Butterfly In The Dark

The Perfect Girl
Gilly MacMillan
Hachette Australia
March 2016

It’s easy to forget—considering there are generations that have grown to adulthood knowing no different—that the internet of things is still new to humanity. Certainly in terms of laws and regulations, the internet is still something of a frontier with the frontier mentality of “anything goes”. Because what are the consequences of misbehaving, really?

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Here, Though the World Explode…

The Night They Met
Atlin Merrick
Improbable Press
December 2015

 

tntmMany moons ago, in a more innocent time when the world was young and carefree, I reviewed The Day They Met—a series of short stories about the day (the many days) that Sherlock Holmes and John Watson met. Because they did, they do and they will, and in every which way throughout time and space.

There was, however, one terrible dastardly thing about this book—it ended. How unutterably rude. Of course, all books must come to an end so I cannot fault it for doing so but still, the cheek. The impertinence, I say!

So colour me all sorts of bright and cheerful hues when The Night They Met was released. Oh yes, my pretties, they’re back—John Watson and ‘Herlock Sholmes’… I mean, Hemlock Shromes… I mean… oh, you know who I mean. The sun may have set, dear reader, but the temperature is about to rise. Continue reading

Let Peace Be. Let Life Be

Under the Udala Trees
Chinelo Okparanta
fiction
Granta, Allen & Unwin
24 February 2016
323
$ 27.99

under_the_udala_treesAs a woman who likes women*, I can’t tell you how often I’ve set myself up for disappointment in novels.  So many times I’ve read protagonists meeting other girls who they immediately like because of their spunk, their beauty, their grace or whatever else.  I think, “Ooh, maybe they fall in love!” And they never, never do.  Imagine my delight when, in Under the Udala Trees, which has not been marketed at all as a lesbian novel in Australia, our protagonist Ijeoma meets and falls in love with another girl, Amina.  My worries about the book, mainly inflicted by the cover marketing, were instantly erased. Continue reading

The Lady Has Wonderful Eyes

Sophie and the Sibyl
Patricia Duncker
Bloomsbury
June, 2015, RRP $29.99

Sophie and the sibylBefore I start I should mention that there are a few minor spoilers within this review. So if you are sensitive to that sort of thing best look away now.

A long time ago I read a historical romance in which the heroine had, unbeknownst to her family, run off to live with an artist—our romantic hero—with no discussion of marriage. At one point in the novel they went to visit the beautiful and spirited lady novelist George Eliot, who, if I remember rightly, bestowed some words of wisdom about living with conviction, or something. It was meant to make the heroine feel better about not following the proper path for a young lady of her time. Continue reading

On the Beat

Tennison
Lynda La Plante
Simon and Schuster
September 2015, RRP$39.99

TennisonA long time ago—back when the term ‘on a school night’ actually referred to a night before attending a learning institution—I remember sticking a tape into a VCR recorder to capture the rest of the first Prime Suspect mini-series. It was after all a school night and Netflix was not yet the tiniest twinkle in a TV addict’s eye. I don’t remember the series in great detail; Helen Mirren striding down a corridor to visit someone in the cells, Helen Mirren drinking more than she should, Helen Mirren yelling. Basically, Helen Mirren is about all I remember. Continue reading

I Felt You in my Arms Before I Even Met You

Carol
Patricia Highsmith
as The Price of Salt 1951; as Carol 2016

carolAt least in my circles, Todd Haynes’ new film Carol created quite a buzz.  After all, it’s still quite a rarity to see a movie about a same sex relationship that doesn’t end in tears.  In 1951, when The Price of Salt was first published, it was unheard of, not just in movies but also in books.  Censorship, both official and soft, meant publishers were unwilling to produce books about same sex relationships.  Pulp lesbian fiction, which because of said censorship ended in death or in the blessed powers of the healing cock, was pretty much it for the ladies.  In terms of fiction, men had even less to turn to. Continue reading

Supposedly Human, the World’s Shame

Between Enemies
Andrea Molesini, trans. Antony Shugaar and Patrick Creagh
Allen & Unwin
November 2015
AU $29.99

between_enemiesAndrea Molesini’s Between Enemies is an eloquent tale of occupation, collaboration and resistance set in WWI.  Based on true events, it follows the aristocratic Spada household as their property is requisitioned by German soldiers, then Austrians.  Their village is occupied.  Eventually the whole household as well as several villagers are drawn to resist the occupiers.

Told from the perspective of 17-year-old Paolo, writing as an adult some ten years later, the story is full of high drama, but also nostalgia and melancholy.  Because the narrator is a teenage boy during the events, the story is also sadly filled with the objectification of Paolo’s crush Giulia.  While this is probably realistic, it’s a little tiresome to read, especially when the novel purports to say something about the natures of men and women and their relationships*.  This is usually by way of commentary delivered by Paolo’s eccentric but wise grandfather, and manages to be the same sort of thing supposedly wise men always say about women in stories of this kind.  If authors** could stop doing that, that would be swell. Continue reading

A Better Life Imagined in his Eyes

The Belly of the Atlantic
Fatou Diome, trans. Lulu Norman and Ros Schwartz
Serpent's Tail
2006

the_belly_of_the_atlanticFatou Diome’s The Belly of the Atlantic is a passionate story about the dream of migration and its harsh reality.  Told from the point of view of Strasbourg resident Salie, the novel nonetheless focuses mostly on her brother Madické.  Madické lives on  the Senegalese island Niodior and dreams of being headhunted to join a big European soccer team.  This dream is shared by many of his friends, persisting despite the warnings of Salie and the teacher Ndétare that neither the road to nor the life in Europe is as good as they believe. Continue reading

Formation, Transformation

Tom Houghton
Todd Alexander
Simon and Schuster
October 2015, RRP$32.99

tom-houghtonGrowing up is hard, for everyone, no matter the circumstances. At least that’s the impression I have taken away, and taken comfort in, from the many creative expressions which delve into the experience of growing up and coming of age. This theme is also at the centre of Todd Alexander’s novel Tom Houghton. Continue reading

You’ll be Given Love

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly
Sun-Mi Hwang, trans. Chi-Young Kim
Oneworld

the_hen_who_dreamed_she_could_flyThe Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a beloved story in South Korea*, appearing for the first time in English after its initial release in 2000. It follows the chicken Sprout, who has lived her life inside a battery farm and dreams of one day hatching an egg of her very own. She is given up for dead and thrown out. This is when Sprout finally gets the opportunity to fulfil her dream.

Targetted at both adult and child readers, at least in English translation, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a simple tale with a complex message.  The writing is enchanting, evoking the seasonal changes and the dangers of living in the wilds.  The story is concisely told, with drama and adventure in measured doses.

With easy comparisons to Charlotte’s Web and similar such tales, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a gentle and enjoyable read.

*According to the author information anyway. Since I don’t speak Korean, know any South Koreans, and have never been to South Korea, I cannot verify this first-hand.

An Unrelenting Beauty of Words

The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings
Angela Slatter
Tartarus Press
2014

the_bitterwood_bibleOccasionally, when we are all very good, the story-gods are kind to us, and they send a writer whose voice and vision are so deeply felt, so confident and so intricately imagined, that the whole of their work is a wonderment from end to end. I experienced that electric wonder-shock to the senses on first reading Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners (for example), or Susanna Clarke’s The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories (which I read before reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell for reasons that made sense at the time, but are now forgotten). And now, I find myself experiencing the feeling of wonder-shock anew. The author is Angela Slatter and the work, The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings. This collection of interwoven short-stories really is that good. I think even if I had only been allowed one page of this short story collection to use as the basis for my whole review, I’d still be recommending Angela Slatter unreservedly. The prose jumps off the page the way prose does when the person responsible is a master at their craft. Sometimes, you don’t need more than a sentence or two. Sometimes, you can just tell. But as it was, I had the luxury to be drawn in, and to step my way through all the tales within. And what tales they are.

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Alternative history: Keeve Process

KEEVE PROCESS
mrblo

We owe the illegal Keeve Process to neuropsychopharmacological research conducted in the 2010s. The Keeve Process fuses the hemispheres of the brain by filling the fissure between them with a haphazard network of artificial fibres and drug-producing glands. After recovering, many patients experience improved concentration and greater conscious control over their mental processes. However, others suffer irreparable damage to the prefrontal cortex that can cause a variety of neuropsychological problems.

In 2036, a Eurasian research committee undertook an extensive study of fourteen patients who underwent the Keeve Process between 2020 and 2025. They found that eleven now appeared to suffer from degrees of schizophrenic ideation: Continue reading

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