I haven’t written a review for a little while, because not everything I read gives me enough to say without spoilers. However there are a few books I have read recently that I feel are particularly worthy of mention, so I’ll share them with you here.
Fever Dream – Samantha Schweblin
This book was nominated for the Man Booker International Prize. It’s a small book, and with less than 200 pages it is readable in one sitting. This also adds to its rather disorientating effect.
It’s about a woman in hospital, telling the story of how she ended up there to a little boy at her bedside (who may or may not actually be present). The boy is adamant that she is missing a vital detail that could save other lives in the village, if not her own, and tries to guide her towards discovering it. It is a frantic story of motherly love, desperation, and the way we select or reject sound reasoning.
Fever Dream left me feeling as though I had been given a box of puzzle pieces, that no matter how I tried I could not quite piece together. It stayed with me for a long time, and eventually the point of the book just clicked. One of the reasons I didn’t review this in full is that the pleasure of the book is in figuring out the meaning for yourself.
Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness – Bruce Rosenblum
I was half expecting this book to be another attempt to shoe-horn quantum physics into someone’s idea of spirituality: there are too many pseudo-scientists out there who either misrepresent quantum theory, or apply it completely out of context. However I have to say I was pleasantly surprised here.
Quantum Enigma is very readable, yet it successfully explains the roots of quantum theory, its possible applications and the gaps that still exist in our understanding of it. There were some minor annoyances: for example the authors spend far too much time repeating what they are going to show us and how it will blow our minds, but all in all this is the best explanation I have received on the topic, and will no doubt keep referring to it.
Shark – Will Self
Similar to my feelings on J G Ballard, I have a lot of respect for Will Self, but I can’t say I’ve loved everything he has written. I am still addicted to picking up his books though, because I know they will give me an experience; they will stir something in me, be it joy or disgust.
Shark is technically the second book in a trilogy, though I don’t believe they need to be read in a particular order. It is a stream of consciousness from multiple points of view, presented as one long paragraph, starting and ending mid-sentence. Although the style is reminiscent of Joyce, this is a whole lot more accessible and flows beautifully. I found it very difficult to put down, not only due to the struggle in finding a natural stopping point, but because I really got into the heads of the characters and their trains of thought.
Plot-wise, Shark is about a ‘concept house’ identical to that set up by R D Laing in the 60s as an experiment in the treatment of schizophrenia. The doctors are on an accidental acid trip with their patients, which plays with their lucidity and comprehension of their personal situations. One of the patients we get to know is an ex-serviceman, traumatised by the dropping of bombs on Hiroshima and the subsequent shark attacks upon the men of the USS Indianopolis as it sunk. We also see through the eyes of Jeanie/Genie, a drug addict with an overbearing mother; and Kins, a ‘conscientious objector’ during the Second World War. All of these characters have very distinct perspectives, but are cleverly linked. I now can’t wait to read Self’s new book Phone which is the final book in the series.
The Gift Garden – Kenny Mooney
The Gift Garden is a novelette written by indie author Kenny Mooney. At 80 pages, this is another book that is easily and best read in one sitting. It is a dark and claustrophobic look into one man’s mind: a mind which is apparently unraveling, eating itself away with gloom and distraction.
The story is set in an apartment, which is the protagonist’s world. We watch him writhe and struggle with abstract elements: the mould in the walls, a tree growing in his garden, and an ethereal female offering fruit. I took the story to be one long metaphor for the protagonist’s mental state, mixed with smatterings of his reality. This is a concept I love, as anyone who reads my fiction will know.
Although I didn’t quite know what to make of it at first, the fact that The Gift Garden’s mood stuck with me for so long afterwards I believe is the mark of a powerful read.
Astronauts & Other Stories – Ash N Finn
This is a collection of very short stories by fellow WordPress blogger Ash N Finn. There’s a bit of everything here: laughter, sadness, surprise, clever symbolism, and mild horror. Every character is well thought out and has a voice of their own, and every setting is described with skill, so that even in such short segments the reader is fully immersed.
Although some stayed with me more than others, there isn’t a weak story in this collection. If you enjoy reading in short intense bursts, this book comes highly recommended.