "Find the person responsible for the problem, and start breaking bones until the problem can be considered solved." Violent and a bit reductionist I accept, but it can be vaguely amusing. Not here. Here, that tendency just made the whole captivity bit endlessly frustrating. For example, there's a part where Ty gets a load of scratches on his hands and he pleads with her to help him clean up the wounds, otherwise his hands will be useless. When she first asked what he would do for her in return, I could have cheered. She asks to be taken back home, and he refuses. Fair enough, more or less what I expected. But then she just kind of drops the matter, and asks him some useless fucking question about how he built the hovel that he expects her to treat like a fucking palace. And my mind went wild, asking questions about why she didn't double down and keep asking to be taken back. Hell, a large part of me was screaming at her to find some lye, and see how long he really wanted to be stuck with her after that. She kept hesitating, like she can somehow reason with Ty.
Which brings me to my second major problem with the book. I could have appreciated Ty as a villain, if the narrative didn't want so much for the reader to want to fix him. He's kidnapped a girl almost a decade younger than him who he's been stalking since she was 10, sure, but look at how pretty and muscular he is. He's a hypocrite who wants freedom for himself but sees no issue with abducting anyone or anything that he could benefit from, but you can't be mad because he had a traumatic childhood. He'll prevent anything that Gemma wants unless it directly coincides with what he wants, but he hasn't raped her so of course it doesn't count as actual abuse. Sure, Stockholm Syndrome is brought up in the final chapter, but that doesn't mean I have to like how the narrative goes. There's a line towards the end where Gemma says "It's hard to hate someone once you understand them", and I hate it with a passion. Just because an abuser does something nice doesn't make up for all the awful things that they do. It reminded me of a scene in An Evil Cradling by Brian Keenan, which is a hell of a harrowing read, but a really valuable experience in my opinion. There's a scene where the kidnappers, after months of horrific mistreatment, throw a birthday party for one of the hostages. It shows a more vulnerable side to the jailers, but all it does is make them repulsive instead. And that is what Ty's "tragic" backstory does for me: instead of making him more sympathetic, he only becomes more disgusting and pathetic. And the fact that anyone is taking anything romantic out of Stolen just makes me sick to my stomach.
About the only thing I did like was the description of the Australian outback. It's vivid and colourful and sensual, and I could only wish that such descriptions were contained in a less objectionable story.

Some pretty descriptions of the outback are about the only good thing that can be taken from Stolen. Otherwise it's an anger-inducing story about a girl utterly lacking in personality, who slowly becomes convinced that as her kidnapper hasn't tried raping or killing her, that means it's twue wuv. Christ, it's utterly nauseating. Newsflash, abuse isn't sexy and Stockholm Syndrome isn't romantic. Don't touch with a barge pole. 1/5

Next review: Abandon by Meg Cabot

Signing off,
Nisa.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

Of all the books that I have on my reading list, this was the one that I had most trepidation about starting. There was the inevitable concern that the controversy about it and the possibility that it would eclipse whatever actual merit the book would contain. But, as I had received the book as part of a larger bundle of audiobooks, it seemed a bit of a waste to just leave it languishing on my computer unread. The fact that my attempts to listen to it on my tablet made it sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks were narrating did somewhat mar the experience too.


The Satanic Verses follows two Indian actors who miraculously survive the explosion of a hijacked plane over the English Channel, and the strange changes that come over them following this. First there is the popular Bollywood star Gibreel Farishta chasing after a lost love, who finds himself taking on the personality and divine powers of the archangel Gibreel. The other is Saladin Chamcha, a long-time resident of London returning from an unsuccessful reunion with his father, who takes on the rather more unfortunate shape of a satyr-like devil. Interspersed in their narratives about their lives after these unusual and distressing changes, are dreams that Farishta has about events in his celestial persona's past. First is the sequence starting with the episode of the Satanic verses. Second is a sequence focusing on a modern day Imam in exile. Third is a sequence following a seer named Ayesha, who convinces her village to go on a foot pilgrimage to Mecca, claiming that she will invoke God's will and part the sea for them to reach their destination.
Before I continue onto the review properly, there is something that I feel should tackle, if only briefly, lest it become an elephant in the room. I've been able to find out the basics of why The Satanic Verses was so controversial with some Islamic readers, mostly in response to the dream sequence about the Satanic verses themselves. And while I can definitely understand that some of the imagery and allegorical naming would be considered incendiary, I won't pretend to know enough in the realm of religious scholarship to comment too deeply on them. In addition, I would rather not start up a discussion about free speech here, because it is a complex subject that I would only be able to scratch the surface of. All I suppose I would commit to here is that while I am all for people facing up to the consequences of their proclamations, it is a step too far to try and kill someone for those statements.
Right then, so onto the actual book. The Satanic Verses is an ambitious work focusing primarily on the immigrant experience in Thatcher-era Britain, and the strict divide between white and non-white cultures. Chamcha's insistence throughout the majority of the book to model himself off of the ideal aristocratic, stiff-upper-lip style of Englishman, only becomes more pathetic and futile as the narrative goes on and he finds that London has retained all of the smugness inherent in conquerors but none of the sophistication. Similarly, Farishta's increasingly unhinged attempts to mold London to his city of ideals only ends with disillusionment. The book does a lot of clever things to create multiple, interconnecting stories of isolation and the conflict between being unyielding and maintaining one's cultural identity vs compromise and changing to suit your new culture. It does a lot of interesting things, but still I find myself quite content to never re-read this book. I think I may have a similar reaction to Salman Rushdie that I do to Gabriel Garcia Marquez: the books they write may be very clever and worthy of study, but it does nothing for me emotionally. The Satanic Verses is a book that, were I still in university, I would be quite happy to study and analyse to death, but I very much doubt that I will revisit it for reasons of pleasure. This is a matter of personal taste though, and I do wonder whether I would have been more forgiving if I had been allowed to tackle the text at my own pace instead of in the irregular intervals where it would be appropriate to be anti-social for hours at a time.

A clever and interesting novel about the immigrant experience in Thatcher-era Britain that unfortunately didn't really do much for me. Definitely more a text for debate and analysis than it is for pleasure. For those readers who are Islamic, then there are definitely elements that could be controversial, but I don't feel that I am really the person most qualified to discuss how inflammatory the novel is or isn't. 3/5

Next review: Stolen by Lucy Christopher

Signing off,
Nisa.