The Ark by Annabel Smith
I enjoy following Annabel Smith on Twitter but I must confess I have not read either of her two earlier novels. I have been really intrigued by The Ark: an interactive novel with its own App. As exciting as it sounds, I did wonder if it may have been too abstract for me; when I was young I loved choose-your-own-adventure stories but now I feel I only have time for the linear tale. Furthermore, what a bold move to self-publish after two successful novels with traditional publishing houses! Annabel is always fair and honest with her reviews so I know she will appreciate me taking the same approach with her latest offering.
The year is 2041. The world is in chaos due to environmental crisis. A handful of scientists and their families retreat into the Ark, a seed vault inside Mt Kosciusko. The Ark holds the key to the future of life on Earth. The story of those inside the Ark is told through the a collection of their digital documents.
First Impressions: On a rather boring yet important note, the story was easy to download and put on my Kindle. I also put it on my phone to read at work (!) but as it was the PDF for the Kindle there were no interactive features. You get to pick which of the two versions you download. As for the story itself, it was very easy to get into.
Highlights: Much to my surprise, my favourite section was Rosco’s – the only teenager in the Ark. The majority of his documents are on something similar to a blog, but much more interactive. He sort of blurts out what he is feeling and gets different responses. When I first saw the slang and spelling he was using I did wonder if I could even understand it but yes, I could! Most importantly, it was really convincing; Annabel really took on the voice of a teenage boy. The other highlight for me was how much Annabel seemed to enjoy working on this project. Her enthusiasm just shines through. She created all sorts of social media platforms for people to use. The App is also like a ‘good copy’ of her ideas board and a lot of fun to explore. My husband and I were recently discussing whether any epistolary novels written after (my suggestions) the era of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are believable. (The conversation started with Gone Girl). The answer is now a resounding YES, The Ark! I also love the cover design and I don’t usually comment on covers.
If I was an editor: I would be Annabel herself! I know Annabel created different versions of the book so people like myself who like a linear story wouldn’t be scared away. However, I would have probably promoted the Ipad/interactive version more as I did start to wish I bought that version. (This may have happened but with being in the UK and having a young son I am somewhat out of the loop). However, downloading the free App made me feel a bit better as it was fun to play with.
As the novel was written in a series of documents it was easy to dip in and out of however I did at times miss a sustained text that I could completely immerse myself in. Perhaps if I bought the interactive version and was able to hear some of the transcripts read aloud I may have felt a stronger connection with some of the characters.
The final section would have been quite hard to write in the style Annabel has chosen but it did work. The ending was fitting but some of the final section could have been cut down a little. I also would have liked more on the intial contact with the ‘outside’ once the timelock was broken; for me that may have been more engaging than what played out. As The Ark website encourages fan fiction, perhaps that should be my offering…
Overall: A bold, original move that pays off. Fan fiction is encouraged, and you can buy a paperback version of the linear story directly from Annabel if you are still anti-Kindle/technology (and there’s nothing wrong with that).
The Ark: 4 stars
The Ark, the App and the whole ‘experience': 5 stars
South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami
As a boy Hajime always felt detached from other children as being an only child felt like an affliction. When Shimamoto, another only child, joined his class they found a connection and spent afternoons together listening to records as her parent’s house.
Now in his 30s, Hajime is married with two children and owns two jazz clubs. His life seems idyllic but he is yearning for more. One day Shimamoto suddenly breezes into his life again…
First impressions: I’m not really a fan of journeys back to childhood but I found the first part of this short novel quite interesting, mainly because of the ‘only child syndrome’ Hajime experienced
Highlights: The novel was easy to read and parts of it have kept me wondering, specifically the abstract enigmas that are Shimamoto and Hajime’s other ex-girlfriend, Izume. Interestingly, I felt little curiosity for his wife Yukiko. By the end of the novel there was so much more you could wonder about Hajime based solely on his adult relationship with Shimamoto.
If I was an editor: I would assume this novel embraces they ‘typical Murakami’ syndrome, although this is only the second one of his that I have read! The story tumbles into the vortex that is Hajime’s mid life crisis and I found the silences frustrating: the adult Shimamoto was so intriguing yet we know so little about her. This is the same for Izume. I also would have liked more information about the post-war Japan Hajime lived in as a boy. However, the point of the novel is to accentuate Hajime’s anguish so in that way it did succeed.
Overall: As Murakami is a Jazz connoisseur, is the novel part biographical, a personal indulgence, an easy to write setting, or a combination of all three?
South of the Border, West of the Sun: 4 stars
Six Degrees of Separation #7: Saturday 4th October 2014
1984 by George Orwell is a futuristic novel set in the age of Big Brother and mass surveillance.
D.B.C. Pierre’s Vernon God Little also has video surveillance but in this case the cameras are in a prison with the inmates being contestants on a Big Brother type show.
Meursault, the main character in Albert Camus’ The Outsider, also spends time in jail. I read this short novel in my final year at school while doing a unit on existential drama. I must confess it didn’t really move me. Perhaps I missed something…
In comparison, one novel in translation that I loved was The Hundred Year Old Man by Jonas Jonasson.There are lots of translated works I have enjoyed but this is always the first one to come to mind.
A History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka is another funny novel with an entertaining elderly man as a character. I loved this book when I read it but I am sure that had I lived in London when it was released I would have got even more out of it.
Ian McEwan is an author I just couldn’t really get into until I moved to London. I have now read a few of his novels including his most recent one, The Children’s Act in which the main character has to navigate many ethical issues in her job.
(Read my review here)
In Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project Don Tillman becomes involved in some rather dubious ethical practices all in the name of love. However the tone of this novel is definitely a lot more lighthearted!
(Read my review here)
Find out more about the Six Degrees of Separation meme here.
We are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
Rosemary is starting college and doesn’t want anyone to know about her family. As readers we don’t learn the secret about her family until page 77 and then we follow Rosemary in her quest to reconcile her past.
First Impressions: A readable novel. Obviously the reference to page 77 is a hook to keep you reading but I didn’t mind.
Highlights: I liked the secret revealed by Rosemary. It is not what I was expecting and I liked it! I vaguely remembered reading a review a while ago that disclosed the secret but I’m glad I didn’t remember this as the surprise was good. I also liked the reasons given by Rosemary for keeping this secret; it really made sense and I spent a while reflecting on what I had read earlier. So many of the offhand comments made sense!
If I was an editor: I’d be glad to find such an original book but after all the excitement of the revelation it just felt so dull. I didn’t find any of the characters particularly interesting nor was I really bothered with Rosemary’s journey. Most of the second half of the novel was a discussion on scientific ethics and Rosemary working through her issues just wasn’t engaging. There was so much potential for this subject matter. Where was the feeling and intrigue?
Overall: Really? Shortlisted for the Booker? Richard Flanagan’s in with a great chance.
We are All Completely Beside Ourselves: 3 stars
This is the Water by Yannick Murphy
In the New England world of junior competitive swimming, parents spend hours driving their children to training and meets. Annie has two girls on the team, a dead brother and a fading marriage. She does not know a killer is lurking at the facility.
First Impressions: I liked the way the first few chapters are like a game of spin the bottle: you heard a little bit about a few of the swim mums and you had to wait to see whose story you would be following for the rest of the novel. The writing style has divided opinion but I really liked it as it is original.
Highlights: I loved the ending. Not just the final actions in the last few chapters, but the last few paragraphs. I closed the book and thought that it was all just a storm in a teacup (no spoiler here, don’t worry). This calm is a really nice comparison to the first few chapters that I mentioned above. I liked the setting – rural, small town New England, very claustrophobic, everything revolving around the swim team. Do junior swimming worlds like this really exist? Gosh, I don’t know!
If I was an editor: I know this novel would divide people like marmite. Even as an individual reader my feelings kept changing: I went from loving it, to being bored with it, to staying up late trying to finish it, all the time not knowing what to make of it. Is all the detail necessary? Yes, of course. No, not really. I can’t decide! Anyway, the important thing for an editor is that this book will get people talking and wanting to share their opinion.
Overall: Unique. I still don’t know if I liked it or not. I think I did!
This is the Water: 4 stars
Thank you to Bookbridgr for a copy of the ARC to review.
The Children’s Act by Ian McEwan
Fiona Maye is a leading High Court Judge for the children’s court. Her professional success has come at a price to her home life but she manages to keep the two separated until one ethical case regarding a blood transfusion enters her court…
First Impressions: As has been the case with his other novels, I fell very easily into McEwan’s writing style and it was quite comforting knowing I would probably enjoy the story.
Highlights: I thought it was interesting that Fiona had such a detached personality when she was dealing with such passionate cases every day. In fact, as a reader McEwan keeps you at arm’s length from the fervor and feeling of both Fiona’s story and the ethical cases she has to decide for. It is all quite clinical and professional and I wonder if this is Fiona’s true personality or she had become this way through climbing the career ladder. I quite liked the objective summaries of Fiona’s various cases as it could have easily fallen into dramatic overload; there are enough novels that fall into this territory.
If I was an editor: I would think this novel was the right length. A perfect afternoon read for fans! I wondered if it was believable that the father of two girls who didn’t believe in education or careers for girls to hire a female to represent him, but perhaps he would. I can’t say I know enough about Charedim Jews to speak confidently on this matter… I have read some reviews that comment on McEwan being rather indulgent in including his various opinions about religion. Yes, I guess that is true but I just enjoyed the story and found it believable.
Overall: Classic McEwan. (His more recent works anyway…)
The Children’s Act: 4 stars
Thank you to Random House for a copy of the ARC to review.
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
I usually avoid books that receive a lot of hype as too often I find myself disappointed, rarely finding said novels ‘hilarious and fun’. However, I am sometimes worn down by the volume of popular reviews and in this instance it was time to give The Rosie Project a go.
Don Tillman, a 39 year old geneticist, has never had a second date. In fact, he’s had very few first dates. Don thinks it’s time to find a wife so he devises a survey based on scientific compatibility to find a perfect match. Enter Rosie, the most incompatible match Don could imagine…
First Impressions: Don’s character is fantastic. Simsion has created a convincing and commanding voice for Don. By the end of the first page I was picturing a friend of a friend in my mind when reading Don…
Highlights: I was delighted to see that Don’s voice and character remained consistent and believable throughout the novel. I loved all the throw away lines in the story, such as one in particular at the end of the ‘dancing chapter’ which really had me laughing but I don’t want to give it away! Don’s inability to recognise social cues would mean he often added unnecessary and sometimes offensive detail in explanations such as his neighbour’s obesity contributing to her bad knee.The ‘dancing chapter’ I mentioned above was great, second only in hilarity to the ‘cocktail chapter’. I haven’t been this entertained by a book for a while.
If I was an editor: I would be thrilled to find this book on my desk! It is a great romantic story that is highly believable. When it came to helping Rosie unravel a mystery, some of Don’s actions were dubious, but he knew this and it wasn’t just all swept aside in order to keep the romance chugging along. I was glad to see this as in my opinion unrealistic plot elements are often a downfall of romances.
Overall: Read it!
The Rosie Project: 5 stars