The Just-for-Me Book Club is my latest reading project. I asked bloggers and some regular commenters to suggest books for me to read. I have a fabulous list! I have never been more motivated to read, read, read! The list is still growing. You can see all the titles on this Goodreads page, and most are noted here. It’s time for two more book reviews!
Let me tell you about Riddley Walker! Riddley is a 12-year-old. He does hard labour, digging in pits. He has just been deemed a man, not a boy, and is expected to take over his father’s role of being a “seer” or interpreter of events. A weird series of happenings and discoveries has forced him to leave town, live by his wits, wrangle dangerous packs of dogs and figure out a massive mystery from the history of humankind. This all takes place far in the future in a post-apocalyptic land that has reverted to something like ancient England. The people are clannish and suspicious. Knowledge is spread through storytelling, puppetry and the words of wise folk.
The book was told entirely through Riddley’s point of view, in a made-up variant of English. Some of it was spelled phonetically, some was partially reconstructed from disassembled words, and overall, it led me to think that language had devolved and people had lost a lot of smarts. It had an internal logic and grammar so the reader could get into the flow after a while. I did find it very slow going, but I enjoyed puzzling it out, word by word and phrase by phrase.
I have never read any other books in made-up dialects (famously, A Clockwork Orange and Finnegan’s Wake), so this was a new experience for me.
The book contains several stories from the oral tradition that Riddley had learned. In his travels, he must figure out whether the stories have any real-life meaning.
I was completely wrapped up in the world of this book. The setting was sadly believable. It’s easy to imagine a world in which we’ve misused all the knowledge we once had, and barely survived our own destruction. Wouldn’t you want to hear stories from the “time back way back” when everything had sense and was just…better? Or would you even believe it?
As a Canadian, I had never seen a Punch and Judy show until stumbling upon one in Sussex within the past five years. This added immeasurably to my reading experience. In fact, if the book didn’t have a Punch puppet depicted on the cover, I don’t know when I would have realized that these puppets were significant to the story! I loved the importance of storytelling to the plot (and to the culture in the “world” of Inland where the book was set). There were other “British-isms” in the novel which took as much figuring as the language.
The most fascinating thing of all, for me, is the range of Russell Hoban as an author. This is the author of Bread and Jam for Frances. This is the author of The Mouse and His Child. I was surprised to discover recently that he wrote adult fiction. I had read his quirky “indie” novel Turtle Diary three years ago. Now this!
If you want to challenge yourself and be immersed in a completely different mindset, I highly recommend Riddley Walker. A tremendous thank you to Paul @ Feeding Squirrels for suggesting it!
The next book I read could not have been more different – which is why I chose it to read next! It was We Were Liars, a teen suspense novel. I read one or two YA novels each year, mostly bestsellers that have created a lot of buzz, like The Fault in Our Stars or Eleanor and Park. I generally don’t read suspense. I am probably one of the last people on the planet who has read neither Gone Girl nor The Girl on the Train! But I respect AP’s tastes and trusted I would like it.
In We Were Liars, we learn that something significant happened that changed the life of our narrator, Cadence Sinclair. The Sinclairs are old-money, east-coast, privileged white land owners who spend their summers on a private island that they’ve turned into a family enclave. Cadence and her cousins return every year to enjoy boating, swimming, being served by staff, and making day trips to Martha’s Vineyard. What I liked best about the book was Cadence and her cousins’ dawning realization that they are rich brats who benefit from the racism and classism of their parents and grandparents. To continue living their fabulous lifestyle, they are forced to go along with whatever their mothers and their grandparents want them to do, think, say or feel. Something has to change.
I guessed 25% of the ending of the book, and it did stretch credulity a bit, but I was more than willing to suspend my disbelief. The author uses quite florid language at times, of the type that rapt teens will love, because it brings to life some of the drama they experience. I liked the on-the-edge-of-your-seat feeling of reading a fast-paced story with mounting tension and a mystery to be solved. Did I say I read this in one sitting?!
As in The Fault in Our Stars, there was a moment near the end involving a parent that turned on the waterworks for me!
I will definitely recommend this to the teens I work with at the library, and it has loosened my inhibitions about reading suspense novels – I look forward to more. Thank you to the Asian Pear for suggesting this one for me!
Next up: I am reading A Study in Scarlet Women, the first in a new series about a female Sherlock Holmes.
Have you started your 2017 reading yet?