|Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Despite the controversy surrounding this book, the thing that struck me most about it was how beautifully and inventively written it is – certainly enough to make me feel guilty about calling myself a writer, and more disturbingly, enough to calm the sense of moral outrage stirred up by some of the early chapters. Before long, we are swept along on a strange journey in the company of pubescent-girl-fancier Humbert Humbert, a man we would be unlikely to have the chance to get to know in real life, and probably wouldn’t want to. But in the safe realm of fiction, we become desensitised to his unique way of seeing the world, worn down by his poetic vocabulary and biting sense of humour. Like a lot of morally ambiguous books, it’s hard to boil it down to any sort of message other than: “people are people, and people are complicated”. But that’s a lesson worth learning more than a few times.
|More Than This by Patrick Ness
There’s a lot about More Than This that I can’t say, but this is how it starts: a boy drowns, then wakes up in a strange, deserted version of a place he used to know. If you’ve read survival-based YA books before you’ll have some idea of what to expect — cobbling together resources in a world of darkness and despair, a simple stream-of-consciousness style — but there is also an enticing sense of mystery to keep you turning the pages. For the first third or so I was desperate to know what was going on, but when it began to become clearer I struggled to find it convincing, and without the core of intrigue to hold it together, my appreciation for the book kind of disintegrated. There are things about it that are commendable (again, I can’t elaborate without spoiling things), but ultimately the style, the logic of the world and the vagueness of the central themes were too off-putting for me.
|Saga, volumes 1-4 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
My friend Euan practically shoved Saga into my hands, and I’m glad he did. It’s a big, sprawling, colourful, funny sci-fi epic about two people from opposing sides of a war that has been “outsourced” to numerous planets and moons, who fall in love, have a baby and go on the run. Naturally the authorities from both sides see their love as the most dangerous thing in the entire battle-torn, explosion-riddled universe, and enlist some shady characters to hunt them down. So begins an ongoing rollercoaster filled with complicated, flawed characters, intelligent philosophical musings, and absolutely stunning artwork. In my quest for a theme I eventually settled on lost innocence: the newborn baby whose future self provides slightly jaded narration, the alien species that resemble Earth animals — these lend both humour and an odd pinch of melancholy to many scenes. Prudes’ note: these comics contain a fair bit of gruesome death and some moderately graphic sex, so if you’re squeamish you might run into a few scenes that cause you to … er, squeam, I guess.
|The Mirror World of Melody Black by Gavin Extence
A book whose title made me think it was going to involve some manner of journey into a dark and unsettling parallel world — and it does, though in a psychological rather than fantastical way. The main character’s discovery of the body of her neighbour causes her to question the way modern humans live, beginning with a futile, all-too-familiar, insomnia-inspired online search for a cure to alienation. Before long she is disregarding the rules of polite society left, right and centre, and spiralling into depression. I can see some readers being put off by the subtle and oddly episodic nature of the story, but for me this is one of those cases where the narrator IS the book, and the narrator is memorable, complicated and just pretty great. Recommended at the very least for perpetually anxious, intermittently depressed misfits like me.
|Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy
It’s been a while since I read a book aimed squarely at children, and I picked this up for a bit of light fantasy escapism (and because I was worried that my current novel featuring a walking skeleton might be ripping it off — seriously). It has definite shades of Neverwhere and of Harry Potter: magical things are going on behind the scenes of our world! Evil sorcerers are plotting to obtain ancient artifacts! But there are also some neat original ideas, two memorable central characters and more wit and style than most books aimed at the older YA market. My only worry is that even this first volume of the series burns through a hell of a lot of plot — sometimes too fast for us to feel its full impact, sometimes with an excessive focus on fight scenes. I’m interested to dip into the sequels and see if they develop in a way that appeals to me — I can see that going either way, to be honest.
|To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
It’s strange picking up a book that’s such a classic you feel as if you already pretty much know the story — then you realise as you go along that you actually don’t know it at all, that behind the familiar names and oft-quoted passages, there’s a lot more to it than you’d always assumed. To Kill a Mockingbird is about race, of course, but it’s also about childhood, family relationships, fear, hypocrisy, demonisation and, perhaps most surprising to me, gender. Maybe everyone else knew this already, but Scout Finch is a fantastic example of a character who doesn’t fit where society expects her to, perhaps because her father has done his best to shield her from the corrupting influence of people’s stupid expectations, and … oh no. I think I’m reverting to my university self. I can’t help it, this book is just so crammed with insight. Not to mention it’s still absurdly, crushingly, shamefully relevant to the modern world. I know my endorsement means nothing at this point, but regardless: read read read.
And read loads more of my rambly book paragraphs over on the Books I’ve Read page!