Books That Suck You In - A Short Review
I'm the first to admit my bookshelf collection makes no sense. There is no rhyme or reason to it and at times, there are titles on my to-do list that raise eyebrows.
Avid Reader, you will know the type. The ones you wouldn't mention at dinner parties or first dates, the ones you hide on your bookshelf in the bottom corner, the ones that you don't leave about the house when you're halfway through them.
But you couldn't put them down. You couldn't stop. They stuck around in your mind, slouched in the corner of your daydreams until you acknowledged that while they were never going to be your favourite stories, they were certainly interesting.
This is a short list of some of the books I completed, were temporarily absorbed by and when I got to the last page I instantly bought and hid in my collection.
Warning: sort-of spoilers ahead. I'll try and keep the actual events out of this description as much as possible.
Only Ever Yours, written by Louise O'Neill
I was in London pursuing a job that I only half-wanted, caught out in the constant rain and looking for something to waste a few hours before my interview. There was a discount rack at a little bookshop opposite the Sherlock Holmes museum on Baker Street and as I'd spent a ridiculous amount of time in the museum, I figured a book and a cup of tea were just what I needed. I picked 'Only Ever Yours' from the cheap section and set off in search of a hot drink. I didn't leave the cafe until I had finished the book some three hours later and needless to say it was a strange person who appeared on time for her job interview with probably a slightly pale face and wide, tired eyes. Staring. Remembering. Struck with fascinated horror.
The book's premise is that in the future, due to the one-child policy and the preference for male offspring, natural-born women are extinct. The answer to this procreation issue are 'eves' - females artificially created and grown to be matched with the needs of a male society in the form of their wives, their concubines and teachers to the next generation of 'eves'. What it actually consists of is a commentary on what the demands of a patriarchal society are on young women. Yes, it is exaggerated, but the overall themes of an obsession with beauty, competition, seduction and ownership of body and image are scarily resonant with modern females.
It was fascinating, in a kind of can't-look-away-from-that-car-crash kind of way. The writing is not brilliant but it is true to the simple voice of the main character and her not overly sophisticated understanding of herself and her world. There's this tone of premonition, one that most feminists would revile at. And there's a very unexpected commentary on the fate of lesbians misunderstood by men, which when it arrived I was a little surprised at.
My horrified fascination stemmed from the accuracy of much of the behaviour of the eves. Though it was overblown and exaggerated for effect, I felt myself flashing back to high-school and the mannerisms of the eves became reminiscent of some of the girls I grew up with. I realised that many girls who I found fascinating in high school - the cool, beautiful, graceful types who made attractiveness look easy - had very similar ideas about relationships with men. And that realisation was appalling to me. I read a fair bit of horror but most consists of the unnatural, impossible type: the stuff of nightmares but nothing rooted in reality. This book is, and the portrayal of a young female's struggle with her body image is particularly riveting because it is unfolding all around the reader.
This book is hidden in amongst my novels but sometimes I crack it open for a re-read, just to remember that confusing and cut-throat world that was the life of a teenage girl.
I didn't get that job, by the way.
The Course of the Heart, written by M. John Harrison
'The Course of the Heart' is a complete oddity. What is this book? How did it get in my bookshelf? I honestly can't recall and that is oddly apt for this title. You need to read the blurb of this book to understand the setting before you open it - believe me, go in with your eyes open.
Well, okay, maybe half-open. There's some scary things waiting for you.
For those of you who don't heed my warning, it is the story of three Cambridge students who carry out a ritual one night that none of them remembers after the fact. All they are left with are some rather odd symptoms, a sense of dread and their lives in a bit of a mess. A god (well, a character who it is heavily hinted is a god) has decided to take a leading role in their futures with devastating results.
Trust me, read the synopsis before opening this one. It will make your journey a bit easier.
What a journey it is. The author has received an array of awards for the vividness of his writing and early on you can appreciate why. Reading his work is like watching Bob Ross paint for an hour - you blink and all of a sudden there's a mountain and a sunset magically there and you're left staggered, asking how such a picture is composed of just paint and doesn't consist of a small part of soul from the artist as well. Then you think maybe it does. Maybe you have just watched a magician. And that is where this book leaves you.
It plumbs the depths of terrible things people do to one another to the point where whole sections make for an uncomfortable read. This is not a novel for the faint of heart, but I find that the contrast is the making of this book. None of the characters are likeable but there is some safety in being able to distance yourself, to judge and critique from a distance instead of becoming invested. Their relationships are fascinating to watch, especially as they unravel to some degree.
When you get off at the end of the rollercoaster you feel dizzy, windswept and maybe even a little bit sick but you still want to get on again, don't you? This one is a frequent re-read in the hopes that maybe one day with enough repeats I'll understand some of the messages that are being put across in this story.
I'm not having a lot of luck with that goal yet.
American Psycho, written by Bret Easton Ellis
This notorious novel I had to order online and I'm certain my name is now on a watch list somewhere, as you can't purchase it in-store in Australia. Taken off the shelves in the fear that some innocent child would crack it open thinking it was a biography of Donald Trump and accidentally become consumed in terrifying ideas about women, power and blood-lust (it's okay hypothetical kid, I would have easily mixed these up too), the infamous movie does not do justice to the complexities of this book.
Firstly, the style is nauseating at the beginning but as it picks up the genius of the text overwhelms. The run-on, impossibly long sentences give the thoughts of the characters that kind of realism that proper grammar does not do justice to. Even for a fan of Stephen King there is a ludicrous amount of blood in this novel for the reader and it comes in sickening waves. The commentary that surrounds consumerism, America and even the class structure is deft and sharp throughout.
Definitely not for everyone, I left this book staggered by the strength of it, not just as a member of the horror genre, but by the depth of its construction. There are whole paragraphs dedicated to eighties revelations such as the band Genesis and the complexity of the whole makes me feel like it is a reconstruction as much as it is fiction. He's a clever author, make no mistake.
There's a lot of reviews out there comparing the movie adaptation to the actual novel so I won't reiterate all of that here. I don't believe the movie prepares you for the book nor the other way around - this is an example of a different medium borrowing the concept of a book but unable to mimic the rendering of the whole story. There are so many layers to the novel that just couldn't ever hit the screen and that's fine. That's why different mediums exist. They shouldn't be competing with each other.
This one sits next to my Sherlock Holmes collection and Jane Austen collection for some reason on the bookshelf. I'd be hard-pressed to tell you which of the three I have read most often.
I swear I'm a good person. Honest.
The Lucifer Principle, written by Howard Bloom
I nicked this one from my boyfriend's parents for a borrow before I bought my own copy. Thankfully the book is not a reflection of its owners.
Written as a non-fiction argumentative novel, the book presents a sort-of anti-Darwinism perspective on detrimental parts of human nature. It's a provoking read, particularly for anyone with an interest in psychology. Why do humans have traits that don't promote survival? Surely at a biological level we are hard-wired to carry on? So why are there exceptions?
Each chapter is a mini-argument of sorts, which makes for a nice structure because it becomes very concise and multi-faceted. I recommend this to anyone who wants to look into villains with sophisticated motives; I think some of the propositions in the book made my fictional writing that much more interesting, particularly in regards to some of the justifications my antagonists were providing. Because a lot of it, although appalling, makes logical sense. No one likes text to purport a reason that humans are susceptible to suicide and depression, much less that these things play a function in our world, but it makes for an intriguing study on people nonetheless.
There's quite a lot in there for students of history too, which I enjoyed. The text isn't overly technical, although there are plenty of references to studies and essays on a variety of topics. You don't necessarily need a degree to appreciate the science and study involved in this book.
If you are open-minded - and I mean really open-minded - or just looking to judge the terrible atrocities throughout history and their explanations from a new perspective, have a read. Then shove it to the bottom of your bookshelf, wipe your hands of it and acknowledge that although there may have been some things that you're not proud of in your past, you're not all that bad after all.