book reviews

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

I was hesitant, at first, to review this book, so perhaps this really won’t be a review. This is a book that appears to have universal adulation (if the internet is to be believed) and I so wanted to like it too. It was witchy, magical, and fantastical, or so it claimed. It did have some of these elements but, sadly, it was truly terrible.

Print

It’s been quite a while since I’ve read a bad book; I generally stick to the 50 page rule, but this one really did trick me. The first third is engaging: the plot flowed even with a few bumps and repetitiveness, but the language was compelling and the magic, so to speak, was enough to keep me there (also, after the sad failure of my attempt to watch that horrid SyFy show The Magicians, I was really hoping this book would do the trick to remedy my desire for something enjoyable and magical).

I am baffled by the praise here. Perhaps, the reviewers only read the first third and wisely didn’t finish. The beginning deals with the characters when they’re children and then at some point jumps ahead into adulthood: one is a apocalyptic-type of Silicon Valley engineer that in real life would make me roll my eyes so much they would fall down a sewer drain and the second, Patricia, who had real potential is a “feisty” witch who never is very interesting or magical as an adult….also, there’s something about her being able to understand birds (hence the title, but whatever, really).

The terrible two thirds are twisty and unpleasant. Too much is brought up and it is incredibly opaque. I have no problem with unlikable characters, but I absolutely didn’t care about them. I hoped they quickly perished in whatever future worldwide catastrophe was approaching; at least the book would be over sooner.

I stuck with it because the beginning was promising. It reminded me of the lightness of Neil Gaiman’s writing–as if the reader is in a strange fairy tale of the author’s own making. But All the Birds in the Sky is the biggest con of the publishing schedule for 2016. Avoid at all costs. There are too many books in this world to read. Good grief, was this awful. A huge question I kept wondering was did Charlie Janie Anders even have an editor? Was she just taking four different books she was thinking of and mash them together hoping the reader would be stupid enough to accept this? I have never felt so alone in my opinion (except when I switch over to the 1-3 star ratings on Goodreads).

If I wasn’t borrowing this from the library, I would have certainly chucked it out of a window no lower than the third floor of a building.

 

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Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

Perhaps, I am in the minority, but 2014 didn’t smack me as a great year for novels. There were a few that were personal favorites (most notably The Fever), but there were far more disappointments. I am a bit bummed that I let Julie Schumacher’s novel Dear Committee Members wait till four months after publication, but I am so happy that I finally read it and at an addicting speed, no less.

dear committee members

 

This novel will be especially appreciated by those who have swam through the sludge that is academic bureaucracy (and also anyone seeking out employment where references are required). The book is told entirely in the form of Letters of Recommendation, or LOR, written by a technophobic, vain and unpleasant professor of creative writing and literature at a university in Minnesota. The novel has all the components to steal my heart.*

Professor Jason Fitger has written over 1,300 LOR, a process that seems to be the primary reason for not penning a new book in more than half a decade (I’m not even sure when he would have to time to teach the classes he mentions). The letters he writes are funny, revealing, self-involved, and entirely inappropriate for so many reasons. Readers will love this book, but especially those who have had to deal with the ridiculous requirement of LOR.

Not only is Professor Fitger penning LOR for academic programs, colleagues’ promotions, etc., but also for his students who are applying for employment at RV parks, produce factories, and technology firms.

dear committee members excerpt

Over the school year, Fitger is one of the lone professors who has remained behind in the building housing the English department, which is undergoing vast (and crumbling) renovations. As a former English major, I feel it’s my duty to note the parallel between the department’s physical shambles and the never-ending breakdown of relationships Fitger has in his own life: his ex-wife and former girlfriend have formed a sort of alliance against him, former colleagues deny requests for assistance, and the majority of everyone else is aware of his membership in the pompous ass club.

The novel is, in short, hilarious. It is attuned to what is happening to liberal arts departments, the shunting aside of any course of study that is not part of STEM. It is also a fine critique to the obscene behavior universities deploy so they do not have to pay professor much of anything (employing mostly underpaid and overworked adjuncts, so as to refrain from paying out benefits and salaries).

Shall I dare to say that Dear Committee Members is genius? I shall. (It’s entirely unfortunate how this term–along, with epic, awesome, unbelievable-is splashed upon every article headline these days, but I will refrain from further curmudgeonry, lest I sound too much like Professor Fitger).  I really loved this book and in fact, I finished it in a single day.

 

*I am a sucker for epistolary novels; I’m looking at you, Dracula.

The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit by Graham Joyce

This summer has seen a light sampling of haunting reads. Ghost stories are no longer dedicated to autumn/October release dates and this is something I’m entirely happy about. With that said, however, I was a smidge disappointed by the prolific Graham Joyce’s The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit.

electric suit

The novel is being promoted as one that taps into a more supernatural motivation, but taking the back burner would be a whopping understatement. Though, the writing itself is quite strong and clean, any notion of a “ghost” or an “electric blue suit” is wholly reduced in favor of more mundane plot points.

The book begins engaging enough and gets the story going quickly. David Barwise is a young college student who goes to work at a shabby seaside resort during his summer break. He’s drawn to the town because it is the same place that his father disappeared from fifteen years prior when David was only three years old. His mother and step-father are mighty worried and question him on his decision to go there. When David arrives he sees a man and a young boy on the shore. This, of course, brings up memories off his lost father.

David is much different than the rest of the employees who are entertainers–ventriloquists, stage performers, dancing girls–and the rest who make sure the holiday resort runs smoothly.

The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit has all the pieces that should make it a stand-out work. Joyce positions the mysterious intrigue right at the beginning, but some how it gets lost. I think of this book has being in quarters: the first quarter whets our whistle; we must know about this man and boy on the shore.

“The man’s suit is blue and it darts with watery phosphorescence. The suit is beautiful, alive, quivering like the scales of fish.”

The man appears to him in his waking life and even in his dreams and nightmares. Joyce further goes on to set the novel in 1976, the hottest summer in recent memory, and makes the setting even more bizarre by having swarms of ladybugs engulf the town like a plague.

The second and third quarters are where we have a problem. There is too much concern with the minutiae of running a seaside holiday resort; the characters, as well, are little more than lightly stenciled versions of people. They seem fuzzy in my imagination and are never truly realized even though there is a sense that the author wants them to stand out.

The final portion is slightly more interesting. Questions are inevitably answered and mysteries are flattened out leaving them resolved. It all seemed as if it suffered from too little, too late syndrome.

Perhaps, I’m being too harsh on this novel, but I had such high hopes. It might be more suited for a casual reader sitting poolside who’s one or two mojitos in already. I haven’t read any other novels by Graham Joyce, but I’m under the impression that he’s highly regarded by fantasy enthusiasts and he’s won the O. Henry Award. Has anyone read his other books?

The Fever by Megan Abbott

I don’t normally start reviews with being so blunt, but I must say, that I absolutely loved The Fever by Megan Abbott. Honestly, I was addicted and it was a whirlwind of a novel that tossed me out of a recent slump with novels TBR.

the fever

The novel is bundled together between the three distinct narratives of the Nash family–Deenie, her older brother Eli, and their father, Tom, who is also a teacher at their high school. Although, each of the three has their own third person sections, I find myself rallying behind Deenie as the main character; we’re with her the most. Her brother Eli is a handsome hockey player for the high school team and so irresistible to the girls at the school that all he really needs to do to get their attention is wake up in the morning (if that).

In the small town of Dryden, Deenie is a sophomore who is dealing with what high schoolers deal with–old friends, new friends, nemeses, that weird and uncomfortable liminal space between being a kid and being an adult (although, as someone counted amongst adults myself, I rarely feel like a grown up!). The opening chapter is strange and uncomfortable. The girls are waiting for some mysterious procedure that doesn’t become clear until later in the book when everyone is in a state of panic.

One morning at school, Deenie’s best friend Lise begins to have a fit. She seizes and falls out of her desk to the floor, knocking her forehead on the ground before she is taken away to the hospital. It is a frightful sight, one that understandably unnerves Deenie and as Lise remains unconscious in the hospital, everyone is trying to uncover what caused it. But then something odd begins to happen. Other girls in the school begin to have similar fits filled with jerking head motions and then their entire bodies seizing before being carted off to the hospital. The small town is in a panic and with every new day, unsubstantiated culprits are fingered–the HPV vaccine, environmental factors, drugs, contagious disease. When common threads are found, something is right there to devalue the theories.

Right from the start, the story rushes forward. The sentences are clipped and urgent making the reader feel completely off-kilter just like the characters. Mysteries are held back and often purposefully muddled with gossip, urban legend, and mass hysteria. Although, told in the third person, Deenie’s section, at times, feels like an unreliable narrator in the way that only a partial representation of previous events are being shown until the very end when pertinent revelations are revealed.

One aspect I particularly liked (which is also infuriating) is this modern sense of “I play a doctor on the internet.” Of course, mistakes are made even by the most seasoned of professionals, but I am always terribly baffled by people who think they know better after some light Wikipedia perusing. During a highly tense school meeting with parents and teachers, Abbott writes:

“Tom sighed. There was no use talking epidemiology with Dave Hurwich, who always knew more about law than lawyers, more about cars than mechanics.”

The plot of The Fever felt really familiar and when I did some cursory Googling, Megan Abbott’s author website points to the New York Times article that I remembered reading a few years ago that clearly triggered inspiration. I’d recommend that those who didn’t read all the news articles about the school in upstate New York should avoid doing so till finishing the novel. I think it would be an even more mysterious tale.

The Fever will be released on June 17 by Little, Brown and Company, which is part of the Hachette Book Group. If you haven’t read about it already, Hachette and Amazon are currently battling, so the availability of many titles are in limbo on Amazon’s site. If you aren’t able to get a copy from your local bookstore, it can be ordered through Book Depository.

“The Water That Falls on You From Nowhere” by John Chu

the water that falls

Starting just a few weeks ago, any time a person utters a lie, water falls down from the sky onto them. It could be a light mist or a strong pour–it all depends on the strength of the lie. It isn’t necessarily the drench that cause great anxiety for Matt, the narrator of John Chu’s short story, it’s the idea of letting a lie slip out. He is keeping secrets and showing the truth is causing him great angst.

It is Christmastime and like many families, Matt’s is no different. He is invited to his parents’ house, where his sister, her husband, and her in-laws will be staying as well. Now over 30, Matt’s parents–described as traditional Chinese parents–are often poking him about when he will marry and give them a grandson. The problem, however, is that Matt has a boyfriend, Gus, and his family knows nothing about this. Even though he hasn’t outed himself, Matt takes Gus with him to the family Christmas.

There is much anxiety in this story, but Chu still maintains a level of humor about it all. When the two men arrive at Matt’s parents’ house, they are met with a bustling home readying itself for a large feast. Everyone speaks at least two languages, but the entire group doesn’t share one common language to converse in. When Matt realizes the trouble of it all, he thinks, “Repeatedly slamming my head against the handrail now would send the wrong message, so I don’t.” Besides being lost in translation, Chu occasionally places the original Chinese into dialogue, including retaining the characters and not transliterating into English. This makes the reader also feel lost like the characters.

Matt’s parents are not as stereotyped as one might first think when they are told that the characters are “traditional Chinese.” They are more layered, especially his mother, something that Matt learns throughout the story as he worries about revealing his relationship with Gus.

The idea of water falling on liars is an interesting one. Matt explains ways people have gone about getting around the possible waterfall, but these are not foolproof. People might still know that you lie.

“Phrasing things in the form of a question. That and weasel words work as insurance against the water that falls from nowhere. They just make it extremely obvious that you’re hedging against the truth.”

The added dread of being totally soaked with even the smallest white lie is enough to add panic. I really enjoyed this being a foreboding presence. However, it would’ve been nice to see the author use this hook a little more. After a while, it felt merely like that–a hook. Yet, it was quite an interesting take on the idea of a dreaded family gathering. Chu was able to use the device somewhat to show characters’ actual meanings beneath their words. However, this fantastic concept and John Chu drawing Matt with struggles sprinkled with humor were delightful.

According to the author’s bio, he “designs microprocessors by day and writes fiction by night.” I’m sure he is extremely happy to have this story nominated for a Hugo Award this year. In honor of the nomination, the publisher has just provided a free e-book edition and it can also be read in its entirety online and through Zola Books.

**Anytime I read the title of this short story, I can’t help but imagine it being the name of a Star Trek episode. Captain Kirk would be drenched immediately while surrounded by green sexy aliens.
short story may

The Man in the Woods by Shirley Jackson

Although, passing away in 1965, the exquisite author Shirley Jackson still persists as one of our great 20th Century American writers. Even after her death, she leaves us with many unpublished works. Her adult children have been wading through all of her papers and unpublished stories have been found. Last year, the New Yorker magazine ran a previously unknown story called, “Paranoia.” With this week’s issue, a story taking root in mythology and fairy tale was published. This new Shirley Jackson story is called, “The Man in the Woods.” It is also available to read in its entirety online.

themaninwoods

Admittedly, the story reads like an early draft. It is indeed short and the ending is lacking the hard resonance that Jackson’s other works released during her lifetime have. The final sentences give a glimpse, however, to the tone and path she wanted to take. With that all said, “The Man in the Woods” doesn’t disappoint.

It is a short story that unleashes a lingering terror from the first page. Shirley Jackson was always wonderful at making the reader feel on edge without being blunt. Christopher is compelled to start walking into the woods out of the mere fact that he has nothing better to do. He is joined by a nameless cat who Christopher playfully asks, “Where we going, fellow? Any ideas?” As he continues on into the woods, Christopher finds himself at a crossroads, not sure which path to take. Jackson sets up a story that feels very familiar in the realm of fairy tales (well, the kind of fairy tales that really are horror stories with grim outcomes and any notion of “fairy” is wholly misleading). Christopher comes upon a small stone cottage where a trio of mysterious people live. The occupants are strange with their speech and they are not completely able to pick up on the humor in casual conversation.

Regardless of the draft quality of the story, I am still delighted by Jackson’s ability to construct a foreboding environment. She clearly is taking a cue from fairy tales and folk myths (one character’s name is possibly Circe; what this tells the reader about her, though, can be debated). It is this enigmatic quality of the narrative that is the big draw.

When you’re done taking a peek, the New Yorker also included an interview with Shirley Jackson’s son about discovering her unpublished stories and other topics.

The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland

the transcriptionist

The Transcriptionist was not what I expected and I mean this in the best of ways. It is a New York City novel, but resides in unknown places and lives that have yet to be portrayed in fiction.* Lena is a transcriptionist at the New York Record–a position that seems a relic in our digital age. In 2003, the city is living in a time that seems both close and faraway to the present day reader. Post 9/11 concerns are red hot (the staff of the Record  are absurdly given “escape hoods” in case of further mass emergency) and the daily news cycles whirl around Lena as she sits alone on the eleventh floor transcribing recorded interviews and reports from abroad.

She lives in this shadow state, always reading the news she knows over the news that makes it into print, and not just reading the shadows, but also living in them, somewhere between waiting and searching. This is what chills her…

Lena lives alone in a room she rents where the sink is also in her room. She keeps to herself and even the one person, Russell, who speaks to her socially at work thinks her name is Carol (a mistake she leaves uncorrected). Lena is filled with words and language so much that her conversational skills are composed mostly of quotations.

But then everything changes. A news report on page 3 of the Record catches her eye. A woman is mauled to death by the lions at the Bronx Zoo one night. The death is a suspected suicide. Lena sees the woman’s photo and identifies her as the blind woman who spoke to her three days prior on the city bus. With a migraine, Lena didn’t pay the woman full attention, but now in death Lena is rapt.

The parallels that Lena finds between herself and the dead blind woman, begin to make her move out of the shadows. Words and language compose her life, but as she attempts to find more information over the death, she quietly begins to unravel the mundane life she had been living and the contradictions at the Record and the world around her.

In Lena, debut novelist Amy Rowland has constructed a character that is able to see beneath what has become everyday life. As a former transcriptionist herself, Rowland provides wonderful information and details on the goings-on of a major newspaper. She portrays a liminal space where technology and the human touch are still needed. The Recording Room where Lena works is still made up of audio tape, telephones, and people. Dictations are important and the accuracy of a person’s ear is paramount to correct copy. Lena is part of the Record‘s “institutional memory.”

Lena finds in the blind woman a person who can see more than anyone else. Before reading the short news report, Lena would have continued on in her mundane, liminal space of the shadows until she faded away and was forgotten. Instead, she wanted to learn things and in doing so, shook herself from the trappings of her solitary and almost obsolete life (and employment).

The Transcriptionist is a novel that finds its energy in the forgotten and unknowable. It is not the glamour of New York City that entices the reader, but the monotony of a single person’s everyday life and the subsequent search to find comfort and meaning. Lena finds her solutions in language. She is able to finally see other people’s failings in their use of language and reactions to it. We have our memories, but when we, too, are gone, it is language that is left to carry us away from being forgotten.

This novel will be released in the US on May 13, 2014 by Algonquin Books

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*Although, completely different NYC stories, part of me had a similar indulgent feeling when I read The Rules of Civility.

 

The Bureaucrat’s Recommended Reading List

The unending and illogical madness of government bureaucracy didn’t truly hit me until I worked for the government. For one year, the term kafkaesque permeated my life and my unfortunately battered psyche. Sure, I had read plenty of Kafka’s works up to that time, but they didn’t resonate in the same way until I found myself running in circles only to ram head first into a wall of slow policies and paperwork covered in absurdity resulting in bad handwriting and 4:30 martinis. But this sort of insanity can be found in other works by other authors as well.

Bureaucrat's Reading List

According to Merriam-Webster, Kafkaesque is defined as :  of, relating to, or suggestive of Franz Kafka or his writings; especially :  having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality <Kafkaesque bureaucratic delays>

***

Catch-22. “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” One of the great American novels of the 20th Century, Joseph Heller’s World War II-set narrative finds bombardier Yossarian caught in an illogical roundabout that exams the insanity, idiocy, and other problematic facets of war.

Metropole. When a linguist boards the wrong plane in Budapest, he arrives in an unknown city where he can’t seem to understand anything anyone is saying. There is excessive queuing and official information is constantly changing from one day to the next.

The Passion According to G.H. A claustrophobic, ecstatic stream of consciousness begins when the maid quits, leading G.H. to go into the former employee’s room to find it spotless save for a cockroach that she goes on to kill. Language, memories, and philosophies are tangled around the lifeless vermin for inspection.

Invitation to a Beheading. I’ve always maintained that if you covered up Vladimir Nabokov’s name on the front cover and gave it to a new reader, they would immediately assume it was written by Kafka based on the style, tone, and premise. In an unnamed country, Cincinnatus C. is sentenced to death by beheading for being found guilty of “gnostical turpitude,” an undefined crime.

The Joke. This is Milan Kundera’s first novel and written during the brewing Prague Spring. Ludvik is sentenced to hard labor after sending a friend a joke written on a postcard that pokes fun at the communist regime. He is turned in and his trial is nothing more than a kangaroo court. 

The Garden Party.  The young Hugo is sent by his father to a garden party to meet a local bureaucrat who his father is certain will employ Hugo. The party-goers mistake him for a seasoned employee and soon Hugo is put in charge of liquidating the liquidation office. He fools them all by quickly mutating his language to that of the bureaucracy.

The CastleThis list wouldn’t be complete without Kafka, right? There are so many to choose from, but The Trial and The Castle are always cited as the most “kafkaesque” of them all. K. is a land surveyor who has been summoned to an unnamed town. He keeps trying to get into the castle to speak with a mysterious and unseen official. Paperwork and the unknowable are just two blockades to his pursuits.

These are just a few selections. Do you have any further recommendations?

Selected dialogue from The Garden Party,

The Garden Party


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The Trip to Echo Spring; on writers and drinking by Olivia Laing

In Olivia Laing’s newest book, The Trip to Echo Spring, the writer chooses to investigate “why writers drink, and what effect this stew of spirits has had upon the body of literature itself.” She takes us through a trip that weaves between six writers of 20th century American literature and her own ghosts of growing up in a home where alcoholism played a strange and erratic part.

Laing has chosen literary lions F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Cheever, John Berryman, and Raymond Carver, whose drinking habits are as well-known as their canonical works. The book explores the many aspects of their lives, which seem to echo with each other. Their upbringings and domestic lives could easily be swapped and no one would know the immediate difference. At the beginning, Laing writes about her decision,

Most of this six — or saw themselves as having — that most Freudian of pairings, an overbearing mother and a weak father. All were tormented by self-hatred and a sense of inadequacy.

Along with investigating these six writers, Laing details a train journey she takes throughout the continental United States, leading her to the hometowns or adopted way stations of the writers. Her intent is to explore how these men experienced and thought about the disease and their relationship to alcohol.

Dealing with childhood experiences of growing up with an alcoholic in the household, it seems only natural that the author would find momentum in taking on such a hefty and well-documented theme: writers and alcohol…and especially American writers and alcohol.

The book begins quite elegantly with Laing outlining her plan and hopeful desires. Her words and sentences lull forward giving the reader a sense of untrustworthy calm when describing clearly troubling past memories. Like the authors she’s chosen, Olivia Laing’s own writing is so effected by alcohol, albeit, not her own disease. These clipped memories envelop the reader and a favorite moment is when Laing writes that she only recently began thinking about the past,

For years, I’d steered well clear of the period in which alcohol seeped its way into my childhood, beneath the doors and around the seams of windows, a slow, contaminating flood.

Unfortunately, she has chosen six authors that so many people are aware of, both of their writing and their lives. No new information was really presented. Although, I did find myself more engrossed with the portion about the poet John Berryman. I wondered if this was because I knew the least about him, or was it because his life was described somewhat differently? His troubles, at times, stuck out in the book, whether it be his drunken college instruction or his tendency to fall down all of the time. However, these are more anecdotes and the way alcohol effected his writing is similar to the other five.

As the book progresses, we regrettably move further away from Laing’s initial trip and closer to a regurgitation of well-known facts culled from biographies and diaries, although, still retaining the notion that alcoholism is rampant in the authors’ writings. Echo Spring was enjoyable to an extent. However, Laing’s beautiful writing that swam around the opening pages began to drop-off and the idea behind her train journey a baffling one beyond getting a publisher to pay for a trip to Key West. I liked her idea of travelling to these birth places and homes, but the reflection was lacking.

Questions circled around my mind as I read on. Was this book, perhaps, meant for an audience not familiar with 20th century American writers? Laing writes that she was most interested in these six because their lives mirror each other, but wouldn’t it have been more interesting to investigate writers who alcoholic lives are less known to us? This is her book, of course, but without new information presented, my mind wandered to Marguerite Duras or Patricia Highsmith, just as two examples.

The Trip to Echo Spring was a personal endeavor that felt less personal as the pages went by. Laing’s writing is top-notch but the lovely prose that populated the beginning chapters began to fall away as the reflections became more direct excerpts from outside works than to Laing’s own train journey and bits of her childhood experiences. She was strongest writing about these latter moments than offering up well-known information about these flawed great American writers.

*photos from Wikipedia.org and The Guardian

The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane

“Ruth woke at four in the morning and her blurry brain said, ‘Tiger.’ That was natural; she was dreaming. But there were noises in the house, and as she woke she heard them.”

the night guestAustralian writer Fiona McFarlane’s debut novel The Night Guest is nothing short of stunning. When I finished the book, I said to myself: “How did she do that?” Normally, when reading a book (and especially for one I intend to review), I make marks and underline sentences, even going so far as to place multiple exclamation points next to important passages. I found myself barely making a notation and I realized the reason was because every line was so seamlessly constructed. All of the sentences were part of a whole instead of having certain ones stand out of higher quality than others.

The Night Guest begins with Ruth, a 75 year-old widow living in an Australian coastal town. One night she awakes to hear what she assumes to be a tiger in her house. She doesn’t go to investigate but she knows it was there, prowling through her home. The next morning as she is out in her garden, a mysterious woman named Frida appears and claims to be a caregiver sent by the government to assist Ruth in everyday household chores. Immediately, we are suspicious of Frida but Ruth is not. She doesn’t recall ever receiving notice of Frida’s arrival but easily buys into the mysterious woman’s explanation.

The novel starts very straightforwardly, but McFarlane is masterful at weaving memories of Ruth’s childhood in Fiji with her missionary parents in and out of the narrative. Soon, the memories become more vivid but as Ruth’s Fijian detailed memories become prominent in her mind, the present time with Frida slowly builds into a sinister and creepy reality. The identity of this woman in Ruth’s life is doubted and her behavior is increasingly more bizarre. Ruth’s own memory starts to become questionable, which makes the reader incredibly uncomfortable. With still partial lucidity, Ruth even considers asking her friend, “How can I tell if I’m losing my mind?” 

Ruth’s days become foggier through McFarlane’s language. With each new sentence, the author manages to make the story creep forward and with every new sentence, a new level of anxiety is manifested in both Ruth and the reader. I felt lulled into a story, whose sentences and language would normally be allocated to a story of whimsy but the truly masterful thing that McFarlane has done is make this a horror story. She makes us question Ruth’s sanity and, in doing so, has presented a wonderful unreliability that is terrifying and mysterious.

There is an intriguing quick Q&A with Fiona McFarlane up on Penguin Books Australia but I suggest reading it after reading the book (it doesn’t necessarily give away plot points but it might dilute the mystery within the novel).