I decided to read this book mainly because of its intriguing blurb. It sounded quite unlike anything I have read before and after reading it I now know that this thought was utterly correct. There is something about The Beauty which completely and utterly sucked me in and I'm still thinking about it.
Somewhere away from the cities and towns, a group of men and boys gather around the fire each night to listen to their stories in the Valley of the Rocks. For when the women are all gone the rest of your life is all there is for everyone. The men are waiting to pass into the night.
The story shall be told to preserve the past. History has gone back to its aural roots and the power of words is strong. Meet Nate, the storyteller, and the new secrets he brings back from the woods. William rules the group with youth and strength, but how long can that last? And what about Uncle Ted, who spends so much time out in the woods?
Hear the tales, watch a myth be formed. For what can man hope to achieve in a world without women? When the past is only grief how long should you hold on to it? What secrets can the forest offer to change it all?
Discover the Beauty.For me, good books have to make me think, make me question and leave me slightly unsatisfied. A book that gives me all the answers may be satisfactory, but it is also immediately over after the last page and easily forgotten. Not so The Beauty. There is genuinely no way that this novel will not make you question your own surroundings. Before I launch into the, incredible, work this novel does I will make some more general comments. Nate, our main character, is a storyteller and in and of itself that is a fascinating character to choose. They are, often, the most observant people and those who see things in a cultural and social context. Nate, then, carries a lot of responsibility as the one who needs to keep the old traditions alive while living in a world that is slowly dying. He is not always likeable, but then how can someone grow up in that kind of world without, at times, being questionable. Survival sharpens the edges rather than softens them. Initially I wasn't too sure about spending a whole novel with an all-male society but then Whiteley's genius struck and I couldn't have been happier.
The idea behind this novel is utterly fascinating. What Whiteley manages to do is deconstruct gender roles down to the very core of what we consider masculine and feminine and then twist it around until the reader finds himself questioning everything. This means that halfway through the novel you find yourself wondering what it is you're reading. It's not until realization hits that you know there is no stopping now. The Beauty plays in to a lot of different debates, nature vs. nurture for example, or whether gender is performative or innate. As such, it is both interesting for men and women, rather than just one. I don't want to give away too much because this novel is definitely at its best when you go into it unknowing. What I am desperately waiting for now is some academic writing on this novel! Maybe I should start...
Whiteley's writing is captivating. It lulls you into a sense of security with its normalcy before hitting you with the strangeness of the events. It is definitely important, then, that Whiteley didn't lose herself in adjectives and grotesque descriptions because all the hard work this story does would have been lost. If she had presented the narrative in a way that was incredulous it would lose all of its power and just be another sci-fi book. But instead the power lies in the simplicity and easy with which it seems that the world changes irrevocably. There are some amazing images and some really powerful scenes within this relatively small novel and they're timed very well, making sure the reader is has a sense of time while also being completely lost.
I give this novel...
Yes, I have doled out the Five Universe rating which I usually save for classics. It is not often that you accidentally stumble on a book that manages to take your breath away. I haven't read anything like this in a very long time and I doubt I will read something soon that so successfully manages to subvert, reverse and twist what we all think we know. I would recommend this novel to everyone because there is an important message in there!