Book Review : Salt Fish Girl – Magical realism

Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai

Why I read:  Intriguing and futuristic tale with feminist themes, Jan 17 Book club read.

Book blurb: “”Salt Fish Girl” is the mesmerizing tale of an ageless female character who shifts shape and form through time and place. Told in the beguiling voice of a narrator who is fish, snake, girl, and woman – all of whom must struggle against adversity for survival – the novel is set alternately in nineteenth-century China and in a futuristic Pacific Northwest.

At turns whimsical and wry, “Salt Fish Girl” intertwines the story of Nu Wa, the shape-shifter, and that of Miranda, a troubled young girl living in the walled city of Serendipity circa 2044. Miranda is haunted by traces of her mother’s glamourous cabaret career, the strange smell of durian fruit that lingers about her, and odd tokens reminiscient of Nu Wa. Could Miranda be infected by the Dreaming Disease that makes the past leak into the present?

Framed by a playful sense of magical realism, “Salt Fish Girl” reveals a futuristic Pacific Northwest where corporations govern cities, factory workers are cybernetically engineered, middle-class labour is a video game, and those who haven’t sold out to commerce and other ills must fight the evil powers intent on controlling everything. Rich with ancient Chinese mythology and cultural lore, this remarkable novel is about gender, love, honour, intrigue, and fighting against oppression.”

 531944

My review

“How easily we abandon those who have suffered the same persecutions as we have. How quickly we grow impatient with their inability to transcend the conditions of our lives. ” ― Larissa LaiSalt Fish Girl

The story alternates between two settings: 19th century China and a future Pacific Northwest, it spirals around, back and forth between the two tales.   A deity, Nu-Wa creates human beings.   She chooses to become one of them and falls in love with a girl who sells salt fish at the market. Miranda is a young girl living in the 2040s, who has a strange affliction that her skin smells of durian fruit.  The story is a portrayal of both their lives, seeped in fantasy and magic realism.

Packed full of powerful imagery that has you smelling and tasting as well as visualising the world within the pages.    Lai’s writing is beautiful as the words flow from the page.  Weirdly beautiful.  The plot itself was muddled and often lacked logical sense as it jumped around.  Several times I had to re-read sections to connect the dots.  But this fit into the aura of mystery that the book has. It was highly readable and captivated me to the end although loose ends remain.   You are given glimpses of world-building, of a very imaginative future woven in the tale.    The ideas are wonderful and compelling, often surreal but not always making sense or flitting well together.  The creationist theme which ran throughout the novel from the first mythology to the genetic engineering was wonderfully interlaced through the different sections.    Science ethics, disability, corporate power, feminism and many elements of interesting sci-fi are  introduced  however many ideas lacked substance as they are not fully explored.

Overall I’d recommend reading the book for the beautiful writing that engages your senses and emotions and the imagination within.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes: science fiction, fantasy, science ethics, feminism, magic realism,

***

“This story is about stink, after all, a story about rot, about how life grows out of the most fetid-smelling places.” ― Larissa LaiSalt Fish Girl

Paperback: 269 pages

Publisher: Thomas Allen Publishers (30 Aug. 2012)

ISBN-10: 0887623824

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Book Review : The Sacred Book of the Werewolf – supernatural weirdness

The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor PelevinAndrew Bromfield (Translator)

4 star read

Why I read:  Recommended to me by a friend as something weird I might enjoy.

Book blurb: “Paranormal meets transcendental in this provocative and hilarious novel.

Victor Pelevin has established a reputation as one of the most brilliant writers at work today; his comic inventiveness has won him comparisons to Kafka, Calvino, and Gogol, and Time has described him as a “psychedelic Nabokov for the cyberage.” Pelevin’s new novel, his first in six years, is both a supernatural love story and a satirical portrait of modern Russia. It concerns the adventures of a hardworking fifteen-year-old Moscow prostitute named A. Huli, who in reality is a two thousand-year-old were-fox who seduces men in order to absorb their life force; she does this by means of her tail, a hypnotic organ that puts men into a trance in which they dream they are having sex with her. A. Huli eventually comes to the attention of and falls in love with a high-ranking Russian intelligence officer named Alexander, who is also a werewolf (unbeknownst to our heroine). And that is only the beginning of the fun. A huge success in Russia, this is a stunning and ingenious work of the imagination, arguably Pelevin’s sharpest and most engrossing novel to date.”

 My review

Set in a gritty Russia where everyone seems out to make money. A fox prostitute,  A Hu-Li, uses her tail to induce illusion.  Sexual visions in her clients allow her to assimilate human sexual energy released during the act of love.  Maintaining her enchantment and youthful appearance of a tall, slender young woman.  A Hu-Li meets a were-wolf and falls in love.  Whilst also searching out a meaning for her existence.

The book is told from A Hu-Li’s perspective.  Her pursuit of the mysteries of life were entertaining and sometimes inspiring as she dabbles with Buddhist theories towards the end of the novel.  Throughout she comments on the state of Russia and the world offering her insights.    Conveniently werefoxes mostly forget what they know so her comments were not clouded with a millennia of knowledge.   Hu-Li also seemed to me to be a mans idea of what a woman is and thinks… again this is kind of explained by the fact that werefoxes are really gender neutral but just look like sexy young girls.

This is a weird book that was recommended to me by a friend. It certainly was strange enough to keep me entertained.  There’s a real mix of blatantly stupid and  intelligent thoughts throughout the book.  Sometimes it makes you laugh, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes enlightened but always I wanted to know what would happen next.  Though I had to put the book down a few times and return to it later when my brain felt it had had enough.   Its has elements of dark fairy-tales and a kind of magical mysticism but set in a realistically abrasive reality.  There are many wordplays and puns which appear to have translated well from the original Russian.   Original and complex ideas are littered through the pages but the novel just felt a bit pretentious and tedious.   Overall it didn’t quite gel for me.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes: weird tales, foxes, werewolves, magical animals, dark gritty commentary and religious undertones.

***

 Paperback, 333 pages

Published June 1st 2008 by Faber & Faber (first published 2004)

Original Title Священная книга оборотня
ISBN 0571227988

Edition Language: English

Book Review: A Man of Shadows – Noir sci-fi mystery

A Man of Shadows – Jeff Noon

Why I read:   I was intrigued by the mix of sci-fi and detective story with a serial killer thrown into the mix.

Book blurb: “”The brilliant, mind-bending return to science fiction by one of its most acclaimed visionaries.

Below the neon skies of Dayzone – where the lights never go out, and night has been banished – lowly private eye John Nyquist takes on a teenage runaway case. His quest takes him from Dayzone into the permanent dark of Nocturna.

As the vicious, seemingly invisible serial killer known only as Quicksilver haunts the streets, Nyquist starts to suspect that the runaway girl holds within her the key to the city’s fate. In the end, there’s only one place left to search: the shadow-choked zone known as Dusk.”

My review

Five star read:

A wonderful blend of sci-fi and mystery with a noir feel. Jeff Noon is a master of descriptive prose. Intricate writing and vivid depictions bring the complex world to life. Its dark, disturbing with plenty of bizareness thrown into the mix. Amazing world building in a city where time is a commodity and citizens move from one time to another adjusting their wristwatches to match one of the different timelines on offer. The city is split into 3 zones: Dayzone where darkness has been banished by billions of light sources and it is always bright. Nocturna where darkness lives. And the area in between which people refer to as Dusk where it is rumoured ghosts, shadows and dark shapes live within the mist.

Nyquist’s latest job is to track down a runaway girl Eleanor. But the case turns out much more complex as it appears Eleanor may hold the key to the city’s future. Whilst a vicious serial killer known as Quicksilver stalks the streets of Dayzone adding another dimension of horror to the tale. The writing is deeply layered as we follow Nyquist on his quest more and more complexity is revealed. There were plot twists I didn’t see coming which I love in a good mystery. Because it was a complex book this one took me a while to read but I still really enjoyed it.

John Nyquist is an interesting many-layered protagonist, a noir detective, a tough looking man with raw edges and a sharp mind. Eleanor Bale is another complex character an 18 year old girl, combining beauty and fragility with amazing strength. There are a multitude of other interesting and varied characters all well fleshed out.

I loved the book so much its going in my must read again pile. I can’t wait for a sequel. Its certainly changed the way I think of time.

I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys, sci-fi, urban fantasy, mystery, detective noir, wierd fiction and likes complex and layered stories.

I received a free advanced reader copy via Netgallery and Angry Robot in return for an honest review.

*****

Expected publication: August 1st 2017 by Angry Robot

Paperback: 384 pages   (I read an advanced copy on pdf)

ISBN: 9780857666703