Our writers bring you some fresh and alternative ideas for rainy day reading….
1The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
The latest book by Booker-nominaed author David Mitchell, who is known for mixing multiple genres and time periods in his novels. His new book is split into six sections, told by five narrators.
The central plot explores one woman’s ties into a centuries- old supernatural struggle between immortal beings. This outwardly strange concept is held together by an intriguing collection of very human characters, above all the main character Holly Sykes; she is a great example of a decent person doing her best no matter what life throws at her.
Complex narrative clues are peppered throughout, and are eventually (for the most part) solved much later on: a mysterious meeting, a maze, a phrase or riddle. Whilst reading, you get the feeling that a crucial piece is just about to drop into place. For those who’ve read Mitchell’s other books, certain discoveries are particularly satisfying, as they go some way to explaining the many perplexing connections.
However, not everything in this book is tied quite so neatly together. The Bone Clocks leans towards the fantasy/sci-fi genre, with fantastical occurrences intruding into the everyday on a few fateful occasions, which change the lives of Holly and the others completely. Mitchell goes all out on sci-fi lingo, while treating this supernatural conflict with the same matter-of-factness as he does descriptions of literary festivals, the Iraq war, or a skiing trip in the Alps, which creates a curious sense of dissonance within the fictional world.
Nevertheless, it’s powerful storytelling. Perhaps the greatest achievement is the book’s timescale: both contained and colossal, it stretches from the past to the future over the course of just one lifetime, and shows a world undergoing massive and terrifyingly plausible changes. Each section is very much its own story, but together they comprise an engrossing and extremely thought-provoking novel.
2Men Explain Thing to Me and Other Essays by Rebecca Solnit
A collection of essays discussing crime against women, including rape, domestic violence and workplace sexual harassment, it will leave you speechless; this is both because of the shocking statistics and the literary genius with which the message is delivered.
Solnit’s voice is fearless and provocative; it challenges the reader to think critically about the world. The overriding message in her collection of essays is that the world is still unequal, that the feminist movement has a long way to go and that justice and kindness are not gendered, but that sex-crime is.
My two favourite essays are titled: Men Explain Things to Me and Worlds Collide in a Luxury Suite. In the former she writes about a concept she has been credited with creating – ‘mansplaining’. She argues that men explain things to women whether or not they know what they are talking about, and that this “trains us in self-doubt and selflimitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.” This essay forced me to reflect on authoritative male figures in my life and allowed me to re-examine where that authority comes from.
The latter essay has one of the best –written introductions I have ever come across. It might even be the most beautifully crafted piece of non-fiction writing I have ever read. It’s about the alleged assault of the head of the IMF on a hotel maid who was an immigrant from Africa in a New York City hotel room:
“How can I tell a story we already know too well? Her name was Africa. His name was France. He colonized her, exploited her, silenced her […] Her name was Asia. His was Europe. Her name was silence. His was power. Her name was poverty. His was Wealth.”
After reading this book I read three more by Solnit; she has quickly become one of my favourite authors. I can not recommend this book enough. It will change the way you see human interaction, and I think everyone should read it.
3 First Among Equals by Jeffrey Archer
This novel follows the political ascent of four MPs from birth, as they battle it out for the highest throne: Prime-minister.
Now for the selling line: it’s not a good novel… however, trust me, it is the best crap one, with all the Machiavellian power play of House of Cards, scope and unpredictability of Dickens – complete with the vocabulary of a 10-year-old.
Four protagonists allow for four personal tragedies, four windfalls, four crises – you just couldn’t get more needless drama in there if you tried. What you sadly can’t take from House of Cards is the glamour. If you’re looking for the sexiness of politics, look elsewhere. True to the setting of the 60s and 70s, most politicians were male, pale and stale, but beneath the grey exterior lie four Machiavellian disciples of the first rank.
Archer is a Dickensian writer if there ever was one; every chapter ends on a cliff-hanger; fortune favours the morally-upright, brave and determined; one MP has a mysterious benefactor that makes Great Expectations’ Abel Magwitch seem a miserly scrooge; and success is down to your merit if you push for it. That last bit is a message I need come January, when I start making ever more excuses for coming up short on my New Year’s resolutions.
“…all the Machiavellian power play of House of Cards, scope and unpredictability of Dickens and vocabulary of a 10-year-old”
Nonetheless, Archer always forces the slow pendulum of personal progress and achievement back into movement. “I want to be the Prime minister!” I announced with the wideeyed smile of ten year-old ignorance and youthful ambition 0 thanks to this novel. (I’m not making it sound like a self-help book, am I?)
Undoubtedly, this book is twaddle – but it is one that filled me with drive and ambition. As you lose sight of your New-Year’s resolutions and the cold makes you hide away under your duvet, my top-tip for boosting your spirits is to save some space in that foetal-positioned-despair for this little treasure.
4 Bitch Planet #1 by Deconnick and De Landro
Since Kelly Sue DeConnick announced her newest venture into the feminist comic medium, people envisaged a sharp-witted, brutal and all-out fantastic book. They weren’t wrong. DeConnick and artist Valentine De Landro offer a “what if” look at a world where women who are “noncompliant” in a 70’s style, exploitative world, are shipped off to a ‘Bitch Planet.’
Luckily for the reader, it’s all satirical. DeConnick described the pitching point for this series as being “born of a deep and abiding love for exploitation and women in prison movies of the 1960s and 1970s”. Where “it’s so deeply awful and delicious, like those candies that are bad for you.”
DeConnick’s tone throughout the entire book echoes this description, and it is with the help of De Landro that it comes to light. Mr. Collins’ goal is to return someone from said ‘Bitch Planet’ – however it is not certain, until he reveals that he has had an affair, as to who it is.
The intensity of the patriarchy is only revealed in the last few pages, with Mr Collins’ getting his mistress back and not his wife. Bitch Planet #1 is truly one of the most bizarre and intelligently approached comics I’ve ever read. Even without all of the dialogue that DeConnick wrote for this book, De Landro’s art carries the satirical brevity of how oppressed women are in this society. Bitch Planet #1 is the slap that modern society needs.
What are your top picks for winter respite reading? Comment below or write to us on our Facebook and Twitter pages!bookmark me