August- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

The device, or computer you’re looking at, is stoically emitting a soft electric light, and my words, mere dark pixels in a sea of white, make a message. And then the email  from Peter flashes at the top your screen, briefly dragging your attention away as you connect with the words of a person miles away, without any physical strain. In Station Eleven, the human population is scarred by a pandemic, the horrific Georgia Flu. Those who remain, do not waste their breath on trying to maintain the internet. Or electricity. and running water. They simply can’t: when 99% of the human race is decaying, the chances are that the people who do know how to harness the wind turbines, or restart the grid, are dead. And everyone who is left, is battling for survival.

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This was an incredible novel, because it made you start to appreciate what a miraculous world we live in. Yes, you’re reading this whilst stuck in the airport because your plane was delayed, but isn’t the mere thought of heavy panels of metal levitating into the sky and transporting us wherever we want to go in the world, in an under an day, fantastic? When the world is put into a context where all of these modern inventions are suddenly taken away, the luxury of our society suddenly becomes apparent, especially when St. John Mandel returns to a thread of storyline set before the disease, which creates a sharp contrast. I liked that part of the novel because it followed a famous actor Arthur Leander. His life was portrayed in a way that was fascinating because I felt that at times, it was genuinely similar to the alien lifestyle of a modern day celebrity. There were however, parts which I thought were not realistic, like his recklessness in interviews where the  PR manager let him spill his secrets to a random journalist.

Do not be fooled into thinking this novel is a glittery tale about middle aged actor trying to pull himself together; the other part of the plot is dark and thrilling. We are twenty years into the future, in a world desolated by the flu, and we follow the Shakespearean actress Kirsten on her journey travelling around settlements in America, as part of the Travelling Symphony. In a world where there are no laws and no one to enforce justice except leaders of the small societies, the desperation that many people face in the wilderness takes threat and danger to a completely different level.

I absolutely loved this novel, the writing style was surprisingly beautiful and eloquent, and variance between the cruel reality of Kirsten’s world on the road, and the puzzle of the glamorous Arthur Leander’s life worked perfectly. Definitely put this on your TBR list, especially if you’re interested in young adult, fantasy or science fiction.

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Room by Emma Donoghue

The best part about Summer is undoubtedly spending time outside, whether it’s having picnics, simply enjoying the sun or staying out late with friends. But for Jack, the Summer is like any other time of year; he has lived his entire life is a single room, with his Ma. The borders of Jack’s world is the walls of Room, where the foundations of his world is Table, Bed and Wardrobe. For him, it is practically inconceivable that anything else can exist outside Room, even when his Ma, with whom he has never let out of sight, told him so.

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Jack is five years old, and this novel is written from his point of view. This is a challenging perspective for Donoghue to choose, and I admire how authentic the sentences sound, because writing in that style is counterintuitive. There are copious amounts of (intentional) spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, which are uncomfortable to read. (Like when you read a sign or an email and there is a blatant error which you want to correct, except you have that nagging feeling throughout the entire novel.) It was so annoying, in fact, that when I first started the novel I hoped this was an introduction of sorts, and the next chapter would be Jack at an intelligible age with a more complex mental syntax so that I wouldn’t have to endure 400 pages of rough language.

Having said that, a novel isn’t shortlisted for the Man Booker prize and the Orange prize for nothing. Room is challenging, facing the issue of captivity boldly, and this is not to be taken for granted. Although I wouldn’t say this novel changes how I perceive the world, (as other people have commented) it certainly puts our general freedom into perspective, and brings to the forefront of our consciousness some horrific issues that are still present in the world today.

However, there were some slight problems, too. I found that when Donoghue was describing a few of Jack and his Ma’s days spent in Room, I got bored. An incredibly detailed description of one day would have satisfied me, because they were all similar to a vast extent. Perhaps this was Donoghue attempting to get across the monotony of their lives; if so, that same monotonous feeling transferred to me. In-depths accounts of what Jack was watching on the TV ceased to interest me very rapidly, as well as how many bits of cereal he ate for breakfast (this is relevant because they have to ration to food, but still not very interesting). Also, I found that Jack’s mother was strangely lenient with him; she didn’t tell him off or have his actions corrected, because despite the pair being in a close relationship, Jack was becoming increasing petulant as the novel went on, and surely Ma would want to teach him manners? Ma was also inconsistent as a character, which I found confusing, because for the majority of the novel she is a fierce mother, and then after the climax she (for those who have the novel) takes an action which forces Jack to stay at his grandparent’s house. Some may argue that this is because of the overwhelming change that Ma is having to face, but it does suggest that she isn’t as close to Jack as originally perceived. Also, the climax. It happens halfway through! I reached it, and then thought, what happens next that can be as interesting? (Nothing, was the answer.)

This novel is worth reading if you are looking for something to stretch and test you as a reader; it is unique in it’s perspective and will offer a great sense of variation from all the many other holiday novels that you may be reading.

The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt

It’s a classic. Not a vaguely successful novel that is dubbed a “modern classic”. Published in 1962, this exhilarating and wonderful read has been translated from its original in Dutch, and has continued to delight generations internationally.

It is set in a fictional world that is bursting with knights galloping on horses, glorious castles and looming forests. It is a fabulous tale about chivalry, and is reminiscent of King Arthur and the Round Table. Tiuri, 16, has been training his entire life to become a knight, and only has one more night, which according to tradition must be spent in silent contemplation in a chapel, until he marches through the city and is officially knighted. There is a woeful cry for help, and Tiuri is drawn to the voice, and the moment he inquiries how he can help, he knows that he is risking his career forever. Yet the mysterious stranger asks him to deliver a secret letter, to the King of land he has never even visited before. Tiuri is honour bound to accept, but as he sets off on his monumental quest, peril follows closely behind in many forms, whether it’s vicious robbers, ruthless assassins or spies.

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This was a fantastic novel; there was a steady flow of action to keep me interested and the world in which Tiuri is so familiar with, is charming. In an a
ge full of iPhones and emails, it was refreshing to encompass oneself in a place where there isn’t even any electricity, so that you can pretend even for a short period of time it doesn’t exist. As for the writing, I am unsure if this is merely as a result of the translation by Laura Watkinson, or if it is the intent of Dragt himself, but it seemed at times sentences came across as stilted and brief. The writing would have been improved if
Dragt had indulged herself in more elaborative detail, but it was adequate to read nonetheless. It is worth bearing in mind though, that it was written over 50 years ago, and therefore the taste of the audience that Dragt was presumably writing for, has most likely changed dramatically.

This is not the most challenging read, but will enthuse those readers looking for a light Summer holiday read, where one frolicking through mountains and fields and through dangers. One that note, the man sent to assassinate Tiuri, Slither, who is th email source of angst and menace, does not feature often, and when Tiuri’s path is crossed by thieves, he is “surprisingly” set free and let off lightly. This does add a slightly genteel edge because you feel as though the protagonist is often cushioned from danger. That aside though, this is  a delightful tale about a teenager whose monumental quest not only sees him through multiple kingdoms, but through the process of changing from an aspiring boy into an experienced young adult.