December came and went and I was so busy working ridiculous overtime that I just made my 2015 Goodreads reading challenge by squeezing in a couple of graphic novels and short reads. So here’s the final batch of the 2015 Bookshelf. More dystopia, more Sin City and more cats.
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
I love dystopia so of course I picked this one up. Set in the the what-if scenario of Germany and Japan winning the Second World War and splitting up the US between them as occupied territory, this book follows a cast of characters from each side of the fence. There’s the American art dealer living in oppression, the Jewish US citizen just trying to survive, a range of German political leaders locked in a bitter power struggle, a Japanese government official struggling to stomach the doctrine of his Nazi allies, and a few shady characters of dubious allegiance working their various plots to stir up the system. I enjoyed this in much the same way as I enjoyed Nineteen Eighty-Four, hooked by the story but impatiently skimming through the lengthy political and philosophical ramblings. It’s a good book with a very clever meta level; the eponymous man in the high castle and the outrage he causes with his book speculating on what had happened if America had won the war is endlessly delightful in its irony. Obviously a classic of modern literature.
Pens: 4 out of 5
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwoood
Being a massive Atwood fan I almost feel like a traitor saying this, but I’m seriously underwhelmed by her latest novel. It starts out so promising: A young couple living in a post-financial crash landscape of unemployment and poverty gets a chance to improve its desperate circumstances by signing up to a social experiment. The twin city of Positron/Consilience works on the principle that every resident alternates each month between living and working in the community and doing time in the town’s prison. The promise is a life in comfort and security; the price is total commitment for life: the city is sealed off from the rest of the world, and surveillance is everywhere. This highly regulated life soon takes its toll on Charmaine and Stan’s relationship, and as they start breaking the rules they uncover a sinister underworld in their perfect town, where disruption is dealt with silently and absolutely, where life-like robots are created in secret labs and where their friends disappear and come back not quite the same…or quite human. So far, it has all the elements of a breathtaking Atwood dystopia, very much along the lines of The Handmaid’s Tale. The problem is, you just don’t care. Stan’s a bit of an arse, Charmaine’s a bit of a bitch, there’s not a single character I actually felt for in this book, which meant I really couldn’t care less what happened to them. And all the dystopian elements just feel a little bit sold under value – there are a lot of very good ideas in this book, they just aren’t developed to the point where they become really spectacular. Instead the plot just kind of fizzles out. I wanted it to strike me and leave my head spinning, like when I read Handmaid. Instead I closed the book and went: Meh.
Pens: 3 out of 5 (More like 2.5, and only because there are so many good ideas hidden in there! Argh!)
Sin City, Vol. 4: That Yellow Bastard by Frank Miller
This is by far my favourite Sin City story, probably because it features so prominently in the first movie (one of my absolute favourites) and also because John Hartigan is just the most heartbreaking character in the entire series. On the last day of his career in the police department, Hartigan saves Little Nancy Callahan from a deranged killer who operates under police immunity, and spends the rest of his life paying for it. And then, just because he cares for what’s become of her, he ends up paying a little more. So, there’s the heart-wrenching story of those tow and their fragile relationship, plus the artwork in this volume is the absolute highlight of the entire series – especially Nancy’s iconic dance routine. Seriously one of the most gorgeous graphic novels and one I keep coming back to again and again.
Pens: 5 out of 5
Sin City, Vol. 5: Family Values by Frank Miller
A very short volume of much smaller scale than the previous stories, this book basically follows Dwight and Miho on a revenge killing spree. It’s fast paced and full of delightfully choreographed and captured fights – but what else would you expect when Deadly Little Miho goes to battle. More of a snapshot than a story, this volume may lack the depth of the other books, but it’s a quick and entertaining read for when you’ve got an hour to kill and are feeling a bit noir.
Pens: 3 out of 5
The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide
I tried. I really tired! I love Japanese literature and I love cats, but I really struggled through this little book. It’s basically a story of a couple living in a little house and a neighbour’s cat who comes to visit. Now, while this sounds promising to a Japanophile cat lady, sadly the story stops there. Aside from endless, slightly repetitive descriptions of the house and its surroundings, and the progression of the cat from “peeking through the window” to “owning the place” there’s very little here in terms of story or character development, or anything actually happening. (Until the end, which is sad and then a little less sad.) This book is currently being hyped as “poetic” by the booksellers, so maybe it’s poetry and I’m just not getting it. But overall, I feel I would have been better off snoozing for two hours with the cats than spending my time on reading it.
Pens: 1 out of 5