Archive for January, 2020

January 21, 2020

In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

by Team Riverside

Serpent’s Tail, Hardback, £14.99, out nowCarmen Marie Machado IN THE DREAM HOUSE

Carmen Maria Machado’s astonishing follow up to her debut collection of stories Her Body and Other Parties is a memoir detailing the abuse she suffered at the hands of an ex-girlfriend. Machado recounts the story of the relationship through the lens of different literary tropes and genres: ‘The Dream House as Pulp Novel’, ‘The Dream House as Soap Opera’.

The story is fragmented but the prose is clear-eyed and sharp. Machado mixes the personal and political effortlessly, both confiding in the reader about her own experience of abuse and contextualising her experience as part of a wider problem, that of the silence around abuse in LGBTQ relationships: ‘we are in the muck like everyone else’, she states. The book is an incredible feat of writing by Machado, the most terrifying section of all is, somehow, a ‘choose your own adventure’ section, and the ending is a surprising, uplifting twist.

Machado is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the great prose stylists of our time, this book is further proof of her extraordinary ability as a writer. As Machado states in her preface: ‘If you need this book, it is for you.’

Review by Phoebe

January 8, 2020

Bottled Goods by Sophie Van Llewyn

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Fairlight Moderns, £7.99, out nowSophie Van LLewyn BOTTLED GOODS

This little book is written ‘in flash’ meaning that each chapter could be a stand-alone piece of very short fiction, but all together they make sense as a whole novella. The overarching narrative concerns the life of Alina, a teacher living in communist Romania in the 1970s. Her life becomes increasingly unbearable after her brother-in-law flees the country and the communist authorities’ interest in her and her husband grows. As a fan of flash fiction anyway, I enjoyed how the small chapters allowed this tension to build and it was interesting to experience this in a different way to a standard novel. A lot of the chapters also have pretty cool titles, for example, ‘What We Had To Give Away So That We Could Buy a Fourteen-year-old Dacia So that We Would Have an Independent Means of Transportation in order to Flee From the Country.’ That particular chapter is presented as a table, by the way!

Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2019, Bottled Goods is funny in a dark kind of way and also contains elements of magical realism. One character can shrink other people down in order to keep them away from trouble and out of the hands of the secret police. There are other aspects of folklore which pop up in a plot that is otherwise rooted in the harsh reality of communist Romania.

Fairlight Moderns are a new publisher and are obviously ready to take risks on exciting fiction such as this. I think this is great and the longlist for the Women’s Prize shows that it has paid off.

Review by Cat

 

January 5, 2020

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Fleet, £16.99, out nowColson Whitehead THE NICKEL BOYS

This is a completely gripping novel based on the horrific true-life events at the Arthur G Dozier School for Boys, in Florida.  Elwood has just started to be involved in the civil rights protests sweeping the US in the 1960s, but can he use what he has learnt to survive in the notorious Nickel Academy?

Elwood is inspired to join the civil rights movement after listening to a Martin Luther King record bought by his grandmother.  He tries to stick to everyone’s rules, but events overtake him and he ends up in a reform school.  Torture and death are rumoured for some of the boys at Nickel Academy.  How can you survive, or keep your soul alive, where there appears to be no rescue on the horizon?  Can you do both of these things at the same time?

I read this short novel in a single sitting, knowing that I would not be able to think properly about anything else until I had finished it.  The characters felt so real, I had to know what happened to them.  Knowing that it was based on real events, I was concerned that the novel should do justice to the horrors uncovered (see https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/apr/22/a-type-of-justice-florida-reform-school-yields-evidence-of-more-graves, and https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jul/20/colson-whitehead-reality-is-kids-shot-by-racist-cops for Whitehead’s own views on his novel).  It absolutely does.

The Nickel Boys speaks to current debates around historical abuse, institutional racism, and how we deal with the shadows of the long past.  It engages with questions of whose voices are listened to and whose are not: why did it take so long for the authorities to listen to survivors?

Review by Bethan

January 4, 2020

The Wolf the Duck and the Mouse written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Walker Books, £6.99, out nowBarnett and Klassen THE WOLF THE DUCK AND THE MOUSE

This is a very funny picture book, suitable for all humans.  The wolf eats the mouse, who quickly discovers that a duck (a previous wolf-dinner) is already living a very nice life inside the wolf.  They become fast friends and enjoy dinners and dancing in their new home.  This internal party time is less fun for the wolf, however…

It’s worth reading this book for the expressions on the animals’ faces alone.  There are many dramatic developments and they are delivered with great style.

This team have produced several excellent books, but this is my favourite so far.  Here at Riverside we are also massive fans of Jon Klassen’s Hat trilogy (https://riversidebookshop.co.uk/2016/11/30/we-found-a-hat-by-jon-klassen/).          Read this book and feel your life improve immediately.

Review by Bethan