Sunday, 6 July 2014

Property Of by Alice Hoffman / Shadow Of Night by Deborah Harkness / Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Property OfProperty Of by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I registered a book at!

I read Property Of concurrently with listening to The Postman Always Rings Twice from Audible. Very different stories but both depicting desperate lives lacking in both hope and inspiration.
Property Of portrays a year in the life of Girl, an irritatingly wet young woman existing on an equally anonymous Avenue in New York. Girl decides that the only way she can have any kind of life is by becoming the girlfriend of a small-time gang leader, McKay. The novel reveals their relationship, how Girl insists that she loves McKay and how he basically treats her like dirt throughout.
I found Property Of frustrating to read mainly because of the complete lack of ambition of any of the female characters. They all seemed to consider themselves as mere extensions of whichever boy had chosen them, even to the extent of having the eponymous slogan printed across the backs of their jackets. Hoffman briefly discusses 'belonging' as opposed to 'belonging to' and this theme permeates the story. No doubt such submission was accurate to life in 1970s America, as elsewhere, but I am certainly glad to be in a freer society than that now!
Alice Hoffman's writing about gang violence and graphic descriptions of drug taking was probably shocking when it was first published but it reads like a young adult novel now. Not that this is a negative - violence is always more harrowing when partly imagined. The style feels unsure of itself with sporadic bursts of genius hidden every so often. I believe Hoffman went on to write in a poetic literary way that I look forward to discovering

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy, #2)Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I started with the middle of Shadow Of Night’s Trilogy, not having read the first book, Discovery Of Witches. Fortunately SON does stand alone, more or less, and any essential back story is explained so I had no trouble following the narrative. Deborah Harkness has an easily readable style so the first chapters flew by but lack of a strong storyline took its toll by midway. There are lots of characters to keep track of with a changing cast as our errant couple, witch Diana and vampire Matthew, travel around 1590s Europe in an attempt to track down a fantastical book, avoid fellow magical creatures who object to their union, and not be discovered by human beings. Except for the humans that already know about them. Which seems to be pretty much everyone.
We are introduced to many Real Historical Figures and Harkness is obviously proud of all her research into the period, shoehorning in, it seems, every gleaned fact and describing cities, buildings and costume in detail. However, while this often makes for interesting history, it slows the pace of the story right down and what might have been an exciting 400 page work is instead drawn-out over 630 long pages. Sadly, by the last 150 or so, I was mechanically turning pages, determined to finish after all the time I’d put in but not really caring about the outcome. Other than its sheer length, the other factor that lets Shadow Of Night down is its characters not behaving as their author insists they should. We are repeatedly told that Diana’s strange speech marks her out, but every character speaks the same way and I noticed very little actual Elizabethan language – even from a petulant Queen Elizabeth (too much Blackadder?). Apparently, time travel is extremely dangerous due to future repercussions from minor event changes, yet Diana and Matthew are bumming around for months, interacting freely with rarely any sign of discretion and 21 st Century Matthew is so appalled by his historical self’s politics that he is deliberately reversing situations engineered by 16 th Century Matthew – regardless of the consequences. Diana’s desperation to activate her witchy powers is abandoned while she creates an entire theatrical entertainment for the Emperor in Prague. Yes, the device is Harkness’ opportunity to teach readers all about such a spectacle, but at the expense of her main character’s believability.
By the end of Shadow Of Night, I was left with a strong feeling that a three-book contract had been signed and this middle work is simply filling an obligation. The quest meanders, lacking a strong sense of purpose as its protagonists are so easily distracted from their path, and it does not even satisfyingly resolve, as all is left open for the next volume. I won’t be undertaking my own Ashmole 782 quest to find a copy.

Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As I live near the real town of Hailsham, I was amused by an early reference to the fictional Hailsham being a 'privileged estate'. It really isn't!
I already had a vague idea of what Never Let Me Go is about and its pigeon-holing as science fiction doesn't do it any favours. Although this element does feature in the story, I thought the novel concentrated more on issues of growing up, leaving behind childhood ideas and beliefs to become accepted into the adult world.
Ishiguro's writing is deceptively gentle. He jumps around in time and place which I thought was unnecessarily complicated for such a short work, but once I got used to the narration style it began to flow more convincingly. I liked that the individual characters of the guardians were so much flatter than those of the three main children. Kids do see authority figures like this and it made their later realisation of rounded personalities more poignant.
Another reason I would avoid SF stereotyping Never Let Me Go is that its powerful portrayal of alienation is universal among humans. By using his chosen reason for the students' exclusion, Ishiguro has enabled all readers to identify with them and with their society in the same way. We are not (or at least I don't think anyone yet is!) like the students so our own historical and cultural influences concerning race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc. do not come into play.
I would have liked Ishiguro to have developed his story more fully. At times it felt closer to a novella than a full novel which is why I have only given four stars. However, I think this is an important work that has left me with many hours of musing ahead.

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