The Night Circus-Review

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two children are bound by magic in a game where they are destined to face each other in a distant future. Neither knows who their opponent is at first, nor what the game is all about. This only becomes clear to them as the years progress and their magical skills mature. Other than knowing who the two opponents are, we as the audience, are also unaware of the nature of the game.

I read this book purely out of sheer blurb curiosity. The description was so deliciously vague and the reviews so enthusiastic it was begging to be read. From what I could surmise it was about a circus with supernatural elements which I liked the idea of.

What I was not aware of, and about which I am pleased in hindsight, is the fact that it was part love story. I say I’m pleased because had I known there was a love story at the heart of this I would most likely not have read it. Having read it however, I am happy to say that it’s one of the sweetest love stories I’ve ever read-mind you, I don’t really read love stories so don’t have a lot of experience to speak of-paradox?

“The Night Circus” is a truly unusual book; not because it tells the story of the aforementioned magical circus but because it is mostly narrated in the present tense, though it keeps jumping backwards and forwards a few years depending on the chapter, something I only realised a few chapters in. It’s not imperative that you keep a close eye on the timeline but it helps to be aware of it. It is linear for the most part and there isn’t much of a back story as much as a present story which continues uninterrupted for about thirty years.

“The Night Circus” is also somewhat of a formal book. Much like the Victorian aesthetic it adopts, the language keeps the reader a little at arm’s length with a sense of linguistic formality that is subtle enough to position you in the mind set of the period but also present enough to keep you squarely in the position of the audience; both the book’s conscious audience but also a member of the circus’ audience which watches enthralled as the magic takes place. This is where this book’s skill hides in my opinion. Each word in there feels carefully selected to convey the complex imagery and emotion required. This careful wording manages to create a beautifully decorated, rich and flamboyant world. I could literally sense the clutter in the rooms, the texture of the fabrics, the effect of the magic and the stakes involved. Rarely has a book been so successful at conveying a three dimensional experience with the ability of alerting all my senses.

The only place I feel it lacked a bit was in the cohesion. At times it felt like less important characters got more screen time than they deserved considering their overall contribution to the work. For example, the love story only really takes off a little over half way, and considering how pivotal it was to the conclusion of the book I was left feeling like it needed to be a little more centre stage.

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Review of “Piercing” by Ryu Murakami

Murakami

As confusing as this might be to some readers, as far as literature goes I don’t have a favourite genre or style. I will read anything provided it is well written and interesting. Just like in music I might have a preference for rock but I will identify with anything melodious.

I don’t remember if Junichiro Tanizaki came first and that led me onto the Horror or if it was the other way around but one of my favourite go to genres is Japanese Fiction. I might have mentioned this before but I love Tanizaki for his smooth and subtle writing style which is as good as you can get for mature and ambient writing with no frills. I like Japanese authors because they form clean lines with their writing, much like a good Kinomo! One day I’ll write at length about Tanizaki if time permits but right now I’d like to cross the street to the aforementioned Japanese Horror.

A few years ago I came across Natsuo Kirino and “Grotesque,” a chilling book about murdered prostitutes and I once again came to appreciate the laconic skills of Japanese authors. Allow me also to note that even though I’d love nothing more than to read them in the language in which they were intended to be read, I am unable currently so I have to make do with translations. The quality of all the Japanese books I’ve read so far has been quite excellent so I’m led to believe the translations are good.

This week’s title, to finally get to the point, was “Piercing” by Ryu Murakami. Piercing is a short and poignant book about a seemingly balanced family man who after some sleepless nights realizes he has raging fantasies about stabbing his baby girl with an ice pick. In order to avoid this fate he decides he needs to focus his attention somewhere else and concludes that the best avenue for his drive is to stab a woman. He gives his wife and company an excuse, takes the week off work and settles into a hotel in the business district where prostitutes abound.

He plans the murder meticulously and after a quick test run he puts his plan in motion. Right from the start and while he tries to order things in his mind we find that far from the balanced individual, Kawashima is in fact a deeply troubled person who is plagued by a rather dark past initiated by an abusive mother.

On the day of the plan Kawashima orders a prostitute to his room and everything that could go wrong does. In a fated twist, his intended victim is quite unpredictable and puts several dents in his plan as the night unfolds. I won’t add spoilers this time, but suffice it to say that Murakami writes both of the characters in this book masterfully and explores their off kilter psychological universes so brilliantly that you would never question the veracity of their souls.

Though I’ve read a lot of horror and similar genres I can honestly say this book was one of the most deeply disturbing, yet thoroughly enjoyable reads I’ve experienced.

And this concludes tonight’s bulletin!

Review: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

I know my last few posts have all been review related but I’ve been going through quite a few books lately and I really enjoy writing them so there!

Oh and Happy Holidays/Christmas or whatever else! Personally I’m still holding out for Humbug day!

gaiman

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.

I’ve been a huge Terry Pratchet fan for years, (I know this a Gaiman book but bear with me) and I always admired his quirky style and rich universes. Some years ago I read Good Omens, which is collaboration between Pratchet and Gaiman, but having never read Gaiman on his own before, I’d never realized how similar the two authors’ styles were. I was always under the impression that Gaiman was much more serious in tone, but after reading NeverWhere I’ve come to appreciate his unique voice too.

If I’m being brutally honest, this book had me thinking it was the bastard child of Gaiman, Pratchet, Philip Pullman and Douglas Adams rolled into one. The reason I say this, is because these four authors have a very British way of weaving tales and new universes that very few are so skilled at. What I’m trying to say is that he’s in a class of superior authors, but you don’t need me to tell you that.

NeverWhere starts with a man named Richard Mayhew who stumbles across an injured girl on the street one night while on his way to a very important dinner with his perfectionist/sociopath girlfriend. When he tries help the girl, she refuses to be taken to hospital and so Richard has no alternative but to take her to his house in order to protect her from the two goons that are chasing her. The girl whose name is Door regains her strength by the following morning and makes her way back to London Below, which as Richard discovers is almost like a parallel semi-subterranean, quasi-timeless London where all sorts of lost people, magical creatures and beasts reside. Once he’s helped her send a message requesting the assistance of the Marquis de Carabas (an exceptional individual who would do anything for a piece of new information), she thanks him for his troubles and disappears out of his life, presumably forever until the moment Richard realises that something has shifted and nothing is as it was.

He wakes up to find that his job is gone, none of this friend or fiancé recognise him and people in the street simply fail to see him. Alarmed he decides that his only option is to enter London Below and go in search for Door in the hope that she will restore his reality. When he does find her, he is told that things are not as simple as that, so he is forced to join her in her quest to find her family’s murderer (part of the reason she was being chased the night before) and maybe in the process fix his life.

Needless to say the journey that follows is filled with expertly crafted characters that are interesting, entertaining, funny, inspiring and original. The story is dotted with twists and turns and each and every one of them ties off beautifully by the end. Even the one flaw that I’d spotted was expertly explained by the end, leaving me nothing to gripe about as I normally do.

With the construction of London Below, NeverWhere paints a brand new version of London that makes you wish he’d taken more time to talk about all the streets and boroughs he left out so we could spend more time in this enchanting, if only a little dirty, place.

Review: “Blackbirds” by Chuck Wendig, now with added spoilers!

Chuck Wendig’s “Blackbirds” (Miriam Black, #1) deals with a girl who sees how people will die when she touches their skin, but who appears unable to stop the hands of fate no matter how hard she tries.
When Miriam meets a handsome yet burly trucker she foresees his imminent death and to her surprise she realizes she is also embroiled in it. Freaked out by this, and true to her fatalistic style, she initially abandons him to his own devices fully convinced that she will not be able to stop his death. Lo and behold, fate conspires to bring them together again and the future takes a course just like Miriam has seen in her vision.
As an entity I liked the book, which was my first fiction title by Wendig. In many ways, the cruelty of the writing and his no holds barred exploration of the dark crevices of the human psyche reminded me of Stephen King, which y’all know I’m a huge fan of. Miriam, the lead character, is an antihero in every sense of the word. She is utterly self-loathing, she scams and she steals and basically uses her ability to scratch a living by robbing the soon to be dead right after they’ve kicked the bucket. As a character she is hard to like but at least you get a clear idea as to why she’s that way.

CHUCK

During her journey from one dead guy to the next, she comes across another scam artist who has noticed her skills and who forces her into working with him. From there she inevitably crosses paths with a voodoo loving master criminal and the chain of events that will lead to the burly trucker’s death begins to unravel.

The story is solid and gripping, I finished it in a couple of days as it was well written and concise. Everything you needed was there, there is no superfluous information or much diversion from the story, which I think is a sign of the times and the upsurge of affordable fiction; people are much more into short entertaining books now than say five years ago.

On the down side, there were however a couple of instances which I thought were unrealistic, particularly a scene where Miriam takes a beating that is so severe I’m not sure anyone could have survived from it; and I’m saying that after some of the bashing I’ve given my characters in the past! Following from that she hijacks a car AND a bike and races towards the hostage trucker who according to her vision is about to get it at any moment. There were also a couple of instances where what happens next is a little predictable but he goes on to tie up the loose ends well, so you can kind of look the other way.
As a lover of horror and suspense I was no doubt entertained by this book and I will go on to read the next one when I can. The best thing about Wendig is his use of language and the images he creates so it’s definitely worth the time.