As part of her Beat the Backlist challenge, Novel Knight is running four readthons throughout year to help people achieve their targets, and the first of these ran from the 10th to the 12th of March. As this happened to coincide with a lazy weekend, I decided to take some time out from the review copies and tackle some of my backlist, and I managed to read four books over the three days (yes – it was a REALLY lazy weekend!):
Nod by Adrian Barnes
Dawn breaks and no one in the world has slept the night before. Or almost no one. A few people, perhaps one in ten thousand, can still sleep, and they’ve all shared the same mysterious dream. A handful of silent children can still sleep as well, but what they’re dreaming remains a mystery. Global panic ensues.
A medical fact: after six days of absolute sleep deprivation, psychosis sets in. After four weeks, the body dies. In the interim, a bizarre new world arises and swallows the old one whole. A world called Nod.
Nod was originally published in 2012, and was republished in the UK by Titan Books in 2016. It’s a wonderfully unique end of the world novel in which our end is brought about by an epidemic of chronic insomnia which affects 99.9% of the population.
As is often the case, there are those who will seek to take advantage of such a situation, and in Nod this comes about in the form of Charles, formerly of figure of contempt, but who has seized the opportunity to establish a new world order, and he fully intends to be at the helm.
I thought that the structure worked brilliantly, opening on day 18, and then reverting to day 1, as the majority of people experience their first day without having slept. It doesn’t take long for a “them and us” attitude to become the norm, as those who can’t sleep look enviously upon those who can, eventually coming to revile those that they may have loved at some point, and the sleepers quickly learn to hide themselves away.
I did find the novel to be a little slow in places, although it’s an intriguing tale, and explores a unique apocalypse.
A Kind of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth
Annie is obese, lonely and hopeful. Armed with self-help books, her cat and a collection of cow-shaped milk jugs, she moves into her new home and sets about getting to know the neighbours, especially the man next door. She ignores her neighbour’s inconvenient girlfriend, but it’s not quite as easy for Annie to dismiss her own past. As Annie’s murky history of violence, secrets and sexual mishaps catches up with her, she cannot see that she has done anything wrong. She’s just doing what any good neighbour would do, after all…
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and I thought that Annie was a fascinating character, who was at times vulnerable, yet also a little terrifying. It’s clear from the beginning that there’s something not quite right with her tale, and whilst she evokes sympathy, I found that I was questioning her narrative, particularly as you begin to get insights from her new neighbours. Ashworth drip feeds Annie’s back story throughout the novel, and whilst I didn’t find it particularly surprising – there are enough hints early on that I guessed some of what happened – it was still shocking.
If I guessed Annie’s backstory, I didn’t guess the outcome of the present-day narrative, in which Annie becomes increasingly obsessed with her neighbour, Will – someone she believes she has a connection with, and who, in her mind, undoubtedly feels the same way about her. Annie’s behaviour becomes increasingly unhinged, and leads to a stunning finale.
Told with snatches of dark humour, A Kind of Intimacy is wonderful novel about obsession with an unforgettable character.
The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
1916: the Western Front. Private Percy Blakeney wakes up. He is lying on fresh spring grass. He can hear birdsong, and the wind in the leaves in the trees. Where has the mud, blood and blasted landscape of No Man’s Land gone?
2015: Madison, Wisconsin. Cop Monica Jansson is exploring the burned-out home of a reclusive (some said mad, others dangerous) scientist when she finds a curious gadget – a box containing some wiring, a three-way switch and a …potato. It is the prototype of an invention that will change the way Mankind views his world for ever.
And that is an understatement if ever there was one…
The Long Earth is a novel that I’ve had on my TBR for quite some time. I bought it as I’m a big fan of Terry Pratchett’s work, and whilst I haven’t read anything by Stephen Baxter, I’ve heard good things. I have to say that I was a little disappointed by it.
The title refers to a series of parallel Earths, which seem to be the same as ours in terms of the date, time of day and geography, but have been completely untouched by humans. When the instructions for building the gadget described above are posted online, people find that they can “step” from one Earth to the next, and can keep going, possibly forever.
It took me a while to get into this novel – I thought that the premise was interesting, but the delivery fell a little flat for me, and there’s a fair amount of exposition in the beginning, necessary, perhaps, but not particularly well done.
Given this is the first in a series, it felt like a lot of scene setting, but didn’t interest me enough to make me want to rush out and buy the sequel.
The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli
Gustavo ‘Highway’ Sanchez is a man with a mission: he is planning to replace every last one of his unsightly teeth. He has a few skills that might help him on his way: he can imitate Janis Joplin after two rums, he can interpret Chinese fortune cookies, he can stand an egg upright on a table, and he can float on his back. And, of course, he is the world’s best auction caller – although other people might not realise this, because he is, by nature, very discreet.
Studying auctioneering under Grandmaster Oklahoma and the famous country singer Leroy Van Dyke, Highway travels the world, amassing his collection of ‘Collectibles’ and perfecting his own specialty: the allegoric auction. In his quest for a perfect set of pearly whites, he finds unusual ways to raise the funds, culminating in the sale of the jewels of his collection: the teeth of the ‘notorious infamous’ – Plato, Petrarch, Chesterton, Virginia Woolf et al.
Written with elegance, wit and exhilarating boldness, Valeria Luiselli takes us on an idiosyncratic and hugely enjoyable journey that offers an insightful meditation on value, worth and creation, and the points at which they overlap.
The Story of My Teeth is a novel I picked up at last year’s Hay Festival, having enjoyed hearing Luiselli discussing her novel.
I’ll be honest and say that I’ve not read anything else quite like it. It’s humorous and borderline absurd, but extremely experimental, and it didn’t really suit my tastes, although you might enjoy it if you’re looking for something different.
I’ve since read other reviews that suggest, somewhat counterintuitively, reading the afterword first. With hindsight, I would recommend this unconventional approach, as I think it sets the scene nicely.
Not bad, just not for me.