Book Review: The Power

The Power by Naomi Alderman

In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who lounges around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

This extraordinary novel by Naomi Alderman, a Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and Granta Best of British writer, is not only a gripping story of how the world would change if power was in the hands of women but also exposes, with breath-taking daring, our contemporary world.

Review:
This is a difficult book to review. I loved the concept and the writing is fantastic, the wide array of characters is interesting, and the social commentary is incredible. However, there was a little something about this book that did not quite work for me and I can’t quite put my finger on it.
There is a lot going on in The Power. When girls get this electrical power that boys don’t get the power dynamics of the entire world shift, throwing the world into torment. It is really difficult to read about some of the abuses that women then inflict on men, creating a complete reversal of the patriarchy we have now–and this shines a light on how women are being treated today to see the same things happening to men. I will say, this book took me awhile to read because of the amount of violence. I get why it was there, but that doesn’t make it any easier to read.
Maybe that’s part of the problem, women, in this scenario, become oppressors of men. Alderman seems to be saying that whoever has power will use it to hold down those who don’t, that might makes right. But maybe that is part of her commentary or her way of shining a light on the current patriarchy.
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Book Review: The Witches of New York

The Witches of New York by Ami McKay

The beloved, bestselling author of The Birth House and The Virgin Cure is back with her most beguiling novel yet, luring us deep inside the lives of a trio of remarkable young women navigating the glitz and grotesqueries of Gilded-Age New York by any means possible, including witchcraft…

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?

Review:
I enjoyed reading this book and getting to know the three great main characters, Eleanor, Adelaide, and Beatrice. They each brought interesting aspects to the book and shone a light on how women, especially women outside of the norm, were treated in the 1880s, something which appeals to me.
McKay has created a wonderful and rich world in this book and has brought historical New York to life with interesting detail, but not so much as to get in the way of the compelling story. There were a times where the story dragged briefly, but not enough that I wanted to put the book down — I was invested in finding out what would happen with our heroines, and Eleanor’s pet raven whose mystique I loved.
I love books that portray friendships between women and this one did not disappoint. I am anxious to pick up the novella that comes after this book so I can immerse myself in this world and its characters again.
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Book Review: Son of a Trickster

Son of a Trickster (Trickster #1) by Eden Robinson

With striking originality and precision, Eden Robinson, the Giller-shortlisted author of the classic Monkey Beach and winner of the Writers Trust Engel/Findley Award, blends humour with heartbreak in this compelling coming-of-age novel. Everyday teen existence meets indigenous beliefs, crazy family dynamics, and cannibalistic river otter . . . The exciting first novel in her trickster trilogy.

Everyone knows a guy like Jared: the burnout kid in high school who sells weed cookies and has a scary mom who’s often wasted and wielding some kind of weapon. Jared does smoke and drink too much, and he does make the best cookies in town, and his mom is a mess, but he’s also a kid who has an immense capacity for compassion and an impulse to watch over people more than twice his age, and he can’t rely on anyone for consistent love and support, except for his flatulent pit bull, Baby Killer (he calls her Baby)–and now she’s dead.

Jared can’t count on his mom to stay sober and stick around to take care of him. He can’t rely on his dad to pay the bills and support his new wife and step-daughter. Jared is only sixteen but feels like he is the one who must stabilize his family’s life, even look out for his elderly neighbours. But he struggles to keep everything afloat…and sometimes he blacks out. And he puzzles over why his maternal grandmother has never liked him, why she says he’s the son of a trickster, that he isn’t human. Mind you, ravens speak to him–even when he’s not stoned.

You think you know Jared, but you don’t.

Review:
Son of a Trickster is an interesting book and Robinson is clearly a gifted storyteller. There were parts I loved and I was really looking forward to the supernatural aspect. Also, being from BC, I love reading books set in the familiar landscape of my province.
Most of the book is about Jared and is life and how he deals with what is going on around him. There is a lot of drinking and drugs. A lot. I found this part of the book to get repetitive, though I did like Jared and felt for him. I liked how he was friends with his elderly neighbours, how he loved his dog, and how he tried hard in his own way. He is a well developed character with depth when he could easily have been a stereotype.
There are definitely some difficult situations in this book, situations that too many kids have had to go through and that is hard to read.
I especially loved the end, when the magical aspect became more prominent, leaving me anxious to read the next book in this series and find out what is next for Jared.
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Book Review: My Year of Rest and Relaxation

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

A shocking, hilarious and strangely tender novel about a young woman’s experiment in narcotic hibernation, aided and abetted by one of the worst psychiatrists in the annals of literature. Our narrator has many of the advantages of life, on the surface. Young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, she lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like everything else, by her inheritance. But there is a vacuum at the heart of things, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents in college, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her alleged best friend. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong?

This story of a year spent under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs, designed to heal us from our alienation from this world, shows us how reasonable, even necessary, that alienation sometimes is. Blackly funny, both merciless and compassionate – dangling its legs over the ledge of 9/11 – this novel is a showcase for the gifts of one of America’s major young writers working at the height of her powers.

Review:
This is a book that definitely won’t be for everyone, and unfortunately, it wasn’t for me. I gravitate towards books that portray mental illness but this one, though well written in many ways, didn’t hold my interest.
Maybe it was because I really didn’t like the main character. I found her whiny and self-involved. I didn’t like how she fell apart so completely when her boyfriend left — so much so that she had to spend an entire year in a self-induced medication coma — even though she had so many other things going for her. I know life is hard and that we all react to loss or problems differently, but the narrator’s reactions to her issues didn’t resonate with me at all as being authentic. And then the narrator finds the most terrible psychiatrist who will basically prescribe anything that she wants even though it is clearly wrong, and that she the proceeds to take all of these strange meds for a year and come out of the whole thing refreshed and physically undamaged felt like an affront.
I’m sure that the author is trying to say something poignant about modern society and our mental heath, but it did not speak to me.
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