Re-reads: The Stolen Lake (The Wolves Chronicles) by Joan Aiken

TheStolenLake1
The cover of the first edition published by Jonathan Cape and illustrated by Pat Marriot.

One of my favourite fantasy series is Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles. There are twelve books, including a prequel (The Whispering Mountain), with  Dido Twite the protagonist in most of the stories.

After I read Calmgrove‘s post about The Stolen Lake, I couldn’t resist re-reading it. It’s the fourth book in the main series and my favourite as I find it has the most thrilling and unusual plot. The ever plucky and pragmatic Dido is also especially endearing in this installment. I like her so much and find her optimism and can-do attitude inspiring and cheering. (I want to be Dido when I grow up.)

In this story, Dido is onboard the HMS Thrush, heading back to England. Dido, having escaped death and worse in the previous two books (Blackhearts in Battersea and Nightbirds on Nantucket), is looking forward to going home and is dismayed when the Thrush is forced to make a detour after the Captain of the ship is summoned by the Queen of New Cumbria (a country in Roman America, Aiken’s alternate history version of South America). Surprisingly, the Queen requests that he bring Dido with him.

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The Houghton Mifflin edition, with cover art by Edward Gorey.

It turns out that Queen Ginevra requires help to get back the country’s ceremonial lake which she claims has been stolen by the King Mabon, ruler of the neighbouring Lyonesse. Even more surprising is that the Queen is apparently more than a thousand years old and is waiting for the return of her husband, King Arthur. Could her longevity be linked to the noticeable absence of female children in New Cumbria?

Dido is soon in the thick of another adventure, this time one involving an imprisoned princess; shape-shifting witches; human sacrifice; cannibalism; and reincarnation.

I’d resolved to re-read less this year in order to make some progress with my TBR list, but I’ve decided to just read whatever I feel like. I will be re-reading Black Hearts in Battersea next.

Review: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

things-fall-apartTHINGS FALL APART

By Chinua Achebe

(Anchor Books, 209 pages)

THIS was not my first reading of the book, but my third. I read Things Fall Apart for the first time in my teens, but I admit to only skimming then. The second time I read it was in 2014. For some reason, it was a hurried read and I did not retain much of the story.

Certainly, the first time I read it, I was a very silly girl who only read white authors. My Pinterest record of the books I read in 2014 has me completing the novel on 22nd Feb. Later that year I read other African authors like Gabriel Okara, Elechi Amadi, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Sefi Atta. I believe that was the year I decided to make a big effort to read out of my comfort zone, i.e. more Asian and African authors. However, as it was early days, the part of my brain that handles reading was stuck in a rut. It still had to be kicked in the rear out of its literary ditch.

Three years on and I think I’ve succeeded in getting to a place where it’s not just stories by dead white women that make sense to me. And yes, my ‘problem’ with Things Fall Apart was that I couldn’t ‘make sense’ of it. The writing style, the content – including setting and characters – the language, nothing about it was what I was used to. Thus, I found it hard to relate to, or made no effort to try. Sure, I had read and loved Maru by Bessie Head twenty eight years before, but that was probably due to it being an A-level text, i.e. reading it maybe fifty times over, and discussing it with my tutor would have ensured that that story made complete sense.

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Chinua Achebe (1930-2013)

My partner, Don,  is Igbo, which is the ethnic group of the characters in Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe was also Igbo). I think this has made a difference to my recent reading of the book. This time round, the story seemed familiar. I recognised details from what Don has told me about Igbo cultural traditions. The way of life described was still strange, but it was easier to empathise with the characters and not completely dismiss their actions as outrageous or nonsensical.

It also helped being able to discuss the book with Don. He offered a different perspective and put things into a context I would have found it hard to imagine on my own.

The story is heartbreaking, on the level of it being the tale of a man’s downfall, and also in a larger historical and social context, as the story of the colonisation of Africa. The final sentence of the novel struck me to the core. It sums up the reality of the situation – in the novel, in history, and in race relations today.

Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman

First published in The Star on 9th February, 2017

THE POWER

By Naomi Alderman

(Viking, 339 pages)

ISBN: 978-0241015728

IF you identify as feminist, you are likely tired of explaining that the women’s movement is about gender equality and not the domination of men by women. If you are a feminist you are probably  sick of hearing it said that you and your ilk hate men, burn bras, and are all lesbians (closet or otherwise). If you actively oppose the oppression of women in whatever form, you will have rolled your eyes countless times in response to those who declare that feminism is a sexist movement and that they prefer being called humanists or equalists.

Feminism is not about women being better than men, but it is about and attempts to address personal, political, social and economic power disparities between the sexes. So, what if women had the power? Would it automatically result in gender equality?Read More »

Review: Now That It’s Over by O Thiam Chin

A slightly different version of this review was published in The Star on 19th November, 2016

unnamed NOW THAT IT’S OVER

Author: O Thiam Chin

Publisher: Epigram Books

ISBN: 978-9814757287

TWO Singaporean couples spend Christmas on the island of Phuket in 2004 in O Thiam Chin’s award winning novel Now That It’s Over.

The time and the place is, of course significant: On Boxing Day of that year, a massive earthquake occurred in the Indian Ocean, triggering a series of tsunamis that killed over 200 thousand people and caused extensive infra structural damage in some 14 countries.

The two couples in question are of course affected by the natural disaster, and this is not a spoiler as I doubt even the most ignorant of readers could be oblivious to the tragedy that shook the world 12 years ago. Indeed, the use of what has been called the world’s deadliest tsunami in recorded history as a story setting was what piqued my interest in this novel initially, even before it was named winner of the Epigram Books Fiction Prize 2015.

I imagined that Now That It’s Over would be a heart-wrenching study in human loss and suffering; an examination of the fragility of the flesh versus the astounding strength of the spirit. I anticipated life-and-death decisions that forced O’s characters to face truths they had hitherto managed to deny and side-step thanks to their busy and orderly Singaporean lives. I hoped for a story about revelation, transformation and redemption.

I expected too much.Read More »

Review: The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary

night-paradeThe Night Parade is about Saki, a thirteen-year-old Tokyo brat who is mad at having to spend four days of her precious vacation visiting her grandmother in a remote village, instead of with her odious-sounding ‘friends’, including the venomous bully Hana.

Saki, her younger brother and their parents are at her grandmother’s village to celebrate the Obon festival, which is something like Qing Ming for the Chinese. Saki is glued to her mobile phone, more interested in getting a signal than bonding with her grandma.

She’s an average teenager, basically; a typical brat who doesn’t appreciate history, culture and traditions. She (probably) loves her family, but at this point in her life she considers them boring spoilers-of-fun. To her, the countryside is also boring – because it’s so far away from the city and malls and concerts.

However, while Saki is far from likeable, her flaws are familiar – not only do I have teenage kids, and one tween, which means I know all about children grumbling while on holiday, ignoring the beauty around them and focusing on how they miss their video games, and YouTube vlogs, but I also remember being that age and getting stupidly angry about going on trips if it meant missing my favourite telly programmes . So, sure Saki’s irritating, but she’s also believable and recognisable, and I understand that the person she is at 13 isn’t the person she’ll be forever. Also, I expected her experiences in the book to make her grow and change for the better, and so, become a more sympathetic character. Thankfully, she does become less bratty by the end of the book, although, in my opinion, no more likeable.Read More »