magical realism

All posts tagged magical realism

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Unplugged by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

Published November 19, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Unplugged all about?:

With references to The Wizard Of Oz, Unplugged follows a young woman who hears voices in her head which leads to dramatic consequences as she chooses to listen.

What did I think?:

It’s purely coincidence that this story rolled around as part of my Short Stories Challenge quite soon after I had posted a review of a novel also compared to The Wizard Of Oz, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead by Charlie Laidlaw. As a previously bona fide fangirl of The Wizard Of Oz I was delighted to read another piece of contemporary fiction with nods to this classic and brilliant story. Having read a few of the tales in this collection now, I knew to expect the unexpected with Dianne Gray and what I got was yet another powerful piece of writing that remains firmly etched in my memory, for all the best reasons.

Unplugged follows our female protagonist, who was adopted at four years of age and had her name changed from Elmira Gulch to Dorothy Gale. Anyone remember who Elmira Gulch was in The Wizard Of Oz? Go to the top of the class if you said The Wicked Witch Of The West. Dorothy has been struggling her whole life with the voice of a witch in her head telling her incredible things about the world and causing her to lose her job at Toto Cut Price Deli. For example, God doesn’t exist and humans were created by viruses and germs purely as a means of transport. She also tells her that cameras are everywhere, watching her every move, making her paranoid and frustrated. Things only get worse when Hickory at the second hand shop refuses to sell her a pair of ruby slippers that the witch in her brain assures her she has to have if she has a chance of returning home to her birth parents:

“I decided it was time for the truth and told Hickory that my real name was Dorothy. I had a witch flying around in my head, I had been adopted at four years of age and I needed the slippers to find my way home. He told me he was the Tin Man and called the police.”

The rest of the story follows Dorothy as she struggles, in vain with the things the witch is telling her to to leading to a run in with the local police and a life-changing incident. It is filled with the most beautiful, poetical language that at times, took my breath away. For example, she talks about the time she visited her Grandpa Gale in hospital:

“He was a big man who had wasted away to a leaf. Death was building a birdcage out of his ribs.”

Simply gorgeous and so evocative! However, this is nothing compared to the poignancy of the ending. Now I’ve mentioned that I know what to expect from Dianne Gray, so you would think I’d be prepared for the way she tends to end her stories? No. Each time I’m astounded by the way she manages to turn things and pull on your emotions so that you see things from a whole new light and this particular ending was horrid, bitter-sweet and unforgettable. Manslaughter And Other Tears is fast becoming one of my favourite short story collections for sure. There’s only been one story so far that I haven’t found quite as fantastic as the others – that was Still Life (although the bar for her work has been set extraordinarily high I have to say!). The author’s use of fairy-tale imagery and the atmosphere she creates when setting her scenes is second to none and I cannot praise her work highly enough.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Wisht by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles.

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Deathless (Leningrad Diptych #1) – Catherynne M. Valente

Published October 4, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A glorious retelling of the Russian folktale Marya Morevna and Koschei the Deathless, set in a mysterious version of St. Petersburg during the first half of the 20th century. A handsome young man arrives in St Petersburg at the house of Marya Morevna. He is Koschei, the Tsar of Life, and he is Marya’s fate. For years she follows him in love and in war, and bears the scars. But eventually Marya returns to her birthplace – only to discover a starveling city, haunted by death. Deathless is a fierce story of life and death, love and power, old memories, deep myth and dark magic, set against the history of Russia in the twentieth century. It is, quite simply, unforgettable.

What did I think?:

Here’s the thing – I’ve always tried to be completely honest in my reviews over the past few years. No, we’re not all going to like the same things but I do try not to be overly negative just for the sake of it and to find something positive or constructive to say about every book or short story I write about and I hope that comes across. Deathless was recommended to me by one of my favourite bookshops, Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights where I’ve had two reading spas with my sister, Chrissi Reads. As soon as the bookseller mentioned it, I knew I had to have it, it sounded like such a “me” book. Based on Russian folklore and sprinkled with magical realism but intertwined with the horrors of Leningrad in the Second World War….these are pretty much some of my top buzz words to get me interested and excited about a book. To be perfectly honest, I’ve been absolutely dreading writing this review and have put it off for a couple of days now. By and large, I can appreciate what a gorgeous writer Catherynne M. Valente is and some of her prose is truly exquisite BUT I had a few problems with this novel that makes me struggle in my rating of it and I find myself quite torn about whether I liked it or not in the end.

It’s quite hard to describe what Deathless is about but I’ll do my best. Generally, it takes the old Russian folk tale of Marya Morevna and Koschei The Deathless, focusing on their love affair which is set around the time of the Second World War in Russia. Now I’m not familiar with the original tale so don’t profess to being an expert in the slightest but from what I’ve read around the novel, the author has almost developed her own fairy tale around these characters. When Marya becomes a young woman and is living in a house with many other families she sees her older sisters married off one by one as a bird falls from the trees outside and turns into a young man. Eventually, a man of her own comes for her and it is Koschei the Tsar of Life who takes her away, treats her a bit mean and after a while, persuades her to fall in love with him. As well as this story we have a magical quest that Marya has to go on, some interesting magical creatures that she befriends and a young man called Ivan who attempts to take her away and show her that there is a life available to her without Koschei.

I think that’s all I want to really say about the plot as, speaking frankly, there is a lot more that happens in the novel and considerably more content and symbolism connected to the war that makes this a heady mixture between fairy tale, magical realism and historical fiction. There were some parts of the narrative (particularly the fantastical elements) that I adored and I found myself nodding, thinking: “Yes, THIS is why I picked up this book!.” Then there were other things. A horny pestle and mortar (yes, you read that right), disjointed parts of the story that jumped around and just did not make any sense to me and worse of all, the relationship between Marya and Koschei which isn’t your best advertisement for a nice, healthy partnership. Unless you’re into sadomasochism, that is.

I didn’t feel like I connected with any of the characters – in fact, some of the decisions and the actions Marya takes me had me feeling rather disdainful and wondering what exactly her role in the whole novel was meant to be. I love a character with quirkiness, with darkness and with flaws don’t get me wrong, but everything about these characters just fell so flat, I couldn’t fathom how anyone could enjoy reading about them. I’m also not sure how well the author managed to pull off the connections with the atrocities happening in Leningrad in 1942. There is one particular chapter that almost broke my heart and it made such a compelling section of the novel but sadly, I felt like stellar sections like these were few and far between and I would have loved to have seen more passages like these. It did have those beautiful fairy tale qualities at many points and generally, I did enjoy these sections but when it came to the relationship between Marya and Koschei I’m afraid it just became too much for me, I didn’t like the way it was portrayed at all. Dominating her, force-feeding her until she vomits, beating her? Nah, that’s not my kind of fairy tale. Saying all this, Deathless has some stupendous reviews on GoodReads with an average rating of 4.05. If you’re at all intrigued maybe you should check it out for yourself as obviously a lot of people are seeing something I’m not. If you have read it though, I’d love to talk about it with you in the comments!

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

The Immortals – S.E. Lister

Published September 19, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Rosa Hyde is the daughter of a time-traveller, stuck in the year 1945. Forced to live through it again, and again, and again. All she ever wanted was to be free from that year, and from the family who keep her there.

She breaks out at last and falls through time, slipping from one century to another, unable to choose where she goes. And she is not alone. Wandering with her is Tommy Rust, time-gypsy and daredevil, certain in his heart of hearts that he will live forever.

Their journeys take them from the ancient shores of forming continents to the bright lights of future cities. They tell themselves that they need no kind of home. That they are anything but lost.

But then comes Harding, the soldier who has fought for a thousand years, and everything changes. Could Harding hold the key to staying in one place, one time? Or will the centuries continue to slip through Rosa’s fingers, as the tides take her further and further away from everything she has grown to love?

What did I think?:

First of all, can I just talk about this gorgeous cover? I posted a photo of it on my Instagram as I was reading it and it seriously does not do justice to how stunning the cover art actually is. I was recommended this book on a reading spa I went to with my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads at Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights in Bath. If you haven’t been there before, I highly highly recommend it. Not just for the reading spa which was amazing (and the second one that we’ve actually had there!) but the bookshop itself is just beautiful and the staff so knowledgeable and friendly. Check out their website HERE and my post about our first reading spa HERE. Anyway, back to the book! I was so sure this was going to be a five star read for me, purely from the synopsis. It came ever so close in the end but didn’t quite make it. However, I urge you with every fibre of my being to read this book as everything from the writing, setting and characters is all kinds of fantastic and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment I spent reading it – it’s truly a story to be savoured.

In a similar manner to The Time Traveller’s Wife (another of my all time favourite reads) The Immortals follows a young woman called Rosa who is forced to travel forwards and backwards in time without much control. Her father was a time traveller himself although he became stuck in one particular year, 1945 which he is obliged to re-live again and again every New Years’s Eve when he travels right back to the beginning of the year with his wife, Rosa and her younger sister. Rosa is aware that her father is re-living this nightmare year because of a traumatic event in his past that he refuses to come to terms with but she is getting fed up of it so decides to run away and live her own life, flitting from decade to decade and embarking on crazy, wonderful and in some cases, not so wonderful adventures. She meets a host of interesting people, including Tommy Rust who becomes her time-travelling buddy for many years but it isn’t until she meets a distressed soldier called Harding that she begins to realise the nature of time and the effect it could be having on her body.

Can I just say – what an imagination this author has to be able to write a fantastical time-travel novel such as this? It’s beautifully layered, complex yet easy to read at the same time and filled with some brilliant, wonderfully drawn characters that instantly pull you into their lives and make you care about them, even if you might question some of their actions at times. I had an especially hard time with Rosa. Some of her motives and decisions are incredibly selfish and questionable as she jumps backward and forward in time yet still she seems to learn from her experiences and I felt a strange sort of affection for her as the novel progressed. The only thing I’m in a bit of a muddle about is the character of Harding. He appears relatively late on in the narrative and, on reflection, I think it would have been a slightly stronger story if he had appeared earlier and we had learned more about him as a character as I was infinitely more interested in his past than I was in Tommy Rust’s. That’s probably the only reason I haven’t given this novel a higher rating. Otherwise, this is everything I could ever want from a novel – captivating writing, magical elements, amazing world-building….go and read it!!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street – Natasha Pulley

Published September 5, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

1883. Thaniel Steepleton returns home to his tiny London apartment to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the mysterious timepiece saves his life, drawing him away from a blast that destroys Scotland Yard. At last, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, a kind, lonely immigrant from Japan. Although Mori seems harmless, a chain of unexplainable events soon suggests he must be hiding something. When Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist, unwittingly interferes, Thaniel is torn between opposing loyalties.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is a sweeping, atmospheric narrative that takes the reader on an unexpected journey through Victorian London, Japan as its civil war crumbles long-standing traditions, and beyond. Blending historical events with dazzling flights of fancy, it opens doors to a strange and magical past.

What did I think?:

I think this book has to win a prize based on that beautiful cover art alone, right? It’s absolutely stunning and has been staring at me from my shelves for the longest time. You know when you have a book on your TBR that you keep looking at but is almost too beautiful to read even though you’re eagerly anticipating it? (Maybe that’s just me then?!) Well, that’s what The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street was to me. My boyfriend had already listened to it on audio book and kept telling me that I needed to read this novel, I would love it but for some reason I kept hesitating. Thank goodness I’ve finally given in to my own hype and cracked it open because what I found within was truly wonderful and I’m still thinking about it now, weeks after finishing it, it made that big of an impression on me.

It’s approaching the end of the nineteenth century and our main character, Thaniel Steepleton is working at the Home Office in London as a telegraph operator. He is living in dangerous times where a rebel group of Irish terrorists, the Fenian Brotherhood are setting off bombs all across London. In fact, he almost loses his life to one of these bombs if it were not for a mysterious gold pocket watch that he finds in his bedroom one night that begins alarming just before the bomb explodes giving him time to leave the building and cheat certain death. Fascinated by the watch and how it came to be in his possession, he tracks down the watch-maker, one Keita Mori, a Japanese immigrant who has an intriguing back story all of his own and is wonderfully talented in the making of clockwork mechanisms, including Katsu, a rather annoying (but incredibly endearing) sock stealing, mechanical octopus. This is the story of the relationship between Thaniel and Keita but also of Thaniel’s relationship with Grace Carrow, a young scientist who tests his loyalty and bond with Keita in numerous ways.

The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street has such a convoluted plot that I’m very wary of going into too much detail. The beauty with a story like this is definitely discovering all the magical twists and turns and divine mixture of fact and fantasy for yourself. At times, it really is a slow burner of a novel – don’t expect much action or thrills if you decide to read this but this is more a story to be savoured, to understand and enjoy the delicious characters that Natasha Pulley has created and to marvel at all the small details you could easily miss if you weren’t fully invested in the story. Believe me, I was fully invested and at times completely overwhelmed with how gorgeous both the plot and the characters were. It gets complicated at times, that’s for sure but I thoroughly enjoyed the directions the author chose to take her characters in (which were wholly unexpected at points!). I fell head over heels in love with the writing, with Thaniel, Keita and Grace and in particular, with a certain clockwork octopus called Katsu where I fully believe that I desperately need one for myself! I’m so excited to find out that this is going to be a series, the next book is called Pepperharrow and is due for release by Bloomsbury at some point in 2018. I honestly can’t wait – I need it like right now.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey

Published August 27, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart. In a moment of levity they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart – he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone – but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place, things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

What did I think?:

Oh my goodness, where do I start on this book? First of all, this is one of the most aesthetically pleasing books I’ve had the honour to own, the cover art is simply gorgeous and when I read the synopsis I was completely sold. I actually read it originally in my pre-blogging days, loved it then and gave it four stars on GoodReads and kept it in pride of place on my bookshelves. More recently, I had the opportunity to re-read it and for some reason, this time round, the story hit me like a ton of bricks and I adored it even more than I had the first time. (Definitely shows why you might want to re-read books, am I right?!). The Snow Child spoke to me on such a personal level and as I made little notes throughout the novel, I began to fully appreciate what a stunning story this actually is. It has my whole heart, makes me sad and makes me so happy at the same time and such conflicting emotions makes this novel one of my all time favourite books.

The Snow Child is based on an old Russian fairy tale about a couple that long to have a child of their own. They are unsuccessful so end up making a child out of snow that comes to life and gives them years of happiness until she disappears again and breaks their hearts. The couple in Eowyn Ivey’s tale are Jack and Mabel, who have recently moved to Alaska, a complete departure from their normal lives to live off the land in almost utter solitude with very few neighbours or distractions. Like the fairy tale, our couple have been unsuccessful in having a child and it has been very hard on their relationship. One night, they make a girl out of snow and dress her in Mabel’s scarf and then the next day, they start to see a small girl running about in the woods. She is obviously nervous, flits away and won’t communicate with them but they finally earn her trust and start a relationship with her.

Naming her Faina, the little girl is quite a enigma. She appears to be completely by herself but manages quite well, foraging for food with her pet fox before Mabel and Jack take her under their wings. Faina refuses to be housed like a normal human being however and only stays briefly with the couple before escaping to her own home out in the Alaskan wilderness. As the years pass by and Faina gets older, the relationship between her and her new adopted parents develops and strengthens and Jack and Mabel’s hearts appear to be finally healing and their purpose in life renewed. However, Faina was never born to be conventional and Jack and Mabel have to prepare themselves for the fact that they may never be able to keep their daughter just for themselves.

The magical moments, the fairy-tale aspects, the whimsical nature of Faina as a character and the intense beauty of the Alaskan landscape are all things I could go on and on about that are such a huge part about why I am in love with this novel. To be perfectly honest, I really can’t believe it’s a debut novel – Eowyn Ivey writes with such confidence and her plot is just sheer brilliance that you would believe that she’s been writing for decades. The story itself broke my heart in places then put it back together again and throughout the novel I couldn’t stop hugging myself in glee just because what I was reading was so magical and wonderful. I can’t even understand why the first time I read it I only gave it four stars, it certainly deserves more than that and was such an intense reading experience this time round for me, I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. I keep meaning to read the author’s second novel, To The Bright Edge Of The World (which is on my shelves at the moment) but to be honest, I’m a little scared just because of the outstanding quality of The Snow Child. It really needs to be done though and I’m determined to get to it by the end of the year!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Master by Angela Carter from the collection The Story: Love, Loss & The Lives of Women.

Published August 4, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Master all about?:

In Master, a hunter comes to the Amazon rainforest and purchases a female slave to accompany him on his travels and who he can abuse at will.

What did I think?:

I’m really glad that I purchased The Story: Love, Loss and The Lives Of Women for my Kindle. It’s the sort of collection where I’m finding so many fantastic female authors that I’ve either heard of and been meaning to check out or I’ve never come across them before and I’m getting the most insightful experience into their work. It is obvious that Victoria Hislop has chosen each of these authors and stories very carefully and so far, each short work has had something about it that has made me think, made me laugh and (almost!) made me cry. Obviously, Angela Carter is a huge name in women’s fiction, particularly feminist fiction. I’ve already read Nights At The Circus by her in my pre-blogging days and The Bloody Chamber and I was anticipating something whimsical, strong and special from Master which was exactly what I ending up getting.

Master is the story of one of the most despicable young men in literature I’ve had the displeasure to come across. We don’t really learn too much about his early life, apart from some stories of bullying younger students at school and references to his voracious appetite for violence. As an adult though, he discovers a real passion for hunting – not for love of sport but for the glory of the killing, you understand. (Let me just state that I don’t agree with hunting animals on any level so this story was always going to disgust me!). He decides to travel to the Amazon rainforest in search of bigger and better prey being particularly interested in the big cats, namely jaguars. While there he meets a local tribe and purchases one of their female members to be his personal slave as he continues his killing spree travelling through the forest. He treats her abominably with both physical and sexual abuse until she becomes a shadow of what she once was and has the appearance of something else entirely. Well, let me just say, it wouldn’t be an Angela Carter story if the man won at the end of the day, would it?

If you’ve never read any Angela Carter before and enjoy lyrical language, magical narrative properties and nonsensical events you’re in for a treat. This was quite an odd story but I wouldn’t expect anything less from this author. Along with its quirkiness and at times, shocking moments, comes a story filled with intense power and ferocity that kept me on tenterhooks throughout. I have to be honest and say that I don’t think Angela Carter is for everyone but if you’ve never read her before and you’re curious, I would really recommend one of her short stories so that you can get an idea of her inimitable style and flair which is certainly one of a kind. I have Angela Carter’s Book Of Fairy Tales on my shelves and this story has only served to remind me that it simply has to be a future addition to my Short Stories Challenge!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: Possum by Matthew Holness from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Blue Moon by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles.

Published August 1, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Blue Moon all about?:

Blue Moon follows our narrator who works in a very unique nursing home where its residents have magical abilities.

What did I think?:

Generally speaking, I’ve been hugely impressed with the quality of writing and the fairy-tale nature of Lucy Wood’s beautiful collection, Diving Belles. There have been a couple of stories that I’ve felt have ended too abruptly but the vast majority of them have been wonderful and means I would definitely recommend this collection for any fans of magical realism or anything other-worldly. Lucy Wood expertly weaves Cornish folklore into this collection in a way that makes each story feel like a fantasy but at the same time very real, a tough task to accomplish I’m sure but she does it with ease. Blue Moon is another fantastic example of the surreal, lyrical nature that has characterised this whole collection and the beauty of the language just washed over me and made reading this story an absolute pleasure.

When we first start reading, our narrator, who works at Blue Moon nursing home is attempting to calm down a very anxious hare in a bedroom. Within a few lines and by the narrator addressing the hare as Mrs Tivoli, we soon realise that Mrs Tivoli is a witch and a shape-shifter, normally taking human form but she has recently had a visitor and something has happened that has frightened or upset her so badly that she has transformed herself into a hare and seems to have lost control of her senses. Our narrator soon takes us back in time, explaining what has precipitated these events and it’s a magical tale of a very odd nursing home that takes in residents with magical powers. Dealing with these residents is not easy as our narrator is well aware but Mrs Tivoli has taken a particular shine to her and opens up to her about her life, her losses and her regrets which she keeps in a series of bottles. The smaller regrets are in larger bottles, her biggest regrets are in smaller sized bottles – the biggest regret of all is in a nail varnish bottle and it is this bottle that Mrs Tivoli opens one day just before her visitor arrives to show our narrator that precipitates her frantic transformation.

It’s only as I’m writing this review up now that I’m starting to appreciate how brilliant this story actually is. Imagine keeping all your regrets in your life in bottles within a drawer by your bedside. Any time you want you can open one of these bottles, view a memory and re-live those feelings you felt when a particular thing happened to you that you feel remorse for. It doesn’t bear thinking about! I adored the magical elements of this story, in particular Mrs Tivoli and her opinionated pet catfish Maria but as I mentioned, the most beautiful thing about this story is the writing which flows like water and is so descriptive. It’s like the author thought long and hard about each word she chose before writing it and her consideration over what she chose is obvious as each word is perfect. Lucy Wood does have a habit of ending each story quite abruptly, leaving the reader feeling like there is unfinished business but I have to be honest. In this story, it really worked. I would have loved to know what happened next to Mrs Tivoli and her mysterious visitor but, in the end, it just makes it more poignant that we don’t know and have to guess for ourselves.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Master by Angela Carter from the collection The Story: Love, Loss & The Lives of Women.