Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik — New Review

I was expecting Spinning Silver to be a solid reworking of a fairy tale, which would be enjoyable enough, but nothing to blow me away. I am delighted to have underestimated Naomi Novik in this instance, because Spinning Silver was absolutely fantastic. The early chapters drew me in by giving my excellent women to care about; women who help each other in the face of useless and abusive men. The different perspectives were so well handled that I thought I was going to be reading a novel told entirely from the viewpoints of the women in society, which I now think Naomi Novik could handle masterfully. Its almost a shame that isn’t what Spinning Silver ended up being  — but not really a shame, because I did enjoy the glimpses she provided of the male characters thought processes.

The only thing that had ever done me any good in my father’s house was thinking: no one had cared what I wanted, or whether I was happy.

Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik

Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik

While I wasn’t blown away by Naomi Novik’s previous novel, Uprooted, I did enjoy the writing style, and Spinning Silver goes one better than that. The early chapters are so atmospheric that they reminded me of Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child, but what really impressed me was the use of metaphor throughout. The contrast between silver and gold is present in ways that are subtle at first, which build and build on each other as the story unfolds. Naomi Novik does some really clever things with world-building, too, using the tropes of ‘fairy tale logic’ to further both character development and the plot. That said, Spinning Silver isn’t anything so simple as just a retelling of Rumplestiltskin, it’s a story in its own right, which only takes elements from the original fairy tale, and most of those elements it twists in a clever way to make them more dramatic and more interesting. What I mean by fairy tale logic are the rules of magic in Naomi Novik’s kingdom, the rules of bargaining and promising, which feel familiar, but have also been given new significance.

He poured them back into the bag and pulled the drawstring tight around the golden light, like closing away a sunbeam, and the bag vanished beneath his long cloak.

Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik

Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik

For an author I felt only lukewarm about before, Spinning Silver has absolutely made me into a fan, and I am excited to see what Naomi Novik’s next project will be. I really hope she does more novels in this style — and I’d particularly love for her to tackle The Snow Queen. I should mention that she’s funny, too, at least in little highlights here and there. I’d recommend Spinning Silver to anyone who enjoyed The Snow Child, or Stardust, or anything ever by Patricia C Wrede.

With a demon wanting to devour me, I was feeling inclined to be devout.

Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik

Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik

Next, I’ll be reading The Salt Path by Raynor Winn.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Sandcastle by Iris Murdoch — New Review

When I picked up The Sandcastle in a tiny cafe-and-bookshop in Little Walsingham, it made me laugh within the first hundred words, and I felt that was a pretty good reason to buy and read my first work of Iris Murdoch’s. I had no expectations going in, and my first impression was that the descriptions were lovely, but I had no idea what the book was going to be about. At first, I enjoyed the gentle happiness of the main character’s good mood, though I wasn’t sure I liked Mor – or any of the characters. Whether or not the cast of characters are likeable, they certainly develop as the story goes along, and the book continued to be funny, in a dry sort of way, in describing their adventures.

So that, it seemed obscurely to Mor as he walked back, to tell Nan the truth would really be to mislead her.

The Sandcastle, Iris Murdoch

The Sandcastle, Iris Murdoch

The Sandcastle is a very well-plotted book, with things that seem only to be humorous asides returning in bigger roles, giving the book a very coherent feeling which I was impressed with. The tone throughout much of the novel does create a distance between the reader and the events, and the characters. That might be as much down to the time and style Iris Murdoch was working in as anything else. There was one chapter, describing Donald’s misadventures at St Bride’s which was genuinely exciting, and really stood out amid the rest of the narrative. The prose is quite elegant, and there were many admirable turns of phrase.

He felt like a man with one cheek exposed to the fragrant breezes of the spring, while upon the other is let loose an autumnal shower of chilling rain.

The Sandcastle, Iris Murdoch

The Sandcastle, Iris Murdoch

Possibly the cleverest thing about The Sandcastle is in the early chapters, where it’s obvious to the reader that Mor is lying to himself, as well as to everyone else in his life, without it ever being explicitly stated. Mor himself doesn’t realise what is happening, and yet as a reader I never doubted my own impressions. I’d love to know how exactly Iris Murdoch accomplished that.

I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoyed The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins, as well as to anyone who enjoys elegant prose and descriptions of houses and places.

Next, I’ll be reading Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I by Carolyn Mackler — New Review

As a teenager, I read two of Carolyn Mackler’s books, and if you’d asked me earlier this year I’d have said I loved Love and Other Four Letter Words a lot more than The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things. I reread both, because I knew I’d be writing this review, and was surprised to find my feelings were totally the other way around. I loved The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things in audiobook and was excited to read Carolyn Mackler’s sequel.

Sadly, rereading The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things so close to reading The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I really threw into focus how similar they are. I noticed that a lot of the character and relationship development in the first book is reversed in the early chapters of The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I. Virginia’s relationships with her dad, her best friend and the popular girl at school completely revert to what they originally were, rather than building from where they ended. Even the event that throws the plot into motion — Virginia’s brother being accused of date rape — is the same between the two books.

If I looked like her, my parents would love me unconditionally. They wouldn’t care that I’m a crappy driver and I can’t speak French and I swing a golf club like it’s a baseball bat.

The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I, Carolyn Mackler

The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I isn’t a bad book. It’s exciting to read, it handles character development and family relationships well and is probably one of the better books-for-teenagers I’ve read. It’s not even a worse book than The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things, it’s just that in many ways it’s the same book, and that was disappointing. I’d recommend The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I if you know you liked Carolyn Mackler 15 years ago, but can’t actually remember the plots of her novels very clearly.

Next, I’ll be reading The Sandcastle by Iris Murdoch.

Rating: 2 out of 5.