A (Small) Bookish Catch Up
Today we are going to catch up. And by catch up I mean I am going to talk about Chris Cleave’s Everyone Brave is Forgiven which I loved more than I have loved anything for a long long time and also Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children which I should have read a long time ago and which freaked me the hell out and the new book by Jennifer Niven which I have mixed feelings about. Get comfortable lovelies.
I love Chris Cleave. Or at least I loved the only other book of his I’ve read (The Other Hand) so I was super excited to get my hands on a copy of Everyone Brave, and the proof is so pretty too, all black cover and red pages and my copy has a signature. Lush.
It’s a really really beautiful book on the inside too this one, it doesn’t just look good, it tastes good too, I’m not even kidding: ‘…a galaxy of seeds that crackled in his mouth like bereaved punctuation.´ well, just seduce me with your pretty words why don’t you Mr. Cleave.
And it’s such an incredible story. It’s set in WWII and follows young socialite Mary, determined to make a difference, Zachary a little boy who can’t be evacuated because he’s black and nobody wants him and art restorer Alistair who finds himself in the army and it hurts and it’s wonderful and it’s witty and hurty and so freaking smart. It’s just….it’s kind of mind-blowingly good, this epic novel full of love and war and loss and bravery.
It’s SO GOOD. SO VERY GOOD.
The language is beautiful, the dialogue is so snappy, and the characters like people you wind up feeling like you know (the characterisation here is so powerful oh my God and some of these people are messed up and make dubious choices but at the same time they all changed so much, grew up, lost pretty much any and all sense of innocence and made you fall in love with them. Hard.) The characters get under your skin and the setting is so real you can taste it. It took me ages to read partly because I wanted to savour every word and partly because I didn’t ever want it to be over. I got to the end and I just wanted more. & I wanted to go back to the start and read it all over again. Which, that very rarely happens.
It’s strikingly raw and honest and bittersweet. It’s so damn powerful too, but not in an ‘in your kind of face’ kind of way you know. He’s a master of subtlety this guy and this book is all about the slow build and you don’t realise you’re feeling ALL THE THINGS until you wonder why your chest hurts and realise it’s because you’ve been holding your breath or that actually of course your face is wet - you’re crying, damn it.
And how many books have been written about the war? SO MANY BOOKS; do you know how refreshing it is to fine one that’s not at all the same, that’s a step away from anything else you’ve read, ever? Let me tell you: so refreshing. Malta for starters, oh God, Malta. It’s always kind of surprised me, when I read a book like this how there are the things I know about, and then the things i just sort of know about you know. Like how there’s the things you learn about and hear about repeatedly and in depth and then there’s the other things, equally important that yet somehow you only really scratch the surface of. Anyway. Another thought for another day, maybe.
Everyone Brave is also a really interesting look at race, I thought so at least. I mean WWII was a war against Hitler wasn’t it, and his plans for a master race – if we’re going to really simplify it down I mean and I am totally aware that’s what I just did right there so don’t yell please - and there we were sending our men to fight against that, whilst here at home we’re sending a little boy home from the country, back to the Blitz because his skin is the wrong colour (or because he’s in a wheelchair or she had Down’s Syndrome etc etc) I loved that juxtaposition. Loved it.
‘We are a nation of glorious cowards, ready to battle any evil but our own.’ BOOM. Also, how relevant please. Let’s not even talk about current affairs.
This is a book about love and longing, about loss and discovery, about life and it’s beautiful. This, actually, is the kind of book you dream of reading. I bet I won’t read anything to match it this year.
And then I read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children which is entirely different in every way. I wonder actually if I’m the only person left not to have read these books. Am I? And I’m not sure why it took me so long to be quite honest. I liked it a lot. It’s kind of like a more realistic X-Men, if an abandoned orphanage and a time loop and a load of children with extraordinary powers can be realistic. It’s a clever book, a combination of prose and these hauntingly weird photographs – which I loved, it’s such a clever and unique way of storytelling and the fact that these are actual real life photos is just…it’s pretty cool. And so mysterious. It gave me the creeps though, this book, in a major way. That’s the downside of living in your house on your own alone I think, when you have a pretty active imagination. This book creeped me out; I was too creeped out to stop reading and too creeped out to go to sleep and was just sat in my dark house by myself reading this creepy as hell book and then having to spend half an hour scrolling through Twitter to try and fend off the bad dreams. And I’m 33. Imagine if I’d read this when I was 16. Gracious. I was creeped out, but I also figured out some pretty significant plot points way before I think I was supposed to. Perhaps I’m just that smart *snorts* - although I do like to think I’m adept at spotting a little bit of foreshadowing. Mostly though, I really liked it. If you haven’t read it already and you’re looking for another series to get drawn into then you wouldn’t go far wrong starting with this. My copy is lush too, it feels so nice.
And then, after that, I read Jenniver Niven’s Holding Up the Universe which…I didn’t hate it. Actually that’s harsh. I liked it; I gave it 3 stars, but I was massively underwhelmed. That’s better.
I haven’t read Niven’s stuff before, although I’ve heard ALL THE GOOD THINGS. Like all the good things all the time everywhere. People have been going nutso for this book, so, I was hoping to be blown away. I was not. I mean, there’s good writing, Niven can certainly write and her narrative voices are strong and this was an easy read, but it felt like YA romance paint by numbers. Like here is a girl who has been ostracised by her peer group for whatever reason (in this case, her weight) and here is a boy, good looking and popular but with his own set of demons that nobody knows about (in this case he’s face blind, which we’ll come back to, because it fascinated me) and here are some other people that they know, some are nice and some are less so, and now let’s throw the girl and the boy together and see what happens. Well, what was going to happen was obvious from the very beginning. The boy and the girl fall in love.
Is that a major spoiler? No, not so much. It is exactly what you probably expect if you pick up this book. I guess it bugged me a little bit, partly because the whole love story thing happened so fast and that whole insta-love thing, it’s not my thing and also I did feel a little bit like these characters, who are supposed to represent real teens, were being used for the sake of a good old angsty love story and that’s a little bit less than good. & I kept reading Libby Strout as Libby Stout and that bugged me also.
I feel like….I feel like the issues that Niven hints at addressing here, like fat shaming and body image and mental illness and bullying and isolation are all so important and she’s on the perfect platform to really get a really important message out there and instead she uses those issues to help her tell her love story and the whole time I was just aggravated. (& kind of wishing I was re-reading Eleanor & Park again and I’m sorry I’m such a bitch) I felt like Libby’s weight and Jack’s cognitive issues were massively dumbed down and that made me sad because I was so interested and I felt like Libby’s self validation came down to whether or not she had a boyfriend and I felt like there could have been so much more story than there was. & Libby was so self-righteous too. Although she dances a lot. Which I liked, mostly because – have you seen Whitney: Fat Girl Dancing? The whole Libby dancing thing reminded me of that. I also loved all the TKaM references. High five Jennifer Niven, high five.
And there’s Jack. Jack hasn’t told his family he thinks he is face blind. He’s spent his entire life not being able to recognise faces, he doesn’t even recognise his own family and he hasn’t told a soul. A pretty big part of me found that a little hard to believe, but also kind of sad and I feel like if that were true, if that were what he had lived with for as long as he could remember, well, there’d be more of a negative impact than there was. He’s pretty well adjusted, all things considered. Also I get that he can’t retain the knowledge, that if someone walks out of a room and then walks in again its like he’s seeing them for the first time and that he doesn’t even recognise his own family and that must be the worst ever but there’s a whole lot of ‘the woman in the kitchen’ and ‘the man I assume to be my father’ and WHO ELSE WOULD THE TWO ADULTS IN HIS HOUSE BE IF NOT HIS PARENTS? I mean, I can be sitting in my parents lounge and hear my Dad coming down the stairs and I don’t see him because there’s a wall in the way but I know its him because THERE’S NO OTHER PERSON IT COULD BE. Hashtag minor niggle.
I did like the whole face-blindness story though and I did like Jack, I found it, and him, really interesting – 1 in 50 people are affected by Prosopagnosia, and that’s a massively high number for something that’s relatively unknown and God it’s so frustrating when you run into someone and they start talking like they know you and you just can’t place them and how awful must it be if that’s your life, if you wake up in a morning and the person next to you in bed is as unfamiliar as a stranger in the street, if you don’t know you mum or your brother or your best friend. Horrible.
Anyway, this book is an okay book and probably loads of people will love it – hell, take a look on Goodreads, loads of people do love it. It’s just perhaps not my cup of tea. I’ll be giving All the Bright Places a go though.
So there you have it. Come back in a couple of days because before All The Eye Problems I read an exciting new book by and exciting new writer and I am excited to talk to you about it.