Review ~ The Museum of Second Chances

Even more for the utopia and dystopia than many other forms of speculative writing, a fiction’s world is pivotal to a reader’s engagement. It can be elevated from a mere backdrop to the very (however disguised) subject of the book, its hook as well as its raison d’être; such a story’s characters are a means by which to explore and humanise the setting. The Museum of Second Chances imagines a society that is compelling and thematically rich. Its premise is a self-professed eco-utopia, but one in which inherited collective guilt is deployed as a spurious, semi-mythic justification for state power. This artfully plays with ambiguities in a genre that can sometimes overindulge gauche satire, if not bludgeoning didacticism. And even when exploring established motifs (genetic modification, revised official histories) it does so with an inventive wit that relates everything to its heroes.

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NaNoWriMo Retrospective & Review

Around mid-October, I was writing a short story, but contemplating the possibility of a larger project. My primary medium has always been the novel—I love its history (its emergence from travel, journal, confessional, dialogue and epistolary writing) and versatility. Games, films, cartoons, songs, poems and comics have illustrious narrative traditions, but for me nothing compares to the novel’s capacity to blend internal and external worlds and evoke a sustained story in captivating depth. As an axiomatic faith, I maintain that the novel will defy the doom-prophets foretelling of its demise: from José Ortega y Gasset in his 1925 Decline of the Novel to Will Self’s more contemporary pontificating. During this time, I recalled hearing of the National Novel Writing Month and its communal goal of writing a fifty-thousand-word piece of new narrative fiction in November. NaNo is more than just that lofty target: it is an ethos and a method of novel writing too.

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Review: Hazel Manuel, 'The Geranium Woman'

In tragedy, the plot is propelled by a hamartia—the flaw of the protagonist that causes subsequent events. The protagonist of The Geranium Woman suffers such a flaw, which consists of her naïvely in falling for something analogous to Mornington Crescent. Popularised in Britain by the radio show I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, it's a game in which you move between locations on the London Underground to arrive at the eponymous Northern Line station. As you play, you challenge the ‘legality’ of other players’ moves, debating an increasingly baroque rule-system invented along the way. It’s an in-joke and farce—one with no adherence to a system of actual rules. Hazel’s hero, newly a CEO in Paris, is unaware of the Mornington Crescent in-joke of her company’s corporate ethics and the other hypocrisies of many of her interactions. She attempts to play, hoping to reform the hyper-masculine world of business and shareholders as well as navigate open and undefined relationships, within the loose strictures and conventions that secretly oppose her values. She does so against the backdrop of her father’s recent death and the implied existential, memento mori revelation of her own mortality—with shorter chapters giving us moments of his deathbed reflections.

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Review: Jennifer Young, 'Cold Crash'

By backgrounding aspects of a fiction, they can be emphasised more than were they to be foregrounded; so when historical research is over-presented—e.g. we’re reminded a book is set during the Battle of Actium by characters obtrusively commenting on period-specific markers—verisimilitude can be counterintuitively weakened; whereas confidence with historical research allows an author to seamlessly blend pertinent indicators into the narrative, where they become the more apparent. Jennifer Young’s Cold Crash demonstrates just such a confidence in its treatment of early fifties Britain and the life of pioneering archaeologist Maxine ‘Max’ Falkland. What is so impressive about the Cold War novel is that it does not need to embellish its setting and time. It transports you as much into the presuppositions of the decade as its surroundings (with beautiful descriptive prose), geopolitics, immediate history and percolating (often still relevant) prejudices. And because the world of the past is never presented clumsily or exaggerated, character and narrative are freed to direct the story to more interesting places.

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Review: Cyan Night 'Girl, Fighter'

Girl, Fighter by Cyan Night is a coming of age story about Aliyah, an Australian expat residing and working in London from a mixed Kazakh-Chinese background. It is well paced and gripping, as the hero is soon led by her character and circumstances into a series of calamities almost reminiscent of Hellenist tragedy. It is in this tension between character and social context that the novel finds its strength; it is an honest examination of one person’s complex situation in its historical and predetermined nuance, but also manages to highlight its heroes agency. The novel is structured into two parts, the first (narrated in a detached third person voice) sets up the ascent necessary for the fall of the second, which is made more intimate by its adoption of the first person.

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