A bit of old-fashioned science fiction, some writing advice and an 18th century story – what do they have in common? Nothing really, other than the fact that I’ve read them because I wanted a break from the fairy tales and if I don’t put them all into one post instead of three, I may never catch up on my reviews.
It’s no surprise I never heard of this book as I’m not a science fiction fan, but when it came up at my book club I thought it would be fun to read. Plus, the words “post-apocalyptic” have always held a sort of magic spell over me. It turns out my instinct was right. It was a fun and enjoyable book to read, which may be an odd choice of words considering I was reading a story in which the world was turned upside down in one night due to a meteorite shower and the people who watched it lost their eyesight as a result. It’s similar to the movie Blindness based on the novel by José Saramago, but with triffids – plants who have invaded the world and whose deadly stings can kill instantly.
The story is told from the point of view of William Masen, a Londoner, who wakes up after an eye surgery to find out the world he knew was no more. As one of the few people who still retained his eyesight, he set out to find out what caused this, and forms a partnership with Josella, a girl who was saved from blindness by a most terrible hangover which had her spend the previous night sleeping and thus oblivious to the meteorite shower. Together they navigate the perilous paths into this new world, complete with frequent visits to various pubs for a drink or two, being captured by blind people and used as guides, and having to survive the ever-adapting triffids.
The book has a very British feel to it which I enjoyed, like this paragraph which describes William waking up in the hospital the day the world went blind:
“No one, it seemed, was interested in bells. I began to get as much sore as worried. It’s humiliating to be dependent, anyway, but it’s a still poorer pass to have no one to depend on. My patience was whittling down. Something, I decided, had got to be done about it.”
Another paragraph is an echo of the world we live in today, which is most interesting, considering the book was written in 1951:
“The world we lived in was wide, and most of it was open to us with little trouble. Roads, railways, and shipping lines laced it, ready to carry one thousands of miles safely and in comfort. If we wanted to travel more swiftly still, and could afford it, we traveled by airplane. There was no need for anyone to take weapons or even precautions in those days. You could go just as you were to wherever you wished, with nothing to hinder you – other than a lot of forms and regulations. A world so tamed sounds utopian now. Nevertheless, it was so over five sixths of the globe – though the remaining sixth was something different again.”
The story gives ample details about the origins of the triffids, William’s life, as well as various philosophical musings like this one:
“The human spirit continued much as before – 95 per cent of it wanting to live in peace, and the other 5 per cent considering its chances if it should risk starting anything. It was chiefly because no one’s chances looked too good that the lull continued.”
While this is a gloomy story, there’s a pervasive feeling of hope, as the two protagonists build a life together in the new world. It has an “everything happens for a reason” feel, and a good ending.
My Rating: 3/5 stars
It’s the second time I’ve read this book and found it just as good as the first time. Some parts I remembered, especially the ones about King’s childhood and his accident in 1999. Others I was happy to discover yet again.
The book is divided into sections – the first,C.V., covers details about King’s life and how daily things influenced his writing. There’s also a section with advice for new writers, starting with the tools you need in order to write, discussing whether writing classes are really necessary, how to find an agent, and fragments of edited work with explanations. At the back there’s a list of recommended books and I was happy to see a few of my favorites among them: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, Drood by Dan Simmons, The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters and A Widow for One Year by John Irving. That list made me curious about writers I haven’t read yet: Pat Barker, Don DeLillo, Roberto Bolaño and Donna Tartt.
This is a book based on years of experience – you can see it in the tone, helpful, honest and to the point. It feels like a conversation with a friend, but I may be biased in my judgment, as I see most of his books that way. There were so many good passages – some have been used as quotes for years since this book was first published in 2000. And because there were so many and I wanted to be able to find them easily, I did what I rarely if ever, do with a book – underline favorite sentences of even whole paragraphs. Here are some of my favorites:
“If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.”
“Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough.”
“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”
“…while to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine.”
My rating: 5/5 stars
Slammerkin, noun, eighteenth century, of unknown origin. 1. A loose gown. 2. A loose woman.
Slammerkin is the fourth novel by Emma Donoghue. I have heard of her famous “Room” but after reading from it at the bookstore, I decided that an 18th century tale would be a better choice for me.
Mary Saunders is a poor girl living with her family in London in 1752. She is five years old. That year her father dies in prison and eleven years later Mary is there as well, although the reason is not revealed until the end.
May is ambitious and determined that one day she will walk around the city wearing the finest clothes. It is her desire for fine fabrics and bright colors that would lead her to a life of prostitution and ultimately to leave the city as her life is in danger. There’s a pivotal point in the novel where Mary decides she’d had enough of life on the streets and decides to go back to her mother’s village and find her mother’s childhood friend, Mrs. Jones, and ask for her help.
This is a time that Mary enjoys for the most part as she becomes one of the family. The Joneses are nice people and they treat her well. Mrs Jones takes her on as a helper in her dressmaking business and once again Mary’s hunger for beautiful fine clothes is beginning to threaten the new life she has fought so hard for.
This historical inspired novel shows a rough side of London. There is little hope for the poor, and school is not deemed particularly useful, especially for girls. There’s never enough food, it’s cold, and the gap between the wealthy and the poor is as wide as ever.
The book is peppered with short clothes-related rhymes like these which give the story an almost playful tone:
Ribbon brown, ribbon rose
Count your friends and your foes
Ribbon green, ribbon red
The tale’s not told till you’re dead
Mary is not a particularly likeable character. I did sympathize with her at first – growing up with a stepfather and an overwrought mother who’s only too happy to get rid of her when the girl makes a mistake, but after deciding to change her life, Mary takes one bad step after another. The ending is shocking to say the least. I had hoped for some crumb of happiness for the poor girl but it was not to be. Her fault lay in wanting too much and too fast and she is punished for it. But perhaps I’m expecting too much from a sixteen-year-old heroine. It was a fun book to read but the only thing I’ll probably remember from it is the image of a young prostitute in a beautiful dress with a red ribbon in her hair.
My rating: 3/5 stars
Read in April-May, 2014