review

Vox by Christina Dalcher

The world seems ripe with dystopian fiction right now, and for good reason too. Daily news stories that once could have only been the work of fiction are appearing more frequently. Women’s rights in some parts of the world seem to be taking a step back, while minorities across the world continue to fight for equality.

So just as season three of The Handmaid’s Tale kicks into life, Dalcher’s reality in Vox doesn’t seem too far away. Here, women are limited to 100 words a day, if they go over they’ll receive an electric shock. Keep talking and the shocks increase in volume. Forget about children, women are to be seen and not heard.

It’s a simple enough concept: families are dysfunctional, the working woman wants more opportunities and she’s taken her equality for granted. The solution? Stop women from working, send them back home and limit their conversations. Sign language is, of course, forbidden. And girls must also follow the 100-words-a-day limit – it’s best to teach them young after all.

But when Dr Jean Mackenzie gets the opportunity to continue her work as a neurolinguist she’s aware this isn’t a straight forward job from the president. No, something else is going on behind the scenes. The government wants to use her and her team’s knowledge to create a formula that reduces women’s speech into linguistic gobbledegook. Then throw in an old affair that comes back to life, a law-abiding brown-nosing son and life suddenly seems far more complicated.

Vox is a fictional story, but its ability to stand just on the cusp of reality gives it real power. It doesn’t take much for our rights to be taken from us, it takes even less for the new rules to become the norm. It can be a slow introduction for a world to turn upside down. Which makes fighting for the tiny changes now imperative to protect our future.

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Blog tour · book review · books · reading · review

The Glovemaker by Ann Weisgarber | Blog tour

I don’t often read historical fiction, I’m even less likely to read American historical fictions – it’s just something I don’t know very much about. However, it’s always liberating to read a book I wouldn’t normally pick up and find out that I enjoy a new category of fiction. So when The Glovemaker came my way, I was intrigued.

Low in the canyon, a tiny town called Junction is home to a collection of families. It should be a place of relative safety. But this place attracts those hiding from the state’s Marshal and his deputies, those people who practise polygamy – and when the those people arrive Junction is no longer safe.

We follow the arrival of one such man in the late hours of a January evening. The snow is deep in Utah and it’s unusual for a Saint – as the Mormons call themselves –  to arrive at this time of year asking for refuge. This is where we follow Sister Deborah and her neighbour Brother Nel as they attempt to pass the Saint to a safe place. However, it’s not long until the Marshal turns up…

It took me a few chapters to get into the rhythm of Weisgarber’s writing, but her style soon gripped me into following the life of this tiny town. I was pulled into the description of canyon country; of the deep snow and harsh land. Weisgarber’s strong characters are driven by resilience and determination – but they must answer their own moral questions along the way.

There’s a clear depiction of the hardship women face; Sister Deborah’s character is as obedient as you’d expect to find in 1888. And it makes you realise how far women (and feminists) have come from the days of doing what you’re told. It’s clear Deborah doesn’t want the risk of a man on the run hidden in her shed, but because her husband is away from home for work (does that sound familiar?) she’s unable to say no. She has no spokesperson and she’s unable to give her opinion – something I think Weisgarber portrays well. 

The majority of the novel takes place in a 48-hour time period and the urgency of the events makes for a pressing read. It took me a week to make my way through the 290 pages (and it would have been quicker if a hardback book was more commuter-friendly). The novel switches between narrators – Sister Deborah and Brother Nel take turns telling their own version of events alongside their internal struggles of self, religion, and righteousness.

In Weisgarber’s author notes I got a snippet of the research that went into The Glovemaker – Junction was real, as was the passage to Floral Range where the on-the-run Saints looked for safety. The end result is a work of fiction that cleverly intertwines history to make this story not only believable but feel real too.

This review is part of The Glovemaker‘s blog tour. The Glovemaker by Ann Weisgarber was published on the 22 February 2019 by Mantle an imprint of Pan Macmillian. To see more thoughts from bloggers, take a look below: 

book review · literature · review · war

The tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris

It’s hard to read a holocaust story and somehow enjoy it. Enjoy is never the right word, but a book can certainly be a good read no matter how hard or harrowing the subject may be. It’s even harder to read a holocaust story knowing it is based on real events, the true story of Lale Sokolov – the tattooist of Auschwitz.

Lale enters Auschwitz in 1942 having volunteered to report to the Slovakian government as a Jew. He quickly realised that to survive is everything, and although survival comes with its own risks, it’s the overwhelming theme of the book and comes with its own consequences. When Lale meets Gita, his desire to live is strengthened – it’s one thing to live for yourself, it’s all together harder to live for someone else.

We follow Lale through his journey, from his arrival at the camp to his quick promotion as Auschwitz’s tattooist. He retells the conversations he has with his SS supervisor, the friendship he forms with the day workers on camp – throughout he continues to show his kindness, his desire to be more than a prisoner. We also view his first meeting with Gita, when he tattoos her number onto her bare forearm. The power she holds over him is instant.

When the worse crimes are happening around you, do your own morals get tarnished by the system?

At times, Lale appears cunning, using his unique position of power to aid those around him. Bread is the currency of Auschwitz, and Lale shares his extra rations with those most in need. He uses his connections around camp to exchange jewels and money for rations. Keeping and storing diamonds for his own protection.

There’s no denying the sights he sees are harrowing; the bodies of the dead, the tortured, those who have lost all hope. One morning Lale enters a gas chamber, not to be gassed, but to examine two prisoners with the same tattoo. His SS officer jokes he’s the only jew to walk in, and then out of a gas chamber. It’s a chilling thought.

As powerful as Lale’s story is, it’s hard to read this book without thinking of the millions of untold stories. The people who did survive. The prisoners who did not. There’s no one to pass on their horrors, they simply remain a number, a statistic.

autobiography · books · non-fiction · review

Becoming – Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama’s autobiography was at the top of my list for books to read in 2019; and as my first book of the year, it certainly didn’t disappoint. I rarely step away from the fiction sphere, but I do enjoy the familiar timeline an autobiography follows.

Elegantly written and at times raw and honest, Becoming showcases Michelle Obama’s remarkable life. From her upbringing in Chicago’s South Side to life in the White House, Michelle’s perseverance rings throughout. She stays true to both her ideals and values, never allowing the political surroundings to overcome herself.

Her life is extraordinary, there’s no denying that. But in the extraordinary lies the ordinary. The struggles of a working mother made harder by a husband away from home. The hardship of juggling what is expected from your career as opposed to feeling fulfilled with your work.

There are moments when being the First Lady seems too far removed from private life. During the first year of Barak Obama’s presidency, they go out for an evening in New York to see a show. A simple trip that should be easy to achieve. The secret service, of course, must sweep the restaurant and theatre before they can enter. Anyone who enters after them must also be security checked. The theatre show starts an agreed 45 minutes late to accommodate the extra security checks every visitor must go through. It’s a lot of extra resources for a simple night out.

Michelle doesn’t shy away from her political opinions either. She takes us through the transition phase of the Obama and Trump presidencies and her own realisation that she does not need to be openly welcoming or approving of Trump. And she isn’t. He was the one who spread lies that Barak was born in Kenya. Trump has openly declared a lot of Obama’s laws and legislations as stupid, repelling or replacing them with his own agenda.

Becoming explores Michelle Obama’s life, her personal gains and struggles. It shows the continuous oppression of an African-American in America, even one at the very top. As a women who didn’t aim for the spotlight, Michelle Obama has something to teach everyone.

Thoughts

2018 in review

Just like that another year seems to have come and gone. I’ve totted up the amount of books I’ve read: 32, the number of shows I’ve seen: 9 and the exhibitions I’ve visited: 3.

On a personal note, I started a new job, organised my office’s book club and began writing for a living (hooray!). I’ve also redesigned this blog and planned far more content than I managed to write; that’s something to work on for 2019. So without further ado, here are some of my favourite experiences of 2018:

  • Meeting Markus Zusak, he was welcoming and inspirational, funny and honest. There will be a blog on both The Bridge of Clay and The Book Thief soon, I promise.
  • Rethinking my routine and the way I spend my time having read Morning by Allan Jenkins.
  • Seeing Pity, an explosion on what theatre can be – I’m planning on seeing much more experimental theatre in 2019.
  • Visiting the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy, I’d love to make this an annual trip.

So what will 2019 have in store? Hopefully more book and theatre reviews and where possible meeting authors and attending book events.

Author · books · literature · review · signing

An afternoon with Markus Zusak

The Book Thief has remained my favourite book for the last decade since then I’ve lost count of how many books I’ve read, but nothing has been able to kick The Book Thief off its top spot.

 But there’s a new possibility on the horizon. For the first time in 10 years, Markus Zusak has a new book. And not only has he got a new book, but he’s currently on a book tour to promote it.

 When I was in Australia last year, I was gutted to discover I’d missed a talk by Markus in Sydney by one week. Then when his book tour was announced, his London talk was sold out before I could buy a ticket. Luckily my aunt’s bookshop was able to entice him north, so I took a long weekend visit to The Lake District with the added bonus of a Markus Zusak talk and signing.

 I promise I wasn’t trying to stalk him.

 Friendly and charming, Markus Zusak is undeniably a storyteller. He recounted a story he later informed us he’d told close to a 1000 times. It was about his family, his brothers and a raw egg. But it wasn’t just his storytelling, it was his ability to deconstruct a story, adding and taking away literary techniques as the tale demanded. He stopped at different points, he told us what was coming up, and yet the tale always took a slightly unexpected turn.

 His question and answer session, proved furthermore his talents; the details of The Book Thief that tie everything together, his trial of finding the right voice for a story and of course, his honesty about getting things wrong and trying again. He kindly discussed literary and writing techniques, the requirement of a good notebook and the desire to work hard.

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The New Bookshop in Cockermouth was the perfect host for this event, with plenty of opportunities to ask questions or simply have a chat with Markus.

Written in his unmistakable quirky style, Bridge of Clay is a tale of love, family, survival and a bridge.

 Review of Bridge of Clay coming soon.

exhibitions · London · review

Designs of the year 2018 | The Design Museum

The Design Museum’s Designs of the Year exhibition is one I’ve been looking forward to all year. Having missed the 2017 event, I was keen to head down to Kensington as soon as I knew the doors were open.

It’s very easy in this day and age to forget how design is everywhere. Every item we use has been researched, discussed, built, tested and then evolved to reach a product that works seamlessly. There’s a lot of thought in there.

The exhibition was designed into different sections, from medical technology including an operation table that fits into a backpack to fashion and Burberry’s incorporation of the rainbow in their iconic print. Rihanna’s make up line showcasing her broad foundation range, and a smart furniture system to make the most of living in a small space also made an appearance.

With 87 different innovative projects to see, this is an exhibition to check out.

Beazley Designs of the Year 2018 is on at The Design Museum until 6 January 2019.