Monday, 2 May 2016

Paradise by Toni Morrison / The Magic Dogs Of San Vincente by Mark Fishman / Not In The Eye by C Z Hazard

Paradise by Toni Morrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Paradise starts with a violent end to its story. Women living in a convent are being shot by men and, as readers, we have no idea who anyone is or why this atrocity is happening. Jumping back in time, author Toni Morrison dedicates each chapter to the story of a woman and we slowly begin to understand the masculine pride, social fragmentation and perversion of religious belief that will lead to tragedy. Morrison imagined a nucleus of nine black families who, more than a hundred years ago, set out across America to find a home for themselves. Initially they thought they might join an existing black town, but insulted by refusals, they walked on until mystical visions indicated where they should found their own towns, Haven and, later, Ruby. Isolated from outside influence, the town and community prospered, retelling their history until the journeys became mythical and the founding fathers legendary.

Paradise is often a book of the differences and belief clashes between men and women. The families live in a highly patriarchal society which views the independent convent women, outsiders, as threats. I frequently found it difficult to work out and remember who was related to whom. Nicknames are used as well as given names so it often felt like reading a Russian novel and I wished for family tree diagrams. However, it later occurred to me that, as an outsider to Ruby, I probably wasn't intended to clearly understand their connections and this was another illustration of the differences between the townsfolk and the convent women - the women had no history in this place. Paradise is a great sweep of a novel which allowed me to easily imagine these lives and to become involved in the arguments and discussions. Some characters are clearly defined, others vague, and I loved how the pervasive unease grew and grew. Knowing how it will all end doesn't always work as a literary device, but for me it was well employed here. Perhaps overall I thought Paradise was a little too convoluted, but I enjoyed the read and am still mulling over its events several days later.


The Magic Dogs of San Vicente by Mark Fishman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I received a copy of The Magic Dogs Of San Vicente by Mark Fishman from its publishers, Guernica Editions, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

The Magic Dogs Of San Vicente is set in El Salvador some twenty-five years after a time of great violence and disappearances. The Flores brothers, Jose Matias and Wilber Eduardo, were arrested and tortured during this time and, although they survived more or less physically intact, are still haunted by what they saw and were made to do during their imprisonment. On the day when this book is set, they see and are terrified by a mystical apparition from yhis past and we meet them as they are hiding behind boulders unsure whether to run or remain concealed.

Fishman is a Canadian author, but has obviously immersed himself in South American fiction as well as defining a unique style of his own. I loved the magical sweeps of imagination and intricately detailed observations, his breathless stream-of-consciousness writing and the rhythmically repetitive prose which, at times, felt like the refrains of some ancient epic poem or ballad. I have since read other reviews though where readers strongly disliked this book for exactly the same reasons so I guess it is a 'Marmite' read - love it or hate it! The magic dogs themselves are always at the periphery of our story, but Jose Matias and Wilber Eduardo mostly have centre stage as they tried to find a buried talisman with which to defeat the apparition and overcome their fearful memories. There are many levels of meaning in this novel. Beautifully-drawn human characters interact with magical and mythical creations; Spanish and Mexican words, phrases and poetry are woven into the prose; the long, long sentences sweep up readers sometimes for over a page at a time before briefly releasing us. I don't think I have ever read anything quite like The Magic Dogs Of San Vicente before!


Not in the Eye by C.Z. Hazard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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C Z Hazard is Nico Reznick's editor so I discovered this book of his after reading her novel, Anhedonia. Told through a series of overlapping interviews, Not In The Eye explores an imagined consequence of society's insatiable search for novelty and drama in a near-future America. Humorously named writer, John Thomas (a running gag), might have invented an innovative gimmick that made incredible profits for the pornography industry. Or maybe his then boss, Mike Man, should have all the credit? Either way, their protacted court case means the only people profiting right now are lawyers and possibly influential journalist Indigo Julius, our interviewer, who is piggybacking on John and Mike's notoriety to increase his own mass appeal.

As an examination of the lengths industries will go to to maintain audience interest, Not In The Eye provides a light but thoughtful look at Taking It Too Far. I liked the story idea and wouldn't be surprised if something along those lines becomes (or already is!) reality in a struggling studio. However I didn't think the character portrayals were strong enough to set our protagonists up as individual people. Perhaps that was the point - they are all actually shallow media-tarts - but without additional detail to round out these creations, I found it difficult to really become involved with their story.


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