book review: Lanny by Max Porter

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LANNY by Max Porter
★★★☆☆
Graywolf Press, 2019

 

This pretty much did nothing for me, but I am inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt as I recognize that I’m in the minority here.  I think I may not quite ‘get’ Max Porter, because I felt similarly about Grief is the Thing with Feathers: I appreciated it from a technical standpoint, but I found it utterly devoid of emotionality, which seems a silly thing to say about a pair of books that are about such heavy topics, and which have touched so many other readers, but I just find his writing technically brilliant and at the same time, curiously unaffecting.

What I admired: Again – Porter’s writing is lyrical and assured.  I think his descriptive imagery is gorgeous and evocative, and his portrait of small town England was beautifully rendered.  And the part of Lanny that did really work for me was the second section, where Lanny goes missing and his search is narrated by a chorus of characters in the town – it’s frantic, tense, and kept me turning pages in a way that I didn’t get from the first or third sections.

What I didn’t: Dead Papa Toothwort dragged this down for me, as I knew he would.  I’ve said it so many times I know you all must be getting tired of it, but I don’t like magical realism; I just find that it obfuscates more often than it augments a text.  I ultimately just didn’t see the point of this book.  I think Porter ruminates on a lot of interesting themes while never really driving any of them home – instead opting for this sort of half-baked mythical angle.

There was a point toward the end where I thought this book was going to ultimately go in a much more sinister direction, which I would have found more thought-provoking and hard-hitting, but the cloyingly sentimental resolution unfortunately made this a rather forgettable read for me.  I didn’t hate it, and there were times I was gripped by it, but this was just not my kind of book. A solid 2.5.


You can pick up a copy of Lanny here on Book Depository.

book review: Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson

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FRANKISSSTEIN by Jeanette Winterson
★★★★☆
Grove Press, October 1, 2019

 

Frankissstein is a bold, bawdy, and tremendously clever creation; the first of its two storylines follows Mary Shelley as she writes Frankenstein, and the second follows a host of characters in the present-day, chronicling the love story between Ry, a transgender doctor, and Victor Stein, a scientist with a passion for artificial intelligence.  The thematic interplay between these two narratives is genius, and Winterson brilliantly highlights the timelessness of the classic she’s riffing off, as themes of death, gender, and bodily limitations underscore both narratives.

But for me, the storyline in the past was the much more unique and engaging one.  These chapters were just begging to be developed into a full-blown novel fictionalizing Mary Shelley, and frankly, if that’s all Frankissstein was, I’m sure I’d give it 5 stars with no reservations.  Though these chapters were largely figments of Winterson’s imagination, the parallels she draws between Mary Shelley’s personal life (what we know of it, anyway) and the content of Frankenstein were incredibly stimulating.

“I have love, but I cannot find love’s meaning in this world of death.  Would there were no babies, no bodies; only minds to contemplate beauty and truth.  If we were not bound to our bodies we should not suffer so.  Shelley says that he wishes he could imprint his soul on a rock, or a cloud, or some non-human form, and when we were young I felt despair that his body would disappear, even though he remained.  But now all I see is the fragility of bodies; these caravans of tissue and bone.

At Peterloo, if every man could have sent his mind and left his body at home, there could have been no massacre.  We cannot hurt what is not there.”

The issues I had with the present-day chapters were twofold: first, I found some of the philosophizing on artificial intelligence to be overwrought, and second, the humor was a series of constant misses for me.  Winterson often employs humor in this novel to drive home the absurdity behind certain characters’ misogyny, but she would make her point and then continue to bash you over the head with jokes about sex-bots; it got very old for me.

In spite of this, the parallels between the two storylines were brilliantly rendered, and the overall impression I’m left with of this book is that I am very impressed, and I think this would have made a truly interesting addition to the Booker shortlist.

Thank you to Netgalley and Grove Press for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.


You can pick up a copy of Frankissstein here on Book Depository.

Booker 2019 Longlist Reaction

It’s here, pals – the Man Booker 2019 longlist has been announced!

The full list from the Booker website, with links to Book Depository:

So, let’s go through this:

Already read: My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite and Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli.

The two Women’s Prize titles.  I’ll start with the one whose inclusion befuddles me the least: I predicted that Lost Children Archive would make the cut and it comes as zero surprise.  I had a mixed experience with it (review here), but I do think it’s a very accomplished book and I completely understand the love that others have for it.  My Sister, The Serial Killer… is actually the book that I liked more, of these two, but looking at some notable snubs (Ocean Vuong! Jan Carson! Colson Whitehead!) I can’t say that I understand why it made this list, other than that it appears to be the literary prize darling of the moment.  Make no mistake, I think it’s a good book.  But, good enough for the Booker, and better than On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous?!  Hm.

Will definitely not read: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann.

I’m one of those heathens who actually hated The Handmaid’s Tale, and I also hate sequels/prequels/spin-offs of things that were originally imagined as standalones (I loved The Hunger Games in college but I have no interest in the new book; I still haven’t read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, etc), so nothing about The Testaments appeals to me.  I’ll admit that I’m curious about Ducks, Newburyport, but not curious enough to read 1000 pages of like, four sentences or whatever it is, especially over a number of other books I’ve been wanting to read recently.  Of these two I’m more likely to read Ducks, Newburyport eventually, but certainly not by October.

Will definitely read: Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry, Lanny by Max Porter, Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson.

Night Boat to Tangier sounds so up my alley it’s not even funny (it’s the only Irish book on this list, and I’ve heard it compared to In Bruges, which is my favorite film – say no more), UK booktube has been raving about Lanny for months and I’m not convinced that I’ll love it but I’m curious enough to give it a try, and I’ve been wanting to read Jeanette Winterson for ages, and I love Frankenstein so this seems like a good place to start.

And… the rest.

Of these I think I’m most likely to read The Man Who Saw Everything.  I’m kind of curious about Girl, Woman, Other, but it’s a bit long so I’ll wait to hear some more assessments of it before making my decision.  Apparently An Orchestra of Minorities has something to do with the Odyssey, so I should probably be excited about it, but I’ve heard a few too many lukewarm things.  But, maybe.  Sci-fi/dystopia isn’t my thing, so The Wall isn’t at the top of my list, but who knows.  I didn’t even know there was a new Salman Rushdie, which makes me feel like I’ve been living on another planet, but at a glance I can’t say I’m terribly interested by it.  I think the Elif Shafak sounds kind of terrible (I’m really, really not into ‘in the moments before they die’ stories), but I could probably be convinced to read it if I read enough rave reviews.

So, overall?

Needless to say, I will not be reading this entire longlist, which I’m actually really happy about.  I’ve already publicly pledged my allegiance to Women in Translation Month, and I’m really looking forward to my TBR.  I was so nervous that I was going to see a list of 13 titles that sounded super enticing to me, so I’m selfishly pleased that that’s not the case.  (Also, apologies if you follow me specifically for my Booker coverage – but for my own sanity, I can’t do this every year.)

But once I take a step back from my selfish happiness over not loving this list, I must confess to being disappointed.  This is certainly a list of literary heavy hitters, which makes a radical departure from the 2018 list which was filled with debuts and genre fiction, but honestly, I found myself much more inspired and intrigued by the freshness of last year’s list.  This list is… about what I was expecting.  There’s nothing egregiously awful about it at a glance, but there’s nothing that really excites me, either.

Also, moment of silence for The Fire Starters, hands down the best piece of fiction I’ve read so far in 2019.  I guess the Booker couldn’t do Troubles Lit two years in a row?

What are your thoughts on the Booker longlist?  Which titles are you most and least excited to see her?  What are you planning on reading?  What do you think was snubbed?  Let’s talk in the comments!