Category: Books

Book Review: Catherine House — Elisabeth Thomas

If you knew how Catherine House ended, you would never start it. The book is enough of a hodgepodge of blind alleys, ciphers of characters, and that deadly mix of hedonism and anhedonia granted only to the particularly privileged already, and then you hit the final sentence. You are in the house and the house is in the woods. But the book is thrown across the room.

With its conclusion, Catherine House transforms from an unenjoyable novel to a loathsome exercise. This ending was better in 1985, but so was the whole book leading up to that functionally identical conclusion. Readers do not forget.

Book Review: Ancillary Justice — Ann Leckie

In 2013, Ohioan debut author Ann Leckie cleaned up all of the major science fiction awards with Ancillary Justice, a slow burn, pseudo-gender-neutral, dual timelines, interstellar space opera that spans thousands of years. It makes sense, even without looking at the other titles it was against, but Ancillary Justice is not to every taste.

Book Review: Conversations With Friends — Sally Rooney

There are books destined to make you feel old if you read them after a certain age. Conversations With Friends was written by a 26 year old about a pair of 21 year olds. If you’re over the age of, say, thirty, the young upstarts of this novel make a lot of dubious decisions — but really it’s the fault of the thirty somethings who string them along.

Book Review: Station Eleven — Emily St. John Mandel

You may have noticed that there are things happening in the real world, hopefully outside your window, and that you will never have to venture outside again. Station Eleven is (was?) due to become an HBO series starring Mackenzie Davis and Himesh Patel this year, so it was already on a reread list. 

This particular reading of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven commenced after things had kicked off globally and ended the day before “shit got real”, as Danny Butterman has been known to say. Station Eleven is a novel about a global pandemic, for certain, but it has something that the real global pandemic of 2020 currently lacks: hope for humanity.

Book Review: American Dirt — Jeanine Cummins

Most anticipated book lists are a way to plan out a month, a season, a year, in reading. American Dirt showed up on so many lists that you think you could trust it. On the day it came out, the day that Oprah lauded it, the internet exploded. American Dirt’s author has historically identified as white (as recently as 2015), but has rebranded to vaguely latinx courtesy of her Puerto Rican grandmother. She is described as being married to a formerly undocumented immigrant (undisclosed in the text and promo material: he’s from Ireland), and the material is adapted and twisted from material written by people closer to the source.

American Dirt is not a good book, for multiple reasons. It’s not #OwnVoices, which is a problem that this reader keeps coming back to (particularly from the cottage industry of gay teen books written by straight white women), but if you can look beyond that (and maybe you can, but take it on board anyway), you should consider its perfunctory nature, its clumsy writing, its irresponsible presentation of Cummins’ alleged research, and its carefully manicured apolitical stance that turns out to have a dubious political stance after all.

Constant Reader Chronicle: Christine

You never forget your friend’s first car or their first girlfriend, especially when they’re the same entity. Christine, a Stephen King novel released in a banner year for Stephen King novels, is one of those works that earned him the reputation for writing door stops. Christine is an imperfect, fragmented work, more than a little sexist and reactionary, but buried in its six hundred pages is a genuinely sweet paean to friendship lost and the dangers of nostalgia.

King Spoilometer: Christine is best discussed in a more granular fashion, and so this write up will draw attention to late stage revelations as they pertain to the book’s overall themes and their presentation.

Book Review: Meat — W.A. Harbinson

Xavier was dead: to begin with. This exploitation novel by W.A. Harbinson, a man who in the nineties would put out a “non-fiction” book claiming to prove that Nazis are using concentration camp labour to build UFOs in Antarctica, is a curious beast without a centre. Can you exploit someone who was never really there?

A moment of context for Meat: it was found at the equivalent of a Free Little Library, offering the promise of a silly and quick read that would hopefully toe the right side of the exploitation line. It emphatically does not achieve that goal.

This review references systematic sexual abuse, so please avoid reading if that bothers you.

Book Review: The Wife and the Widow — Christian White

If the afterword is to be believed, the real star of The Wife and the Widow, Christian White’s second novel, is White’s own wife. At a time when White had an ensemble, a location, and a murder scene, it was his wife who told him who the murderer and victim should be. Quite how The Wife and the Widow would have worked without this information is mysterious. After the initial success of the continent hopping The Nowhere Child, White returns with a mystery set entirely within Australia. It hinges on a piece of narrative trickery that may not quite work, but at least it’s different.

Book Review: Silver — Chris Hammer

Chris Hammer brings us back to the world of Martin Scarsden, and this time he provides fewer crimes, more flashbacks, and burdens his lead character with a lot more flaws. It’s a good time for an Australian journalist to go back to his hometown, and a good time for readers to check in with Doug Thunkleton.

Constant Reader Chronicle: Misery

Misery was originally going to be a Bachman Book. Misery originally had a different ending. Misery is a deeply personal novel that crystallises many of the demons that Stephen King was fighting at the time of its inception. Misery is a single location novel that is never inert even when it’s confined to a bed. Misery is a towering work even if it ends five inches shorter than it started.

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