Revisit – Never Let Me Go

How do you review a book to entice a reader to pick it up, without giving away details that might spoil the reading experience? You need to give enough information – without giving away key surprises within the book, but enough detail to compel the reader to give it a go.

That is the issue with this post about the award-winning tale, Never Let Me Go.

Masters of the trade (authors and their publishers) are careful with what they reveal on the cover and back of the book. So what can a reviewer use?

Maybe you should focus on what others say about the author?

‘Kazuo Ishiguro is a master storyteller, in a class of his own making.’ Independent.

‘Ishiguro has always been good at presenting the past – and childhood – as a kind of universal affliction, but probably never so well as in this novel…’ New Statesman

‘Ishiguro’s novels are preoccupied by memories, their potential to digress and distort, to forget and to silence, and, above all, to haunt.’ British Council – Literature

Or take an excerpt from the blurb:

‘Kazuo imagines the lives of a group of students growing up in a darkly skewed version of contemporary England.’

You then may ask yourself: who are the students? what is their special story? what genre is it? (dystopian, mystery?)

Initially, Hailsham School appears to be an idyllic location – perhaps a privileged boarding school location. Students have their own special quirks and idiosyncracies. They develop close friendships within their small group, as might happen at any school. But the school’s purpose is what waits to be discovered as you travel through the years; as narrated by Kathy, one of the former students.

Over three stages of Kathy’s life, we learn more about friendships, fortune and the fragility of life.

There are many levels on which you can read this tale – and then, wonder what thoughts Ishiguro meant to spark. Of course, a film interpretation has been produced, but really, you should read the book before seeing it – to avoid the spoilers of knowing the story before reading it, and to develop your own experience and understanding first. (Hopefully, this trailer is more enticing than revealing…)

# For Older Readers.

# If you have read this before, would you read it again? Was it a different experience ‘knowing’ parts of the story, or did you just enjoy the rediscovery as you went along?

The Sky So Heavy

sky so heavyLife has changed dramatically for Fin and his younger brother Max. Their dad has not returned home since he followed Kara, their step-mum, when she fled their house after a disagreement. Their mother is away in the city, looking into what has happened. One day life is normal, the next it is dark and desolate and desperate.

I read ‘The Sky So Heavy’ around the time of experiencing the bushfires in the Blue Mountains, and so readily identified with many aspects of the story:

  • – the isolation which comes when normal communication lines  is lost
  • – the worry about friends and family in a time of chaos
  • – the anxiety felt when you don’t know what is really going on in the community around you

Fortunately, however, I did not experience the ongoing loss of power and communication which occurs for Fin, Max and their neighbourhood. For them, the trauma lasts much longer and they are forced to seek out food, fuel and other options to keep themselves alive. Also unlike the bushfire experience, their community is not cohesive and caring, since people begin to fight for their own survival, food becomes scarce and knowledge of what is going on around them is limited.

Much of what I liked about the book had to do with its setting; so I spent a lot of time considering where things were taking place, enjoying Zorn’s descriptions, while trying to imagine the mountains community cloaked in a nuclear winter coat.

Her characters also rang true, without being over-the-top in their actions. They behaved in ways that I could accept teenagers under immense pressure might – brave though still children, caring for one another while still wanting care for themselves, strong at times of importance but soft enough to feel for the plight of others. Other readers might ponder if they would act the same in similar circumstances.

‘The Sky So Heavy’ makes you think about many things – including what it might be like to be thrust into nuclear devastation. As we consider what life must be like for those caught up in the ravages of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, it helps us think about what actions we might take to survive a global catastrophe, and what lengths we might go to for family and friends.


Weaving a magical series

valleyHow do you survive in a world where the king bombs your city? where can you hide? how can you escape?

The king must have decided that Rourton’s people were gettting restless, because it’s unusual to bomb the same city twice within so few years. Perhaps we’ve got more dissidents than the other cities in Taladia. I wouldn’t know; I’ve never been outside Rourton’s walls.

After this bombing, Danika decides she must escape – after all there’s nothing for her in Rurton – her family had been wiped out by the last bombing, and she had been homeless and street-bound ever since.

In her first novel, Chasing the Valley, Skye Melki-Wegner builds a challenging fantasy world where you have to be strong and streetsmart to survive. Danika grabs the chance to flee the confines of her walled city, but only after she proves herself to a small group of teens who also aim to be free of their miserable and threatened existence.

In this world, Danika and the other teen refugees struggle against the odds, against the powers of the king, to find safety – as they journey towards the legendary haven of the Magnetic Valley. To survive however, they must first develop trust in one another, and use their shared skills to overcome their common enemy, the king and his troops.

Chasing the Valley would be enjoyed by fans of the Hunger Games, Tomorrow When the War Began and other dystopian fiction, with lots of unique elements. Danika, a scrubber, lives in a world where magical abilities (one’s proclivity) mature as you get older; it’s something mysterious to be tamed for use by each individual. (Danika’s illusion talents come to the group’s rescue many times.) Alchemy bombs rain down from the king’s biplanes to destroy lives, but often leave behind a bizarre sea of flowers in their wake. Foxaries, giant fox-like creatures are used for transport as the refugees flee – to name but a few things unique to their world.

Melki-Wegner introduces all sorts of charms and talents for Danika and her crew, many of which are essential for them to beat the odds. The abilities and schemes of their enemies are also woven carefully through the tale. There is a gradual build up of understanding about adolescents in a world that is different but the same as our own. The author’s early love of fantasy and other worlds shines through in this debut novel, with the great news that there is more to come!

For more inspiration, Skye Melki-Wegner talks about her writing here:

Lovers of fantasy and dystopic worlds with a bit of steam punk thrown in will love Chasing the Valley – it’s sequel, Borderlands is due for release in early 2014!

For love & justice – Prized by Caragh M. O’Brien

I found myself enjoying the challenges of ‘Prized‘ before realizing it was the second book of a series. Can I say, it wasn’t a problem to read alone, though I will probably venture back to ‘Birthmarked’ at some stage…

‘Prized’ opens with a young girl, Gaia, struggling across the desert with her baby sister bundled close to her. The baby is close to death when the are ‘rescued’ and taken to a gated community on horseback. In the days to follow, though Gaia and her sister recover, their lives are changed completely as they are separated and come under the laws of the land.

Gaia has to submit to the dystopian order of Sylum, where the minority female community rule, and baby girls are highly prized. Her skills as a midwife are valued, in many different ways, and she challenges the rules of the society with some dire consequences for herself and others.

Will she finally submit to the autocratic control of Matrarc Olivia, as she lives under her close and demanding supervision? Can she adapt to the harsh social rules and regulations in a society where a kiss can have tragic implications?

‘Prized’ brought forward some interesting ideas – some, like the ruling (female) class being the smaller portion of the society, were a bit curious, I thought. But I gave in to the laws of Sylum, accepting the way things were much more than Gaia ever would, because I was captured by the tale Caragh O’Brien tells.

For more on the series, see: