Monday, 3 March 2014

Book Reviews: Mad Governments and Missing Husbands

Riot by Sarah Mussi

Riot by Sarah Mussi

2018. That is what makes this book different.

There are a lot of dystopian YA books out there at the moment (believe me – I've read most of them!), but the majority are set in other similar world to our own, or our own world but further in the future. The unique thing about riot is we are only talking about four years time. AND it's in Britain – not America. That's terrifying; the events of Riot could really happen in the very near future. And that is precisely what makes it such fascinating reading.

Mussi tells the story through first person in the eyes of Tia, daughter of a key politician. Overpopulation has pushed the government into a highly unpopular bill called the “No More Children in Need Bill.” This means that people of the unemployed and uneducated classes will be “snipped” and therefore be sterile. Tia and thousands of others take to the streets and to the murky back alleys of the internet to undermine and overthrow the bill. But events spiral way beyond what Tia even thought possible...

Tia is an excellent central protagonist: she is likeable, gutsy and down-to-earth (although I got annoyed by how often she said 'frigging!') Both her and her key partner-in-crime character, Cobain, were very well portrayed and, as a reader, I cared about what happened to them. Never underestimate the power of likeable characters. Although the subject matter of the book is very heavy, there were lighter moments as well: banter and an evolving relationship between the pair alleviated what could otherwise have been a very dark story.

Chapter one throws you straight into the action: Tia is at a march where they chant “HANDS OFF OUR BODIES!”, telling the government that there is no way they will let this bill go forward. I was drawn straight in; unfortunately, Tia's thoughts were a little all over the place for the first chapter which meant it was a little confusing. I would have preferred the first chapter to be more clear and I also would have scrapped the prologue, which details someone having the “snip.” It was so much more exciting to be brought straight into the march.

Although Tia and Cobain were strong characters, I found Tia's father too much of an archetypal villain: he was predictable and a little unrealistic. Tia's mother also seemed to be the epitome of a stereotype (although a very different one) and I couldn't quite believe in either of them. This was unfortunate because such feisty people as Tia and Cobain need equal rivals. The only aspect of Tia's character that I felt dubious about was her fairly limited vocabulary; it made me doubt her reputation as a master hacker, as she sometimes came across as fairly simple. And, as I've mentioned, if I never hear the word “frigging” again, I'll be happy!

Overall, a really enjoyable book. I haven't come across Sarah Mussi before, but I'm on the lookout for her other books. I would recommend Riot to anyone into YA fiction, dystopia and contemporary politics; it is captivating and exhilarating.

And I know we should never judge a book by this, but the cover is awesome!

Note: I received a free e-book from Hodder Children's Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz

You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz

'You Should Have Known' is the title of Korelitz's novel, and also the title of her central protagonist's self-help book in which she chastises women for choosing the wrong partners. It's an interesting premise; having a psychotherapist as the main character made me hope for insightful introspection and compelling contemplations on the nature of relationships.

It's difficult to say what I think of Korelitz's novel. At times it was compelling, but I also wanted to read it very fast at times – not due to its compelling nature, but because I just wanted to get through it. The first third or so was particularly tedious; it was very slow to get going. Korelitz's character Grace Reinhart Sachs actually reminded me of Bridget Jones at the start in a slightly alarming way. The likeness did not continue and the connection may have been entirely superficial (both lone mothers with children at very posh schools, and their interaction with other monied parents) but it struck an impression nonetheless.

After this very slow start, the real story starts. There is a crime, gradual realisations and an escape, before an entirely too-tidy-for-my-liking ending. There is no bang at the end; it's more like a little whimper.

I'm not sure what genre this book is. Although there is a murder, it doesn't feel like a thriller, but it's not 'fluffy' enough for women's fiction either. It strides the gap rather uncomfortably, uncertain of itself. I did enjoy it to a certain extent, but, as I said, I had to stop myself skimming some of the earlier sections and I was left dissatisfied with the ending.

One interesting thing to note (spoiler alert) is that we never meet Grace's husband, Jonathan. Now, we have plenty of opinions of him, plenty of knowledge and suppositions but we, as readers, never meet him. You scarcely notice this as the plot plays out and it was only at the end that I realised it entirely. I think this is very clever of Korelitz; to have such a key character that we never directly engage with is a very clever device. We never get any kind of real view of him, unbiased or otherwise. And, as Grace realises he is not the man that she married, this seems quite apt: she feels as blind as we do, left to make judgements based on someone we do not know.

Overall, I somewhat enjoyed it but it was rather unsatisfactory. Some major editing wouldn't go amiss for the beginning, and a stronger ending: these things would make me more enthusiastic. Promising – I may try some other books by Korelitz.

Note: I received a free copy of the e-book from Faber and Faber in return for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

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