If I had to sum up The Natashas in one word, it would be 'surreal'. The story follows two characters, jazz singer Béatrice and would-be actor César, through a dreamlike vision of Paris. The story is always shifting and there are many moments of magical realism. It's so unlike anything else I've read recently - the closest reference point I can think of in terms of style is Helen Oyeyemi's work, while the blurb draws comparisons with Angela Carter, Haruki Murakami and the films of David Lynch. This is not a plot-driven novel and has no real resolution; it is beautifully, creatively written, stylish and surprisingly funny.
Friends/lovers/enemies Paulina and Fran are the stars of this witty debut novel. A lot of it is about their lives as art students, but it also follows them into their careers (or lack of) post-university. I loved the way this was written - in fact my reaction to it was very similar to my reaction to The Natashas; on a sentence level, both books are often brilliant, but the characterisation leaves something to be desired. I enjoyed it, but found it too stylised to provoke any emotional reaction.
The Book Collector by Alice Thompson - Buy
A gothic pastiche which eschews the usual melodrama and lush language of the genre for a pared-back approach. The tale of a naive young wife and her mysterious husband is peppered with brief scenes of violence; the connection between the two leads to the book's climax. It invites comparisons with many other works: the original fairytale source material, gothic romance (think Rebecca) and feminist updates of fairytales (for example The Bloody Chamber). Thompson's modifications to the gothic template are pretty subtle, and while I found the style quite refreshing, I was disappointed the story wasn't meatier.
Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan - Pre-order
An enjoyable thriller with a daft plot and uneven tone. The best thing about it is the protagonist, Margot, who is a cut above most thriller heroines with her acerbic asides and headstrong attitude. She's a local newspaper agony aunt who receives a letter seemingly written by a girl who has been missing for 20 years, sparking a reinvestigation. Unfortunately, the story really loses its way about halfway through. However, I read an uncorrected proof and I suspect it will have been edited into more coherent form when it's actually published (it isn't out until June).
Internet reads, 1 of 2: an extremely creepy tale of horror in graphic (mini-)novel form. The characters are drawn to Amigara Mountain, where holes shaped like people have inexplicably appeared in the mountainside rock. I could have done with a more detailed explanation of how individuals come to identify the holes that 'belong' to them, but the ending wraps up the gruesomeness of the premise so completely it doesn't really matter much.
Internet reads, 2 of 2: a very fun online story in which a zombie epidemic is charted through two internet-based mediums: the Facebook posts of a woman who may be infected, and the emails of a group of Facebook executives debating the introduction of a feature allowing users to tag their friends as zombies. As soon as I read the beginning, I had to read all of it immediately. I loved this and I wish it'd been longer.
The Colony: Dark Resurrection by F.G. Cottam - Buy
The follow-up to Cottam's 2012 novel The Colony sees the (remaining) characters from that book taking another trip to cursed New Hope Island. They're joined by Ruthie Gillespie, introduced in last year's novella The Going and the Rise... and this time they find a very surprising ally. As ever with Cottam, this is a compelling and effective horror story with an ensemble cast of believable and (mostly) sympathetic characters. I particularly loved the scenes outside New Hope, especially Ruthie's encounter at the bookshop...
I Love Dick by Chris Kraus - Buy
I'm still unpicking my thoughts about this. Although I'd heard and read a lot about I Love Dick before starting it, nothing I'd heard or read adequately described what it's actually like to read. Ostensibly a semi-autobiographical story about a woman's obsession with a man she has only briefly met, it's really more accurately described as a sort of fictionalised memoir that takes in critical theory, feminist critique, art history, etc. The book is made up of letters Chris Kraus the character (not necessarily to be confused with Chris Kraus the author) and her husband Sylvère write to the man, who's named Dick, making the title less salacious than it first appears. It is thought-provoking, but also infuriating - I have to admit, there were many points when I found myself furiously thinking 'who cares' when faced with more of Chris's self-pity and namedropping. It's very narcissistic and soaked in the author's/characters' privilege (I'm surprised I haven't seen wider critique of this along with the recent resurgence in the book's popularity) but it is fascinating and will certainly make you think.
The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell, translated by Laurie Thompson - Buy
My impending trip to Riga gave me the perfect pretext for reading this (though it's actually the second in the Wallander series; I haven't yet read the first). Good job I wasn't relying on it as a guide to the city, as it was written prior to Latvia's emancipation from the Soviet Union in 1991, and portrays Riga as a depressing totalitarian wasteland in which every room is bugged and you're liable to get kidnapped by the Russian mafia at any point. I loved it as a crime novel, though - the sheer amount of detail makes it very absorbing, and the plot, though convoluted, is perfectly paced.
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