Sunday, 31 January 2016

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel / The Shapes Of Dogs' Eyes by Harry Gallon / Princess Casamassima by Henry James

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel is a different type of dystopian novel to those I have read previously. We jump around through time beginning on the night where a flu pandemic takes hold in America, moving forward up to twenty years after 99% of the world's human population has been wiped out, and moving back to well before the disaster primarily through the life of a Hollywood actor, Arthur, and his wives.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the chillingly realistic pandemic scenes describing the initial panics, blocked highways and overcrowded hospitals (and that aeroplane). The restarting timeline as civilisation begins to collapse was an effective device with elements such as the internet vanishing after so many days, electric lights going out forever, gasoline becoming unusable after Year Five - did you know that gasoline has a shelf life? The idea of survivors just walking and walking resonated particularly well as we see similar scenes right now of refugees escaping war in exactly the same way.

I was less impressed by pre-pandemic scenes, especially Arthur's pampered life and the time dedicated to describing the dystopian comics created by his first wife, Miranda. I understand their inclusion but didn't feel that they warranted so much attention. There is also excessive repetition in Station Eleven which got irritating in the latter half of the book and I felt that tighter editing could have been beneficial.

The Shapes of Dogs' Eyes by Harry Gallon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I received a copy of The Shapes Of Dogs' Eyes by Harry Gallon from its publishers, Dead Ink, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

The Shapes Of Dogs' Eyes is an odd eyecatching title which encouraged me to check out this book's synopsis. Set in modern-day London, we are introduced to the pub scene of Hackney and thereabouts by our homeless sofa-surfing bartender narrator. In between pulling pints of craft beer and euthanising cockroaches, he thinks he has discovered an insidious plot whereby dogs are taking over the lives of their owners. Or maybe he's just imbibed one too many today.

I loved the language in The Shapes Of Dogs' Eyes. If Gallon hasn't ever been a Hackney bartender, I would be amazed. His understanding of his characters and insightful observations on their lives are put across in sharp evocative prose which made me want to be visiting this part of London as I read, walking those streets and inviting loathing by ordering coffee in one of the pubs! I admit that I didn't completely understand the whole dogs' plot idea, but the interaction imagery of these dogs and their owners is frequently superb. An unexpected delight!

The Princess Casamassima by Henry James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I downloaded a copy of Princess Casamassima by Henry James from ForgottenBooks when it was their free Book Of The Day.

Princess Casamassima is a six hundred page novel which felt to me more like a thousand page book. It's taken me well over a week to read it! I loved how James takes his readers into the London of weak-willed bookbinder Hyacinth Robinson. His descriptions of houses and streets, and his wonderfully nuanced characters kept me reading and interested to the end, but he is not a concise author by any stretch - I frequently found myself willing him to 'get on with it'! We must have been told of Hyacinth's dubious parentage two dozen times and word-for-word reported conversations are never to the point.

From a brief synopsis, Princess Casamassima could be classed as a thriller. Our young hero Hyacinth joins a shadowy group dedicated to class revolution in England. He undertakes to perform a shocking act on their behalf, possibly even a murder, however James is so vague about the group, their real aims, the act assigned to Hyacinth, and whether Hyacinth really cares at all, that any tension evaporates as fast as it is created. Instead, we spend our time drinking copious cups of tea with a disparate cast: a dressmaker and a shop girl, a music hall violinist and a bedridden girl, an Italian princess and an exiled French revolutionary, a philanthropic Lady and a chemist's assistant. The minutiae of their interactions is as fascinating as it is infuriating which makes for a very strange novel.

Based on my experience of Princess Casamassima I probably won't rush to read James again any time soon, but wouldn't rule his other novels out completely in the future - providing I can set aside enough time!

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