Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Review: 'Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel' by James Luceno

Displaying Star Wars Catalyst by James Luceno.jpgI am a Star Wars fan, which should come as no surprise to anyone right now. Now that December is officially about to start, my life will once again become devoured by anything and everything Star Wars and Rogue One, which includes everything from trolling the Internet for news to reading every single thing put out by Lucasfilm. And that everything naturally includes Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel! Thank you to Random House and Century for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 17/11/2016
Publisher: Century

War is tearing the galaxy apart. For years the Republic and the Separatists have battled across the stars, each building more and more deadly technology in an attempt to win the war. As a member of Chancellor Palpatine’s top secret Death Star project, Orson Krennic is determined to develop a superweapon before their enemies can. And an old friend of Krennic’s, the brilliant scientist Galen Erso, could be the key.
With any Star Wars novel it is sort of necessary to set a context. When is it set, who is in it, why does this story matter, and finally, do I have to read it if I want to watch the films? Well, let's get to answering those questions! Catalyst is set roughly between the last Prequel, Revenge of the Sith, and the first Original, A New Hope. The first half of the novel covers the last third of RotS but from a completely different perspective, which enriches the viewing of the film. At the heart of the novel is the story of Galen Erso, a scientist caught in the middle of a war and unwilling to pick a side. Catalyst is a prequel, of sorts, to the upcoming Rogue One, whose main character is Jyn Erso, daughter to Galen. As such, the novel prepares the reader for the film, setting the scene and introducing some of the key new characters. Is it necessary to read Catalyst? If you just want to enjoy the film and get swept up by a good rebel story, no. If you're interested in the Star Wars universe, in the discussions that the Lucasfilm Story Group is trying to start in all of its output etc. then I would recommend it.

Catalyst is a very timely novel, with at its heart the question whether it is necessary to make a choice in a conflict. Galen Erso is a scientist who just wants to work and to remain neutral. However, conflicts such as the Clone Wars and the eventual rise of the Empire forces the necessity of making a choice onto everyone. In a time such as our own, with dozens of conflicts around the world and a growing distrust in politics, it is very interesting to read a novel that deals exactly with such topics. One doesn't have the luxury of ignoring what happens at the top, of deciding it doesn't matter what others decide as long as you can keep doing what you're doing. Catalyst addresses a lot of different topics such as environmentalism, warfare and science. Alongside Galen we also get to see his wife's struggle to make a choice and to survive. She is exactly how I like my women, spunky, opinionated and dedicated to her cause, whether that cause is peace, her daughter, her work or her husband.

Luceno is one of Lucasfilm's most frequent authors, especially in recent times. He has penned novels on some key canon characters, such as Tarkin, as well as Legends characters. As such, he is incredibly familiar with the context within which his novel is set, with everything from spaceships to aliens and outlandish planets. Since so much of the novel is dedicated to science it can feel a bit long and dry here and there. No matter how hard Luceno tries, it's not necessarily for everyone to read about the intricacies of energy research in a fictional universe. However, the novel is rife with fun asides, great descriptions and interesting dialogue. The only major criticism that can be given is that there is no immediate tension to the story arc of Catalyst. As a prequel novel, it is almost too aware of its role as a starter, doing a brilliant job at introducing characters and plot lines, but not necessarily being able to do much with those characters or plot lines. It is a quick and enjoyable read, but definitely one for dedicated Star Wars fans.

If you'd like to read more of my thoughts on this novel, hop over to my other site, Clone Corridor, for which I wrote 'Catalyst, Oppenheimer and the Necessity for Choice'.

I give this novel...

3 Universes!

I really enjoyed reading Catalyst but also know this is down to my undying love for Star Wars. Luceno does his best with a tricky job, creating interesting characters but unable to take them very far. If you're a Star Wars fan, I'd definitely recommend reading this because it poses a lot of very interesting questions that can keep you busy while you wait for Rogue One.

Monday, 28 November 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

badgeSince I started working with EF I have been working 6-7 hours during the weekend, which means that "a normal week" has sort of lost its definition. Saturday and Sunday are not relaxed anymore and Monday is actually the end of my week rather than the beginning. You heard that right, I now welcome Mondays because they're my Fridays! What have I come to... But anyway, that is no reason not to join a blog hop and find out what you're all reading! Hence I'm joining in with some of my favourite Monday memes again! It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted over at The Book Date now by Kathryn!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week.  It's a great post to organise yourself. It's an opportunity to visit and comment, and er... add to that ever growing TBR pile! 
So, let's get this party started!


I've had quite an eventful and fun week! I finally got my wifi sorted out, hence why I'm back to blogging again! I've also been anxiously awaiting my copy of Catalyst by James Luceno, a sort of prequel-novel to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story which is coming out next month! Since we have some American teachers at my school we all celebrated Thanksgiving together with a potluck. I had never celebrated Thanksgiving before so the sheer size of the turkey was sort of intimidating, but it was loads of fun and the food was delicious. We continued in the name of work team spirit last night with a night out to Big E, which is a place that combines laser tag, archery, karaoke and a bar, with a pool table and loads of other arcade-like games around. I was absolutely terrible at both archery and laser tag but it was loads of fun!

What I Read Last Week:
Atlas ShruggedI finally finished Atlas Shrugged last week which led to some heartbreak. Whenever I start a big book, say 800+ pages, I get really invested just by the sheer amount of time spent reading it. And when it's over there is that genuine '... now what?' moment! I know a lot of people have their prejudices against Ayn Rand and it's something I try to address in all of my review on her book, but I can't help but love aspects of her work.

This is the story of a man who said that he would stop the motor of the world and did. Was he a destroyer or the greatest of liberators?
Why did he have to fight his battle, not against his enemies, but against those who needed him most, and his hardest battle against the woman he loved? What is the world’s motor — and the motive power of every man? You will know the answer to these questions when you discover the reason behind the baffling events that play havoc with the lives of the characters in this story. 
Tremendous in its scope, this novel presents an astounding panorama of human life — from the productive genius who becomes a worthless playboy — to the great steel industrialist who does not know that he is working for his own destruction — to the philosopher who becomes a pirate — to the composer who gives up his career on the night of his triumph — to the woman who runs a transcontinental railroad — to the lowest track worker in her Terminal tunnels. 
You must be prepared, when you read this novel, to check every premise at the root of your convictions.
This is a mystery story, not about the murder — and rebirth — of man’s spirit. It is a philosophical revolution, told in the form of an action thriller of violent events, a ruthlessly brilliant plot structure and an irresistible suspense. Do you say this is impossible? Well, that is the first of your premises to check.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Review: 'We Have Always Lived in the Castle' by Shirley Jackson

WeHaveAlwaysLivedInTheCastle.JPGI only discovered Shirley Jackson a year or so ago, despite having read her famous short story 'The Lottery' years ago in high school. Quite how she remained undetected by my radar, finely attuned to awesome female writers of whatever century, but now that I've found her I have dedicated myself to reading all her work. First was a collection of her essays and short stories, Let Me Tell You, and next came We Have Always Lived in the Castle. God did I love this book!

Original Pub. Date: 1962
Publisher: Viking Press

Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp.

Most of you will, like me, have read 'The Lottery' in high school as one of the finest examples of short story writing and will know how good Jackson is at building atmosphere. There is an incredible humanity in her writing, highlighting her ability to see people, not just what they do and pretend to do, but their motivations, dreams, fears and secrets. She can take something so innocent and reveal it to be potentially morbid and dangerous.This is what makes We Have Always Lived in the Castle an incredibly suspenseful read. Whether it's her characters or her settings, there is always something a little bit off, something that gives pause. In this novel it is the narrator, Merricat Blackwood, through whose calm yet tense first-person narration we come to know her, her older sister Constance, her crippled uncle Julian, their silent manor house and its sleepy neighbouring village. Her narration screams what it leaves unsaid, never lying outright yet seemingly never telling the whole truth. What does speak strongly from her narrative, however, is the feeling of being persecuted, evaded and spurned for being different. The shunning of the Blackwoods by the village, however, is contrasted by the deep love, affection and loyalty between the three remaining Blackwoods.

The introduction to my edition of We Have Always Lived in the Castle discussed how, 'typically for Jackson, sexuality is barely present in the book, and needless to say, sexuality is therefore everywhere in its absence'. The two key characters of the novel are both women, one closer to adolescence, the other more mature, yet their lives are what could be described as sexless. No notion of sex or romantic attraction rears its head in We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which adds to the women's strangeness. Yet Merricat and Constance are complete characters. The absence of sexuality does not make them unreal or empty, rather it makes them elusive. Their uncanniness means they cannot be pinned down or defined. They do not need the outside world to sustain them, they can happily exist in their own world with just each other's company. They are complete, and that is another aspect that makes them so different. The outside cannot reach or affect them, to the point that Merricat's narration almost creates a separate reality for her and Constance. As a reader, you are constantly torn between the idyll created by Merricat and what we assume reality must be. It makes for a compelling read.

Shirley Jackson's power lies in the simplicity of her writing. Whereas in her other famous novel, The Haunting of Hill House, Jackson employs all of her thriller tricks to their fullest and magnificent extent, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is deceptively calm. There are no ghosts, no well-timed thunderstorms or creaking doors. Rather there are just humans, and that is what makes this story almost more terrifying. The capacity of humans to exclude, lie, cheat, manipulate and deceive, that is what is truly horrifying and Jackson shows this not through cheap tricks but honesty. We Have Always Lived in the Castle will not let you go. When you put the book down, when you go about your day, you will still be wondering about Merricat and Constance, about what really happened, who can be trusted, and who definitely cannot. The novel is spell-binding, despite its brevity. Short stories as well as novellas depend upon being well-measured, to both give the reader enough but not too much. In 800+ pages it is easy to drive a point home, but when the words are limited every single one matters. And Jackson doesn't waste a single one. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is horror, psychological thriller, magical realism, Gothic and Mystical all mixed together and this masterful combination makes it a strong potion.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

I absolutely loved We Have Always Lived in the Castle! It is a rollercoaster ride and yet also reads like a stroll in the park. You will race through this novel and yet be always one step behind Jackson and Merricat. And you'll love it. I recommend this novel to fans of mystery, horror and psychological thrillers.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Friday Fun: Thanks, Witches and Toothless

After 2 months of living in China I have FINALLY sorted the wifi out for my apartment so hopefully I will be able to get back to normal posting now. I do apologise for the absolute lack of anything in the last few weeks, but I've had to adjust to working full time (I know, woe is me!), teaching, and living in China. I have, however, read some absolutely amazing books in these weeks without the Internet at my disposal for procrastination, so you've got those reviews to look forward to. I've already posted reviews for 2 of them, The Power by Naomi Alderman and the Russian classic Yevgeny Onegin by Alexander Pushkin, translated by A.D.P Briggs.

Also, just like me, Feature & Follow Friday was on a bit of a hiatus the last 2 months but returned last week. So it's only right that I join back in on the FF fun! FF is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee! This week's prompt is:

What are you most thankful for (in the blogging world)?


This is solely based on my own experience blogging the last few years but I am so grateful for the general respect book bloggers have for each other's opinions. I know (mainly from Twitter rants) that there have been controversies and problems etc. but I have never felt like I had to change my opinion on a book or an author just to not get shouted at. If a reviewer doesn't like a book they are able to say so and, usually, it all remains very respectful. A second thing which I am, of course, grateful for, is the love for books that you find here. No matter what you read, we all love books and we all love reading. And dear God, all of your recommendations are BRILLIANT!

Now, for more memes! Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilion over at Rose City Reader and Freda at Freda's Voice! Hop over to their blogs to join in on the fun! Today I'm featuring one of my current reads, The Witches of New York by Ami McKay.

The year is 1880. Two hundred years after the trials in Salem, Adelaide Thom (Moth from The Virgin Cure) has left her life in the sideshow to open a tea shop with another young woman who feels it's finally safe enough to describe herself as a witch: a former medical student and gardien de sorts(keeper of spells), Eleanor St. Clair. Together they cater to Manhattan's high society ladies, specializing in cures, palmistry and potions--and in guarding the secrets of their clients. All is well until one bright September afternoon, when an enchanting young woman named Beatrice Dunn arrives at their door seeking employment. 
Beatrice soon becomes indispensable as Eleanor's apprentice, but her new life with the witches is marred by strange occurrences. She sees things no one else can see. She hears voices no one else can hear. Objects appear out of thin air, as if gifts from the dead. Has she been touched by magic or is she simply losing her mind? Eleanor wants to tread lightly and respect the magic manifest in the girl, but Adelaide sees a business opportunity. Working with Dr. Quinn Brody, a talented alienist, she submits Beatrice to a series of tests to see if she truly can talk to spirits. Amidst the witches' tug-of-war over what's best for her, Beatrice disappears, leaving them to wonder whether it was by choice or by force. 
As Adelaide and Eleanor begin the desperate search for Beatrice, they're confronted by accusations and spectres from their own pasts. In a time when women were corseted, confined and committed for merely speaking their minds, were any of them safe?
Book Beginnings:
'In the dusky haze of evening a ruddy-cheeked newsboy strode along Fifth Avenue proclaiming the future. "The great Egyptian obelisk is about to land on our shores! The Brooklyn Bridge set to become the Eight Wonder of the World! Broadway soon to glow with electric light!" In his wake, a crippled man shuffled, spouting prophecies of his own. "God's judgement is upon us! The end of the world is nigh!"
New York became a city of astonishments. Wonders and marvels came so frequent and fast, a day without spectacle was cause for concern.' 1%
I simple had to include that second line, it's too brilliant not to. I really like how McKay creates atmosphere throughout The Witches of New York, especially in her descriptions of New York. Also, her witches are great!


Friday 56:
'"The grimoire doesn't lie," Eleanor replied. "Its wisdom takes many forms within its pages - recipes, spells, sagas... and yes, even fairy tales. Every word within it holds truth.' 56%
I wanted to share more but I fear it would have been a little bit spoiler-y, so I restrained myself and stuck with these 2 sentences. I absolutely love Eleanor's character so far, she is exactly the kind of witch I would like to be. I like how she describes her grimoire and, in essence, the magic of words. Words have power



Also, I just really need to share this picture of my kitten, Toothless, because she's too pretty not to be seen by everyone!

She is gorgeous and I love her! I hope you all have a brilliant Friday and an even better weekend! I'm still getting used to working 7 hours a day on Saturday and Sunday...

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Review: 'Yevgeny Onegin' by Alexander Pushkin, trans. by A.D.P. Briggs

My first encounter with Onegin was in the form of Tchaikovsky’s famous opera at the Royal Opera House in London, years ago. It was one of my first ever operas and I was enraptured, both by the singers’ abilities and by the story which moved from comedy to tragedy and everything in between. What remained in my memory of the story, however, was the immensity of the story, its epic feel despite its straightforward story. So of course I wanted to jump into Pushkin’s beautiful novel-in-verse the first chance I got! Thanks to Pushkin Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 12/07/2016
Publisher: Pushkin Press
 The aristocratic Yevgeny Onegin has come into his inheritance, leaving the glamour of St Petersburg's social life behind to take up residence at his uncle's country estate. Master of the nonchalant bow, and proof of the fact that we shine despite our lack of education, the aristocratic Onegin is the very model of a social butterfly - a fickle dandy, liked by all for his wit and easy ways. When the shy and passionate Tatyana falls in love with him, Onegin condescendingly rejects her, and instead carelessly diverts himself by flirting with her sister, Olga - with terrible consequences.
Yevgeny Onegin is one of the - if not THE - greatest works of all Russian literature, and certainly the foundational text and Pushkin the foundational writer who influence all those who came after (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, etc). So it's no surprise that this verse novella has drawn so many translators. It's a challenge, too, since verse is always harder to translate than prose. (Vikram Seth, rather than translating Onegin again, updated it to the 1980s in San Franciso in his The Golden Gate). A.D.P. Briggs is arguably the greatest living scholar of Pushkin, certainly in the UK, and as such he's spent a lifetime thinking about how to translate Pushkin. Briggs is an experienced and accomplished translator, not only for Pushkin (Pushkin's The Queen of Spades) but for Penguin Classics (War and Peace, The Resurrection) and others. Briggs has not only been thinking about Pushkin for decades, he's been working on this translation for nearly as long. It's a landmark event in the history of Onegin translations and this edition is accompanied by a thoughtful introduction and translator's note.

Written in the early 1800s, (1823-32 to be precise), Yevgeny Onegin is often considered Alexander Pushkin’s finest work. He himself is considered by many to be one of the most important authors and figures in Russian cultural history. As Briggs puts it in his Introduction: ‘He is to Russia what Dante is to Italy, Shakespeare to England and Cervantes to Spain’. Onegin is a masterpiece of intricate complexity. Rhymes seem to come naturally, flowing as simply and melodically as can be, yet a closer look reveals the skill hidden artfully behind the words. Everyone who has read a beautiful poem has felt inspired to pick up poetry themselves, and has subsequently discovered the difficulty of producing such beauty themselves. Reading Pushkin’s Onegin is a beautiful spectacle, which only Pushkin himself could have orchestrated.

Since I read a translation I cannot comment on how the novel reads in Russian, yet Pushking shows an incredible awareness of language. His novel is full of little asides, author’s comments and general observations on the beauty of women, the boredom of youth, the tragedy of friendship, etc. This makes Pushkin himself a key character in his novel, which starts with his addressing the reader and finishes with a simple farewell to the same reader. Yevgeny Onegin is a meta-narrative of the highest order. It is incredibly difficult to discuss the nature of story-telling within a story, without destroying the flow of the story. It takes skill to make a reader think and read at the same time, but Pushkin does so very well. His characters are both characters within the story and noticeable trope characters: the roguish, Byronic and almost inexcusable Onegin, the romantic and tragic poet Vladimir Lensky, and the quiet country girl Tatyana Larina. They work in his story but at the same time his novel is also an assessment of these types of characters. The critical response to Onegin himself is an example of how well Pushkin did his work: critics can't help but want to forgive Onegin, paint his as wounded and flawed but essentially good, yet the text does not necessarily give any indication to this. 

The story of Yevgeny Onegin is both frivolous and tragic, sad and uplifting, revelatory and mysterious. Pushkin combines the qualities of both genres he engages in: prose and verse. Onegin is a novel in its structure and content, a story of passion and death, but flows as beautifully and musically as a poem. As such it shouldn't come as a surprise that Onegin has proven a challenge to translate. English has an advantage, when it comes to translating Onegin, since it is written in the sonnet form which works so well in English. But it has to be said that this novel in verse is uplifted by its translation. A.D.P. Briggs, one of the mot noted Pushkin scholars, not only writes a fascinating introduction to his work, his translation is beautiful. At times I forgot that I was reading Onegin in translation, so clearly did I feel and understand Pushkin's intentions and humour. I was so impressed by his translation I am currently actively searching for his other translations of Russian works.

I give this novel-in-prose...
5 Universes!

Yevgeny Onegin has become one of my favourite foreign works. Russian literature has been shaped by Pushkin and his Onegin and after reading it for myself I can see how far their influence has reached. To fans of both prose and of Russian literature I can only say: get yourself a copy, as soon as possible.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Review: ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman

For me reading has always been more than just entertainment, although the countless hours I have spent behind the pages of books have been amongst the most fun and exciting in my life. However, reading has also opened up my world in ways I never could have imagined. Part of the joy of reading is finding a book that teaches you something new, makes you see something in a completely new light. Although every book adds something to your life, every once in a while you find a book that truly makes a change in your life. The Power is such a book. Thanks to Little, Brown and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 27/10/2016
Publisher: Little, Brown; Viking
'She throws her head back and pushes her chest forward and lets go a huge blast right into the centre of his body. The rivulets and streams of red scarring run across his chest and up around his throat. She'd put her hand on his heart and stopped him dead.'  
Suddenly - tomorrow or the day after - girls find that with a flick of their fingers, they can inflict agonizing pain and even death. With this single twist, the four lives at the heart of Naomi Alderman's extraordinary, visceral novel are utterly transformed, and we look at the world in an entirely new light. What if the power to hurt were in women's hands?
There is no better moment than now to talk about power and gender.The USA is in the midst of electing its new president and has the chance to elect Hillary Clinton, one of the most qualified people to ever run for office. And yet the predicted winner is a man who used his position, gender, wealth and class to gain power throughout his life. For most of the world’s history, power has lain with men, white men to be specific, leading to the establishing of the patriarchy which has continued this inequality. This may all seem like a thing of the past since “Feminism happened”, yet the 2016 election once again showed how strong the difference is in how men and women are seen and treated. No matter how competent, seemingly the power will always remain with men. It also takes a novel such as The Power, however, to wake its readers up to their own attitudes regarding power. In Alderman’s world Power, the ability to generate electricity from their palms, awakens globally in young girls and the whole power dynamic shifts. Watching this election I can feel an anger in me which resonates strongly with the anger felt by some of the women in Alderman's The Power, which shows the strength of her writing as well as the continuing anger that the power imbalance between men and women continues to generate.

The Power follows a range of characters, each of which grows to become a crucial player in the novel’s world. We start with Roxy, a feisty girl who discovers incredible power inside of her. Next is Tunde, a boy from Nigeria who witnesses the Power and begins to document it. Eve, a mysterious girl with Power and a plan. And finally, Margot, a Mayor who is on the front lines of coping with the Power. This range of characters allows Alderman the freedom to show what the arrival of the Power does to the world. Not only does she show the changing relationships between men and women, but also the impacts across cultures and societies. What does an Eastern European girl who has been sold into sex slavery do when she suddenly becomes more powerful than her captors? What does an Indian girl do who has been told her whole life she is weak and pathetic when she realizes she is not? Alderman tries to tell a global story, which is one of the things I appreciated most while reading The Power. There are a variety of stories running through the novel, covering different lives and different experiences, and it all comes together to form a rich and realistic worldview, something which can, sadly, be rare in fiction. Alderman's novel isn't here to press a message onto its readers that "women are better" or "women are more powerful", rather The Power presents you a shifted world, allowing you to see the danger of power imbalance from a new angle.

Speculative fiction is one of my favourite genres because it is the genre which teaches me the most about myself. One of the first speculative books I read was The Handmaid’s Tale, at an age when I wasn’t entirely ready for it. It felt over the top, perhaps even dramatic, to exaggerate gender relations in the way that Atwood had. I reread the book a few years later, older not only in age but also in world experience, and immensely appreciated what Atwood had done. Speculative fiction has the ability to highlight an issue in such a way you see it in a completely new and different light. For me, reading The Power not only taught me something about power relations but also about myself. Throughout the first half of The Power I found myself loving the new power women had, how they could now impress, scare, control and rule in the way that men can. However, as the novel continued I became more and more aware of how desire for power is a desire for power over others. When one group becomes all powerful some will eventually become corrupted and cruel and women are no exception to that rule. Seeing characters corrupted by power and knowing how they became so, sympathising with their choices and yet being disgusted by them, trying not to understand them but doing so anyway: this is what The Power did to me and it opened my eyes. The Power will open your eyes as to how you see gender and power and the relationship between the two. I often hear people joke that the world would be a better place if only women ran it. After reading The Power that is not only not a joke, it is also a sad sign of how binary our thinking is.

Alderman’s writing is visceral and cutting, not sparing the reader and thereby gifting them something special. The set-up of The Power gives Alderman a lot of freedom to experiment and explore her narrative, but this freedom comes with a responsibility. The novel starts with a meta-framework, producing the email dialogue between the author of the novel and the “author”, Alderman herself, who are living in a post-The Power world. This is only an example of how Alderman intersperses her narrative with different media throughout the novel, ranging from illustrations (expertly drawn by ) to Internet fora. This gives The Power a depth which allows it to discuss power relations in a much more insightful and broad way than many other novels manage. It shows how pervasive power relations are, how much of our culture and society is dominated by who is considered alpha, and how easily our minds accept narratives of power.

I give this novel…
5 Universes!

The Power is the best book I have read so far in 2016 and it will remain one of my favourites for a long time. Alderman’s novel is intelligent and fascinating, telling a good story while also doing some fascinating work. I personally cannot wait for Alderman’s next book.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Review: 'The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters' by Laura Thompson

Non Fiction is a tricky genre because if the reader isn’t intrinsically interested in the topic up for discussion it takes an amazing author to make the reader care for their chosen topic. On the other hand, if the reader is interested then the author has to make sure not to bore their reader out of loving the topic. Luckily for Laura Thompson, I am easily fascinated by interesting historical ladies. Although I had never heard of the Mitford sisters before The Six, the blurb caught my eye anyway and I’m very glad to have been introduced to these six sisters. Thanks to St. Martin's Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 06/09/2016
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
The eldest was a razor-sharp novelist of upper-class manners; the second was loved by John Betjeman; the third was a fascist who married Oswald Mosley; the fourth idolized Hitler and shot herself in the head when Britain declared war on Germany; the fifth was a member of the American Communist Party; the sixth became Duchess of Devonshire. 
They were the Mitford sisters: Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica, and Deborah. Born into country-house privilege in the early years of the 20th century, they became prominent as “bright young things” in the high society of interwar London. Then, as the shadows crept over 1930s Europe, the stark—and very public—differences in their outlooks came to symbolize the political polarities of a dangerous decade. 
The intertwined stories of their stylish and scandalous lives—recounted in masterly fashion by Laura Thompson—hold up a revelatory mirror to upper-class English life before and after WWII. The Six was previously published as Take Six Girls.

Biographies need a good subject. Although every life is interesting, not all of them make for a good book. Thompson didn’t have to worry about that since the Mitford sisters provide plenty of material. Living in the constantly changing 20th century, these six women were born into nobility and therefore into privilege. With a name and good looks, many doors were open to them despite their gender or the time they lived in. What makes them even more interesting is the different paths they chose, ranging from author, to socialite, to communist and fascist. Their story is also the story of 20th century England and Europe, of the decline of nobility and the rise of all kinds of ideologies, of the start of women’s rights. And all of this is enhanced by the glitter and glamour of the sisters’ celebrity.

Thompson runs into the same problem that many biographers do in The Six. Where do you start and how do you keep going? Birth might seem a natural beginning but unless you’re Mozart not a lot of interesting things happen in the first few years. Thompson starts The Six with a general discussion and introduction to the sisters, an overview of who they are and how the “Mitford cult” started. It makes for slightly confused reading at times, especially since confusing the sisters is a serious issue. What fascinated me the most were the close ties that a number of the sisters had with the Nazis, especially Unity who personally knew Hitler. It is this dark side of the sisters, covered in a sauce of English charm, which makes them fascinating.

There is a poignant relevancy to the sisters’ fascination with extreme ideologies. At a time where European teenagers from all walks of life run off to join ISIS in a bid to give their life meaning and do something “relevant”, it is both enlightening and terrifying to see that this isn’t something new. Thompson paints her six women with a sympathetic brush, trying to both show them for what they were while also showing their struggles. It can be difficult to read about the rich and fabulous having problems, but The Six does succeed in making the Mitford sisters feel like real women with real lives. There is something that feels English about country houses, dances, coming out balls and elopements, and it explains the continuing fascination with the Mitfords. They represent, in some way, a final hurrah of the upper classes, and they make for a fascinating read.

I give this book…
3 Universes!

I really enjoyed The Six and how Thompson shines a critical yet kind light onto these six women. It would have been too easy to stereotype them or to completely follow the glossy celebrity image of the sisters. I'd recommend this to fans of Non Fiction, biographies and women's Writing.