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Search tags: unreliable-narrator
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review 2017-07-06 18:35
My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier
My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier

I thought to read this, my second du Maurier novel, after recently seeing the film adaptation with Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin. The story balances upon the question of whether or not Rachel is a villain. I was interested to know if the novel might be more definitive about the answer, and it seems to me it is. (Also, I enjoyed reading Rebecca.)

 

Perhaps because I saw the film first, it felt more like a mystery than the novel. The novel illuminates even more the influence of perspective, as it's written from Philip's (English, young, male landowner) first person point of view. I was most engaged with the novel in those moments when I questioned his perspective and instead considered Rachel's. I've started keeping a reading diary, and many of my notes focus on the ways in which Philip is ignorant: for example, he finds Rachel (like all women) to be mercurial and emotionally manipulative while he himself is often moody and simply ignorant of the effect his words and actions can have. Though almost 25, he's childish, and like a child, grows churlish when his immaturity is pointed out to him.

 

I was also interested by the character of Louise, the daughter of Philip's godfather. She's clearly interested in marrying Philip, and the whole county, including Rachel, is behind the idea. Philip is resistant; he at first wants to remain a bachelor as his beloved cousin and guardian Ambrose was for so long. He's also unused to the company of women and has a narrow view of them and marriage. What interested me most was that Louise is the first character to voice suspicions about Rachel; later in the story, at a key moment, she once again wonders about Rachel's character and possible misdeeds. This novel is not one in which all the men or all the women are wrong; it's more nuanced, thankfully.

 

My Cousin Rachel low-key critiques privileged male perspectives and women's roles through its storytelling techniques. The writing and narrative are engaging as well, and I look forward to my next du Maurier.

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review 2017-01-23 18:30
Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett
Rush Oh! - Shirley Barrett

This is the second novel in a row I've read (after Enchanted Islands) that's written as a sort of memoir from the perspective of an older person looking back. I'm not overly fond of traditional memoirs and wonder if this may in part account for my less than enthusiastic reaction upon finishing.

 

What this book does have going for it is a charming, somewhat unreliable narrator. Her asides and style as a storyteller often delighted and amused me. Mary is a naive girl at the start, and as an adult seems not much wiser. As a reader you may arch your brow at the gaps in her knowledge or what lies beneath her personality quirks (e.g. as a woman in her 50s at the end, she has developed a kind of fetish for reverends, owing to her first love, explored throughout the book). Mary is so plucky (and often critical of others) that I assumed she was still a child when the story began (in fact, she's a young lady already).

 

Returning to what I'm describing as memoir-ish--and an author's note explains that Mary's father was a real person, if not the whole family--there's only so much narrative thrust to the story. The plot advances in short chapters interspersed with others that give some background to the characters and to whaling. Essentially, Mary relays an account of a particular whaling season in Australia, most significant for her because she meets her first (and only romantic) love.

 

The novel was pleasant enough to read, but I needed something more and was also left confused by the end. Why end on that moment?

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review 2016-11-25 19:19
The Lightkeepers, by Abby Geni
The Lightkeepers: A Novel - Abby Geni

This book captivated me for the first two-thirds, and then somewhere along the line I grew tired of what I once loved about it. I think I sensed that it would not satisfy the mysteries it set up. The novel has a bit of everything: natural science, art, mystery, psychological thrills, trauma, memory, interpersonal connections (and the lack thereof). In the end, it's trying to be a bit too much, and not all the elements came together for me.

 

The protagonist is Miranda, a photographer who lost her mom at 14. The book begins at the end, with Miranda leaving the Farallon Islands off the coast of California; she's spent about a year in this dangerous place with rough terrain and rougher wildlife. living with a bunch of biologists, most of whom aren't the friendliest. It's a place she's come to love, but in the beginning, all you sense is that she's escaping some danger or trauma. The rest of the book is told through letters she writes to her dead mother.

 

Geni's prose can be gorgeous, but by the end it also becomes tedious. There are only so many descriptions of the ocean and horizon one needs. Some similes don't feel right tonally for what's being described. Other times, specific details are repeated needlessly. However, for much of the book I appreciated the language, and it's one of the reasons I decided on three and a half stars versus only three.

 

Acts of violence begin occurring on the islands over the course of Miranda's stay. Some are clearly not accidents, while others remain mysterious, whether the nature of the violence or who's responsible. In this way, the book sets up at least one set of mysteries. Many of these and other mysteries are somewhat predictable in their resolution, even if I was temporarily distracted by other options.

 

The title refers to two kinds of people who've populated the islands in the past--the light(house)keepers and eggers. The latter ransacked the islands to make money off murre eggs when there weren't many chickens yet in California. The lightkeepers only wanted to protect the islands by non-interference. There's a moment when this is the division that apparently characterizes any one person: you're either a lightkeeper or egger. This felt trite and unnecessary to me, though besides the prose I'd say the degree of the characters' noninterference--and its potential cost--was the most interesting aspect of the story.

 

The book also ends with a coda from another character's pov that explains just about everything. Perhaps it's meant to be haunting and shocking, but it felt anticlimactic to me. I'm not sure what I wanted from this book by the end, but I didn't get it.

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review 2016-08-08 07:29
Another Episode S/0 (book and manga) novel by Yukito Ayatsuji, manga by Hiro Kiyohara, translation by Karen McGillicuddy
Another Episode S / 0 - light novel - Yukito Ayatsuji

I was a little wary of this book. I've read or watched every version of Another that's officially been made available in English, starting with the anime, then the original novel, and finally the manga. I noticed I was burning out on the story by the time I got to the manga. Could a sequel novel work for me? Would it be fresh and new enough?

First, I should mention that this book actually collects two different works: Another Episode S, a lengthy story that takes place during the events of Another but isn't directly related to the curse affecting North Yomi's third-year Class 3, and Another Episode 0, a short prequel manga starring Reiko, Koichi's aunt. I'll write about them separately, but my final verdict is that this had some interesting moments but was largely a disappointment.

Warning: Do NOT read this review if you haven't read or watched Another. My review will include major spoilers for that work.

Another Episode S:

It's been a while since I last read Another, but I think this takes place shortly after third-year Class 3's first death. It's presented as a story Mei tells Koichi after they've survived the events of Another. Mei heard that a man she knew, 25-year-old Teruya Sakaki, had once been in North Yomi's third-year Class 3 during an “on” year, so she wanted to talk to him to find out more about the curse. However, by that point he had apparently died and become a ghost.

The story is told from Teruya's POV, as he tries to figure out how and why he died and why his sister and her husband have lied to everyone and told them that he's gone on a trip. He's convinced that, if he can just find his body, everything will be made clear to him. Unfortunately, all he has to guide him are vague and disquieting snatches of memory. Although his memories are too wispy and jumbled to help Mei in her search for an end to the curse, she agrees to help him find his body.

I've read Ayatsuji's The Decagon House Murders. I know he's capable of writing mysteries that don't resort to cheating, but you wouldn't know it from his Another novels. Another cheated by having the POV character simply not think about certain important details. Another Episode S cheated by bending over backwards to choose an unreliable narrator. Considering that Mei was telling this story to Koichi, it really should have been told from Mei's POV, but that would have ruined all of the story's biggest surprises.

Like Another, Another Episode S was incredibly repetitive. Some of the repetition made sense: Teruya was very confused by and bothered about his death and had nothing else to do but obsess about the few things he could still remember. Still, it got a bit old. He'd tell readers something, and then spend the next three or so pages either telling readers the same thing in different ways or reassuring readers that he really meant what he was saying (for example, pages and pages on his death and his reappearance in the living world as a ghost). Also, as in Another, there were lots of seemingly random bolded words and phrases. I could understand why "appear" was bolded, but some of the other choices made no sense to me.

Despite all that bloat, this was a quick read. Unfortunately, the revelations weren't that great. The events surrounding Teruya's death weren't that hard to figure out. Neither was the reason his sister and her husband did what they did, although, I have to say, it was incredibly stupid on their part. You'd think one of them would have realized they were actually making things worse for themselves in the long run. The story's biggest surprise was Teruya himself, but, like I said, I considered that cheating on Ayatsuji's part. I think he might have recognized that, too, because he spent 20 pages, through Koichi, laying out and explaining all the various details that showed why things turned out the way they did. About the only thing that wasn't part of the final analysis was the odd way Teruya tended to refer himself. While I did think that was a clever clue, I was still annoyed at the decisions Ayatsuji made for this story. Was this really the best he could do?

Another Episode 0:

This very short manga shows Reiko at her older sister's shrine, telling her that Koichi is about to come stay with the family for a while – this part takes place just before the beginning of Another. Then a flashback shows Reiko during her own time in North Yomi third-year Class 3, when she first learned about the curse and watched people she knew die.

Oh, this manga. Not much happens, but there's so much emotion packed into such a small number of pages.

You absolutely need to have read or watched some version of Another for it to have the proper impact, because the writer (in this case, Hiro Kiyohara) doesn't bother to explain why these moments are important in the larger scheme of things.

Those who are familiar with the series know that Reiko was the casualty, the extra person, during Koichi's time in North Yomi third-year Class 3. Although she managed to survive her own “on” year, her beloved older sister was one of the ones who died, and Reiko herself died in a later “on” year (I believe she was a teacher then?).

Yomiyama is the worst place to live. Even the people who survive the curse end up scarred by it, like Teruya. And those who are killed by it might have to go through it again in the future, like Reiko. And dang it, Reiko loved Koichi so much, and yet the curse wouldn't even allow him to remember her after she died a second time.

Extras:

  • Two full-color illustrations - three, if you count the one on the inside of the cover, although that's just the uncropped version of one of the two color illustrations included in the book.
  • Character sketches, cover roughs, the line drawings for several of the manga covers, and a few storyboards.
  • Afterwords by both Yukito Ayatsuji and Hiro Kiyohara.

 

Rating Note:

 

If I were rating them separately, I'd probably give Another Episode S 2.5 stars and Another Episode 0 3.5 stars. I went with 2.5 stars for my final rating because the bulk of this book was devoted to Ayatsuji's sequel.

 

(Original review, including read-alikes and watch-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2016-04-22 15:41
A Scary Tale of Misguided Love, Child Abuse, Power Relations and the Nature of Memory and Narration
Foxlowe - Eleanor Wasserberg,HarperCollins Publishers Limited

 

Thanks to Net Galley and to Harper Collins for providing me with a free copy of this novel in exchange for an unbiased review.

There are novels that might not treat the most original topics, but have great characters and tell interesting stories and we enjoy them and recommend them to others who enjoy books in that genre. There are novels that might be difficult to read because of the subject (or sometimes memoirs or non-fiction books) but they are so unique or treat about something so important, that we persevere no matter what, although the experience might not be enjoyable as such. There are novels that connect with us at an emotional level; they take a place in our heart and we always remember them with affection. Of course there are novels that we might not remember a few months (or even before if we read a lot) later.

Foxlowe isn’t a novel easy to forget. The first person narrator, Green, or Jess or… is a young girl when the story starts, and is telling us of her experiences in a house called Foxlowe. There is a community living there, as self-enclosed and isolated from the rest of the world as it’s possible (it isn’t even that clear the exact period the story takes places in as we start reading), where the adults are artists and craftsmen that live of selling their work and also of toiling the land.  Despite the fact that later we realise these are modern times, they seem to live making use of very few, if any, modern commodities. They have their own beliefs (a cult?) that seem to involve the power of nature, the Sun in particular, the Solstice and the double sunset that they believe hold special healing powers. There is the Bad, that lives rampant outside their small community, and there are a number of rites and ceremonies that they take part in to keep the Bad away. The adults seem to have decided at some point that they could educate children in a much better way than modern society does. Green is one of these young children they decide to bring up, but not the only one. We soon discover that some of the ways they use to get rid of the Bad involve physical punishment, and the Spikes Walk is something I won’t forget in a hurry.

The book is divided in three parts. In the first, Green tells us how she feels and what happens while she’s living there as a young girl and a new baby arrives. What would have been sibling rivalry in a normal family takes on a much darker connotation there. Part two takes place after the Foxlowe experience and we get hints of what has happened to Green since she left, how difficult it is for her to fit in the real world (she can’t even read or write, and as she had no memories pre-Foxlowe, she has nothing to hold on to), and we know that something terrible happened. Part three goes back to explain what resulted in the demise of Foxlowe. And it is as bad as we might have suspected.

By using the first person and a young girl with no knowledge of any other life, the author creates an intense narration of how it is to belong to such a group, and how strong the identification with their goals and beliefs can be, the lack of outside perspective and the complete lack of a separate identity. I find unreliable narrators fascinating, although in the case of Green it is difficult to know if she’s unreliable or unaware. In part three she shows some insight into her circumstances, but she is still caught up in the ‘family’ and what she seems to think was a wonderful experience. Although she keeps meeting other members of the group who don’t share her view of things, she holds on to her own memories and they are coloured by what she chooses/has to believe. The ending chilled me to the bone.

Wasserberg creates a strong feeling of place, and creates in the reader the claustrophobia of having no way out and seeing things from a skewed perspective. If the language, the stories, the descriptions of the landscape and some of the activities are bucolic and aesthetically pleasing and even poetic, the horror of the actions of the group (be the leader, Freya, or the followers) are even more shocking because of it. What some people call love is indeed scarier that the worst monster in horror movies.

I recommend this book to people looking for a great read (although it is not an easy one) that will make them think and feel uncomfortable, too. Would we act like the members of the group in similar circumstances, or are we perhaps already doing that?

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