Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Review: Above, by Leah Bobet

AboveAbove by Leah Bobet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Above, by Canadian author Leah Bobet, is a truly well-crafted novel, written by an author clearly comfortable with voice, language and imagery. In this dark, modern fairy tale Bobet writes from a very difficult point of view, yet manages to sustain tension that leaves the reader flayed. Her pace and the emotional impact of that pace is relentless. Not an easy read, not a novel you'd wish to pick up for a quick escape into something creamy, dreamy and fluffy, yet Above is very much worthy of your time and attention.

Overall the story deals with the story of Matthew, the story-keeper of a Torontonian underground society, and his tragic love of one of his fellow mutants, Ariel. But to summarize Bobet's tale by calling it a love story is to describe the Mona Lisa as a portrait. Just like the dystopian Toronto she creates, the story has layers upon layers. It is primarily a dark fantasy, yes. But it is also an indictment of barbaric psychiatric practices, of society's inability to deal with the homeless, with the estranged, with the strange. It is a social commentary written with adroitness and insight, and all done with an accomplished story-teller's art.

My only quibble, and it is a middling one, is the classification under which the publisher chose to list the book: young adult. While I can understand the reasoning behind that decision, I also cannot help but feel it was one chosen as an expedience, rather than a true understanding of Bobet's work and its impact. The tale is so dark, and the writing so at the edge of avant guard, that the novel might gain wider and better recognition under an adult classification.

But, as I mentioned, I quibble.

Certainly Bobet's novel is one worth your time. Recommended.

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Friday, June 7, 2013

Worthy of winning the 2013 Prix Aurora

Food for the GodsFood for the Gods by Karen Dudley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Short-listed for the 2013 Prix Aurora, Food for the Gods ticks all the boxes: It's impeccably researched, craftily written, with wit, humour, screamingly funny but believable characters and a rocketing good pace.

Dudley unfolds the story of Peplos, a put-upon murdered-but-resurrected son of the King of Lydia (a king, it should be noted, who fancied serving up an economical stew-of-son to his guests), who now attempts to make his way in Athens as, what else, a celebrity chef. What follows is a mad-cap and yet endearing escapade of villainous acts, interfering but well-meaning gods, who-dunnits and a love-story to boot. And Dudley carries this all off with a ridiculously deft hand, never missing a beat. Truly, I didn't want the story to end, and never once had a moment of flagging interest.

Published by Canadian indie press, Ravenstone, Food for the Gods is a shining example of the kind of genius and excellence that can result from small, independent press. If you're looking for an intelligent bit of escapism, Food for the Gods is your ticket.

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Saturday, June 1, 2013

Review: The Blind Man's Garden, by Nadeem Aslam

The Blind Man's GardenThe Blind Man's Garden by Nadeem Aslam
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A deftly and sensitively written novel, set in contemporary Pakistan and Afghanistan, which examines the pressures, complexities and ambiguities of both political and religious issues.

Aslam could have so easily succumbed to stridency and pontification about the Taliban and extremism whether Islamic or Western, and instead delivered an exquisitely heartbreaking story about being human, about what we will endure in the name of love, and about the irrelevance of human life in the face of absolutism. His writing, while subtle and lyrical, never meanders into purple prose, and instead weaves both character and environmental description into a seamless narrative that never flags or become ponderous. His characters are fully realized, lifting off the pages to inhabit the reader's world as living, breathing entities. His story lingers long after reading.

This is a novel to which I will return again and again, each time finding pleasure in the subtle tragedy Aslam reveals. Highly recommended.

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