Reading wrap-up - February 2022
In February, I kept on my path of reading from all genres and all formats. It makes for a very heterogenous wrap-up, with a thread of powerful prose that doesn't leave the readers indifferent.
Possession, A.S. Byatt · 1990
I don't exactly know what I've just read but wow, that book is a ride.
We follow several scholars of literature in the 1980s, investigating the case of a famous (fictional) poet, Randolph Henry Ash, and his mysterious connexions. There follows an immensely lyrical, dark academia tale of Victorian poetry, longing and expressing what refuses to be put into words.
A.S. Byatt manages to create imaginary 19th-century poets interacting with famous names from history, to compose the poems of these artists, and to write pages of academia studying these poets and their texts. I'm truly baffled. The elaborate language she uses sometimes lost me, but I am certainly in awe of what Byatt has achieved here. She weaves the two timelines (the poets' and the researchers') in a myriad of literary forms including novel, poetry, letters - and what letters! Her characters are nuanced, and so are their relationships, with no clear-cut definition which leaves room for a lot of representation. The purely British atmosphere is tactile, and her description of a quaint bathroom alone is worth a read.
Rep : polyamourous character, ace-spec characters (with a frustrating outcome, but I won't spoil the last pages).
CW : 19th-century sexist attitudes towards women
The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince, Robin Hobb · 2013
Are you sometimes frustrated not to know more about a fictional world you enjoy? Robin Hobb has the solution for the Six Duchies. In the Tawny Man Trilogy, without spoiling you, characters often refer to the legendary figure of the Piebald Prince, without his story being told in full. Ten years after the publication of the last tome, Fool's Fate, the author released this two-fold novella, The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince, exploring the history behind the folk tale. And while the Prince is the one most alluded to in Tawny Man, his story begins with a wilful princess whose fate is told in the first half of this little book adorned with beautiful illustrations in black and white by Jackie Morris.
You won't be surprised to know I love this addition to Hobb's worldbuilding. She tells these two stories in an oral tone quite different from what she has accustomed her readers, with the rhythm of a minstrel and sprinkled warnings by the narrator. Thanks to this little-known volume, we get to know more about the story of the Six Duchies and its people, and although you can very well enjoy Tawny Man without knowing about The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince, I highly recommend you pick this one up either before or after the trilogy to make the pleasure last that little bit longer.
Rep : lesbian MC, character with a disfigurement.
TW : animal death (described).
Féro(ce)cités, collective · 2021
Mouse, stork, raccoon, lizard, ... What would you look like in a world of animal fantasy? Projets Sillex invites us on a trop alongside companions of fur and feathers in this colourful collection. Captivating stories told in styles both varied and chiselled - a delight, even if the genre isn't my cup of tea at first sight!
I had the pleasure of reading three stories before the collection came out (the publisher sent me a booklet, but I bought the final volume myself) and was really impressed with their quality, so I was even happier to find out that the other tales in the book were just as good!
CW: long list of CW provided in the book.
Artemis, Andy Weir · 2017
After Andy Weir's The Martian became a new favourite last year, I was eager to read more by him and so I took advantage of my father's birthday to gift him Artemis so that I'd be able to read it after him. And when I was in need of pure fun and escapism, I picked it up and the book delivered. Artemis has the same defiant optimism and fast pace as The Martian, with a wider focus since it involves a main character interacting with a group of allies rather than one isolated on a planet with no hope of survival.
Artemis's MC, Jazz, was born on Earth, in Saudi Arabia, but she emigrated to the Moon at a very young age and does not intend to come back. She's become estranged from her father after some very poor life choices, and ekes out a living as a courier navigating the domes of Artemis, the Moon's human settlement. When a contact hires her for a dangerous job that could bring her financial woes to an end, she doesn't hesitate long. But of course, things don't exactly go as planned and Jazz finds herself with a target on her back.
This book really was entertaining, and I was pleasantly surprised to find so many diverse characters. I wasn't as emotionnally attached to the characters as I'd been to The Martian's MC, but that was partly because the plot reached farther than the mere survival of one person whose every action could mean their death. Artemis did have heist vibes, which was perfect as I'd been considering re-reading Six of Crows for pure comfort. I loved witnessing first a lone wolf and then a cast of mis-matched characters devising a less-than-perfect plan and going for it. I don't think Artemis is better than The Martian, but I'm looking forward to reading Weir's third book, Project Hail Mary.
Rep: MC from Saudi Arabia, very diverse cast of characters, including several queer characters and one disabled secondary character.
Steering the Craft, Ursula K. Le Guin · 1998
Steering the Craft isn't a book about creative writing in general, about motivation or how to get to the end of a first draft. It's a textbook about language, how to learn its rules the better to break them afterwards and craft your own style. Ursula K. Le Guin talks punctuation, grammar, and syntax, with a no-nonsense, tongue-in-cheek voice that I found delightful. Each chapter is short and to-the-point, and followed by writing prompts focusing on craft rather than ideas, as well as points to discuss with a writing group. All these make Steering the Craft a new staple on my shelf of books about writing, one I know I'll come back to regularly, and especially in the revision process.
What is not yours is not yours, Helen Oyeyemi · 2016
The first story of this collection was dizzyingly intricate, with story-strands weaving in and out of focus, characters blending into one another and atmospheric descriptions. Each story begs to be studied, picked apart and marveled at, just as much as it begs to be enjoyed for the sheer beauty of their prose and symbolism. I felt like I was walking along a baroque corridor, noticing dozens of doors slightly ajar on either side of me. I couldn't turn my head to see what lay beyond, but I knew there were many rooms of equal splendour waiting for me if I stepped just a little out of the main narrative path.
Oyeyemi's writing has this hypnotic quality that makes me not-quite-conscious of the things I'm reading. It's really hard to describe. I'm reading about something, and without my being conscious of it, the focus shifts and suddenly I find myself reading about something else entirely. It made it quite impossible to keep track of the content warnings, for instance. I'm sorry for this messy review, but this collection was quite challenging in a good way.
I'd recommend this book to fans of The Shadow of the Wind and The Starless Sea looking for even stranger and deeper fiction.
Rep: queer MCs (bi, lesbian, gay MCs), black MC.
CW: terminal illness. Passing mention of suicide, eating disorder.
Adrastée, Mathieu Bablet · 2016
A millenia-old king, ruler of Hyperborea, sets out in search of answers in this philosophical and nostalgic graphic novel by Mathieu Bablet. Dizzying landscapes unfold on the pages, in very subtle colour palettes. Dialogues are reduced to their bare minimum, the better to let the reader's mind wander alongside the nameless character who crosses paths with deities, spirits and humans, all of them reflecting a kaleidoscopic picture of himself and the inhabitants of the lands he passes. Some passages evoke Paul Grimault and Jacques Prévert's The King and the Mockingbird, others put me in mind of Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain (and when I mentioned that on Twitter, the author-illustrator himself confirmed it had been one of his inspirations!).
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What did you read in February?