Being a creative, I’ve recently given myself a proverbial slap and reminder that I need to be absorbing as well as producing. Here are three books I’ve read this month – thankfully, they’re a good bunch to start! Forgive me for the varying review lengths… you can tell what I was reading at busier times, hehe!
The Fox was ever the Hunter
Repetition is something increasingly strayed from in literary fiction, as it seems a fear of being seen as formulaic unless the motif is strong. Take it from the Creative Writing graduate, aside from consistency of voice, echoes of elements in a fiction are hard to balance. In settings, particularly, which are naturally grey and oppressed, there feels like a pressure to maintain splashes of excitement and controversy.
Not so with Muller’s award-winning The Fox was ever the Hunter. Part-literary, part-dystopian, it employs cyclical content to create a disorientating, grinding atmosphere, but one that on reading felt impossible to pull away from.
There’s a rhythmical pattern to the narrative style, each image repeating through the text in ebbs, like a Sestina. The book breathes through its motifs, which cycle and join the way arteries and veins stitch together to bump blood to the heart. But the heart is corrupt and Muller’s writing exudes this, the colours warm but faded, sepia but hauntingly familiar. The characters hide behind the mantra, That doesn’t matter, That doesn’t matter at all, a euphemistic jibe at the daily censorship and suppression they endure. Each has their own moments of corruption, yet remain endearing for their determination to survive in their own microcosms. The dystopian shades are refreshingly clear of gadgets, strange drugs or stranger tortures – The Fox was ever the Hunter is an alternate world which exaggerates familiar elements of society without extrapolating them into a different time or place, with a definite tint of life on the Danube to boot. Oppressive regimes are shamelessly and ruthlessly pried open, and the result is beautifully unsettling – so organically disjointed that it writhes under the skin. The protagonists and points of view jump and stutter, giving the impression of Pulp Fiction with added rust and barbs; when a familiar face appears it is frequently a relief, however, from the many anonymised mugshots who are objectified through their possessions and brutal circumstances. Such familiar faces have consequences themselves, some of them frustratingly inevitable, some of them hard to believe. For a world where death is synonymous with currency, the life Muller breathes into this snapshot of a gritty Eastern Europe leads to an abrasive but worthwhile read.
The quote atop my borrowed copy of Shift, citing it as a dark Michael Grant-esque fiction (The Bookseller) does it few favours – where each novel in Grant’s series had a feeling of maintaining an immersive grind from one to another, keeping the reader hooked on any chance to escape the bleak dystopia of the young heroes, Shift works far better as a standalone book with the potential for more explanation, something enjoyable for its speed and energy over its intensity. The difficulty in reviewing Jeff Povey’s adventurous, sassy Young Adult fiction in any great detail is that a lot of his writing quality lies in the twists and heightened moments of adrenaline. Though the first-person narration uncomfortably dips into a generic teen voice from time to time, much of it cleverly contributes to the many miniature climaxes punctuating an impressive foray into inventive character development through Povey’s use of lethal doppelgangers, and the warping of the protagonists’ personalities therein. Though few of the characters stand out as likeable to begin with, they are intriguing, and this intrigue is played on throughout to make these characters we will end up caring about. Tongue-in-cheek references to Pop Culture are spliced between a literary voice of sass and attitude, Povey making the most of ironic and dark humour to balance his frequently relentless pace.
I haven’t had the wind knocked out of me by a novel in a fair long time. With Amnesty International’s label on the cover, I expected fairly big things of Max anyway – I’ve had an avid interest in the organisation for a number of years – so with the standards set high, what left me feeling utterly shellshocked by the end is Max’s ability to only let hard concrete detail to break through the narrator’s consistent rhetoric when it really counts. It’s a deep emotional punch that, though it’s a relevant given that the reader is disconnecting with his thought processes in the beginning, leads us into an instinctual, soulful resonance, of sharing emotive fundamentals with Max. Through the careful precision of such emotional punches, the characters become believable and the experience real despite the tinted lens, compensating for an uneasily slow pace at times.