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review 2018-08-08 00:42
"The Water Cure" by Sophie Mackintosh - abandoned after 25% - too worthy for me. I don't want my reading to be a chore.
The Water Cure - Sophie Mackintosh

I picked "The Water Cure" as one of four books to read from the 2018 Man Booker Longlist.  I liked the speculative fiction premise of young women, raised in isolation in a post-apocalyptic world, encountering men for the first time and having to reconsider what they think they know. 

 
"The Water Cure" got off to a slow and difficult start but was intriguing enough to keep me interested. I liked the rapid succession of short chapters, written from the point of view of each of the three sisters. This worked well in the audiobook version I read, where each sister get's her own narrator.
 
The we-only-know-this-island innocence of the sisters means that they take their exotic situation for granted and do little to explain it to the reader. 
 
It soon became clear that this was not going to be your typical post-apocalyptic dystopian novel. I was reminded more of  "The Tempest" if Miranda had had two sisters.
 
After the ten per cent mark, I started to get bored and a little angry. I got bored because, although many short chapters shot by, NOTHING HAPPENED in any of them except the young women sharing the details of the strange rituals (called therapies) that dominate their lives. I became angered by the abuse these young women had suffered.
 

I get the need to pace the book so that I can  FEEL the stifling effects on the sisters of isolation and ignorance combined with forced ritual intimacy, but enough already.

I began to feel as if I were  trapped in the middle of a front row at "Waiting For Godot" and I'm so embarrassed by what other people will think of me that I stay in my seat long after my boredom threatens to be terminal and I suspect Beckett of being a sadist with a wicked sense of humour.

 

I made it as far as the twenty-five percent mark because the voices of the sisters were  strong and distinct and because I could no more look away from the spectacle of the Bennet sisters transported to an island where they are subjected to abuse that they've educated to understand as sympathetic magic, than I could look away from a building about to be demolished by well-placed charges.

 

I'd hoped that the arrival of the men would change the pace but it didn't and I finally admitted to myself that I was reading this book because it was "worthy" rather than because I was getting anything out of it. I'd promised myself I wouldn't do that anymore so I abandoned "The Water Cure" at twenty-five per cent mark.

 

It may win the Mann  Booker prize but it didn't make a place for itself in my imagination.

Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample of the book.

 

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/447441624" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

 

 

 

 

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text 2018-07-27 19:08
Reading progress update: I've read 15%.: I'm growing impatient now
The Water Cure - Sophie Mackintosh

"The Water Cure" is becoming a bit of a tease.

 

 

I get the need to pace the book so that I can  FEEL the stifling effects of isolation and ignorance combined with forced ritual intimacy, but enough already.

 

I'm beginning to feel like I'm trapped in the middle of a front row at "Waiting For Godot" and I'm so embarrassed by what other people will think of me that I stay in my seat long after my boredom threatens to be terminal and I suspect Beckett of being a sadist with a wicked sense of humour.

 

I'm hanging on because the voices of the characters are strong and because I can no more look away from the spectacle of the Bennet sisters transported to an island where they are subjected to abuse that they've educated to understand as sympathetic magic, than I can look away from a building about to be demolished by well-placed charges. 

 

But I NEED SOMETHING TO HAPPEN.

 

One more hour. Then either the story moves on or I do.

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text 2018-07-26 07:14
Reading progress update: I've read 8%.
The Water Cure - Sophie Mackintosh

My first Man Booker Londlist read is off to a slow and difficult start but is intriguing enough to keep me interested.

 

Lots of short chapters from the point of view of each of the three sisters in a situation that is exotic but remains obscure. 

 

Not your typical post-apocalyptic dystopia. More like "The Tempest" if Miranda has two sisters.

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text 2018-07-15 18:13
Reading progress update: I've read 12%. - immediately immersive
Clock Dance - Anne Tyler

"Clock Dance", Anne Tyler's latest novel, sets out to share the defining moments of a woman's life.

 

The first. longish, chapter immediately immersed me in the life of the then eleven.year-old-girl, in small-town America in 1967, on the day her mother walks out of the house.

 

It effortlessly captures that feeling of still working out what's going on in your family, when you're not sure if stuff is really weird or if all the other families do this too and when your anger and anxiety and desire for competence get twisted up with your love for your parents and your doubts and hopes about yourself.

 

 

So far, it's wonderful stuff.

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review 2018-06-23 18:33
"Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng

 

I knew, on finishing "Little Fires Everywhere" that I had enjoyed the book and that it was a first-rate piece of writing, excellently narrated. Yet I wasn't clear enough about what I thought of the book to write a review. So, I've let a few weeks pass, let the ideas and the images settle and gotten a little space from the characters and now I'm starting to see some shapes.

 

I think my inability to see the whole book at once is a consequence of how the book is designed. The authorial voice is used throughout, guiding us through the thoughts and emotions of the characters as they react to the little fires of passion, most of them to related to motherhood, that challenge and or define them. Yet, although I hear the author's voice all the time, by the end of the novel, the author had not given me any unequivocal answers as to whose side she is on. I think this is one of the key strengths of the book. It refuses to be didactic or polarising. It puts forward the views of both sides and asks you to think, to access your emotions. Perhaps to start a little fire of your own.mo

 

The book brings together two families, Mia and her daughter, who live a nomadic life, with Mia working on her art as a photographer while raising her daughter, and the Richardsons, mother, father and four children, raised in the idyllic, safe, solidly upper-middle-class Shaker Heights. Mia rents an apartment from Mrs Richardson. Their children, all in their teens, start to spend time together, Mia starts to work part-time cooking and cleaning for the Richardsons so that she can observe the family her, previously independent and possibly lonely, daughter has fallen under the spell of.

 

This "compare and contrast lifestyles" set-up is used to examine choices on motherhood, different types of mother-daughter relationships, the rights and wrongs of adoption (especially of a Chinese baby by a childless white couple) of abortion, and of surrogacy. It looks at whether families are born or made or both. It contrasts choosing to follow rules with choosing to follow your passion and asks if either choice makes sense.

 

It does all this without turning into an ethics essay. It stays focused on the people, the choices that have made them who they are and the potential that they have for changing and or for becoming even more deeply that people that they have already become.

 

The issues the characters deal with are controversial, have a high potential for conflict and speak deeply to core beliefs. So how do I get to the end of a novel told in the authorial voice and not know what the author's answer is?

 

Well, I needed to step back. I think Celeste Ng didn't set out to take sides on the issues. She wants us to understand that there are no simple answers. If there were, these little passion-fed fires wouldn't break out everywhere. 

 

The message I took from the book was that little fires are both inevitable and necessary. If we're lucky, they give us the passage to find an answer that is right for us. Yet the fires are dangerous, They can get out of control. So we are all faced with a choice on what to do with the fires? Do we damp them down, avoiding risk by starving them of oxygen? Do we spread the flame to others? Do we limit the damage? our passions, cutting off their oxygen to avoid risks?

 

Good questions. In "Little Fires Everywhere" Celeste Ng shows us all of those choices but leaves us to decide which to take for ourselves. Along the way, she builds up some memorable characters that start to feel like family.

 

To give you a flavour of the prose and the use of metaphor, I've quoted a section from the middle of the book, where the author shares Mrs Richardson's thoughts on passion and rules. 

"All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control. It scaled walls and jumped over trenches. Sparks lept like flees and spread as rapidly. A breeze could carry embers for miles. Better to control that spark and pass it carefully from one generation to the next, like an Olympic Torch. Or perhaps to tend it carefully like like an Eternal Flame A reminder of light and goodness that would never, could never, set anything ablaze. Carefully controlled, Domesticated. Happy in captivity.  The key she thought was to avoid conflagration."

 

"Rules existed for a reason. If you followed them, you would succeed. If you didn't, you might burn the world to the ground."

If this appeals to you, I recommend the audiobook version. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample of Jennifer Lim's narration.

 

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/349277108" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

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