Friday, 1 December 2017

Review: 'Demi-Gods' by Eliza Robertson

I was excited about reading this novel from the moment I saw it. The blurb really grabbed me and I couldn't wait to see how Robertson would bring all these different ideas and themes together. Young Adult and teenage years are rife with potential complications, issues and questions, and I don't think I'm ever going to get tired of reading about it. Thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 02/11/2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

A bold debut novel reminiscent of Emma Cline's The Girls; a story of love, lust and the spaces in between, from a 'captivating' (New York Times) new voice in fiction 
It is 1950, and Willa’s mother has a new beau. The arrival of his blue-eyed, sun-kissed sons at Willa’s summer home signals the end of her safe childhood. As her entrancing older sister Joan pairs off with Kenneth, nine-year-old Willa is drawn to his strange and solitary younger brother, Patrick.  
Left to their own devices, Willa is swept up in Patrick’s wicked games. As they grow up, their encounters become increasingly charged with sexuality and degradation. But when Willa finally tries to reverse the trajectory of their relationship, an act of desperation has devastating results. 
Unfolding between the wild freedoms of British Columbia and the glittering beaches of California, Demi-Gods explores a girl’s attempt to forge a path of her own choosing in a world where female independence is suspect. Sensitive, playful and entirely original, Eliza Robertson is one of the most exciting new voices in contemporary literature.
There is something about Demi-Gods that made in "unputdownable" for me. (I know that isn't a word, but let's just roll with it for now!) I was intrigued by the story, by where Robertson would lead us next, what we would discover about the characters as well as ourselves. So I was in deep, in a way. However, there was also something about Demi-Gods that let me sort of drift at the surface. As the reader, you're very much observing these characters. You aren't as immersed in them as in other novels, yet still very engaged with them. The novel is very descriptive and Robertson dedicates a lot of time to observations. You see Willa, Joan, Kenneth and Patrick go through life, make their choices, make their mistakes, and there is something that feels inevitable about it all. Although Demi-Gods is a short read, it doesn't feel like it. It is also quite a weird and upsetting novel, but this shouldn't stop anyone from reading it. Rather, it is something that should recommend it to you.

A big part of the novel is dedicated to the continuous meeting of Willa and Patrick and how their relationship develops over the course of these meetings. As the blurb describes it, their meetings are 'increasingly charged with sexuality and degradation'. Set in the '50s, Robertson shows how aware she is of the strict gender rules that existed and shows her various female characters struggling with these. Willa's encounters with Patrick are a rush, both for her and the reader, a situation in which neither knows exactly what is happening. Yet once they are over, and the reality of what has happened sinks in, there is always the sense of unease, of something not quite right. Analysing the power balance, or rather imbalance, between them is fascinating and it makes Demi-Gods a topical and interesting read. In that sense it is definitely reminiscent of Emma Cline's The Girls, in that both novels look at what happens to girls left alone, girls struggling for some kind of power.

This is Eliza Robertson's debut novel and I'm always wowed by the skill and deftness with which many new authors craft their novels. Demi-Gods sometimes reads like a confessional, as if Willa is unburdening herself to the reader, trying to finally come to term with everything that happened. Robertson weaves the narrative very carefully, using both "real time" and frequent and chronological flashbacks to show what happened. If not welded together properly, this shifting back and forth can be off-putting and confusing. Thankfully it worked really well in Demi-Gods. The writing style might take some time to get used to, as dialogue isn't clearly marked separately from descriptions, but it works very well. The novel very much attempts to capture a feeling or a sense of something, rather than tell a complex story. Demi-Gods has a relatively straightforward plot, yet Robertson explores the slightly uncomfortable yet fascinating time of teen life with aplomb.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

I really enjoyed reading Demi-Gods. Eliza Robertson dives head first into what it's like to be a teenager, but also deftly analyses gender and power. I definitely can't wait for Eliza Robertson's future novels! I'd recommend this to anyone who enjoys Young Adult novels..