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Tea-drinking introvert found either behind a book or within arm's reach of one. Book reviewer, and book sniffer. You may have seen me on W24, BooksLive, Aerodrome, Bark Magazine, CultNoise Magazine, or Expound Magazine.

15 Sept 2018

Review: The Monsters We Deserve by Marcus Sedgwick

Marcus Sedgwick is searching for monsters. Egged on by his publishers and the success of his last horror story, he once again needs something dark for his next book. Alone in a run-down cabin in the woods he hired for the purpose, he is isolated and at the mercy of the impending winter. With approaching snowstorms, he relies on nature for a writing deadline – the book must be complete before the bad weather comes. His inspiration is a creature born of strife, pieced together and cemented in the minds and hearts of millions of readers yet which he finds lacking. It is Mary Shelley’s story of Frankenstein.

Despite the complete isolation of the cabin, and perfect conditions for writing, Sedgwick’s distaste for Frankenstein and desire to leave make it near impossible to write more than a few self-depreciating sentences in his notebook. As the heart of winter draws ever nearer, the strain begins to set in, and he finds himself in a creative limbo which slowly causes him to unravel, and to doubt his own sanity.

Through a slowly growing sense of paranoia, The Monsters We Deserve has a sinister and otherworldly narrative which give it the delightfully nostalgic feel of the Gothic horror stories of the past. Here, the true horror lies not in what we are shown, but in the possibility of what lies beyond our reach. The reader’s own imagination is an essential ingredient in the narrative, linking the reader to the story, and to Sedgwick as both character and writer. He has graciously allowed the reader to share in his creation. Sedgwick’s well-trodden line between reality and impossibility is perhaps the scariest aspect of all.

The Monsters We Deserve is a clever and beautiful ode to classic gothic horror; specifically, to Frankenstein and its ilk. It is not a particularly long book, nor difficult to read, yet it is powerful and resonates long after the final page – haunting and a sly planter of doubt. Sedgwick clearly demonstrates that he understands the true heart of horror – the subtle fear that creeps up on you as you progress as a result of the shadows filled in by your own mind, and not forcefully illustrated by the author’s hand.

To engage with this book goes beyond just reading, it’s an experience in which one invests. Artistic, and dark with unusual layout and beautiful artwork, this book is a journey in itself. It is poetry in chaotic motion, begging to be read in one tense but spell-binding sitting.

The Monsters We Deserve by Marcus Sedgwick is published by Zephyr, an imprint of Head of Zeus, and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.

14 Sept 2018

Review: Green as the Sky is Blue by Eben Venter

Simon can be impulsive. A South African expat living in Australia, he has a love for travel to destinations beyond his means, and volunteering when he should be earning a salary. Though he lives beyond his means, he endeavours to wring out every experience life has to offer. Between travels and intimate rendezvous, however, linger his thoughts of home, family, and history. Bound to his birthplace of the Eastern Cape through blood, joy and suffering, Simon cannot deny the pull which his past exerts on his life, and the memories which shape his character.

Analyzing his thoughts and experiences with Dr Spiteri through philosophy and her distractingly insistent love of ancient Greeks, the heart of Venter’s narrative transpires the two minds in a single room, rather than through the continental expanse of Simon’s adventures and travels. As Simon slowly picks apart and stitches together his various thoughts and feelings, he moulds them into a shape which best represents his intentions and his heart.

Green as the Sky is Blue is a tender rather than trashy exploration of sexuality, in which nostalgia and unvoiced expectations mingle with sweat and intoxicating lust. Simon’s sexuality is both the catalyst and end point of the majority of his persona, and yet by dissecting it, he is able to travel within his own mind.

Venter has presented a beautiful story with a strange balance between the melancholic and blissful. As Simon strives to find himself in a world of tangled bodies and mixed messages, he revisits his past, and attempts to escape his present through travel and introspection. His is a journey of the soul, and the body, regardless of material anchors like bank balances and jobs.

The narrative flows easily, with a pleasing amount of choice Afrikaans expressions interspersed delicately, and not with the forceful hand of many South African writers. Venter marries the Afrikaner identity of Simon’s past with a multicultural, worldly present in which both the language and country are lacking; awaiting Simon’s unique insertion.

Green as the Sky is Blue by Eben Venter is published by Penguin Random House South Africa.

10 Sept 2018

Review: A Station on the Path to Somewhere Better by Benjamin Wood

Despite being only 12 years old, Daniel is aware that his father is unreliable. Nevertheless, he can’t help but admire the man – with his dazzling good lucks, easy laughter, and captivating gaze. In addition, his father works on the set of one of Daniel’s favourite TV shows; a special connection between the pair that his son dares anyone to refute. Disregarding his mother’s pessimistic warnings, Daniel is elated by his father’s suggestion of a tour of the studio.

Yet as the duo progress northwards, Daniel slowly nurses the feelings of disappointment and disillusionment, as his father’s reportedly solid plans start to slowly disintegrate, along with whatever fragile bond held their relationship intact. Over the course of a few hours, he truly sees his father’s other – darker- side, complete with paranoia, violence, and deceit. Despite his endless affairs and displays of boundless charm, Daniel can’t help but suspect that something in his father is lacking, and he confronts the notion that the result is so monstrous, it robs his father of his humanity.

Years later, in looking back, Daniel cannot help but feel that he is tainted; that something stealthy and murky haunts his very blood. Despite his successful job and marriage, he is haunted by the actions of his father so many years ago, and feels the repercussions as ever-present echoes.

A Station on the Path to Somewhere Better is nothing short of phenomenal. Wood writes with such intimacy and portrays a character with such vulnerability that the reader is left flirting with the line between viewer and voyeur. Through Daniel’s story, we are forced to endure his shame and darkest thoughts without being able to help or alleviate his suffering. This intense emotional connection with a character unable to live beyond the confines of some script on a page is testament to Wood’s talent and his impressive telling of what it takes to break trust, and ultimately, to break a person.

A Station on the Path to Somewhere Better by Benjamin Wood is published by Scribner Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Inc, and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.

5 Sept 2018

Review: The Martian Girl by Andrew Martin

Jean is on a mission to Mars. OK, not really – she’s intrigued by Kate French, known as The Martian Girl, a mesmerist from the 1800s with incredible talent and shrouded in mystery. Initially planning to portray Kate’s story as a one-woman play, but delving into her past and uncovering the complexities of fame as a mind-reader in the previous century, decides that The Martian Girl’s story should be a novel.

As if reliving someone else’s past isn’t consuming enough, Jean is also entangled in an illicit affair with Mr. Coates, a lawman with a penchant for kink and a rather aggressive streak. In addition to his habit of drinking too much wine and propositioning women, Coates has a somewhat dark past which led to his expulsion from the Chambers. While he deals with unemployment and guilt, his paranoia skyrockets. As Jean’s project becomes more consuming, he decides that The Martian Girl’s story is a little too close to home, and actually serves as Jean’s admission that she knows what he’s been up to. Coates can’t have that.

This book is Inception-level good; a story within a story. Within it, two drastically different stories become intertwined into a shockingly similar outcome. What is most remarkable is not the double story feature, but the manner in which Martins has delivered such a complex, intricate plot with such precision and with so much sparkle. The Martian Girl is a polished gem of a story. Martin’s handling of two different voices from two different eras is superb and inspiring. In addition, the possibility of the supernatural in Kate’s story gives a refreshing appeal, where the line between the two narratives, and similarly between reality and fiction, is blurred and brilliant.

Unpredictable and great fun, this is a book that promises to banish boredom and reel in the reader from the first page. It also doesn’t hurt that the book itself is beautiful, and a pleasure to look at. A win, all round.

The Martian Girl by Andrew Martin is published by Corsair Books, an imprint of Little Brown (an Hachette Books company) and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.