Book review: Wake by Elizabeth Knox

Cover image of WakeWake by Elizabeth Knox, Victoria University Press, ISBN9780864737700, RRP $35

I have to confess: I have a huge reader and blogger crush on Elizabeth Knox. Not only has she given me some amazing and mind-blowing reads (Black Oxen, The Vintner’s Luck, the Dreamhunter series), she’s accomplished at that literary/genre/audience hopping trick AND she’s amazingly accessible and generous on social media.

Do I sound starstruck? I can’t help it. Elizabeth Knox is awesome. When I grow up I want to be exactly like her.

Anyway: Wake. Wake follows a small group of characters – people who survive a mysterious and sudden affliction that descends on their very localised area of Tasman Bay. The affliction turns the bulk of the population into crazed killers, singlemindedly and relentlessly focussed on harming themselves and others. The afflicted who survive this initial violence then also die suddenly. The unafflicted survivors find themselves locked in to the town by something entirely unexplainable. Locked in with literally hundreds of dead bodies, other people who they don’t know (and maybe can’t trust), and with no way of contacting or being contacted by the outside world.

The reader’s journey mirrors the characters’; the immediate and shocking horror of the story’s beginning followed by the slightly numb “come down” and then the dawning reality of the practicalities of the situation they find themselves in.

The beauty of Knox’s novel is not only is the story absolutely compelling from a plot point of view (zombies! gore! blood! love! mystery! childhood trauma! mental imbalance!) but the writing is absolutely bloody gorgeous.

It wasn’t his thought. It was malicious and perverted and savage and clever, and had come as a soundless whisper from the centre of his skull as if there was something inside him, something that wasn’t him, stirring like a hatchling in an egg.

Knox’s world is full of language, full of beautiful words, even when describing the most basest and hideous circumstances.

In a nearby house a window shattered. An old man slumped through it, skewering his throat on the shards left in the frame. He moved only feebly while his blood unfolded like a concertinaed red banner down the weatherboard wall.

In Wake, Knox takes us from inhuman all the way back to human. It’s not fun or easy but it is very, very exceptional.

I think I saved the best read of 2013 for the end.

Book Review: Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

Raising Steam coverRaising Steam by Terry Pratchett, Doubleday, ISBN9780857522276, RRP $49.99

It is by turns amazing and fortunate (for us readers) that Discworld is now 40; Raising Steam is the 40th novel in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.

Look, you all know how I feel about Pratchett, and if this is your first time visiting (Aloha!) then look around! It won’t take long for you to find out. :)

But back to Raising Steam. We’re back in Ankh-Morpork and back with Moist von Lipwig, raconteur extraordinaire and puppet on a string to Lord Vetinari (aren’t we all, in a way?). After saving the Ankh-Morpork postal service, the Ankh-Morpork bank and the Ankh-Morpork mint, Moist is now charged with taking control of the new steam train service. We’ve got goblins again (they are great characters, incidentally), we’ve got Harry King, we’ve got Moist and Spike, we’ve got dwarves… all the elements are there for a great book.

And it is a great book. I’m damning with strong praise but that’s the Pratchett’s problem: his best books are AMAZING. His not-best books are great.

For new and well-read Pratchett fans Raising Steam will be a good read. The one quibble is it needs a firmer editorial hand, the story is slower than Pratchett’s usual and would have benefited from the odd slash through the longer deflections.

But the good news is Pratchett’s deflections cover the best and most thoughtful parts of the whole Discworld series. He considers racism, how technology changes social interactions, politics, terrorism, religion, gender and identity politics.

Discworld is a mirror to our world, a mirror that shows us as we truly are, shows us our history, and doesn’t let us turn away from the worst and the best parts of ourselves. I should learn not to quibble.

That’s the trouble, you see. When you’ve had hatred on your tongue for such a long time, you don’t know how to spit it out.

Book Review: Maia and What Matters by Tine Mortier and Kaatje Vermeire

Maia and What Matters cover imageMaia and What Matters by Tine Mortier & Kaatje Vermeire, Book Island, ISBN9780987669667, RRP $29.99.

The most beautiful picture book I’ve seen this year, Maia and What Matters is the latest from Kapiti Coast publisher Book Island – further proving that the best New Zealand publishers are congregating around Wellington.

Maia is “an impatient scamp”, lucky enough to have a Grandma just the same. They romp delightfully through Kaatje Vermeire’s absolutely stunning illustrations, capturing your heart with Tine Mortier’s equally delightful text.

Age does come for us all, however… and Grandma falls ill and suddenly she doesn’t romp (or talk) like she used too. Then tragedy strikes that little bit deeper.

I want to frame every page of this book. The pictures are beautiful and the story is gentle, heartfelt and honest in its depiction of the relationship between generations.

A book to make you wish you told your grandparents how much you loved them while they were with you. Or to remind you to romp with your grandchildren.

Where’d you go, BookieMonster?

Internets!

How I have missed you. Many things have happened in my absence, of which I had little to do with. (I am into overuse and misuse of prepositions at the moment, sue me.)

These things included:

  • New Zealand author wins Booker Prize (the second NZ author to do so, which makes us muy successful [I am also into misuse of foreign language and overuse of brackets at the moment, sue me.])

Okay, so that was the most interesting thing that happened.

In not book news I moved house and Mr Monster and I are now joint owners of a mini-orchard and a well laid out pile of bricks and mortar. Yay!

Books what I have read recently:

Amongst many others, which I am hopefully going to actually write about. Seeing as, you know, that’s what I’m here to do. Onwards!

Book Watch – NZ Herald on Sunday, 3 November 2013

The Factory World
By Joseph Edward Ryan, Steam Press

Simon awakes in a world he doesn’t know and has no memory of how he got there. This is the factory world and Simon will wander the landscape with his new friend, The Tin Man, both trying to find their homes. Another unique speculative fiction novel from New Zealand publisher Steam Press, this story had a real impact on me. The plot is imaginative and the story engrossing.

A Wicked Kind of Dark
By Jonathan K. Benton, Odyssey Books

The debut novel from a Kiwi author, this story does a slick job of combining fantasy with reality. The plot deals with love and magic and will strongly appeal to a young adult audience.  Benton wears his literary influences on his sleeve and refers to more than one popular cultural touchstone while keeping the reader hooked.

The Sundew Stalks : The Fly Papers Book 2
By Johanna Knox, Hinterlands

The second book in what is turning out to be a fantastically fun New Zealand kids’ series. This is just as good as its predecessor, The Flytrap Snaps, and will be a huge hit with young readers. The carnivorous plants are still there and this time the story focuses on Tora de Ronde, student and Body Slam wrestler. Beautifully illustrated with black and white drawings by Sabrina Malcolm.

Book Watch scan 3 November 2013

Reproduced courtesy of the NZ Herald on Sunday.

Book Review: Juno & Hannah by Beryl Fletcher

Juno and Hannah cover image

Juno & Hannah by Beryl Fletcher, Spinifex Press, ISBN 9781742198750

Juno & Hannah is the new novel from acclaimed New Zealand author Beryl Fletcher. It’s officially called a “novella” but to be honest I think it’s of a respectable enough length to qualify as a novel.

Set in post-WW1, it certainly has more than a flavour of Kiwi gothic to it. Fletcher wastes no time getting into the story, with our protagonists,Juno and Hannah, propelled throw events right from the first page. The book starts with Hannah saving the life of a man in a river, and we quickly realise three pertinent facts: a) the two girls live in a religious colony, b) are sisters and, c) Juno is different, possibly autistic. Hannah has learnt to calm and reason with Juno, and in turn Juno trusts Hannah over anyone.

But saving a man’s life changes everything for these sisters, with Hannah accused of witchcraft and isolated for a month. Before the isolation ends Hannah realises she has to leave and she must take Juno with her. This turns out to be just the beginning of a journey that takes in their past and parentage, as well as bushcraft, religion, exploitation, abuse, eugenics and crime.

Fletcher is always a fantastic writer and I did enjoy Juno & Hannah. I did have trouble connecting with the story but I often find that with Fletcher’s writing – people aren’t always honest and Fletcher makes the reader decide for themselves. This is a challenge though, not a criticism.

The story moves along at a fast pace and as quickly as we are dropped into this story, we are dropped out. Perhaps that’s another tick in the novella column. The characters are memorable, especially Hannah, the sister who holds it all together and in many ways mirrors our own confusion at a world we aren’t familiar with and don’t really understand.

Juno & Hannah is published by Spinifex Press – an independent and highly productive Australian feminist publishing company. You might not know them well, but I highly recommend taking a look at their current and back catalogue.