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Archive for the ‘Requested Reviews’ Category

I received this book as an Early Reviewer on LibraryThing and started it soon after I had come down from the hype of the previous book I had finished. Perhaps it was because of that proximity to my previous read, but what a come down it was. Although I fought my way to the end of this book, it was like trying to swim in treacle for much of it and I found myself wondering whether I could “cheat” and say I finished when I actually put it down halfway. I didn’t cheat – I did finish it, but it was a tough book to get through and I wasn’t sure that I felt it was worth it.

To be fair, The Collector of Worlds is a translation, which can make the writing difficult. The author had chosen the story of the Victorian explorer, Sir Richard Burton, as his subject. Burton had spent his life travelling India, Africa and the Middle East, adopting languages, cultures and religions as he went. He seems to be constantly searching for the new and the different – a trait I admire. However, unfortunately the book turned Burton into a detached character drowning in a sea of extraneous words and excruciating (and not particularly necessary) descriptions and monologues. The book is divided into three parts – the first covers Burton’s early journey to India and his adoption of Islam. It is narrated (in part) by his ex-servant in a manner which I found somewhat contrived. The second describes Burton’s trip to Mecca, explained in part by a number of Turkish officials who were exploring his motives after the fact. The final story finds Burton in Africa, searching for the source of the Nile, and partially narrated by one of his guides.

This tripartite division does little for the coherence of this historical novel. In fact, the switch between each part is jarring. I found the middle part the most difficult to get through – the paragraphs were so dense at times, I found myself skim reading over pages in order to try and pick up the thread of the story again. The disappointing part was that those pages I skimmed were necessary, it seemed, only to demonstrate the author’s erudition. His erudition may be admirable, but as a reader it bored me to tears. This book could have done with a good editor who could have reduced it down significantly from the 450+ pages it currently stands at. Perhaps then the experience of reading it might have been a little more pleasant.

The ending was really odd. I don’t think it is a spoiler to say Burton eventually dies in his old age, but even that was drawn out to an unecessary degree – not Burton’s passing, but the ‘crisis’ of the priest of presided over his death. By that stage, I was desperate to get the book finished and move onto something else. It was the nail in its coffin so to speak.

Were there any redeeming features? I think bringing the story to life in novel form is a good tactic – I know when I first heard the name I could only think of the actor. I also can’t fault the author’s research on the subject and the surrounding context, but rather than telling me everything, tell me enough and keep the story readable.

Rating: 2/10
ISBN:
Year:
2008
Date Finished: 12 June 2008
Pages:
456
Challenges: 4/8 of The Pub Challenge

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I was sent a proof copy of this book to review several weeks back, prior to its general release. When I was contacted I received a couple of paragraphs to whet my appetite. Without knowing what to expect, or what kind of book it was going to be, I allowed myself to be sold by the paragraphs – there was something within the intelligent turns of phrase that made me want to read more. The book arrived and I read…and I am still reeling from the experience. The Gone Away World is an incredible work of imaginative fiction which, once I had read the last page, I was sorely tempted to turn back to the front and start all over again.

The Story

The story is set on earth, but it is an earth which has been all but destroyed by a war which has essentially destroyed everything short of a narrow band of the ‘livable zone’, maintained thanks to the looming presence of the Jorgmund Pipe. I was confused by the first chapter, as the book launches at a time when the war has been over for a while, our narrator and his friends are almost renegade heros, and they have been called to save the world (again) as it seems the life giving, or more accurately, the normality giving Pipe is on fire. Chapter 2 jumps back to the childhood of our narrator and his best friend, Gonzo Lubitsch, in a fashion I found slightly jarring. I had so many unanswered questions from the first chapter, that the embarkation on the growing up and coming of age story confused me. However, as the book progresses, and the boys grow up, go to university and eventually join the army, it becomes to come clear. The war that was mentioned in the first chapter becomes a reality, and the whole reason for the earth’s destruction becomes clear.

Because of Harkaway’s chosen genre, the book blends familiar reality with unfamiliar absurdity. As time goes on, the absurdity becomes the norm but in a way which almost seems real. We never know the name of our narrator because he appears not to have a name. I only began to wonder about that when the story finally caught up with the first chapter, by which time I was so hooked I couldn’t put it down. Before long, a revelation occurs which turns the life of our narrator and Gonzo upside down, if indeed that were possible after all they had been through. But Harkaway is incredibly adept at drawing the threads of the story together, of confusing the reader only to have them exclaim “of course!!” when it becomes clear, and of painting it all with a vivid brush of imagery both banal and amazing.

You come across ninjas, mimes, circus performers, executives, martial arts masters and your darkest nightmares, but you take such absurdity in your stride. Because ultimately the world has irreversibly changed in the war, making the unbelievable completely expected. It is a strange but wonderful world he has created – one I didn’t want to leave.

Style

In my opinion, the book falls within the realms of speculative fiction. Science fiction is too old fashioned and inaccurate a term for it. Perhaps I am still old school and think of Isaac Asimov whenever I hear of science fiction, but The Gone Away World was a completely new experience. This is Nick Harkaway’s first novel, and it demonstrates his ability with words and imagery. He writes with a wry humour that only lightly masks the depth of his themes. He clearly loves language and metaphor. He weaves single word exclamations in with multi paragraph descriptions of Tupperware containers to provide a pace that generally avoids getting bogged down. If I were to make a criticism, it would be that perhaps he was a little too wordy. Particularly at the beginning, where I was suffering from confusion as well, I found some of the lengthy descriptions a bit tedious. Yet, I felt it improved as the book progressed. It is a long book and perhaps reducing some of this wordiness could make the book a little more accessible, however I would not wish to be the editor and sacrifice some of Harkaway’s wonderful turns of phrase.

Themes

The theme that struck me most was that of the nature of war. Harkaway’s war is not like other wars. Rather than destruction, the bombs that are dropped in this war obliterate everything. They are Go Away bombs – bombs which remove all of the information from matter and energy leaving absolutely nothing. If you are in the path of a bomb you literally disappear, along with everything else in the bomb’s radius. This kind of weaponry makes the atom bomb look archaic. But the annihilation is total – and once the world has Gone Away, then by virtue of nature, something must take its place. And it is this something which the executives and corporate machine which is left over after the war tries to control and curb. But it is this something which is as much a result of human action as the war itself, and it cannot be controlled.

I loved the comment on the violence and destructive tendencies of human nature, and the fear and distrust of change, even if that change is perpetrated by humans in the first place. Yet amongst that, there are still heroes. People still fall in love, they still form lasting friendships, and they still stand up for the underdogs or the misunderstood. Thus, this is a heroic fairy tale – it has all of the ingredients. But it is a fairy tale which is so relevant to modern society with our ever more powerful weapons and our ever more futile and childish political squabbles. It is a fairy tale which delivers a message of caution, alongside a message of hope as voiced by the narrator, whose life seems to fall right in the centre of it all.

Conclusion

I absolutely loved this book and it has driven me to broaden my horizons when it comes to genre. I would comfortably read more speculative fiction and I will be looking forward to more by this author. Although The Gone Away World may not have the read-on-the-train appeal of some of the trashy fiction which you can get today, for any intelligent reader who has an imagination and a sense of humour, you simply can not go wrong.

Rating: 10/10
ISBN: 9780434018420
Publisher: William Heinemann (Proof Copy)
Date: 2008
Date Finished: 4 June 2008
Pages: 532
Challenges:

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I am writing this review as one stop on Tristi Pinkston’s virtual book tour. I was asked to take part and Tristi kindly sent me a copy of the book to read which, as you all know by my voracious reading habits, wasn’t a difficult job to accept. Before I review the book, there is one disclosure I feel I should make. My religious beliefs differ greatly from those portrayed by Tristi in this historical story of her family. Personally, I am an atheist and I am also against organised religion – which meant I had to approach this book differently from many other reviewers. Being aware of my views I tried to step back from emotion as I read it and view it as a fascinating historical document.

Theme and history

Season of Sacrifice tells the story of Ben Perkins, a Welsh Mormon who immigrated to Utah in the mid nineteenth century to join many others who also subscribed to the same religion in building a new life. That life was built on risk and danger as they travelled to places previously unsettled by white people in the American landscape and tried to make a life for themselves. The story follows not only the physical hardships of Ben, his beloved wife Mary Ann and his family, but also the emotional difficulties that were faced in the name of their faith – specifically the hurt which arose from his decision to take Mary Ann’s sister Sarah as his second wife. Tristi is descended from Ben and Sarah, and therefore approaches the story in a considerate way, while never avoiding the reality of what the two sisters must have felt.

The theme is one of faith in the face of unavoidable human emotion and hardship. The characters’ faith is unswerving, but the aspect I found interesting was that even faith can’t stop you feeling. So often, historical books shy away from touching on the emotional aspect of people’s lives because emotions were rarely documented in historical records. This book has a historical backdrop, but reads like a fictional novel, with all expressions of feeling given pride of place.

The theme of faith and pioneering permeate the entire story. For me, it was eye-opening to see how much a religion drove people’s lives and choices, even if those choices brought danger or destruction to life or feelings. But irrespective, the choices shaped the country and echo through to this day.

Structure and Style

Tristi wrote this novel over a very short period of time, and makes it very clear which aspects are based in fact and which have been subject to fictional licence. I liked the fact that she took the time to provide this information, as it made it easy to explore those aspects of actual history which caught my attention. It is very easy to read, making good use of dialogue to maintain the pace. Tristi’s style is not complex – she is there to tell a story and she does that well. I did pick up a couple of typographical errors (which I always seem to spot, no matter which books I read!) so perhaps it could have been proofread a little more carefully, but nevertheless it wasn’t a difficult book to finish.

Thoughts

Of course, it is always difficult to take oneself and one’s own beliefs out of the reading experience. This is the reason why I might love one book while the person next to me hates it. It is what makes us all different. One of the things I do subscribe to is learning and understanding, and I am always happy to read books which portray a different view to my own. I think everyone should do it – perhaps if they did there would be more tolerance and views which were based on education and understanding rather than views blindly accepted without question.

Tristi Pinkston has crafted a story which has allowed me, as a reader, to do that. She did not come across as preachy, nor did she assume that everyone who read her book would end it feeling warm and comfortable. She did not write just for those who follow a particular creed – rather, she wrote a universally accessible tale, exposed a period of history which those of us outside of the Mormon religion would never have known about, and given a human face to some of the players within that drama.

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