So here we are again to talk about some more of the books that have had me desperate to be (physically) at home on the sofa with nose stuck in book while (mentally) exploring a whole host of new worlds and experiences.
A great young adult read made its way into my hands a few months back and the striking cover of a censored piece of fiction had me wanting to get stuck in immediately. Anything That Isn’t This by Chris Priestley takes us to a gothic town of statues with eerily worn away faces and a castle, a constant looming presence, in which resides the all-powerful ‘Ministry’. We meet our protagonist, Frank, in his last few weeks in education and what, to him, will be the end of the daily reminder of how he doesn’t quite fit in. With aspirations of being a writer he is faced with the unpleasant truth that most in his position, good grades and family connections, will actually end up working for the Ministry. The ruling state have imposed curfews on the residents and ensured all creative output is controlled by allowing only ministry approved fiction (all published work before their reign has been consigned to one small shop, where the end two chapters of each book have been fastidiously torn out) and television programs. Frank feels the claustrophobic town bearing down on him and cannot even escape this feeling in his own home as he believes his family have simply fell in line with the system. The only relief he seems to get from this world is by either talking to his grandfather (in not exactly the most conventional of settings) and by focusing on his love for Olivia, one of the popular crowd, who he is sure would return his affections if he could just engineer the right situation for romance to blossom. I found this a great read that would be enjoyed by all, as usual don’t let the ‘young adult’ tag put you off if you don’t tick the box for that age bracket. Priestley had me questioning how far you will go to pursue your dreams and how easy it is to be sucked into a way of life without questioning the forces behind it. An added treat for the reader is the illustrations that appear throughout the novel, all in stark blacks, whites and greys, making you feel like you are roaming the streets along with Frank. I think this is a corking read for anybody aged 13 years upwards.
‘Anything That Isn’t This’ by Chris Priestley £8.99 Hot Key Books
I am almost embarrassed to be writing about this book now as I am so horribly late to the party, but it would not be honest if I did not include it in here, so, we have arrived at… ‘My Brilliant Friend’ by Elena Ferrante. Working in the book industry I obviously had seen and heard more about these books than your average release, the word of mouth buzz began and I saw the tables stacked with those covers (oh those covers, so much to be said) yet I just did not pick them up. There was no aversion to them, I am not one to reject something because it is popular, I simply had a lot of books to read and they ‘The Neapolitan Series’ kept escaping me. That was until this summer, when I was being a book shop tourist for the day (busman’s holiday and all that) and I found myself buying the first of the four part series. Well, that is it isn’t it? You Ferrante readers will know how my heart was stolen and my every waking moment was consumed by Lila and Elena. Such phenomenal writing translated so beautifully you feel as if you are experiencing the text exactly how those reading in the original language will be. Never have I read such a realistic portrayal of female friendship, with its passionate love and deep jealousy. I experienced such a thrill reading Ferrante describe the difference between the men and women of Naples, people presuming they should be frightened of the men’s explosive anger, but no, as this passes in ten minutes, whereas the women – be frightened of the women, their anger will last a lifetime. Opening the story with Elena, in her 60’s, receiving a phone call from her best friend Lila’s son, to inform her that she has not been seen for days now. Elena advices him to look around her friend’s apartment and he quickly realises that not only has his mother gone, but her possessions too, she has even gone so far as to cut herself out of every single family photo. As Elena puts down the receiver she reflects on how she is not surprised Lila has disappeared, that she knew she would always do this, and that while she can remember she is going to write their story down. We jump back to late 1940’s Naples and so the tale begins. This, for me, is fiction at its best. Engrossing and enough to make me really resent any activity that wasn’t sitting down with this book. I do worry that the covers will put some male readers off (not that I in any way believe in fiction being ‘for’ men or women specifically) but I am aware this does happen, so if you have looked at these covers and thought ‘hmmm, bit gaudy, I’ll give this one a miss’, then to you I say ‘NO you fool! Pick up the book, take it to the counter to pay and then prepare to be amazed!’
‘My Brilliant Friend’ by Elena Ferrante £11.99 (Europa Editions)
I do not have many graphic novels in my back catalogue but this is something I definitely want to change. This was a point driven home when I read ‘Everything is Teeth’, a graphic novel written by Evie Wyld and illustrated by Joe Sumner. Now I am a huge fan of Wyld’s writing, having read and recommended ‘After the Fire, A Still Small Voice’ and ‘All the Birds, Singing’ to many, so I was always going to pick this up to take a look, but I did not anticipate becoming so hooked by this form of storytelling. The tale itself initially appears to be a simple one, as we learn of Wyld’s fear of the shark and how this was a constant issue in her childhood. As we read on we quickly become aware that the story is so much more than this and is actually an examination of her relationship with her father as he grows older and eventually passes away, with Wyld’s striking, sparse style focusing on the minutiae within their relationship and having it speak volumes. Sumner, a friend of Wyld’s, has illustrated the tale in two different styles. The portrayal of Wyld and her family is done in an almost cartoonish fashion, where-as his images of the sharks are frighteningly realistic, the contrast highlighting how they were the stuff of a young girls nightmares. Squeamish when it comes to blood? Well you would assume you were safe when it comes to flicking through a book, but hold your horses, although the majority of the novel is black and white, we do see the damage that can be done by these magnificent animals as vivid, blood red suddenly leaps out at us from the pages to powerful effect. For those new to the graphic novel or seasoned pros, this would be a welcome addition to a bookshelf.
‘Everything is Teeth’ by Evie Wyld & Joe Sumner £16.99 (Random House)
So there we go, another handful of my favourites from this year’s collection. Have you read any of the above and if so, what did you think? Or do you have some favourites you think deserve a mention? Well let us know in the comments below! Until next time,