Set in the not too distant future, The Wall takes place in a dystopian version of the UK where the populace is conscripted into service on the The National Coastal Defence Structure, colloquially known as ‘The Wall’. It takes current-day issues—climate change, immigration/asylum, nationalism—and presents them to us through a protagonist whose world is just different enough from ours that you can understand how he grew up to accept the defects of his world without question. In this, Lanchester works the magic of speculative fiction, giving us the cautionary tale, allowing us to glimpse a slightly skewed reflection of our world, showing us that this could well be the bottom of the slippery slope we are descending. It’s an entirely readable and enjoyable addition the the dystopian genre, but it lacks the subtlety and complexity that comes with the best of speculative fiction and the characters could have been more fully realised. The protagonist was developed enough to create a sense of empathy, but while the supporting characters were identifiable as individuals, for the most part, I had no sense of what propelled them and that made them seem somewhat lightly sketched.
I listened to this as an audiobook and was impressed by Will Poulter’s narration. It’s the first book I’ve heard him read and I wouldn’t hesitate to listen to another.
All in all not a bad addition to my audible library and I’d recommend it if you’re looking for an entertaining dystopian listen, just best not to go into it expecting ground-breaking new ideas or predictions for our future.
Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami
In hindsight this seems like a meandering tale that beautifully takes its own time, but while reading it, I was pulled along and I couldn’t put it down; I finished it in one sitting. It draws you in and, in the way of the best books, makes you understand something you find counter-intuitive. All the characters seem real, have little idiosyncrasies that make them come alive, and Kawakami manages this with ease where so many other authors strive for it, but their characters come across as contrived, like caricatures.
I’d recommend this if you’re a fan of Japanese literature, but equally I think it would make the perfect introduction; it has some of the oddness you often find in Japanese stories, but it’s done with a light touch so the reader never flounders or feels as though they are missing anything for lack of cultural knowledge.
A solid 5/5 for me and I am looking forward to reading the other works of Hiromi Kawakami.
Reading and writing have always been large parts of my life so it seemed to make sense to give them a home of their own on this site. I’ll be sharing my book reviews and snippets of my own creative writing …when I feel brave enough 😉
The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this book. As with all of Kay’s writing, every sentence is a joy to read, somehow seems effortless and light, but, yet, because of the precision and eloquence, you can’t help but acknowledge it must’ve been created with great care. I think I first read this about 20 years ago and every time, I am impressed by how he’s managed to weave nuanced themes such as the struggle between self and cultural/religious identity into such a compelling narrative. It’s the kind of book you could give to anyone and they’d be able to enjoy it simply for an entertaining and moving tale, but also, if they were so inclined, for the quality and beauty of the writing and all that lays beneath.
Though it is something of alternate historical fiction with a touch of fantasy, it really is a book I have and continue to recommend to people who generally don’t read within these genres.
Interestingly, when I went to post this review this on Amazon.co.uk, I came across a very old review of mine. I’ll include it here so you can see, another decade on, my opinion still hasn’t changed:
8 July 2009
‘A great story, powerful, beautiful, and written with eloquence. I read it for the first time about ten years ago and it immediately became my favourite book. The story and characters stuck with me; I found myself thinking about modern situations and history in changed ways. I just finished a re-read – it stills resonates. I recommend it and Guy Gavriel Kay’s other works whole-heartedly.’
Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Meyer
It’s such a treat to find a beautifully written and crafted fantasy book. I loved reading fantasy when I was growing up, but have found, as the years have gone by, that it’s become very difficult to find a book in the genre that appeals to the adult me. I tried this one after hearing about it on Twitter and I’m so glad I did – it’s entirely compelling and is written with subtlety and sophistication. So many fantasy books seem to be treated by their authors as a vehicle for conveying their world, this couldn’t be farther from the case here – this is a Story in its truest sense and is filled with complex characters that drew me in from the start (and then never let me go!)
Definitely keeping my eye out for Ilana C. Myer’s next book; if you haven’t tried this one yet, I recommend you do and would go as far as to say you don’t need to be a fan of fantasy to enjoy it