The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J Maarten Troost — Reread Review

I dimly recall finding The Sex Lives of Cannibals funny the first time I read it. This time, I was mostly annoyed by J Maarten Troost’s self-declared lack of work ethic. Over two years leaving on an equatorial atoll, he claims he wanted to write a novel, and yet no novel was written. Perhaps I was primed for annoyance, having already wanted to tick off Osborne in Wives and Daughters for finding a life of work so completely impossible.

On the positive side, I still found The Sex Lives of Cannibals interesting. Most types of travel writing, I assume, make readers want to actually visit the places described. Certainly, that’s been my experience with Bill Bryson and Michael Boothe. But J Maarten Troost makes it abundantly clear that living in Kiribati is awful. The food situation is dire, the heat is unbearable and even the occasionally mentioned moments of vivid colour do not make it seem like a holiday to Kiribati would be fun.

Evening light descended, and as we walked through the village the air itself began to assume pink and blue hues. The dinner hour approached and fires were lit and the smoke settled over the village as a fine mist, capturing the soft light of sunset.

The Sex Lives of Cannibals, J Maarten Troost

And yet, despite all this, The Sex Lives of Cannibals is light, easy reading. While I probably won’t seek out more books by J Maarten Troost, if I were given one (as I was given this one, actually), I wouldn’t throw it away unread!

Rating: 2 out of 5.

When it comes to naming things, vanity and flattery are dull motivations best suited for deciding on a child’s middle name. Much more interesting are the descriptive names that suggest a story or happening of interest. Captain Cook was pretty good about this. From him, we have Cape Good Success, Cape Deceit, Cape Desolation, Adventure Cove, Devil’s Basin, Great Black Rock and Little Black Rock, all in Tierra Del Fuego, names that suggest that rounding Cape Horn in the late eighteenth century was probably a fairly up and down experience.

The Sex Lives of Cannibals, J Maarten Troost

Incidentally, the cannibals of the title are not humans but dogs. Even knowing this, I had to seriously consider whether ‘The Sex Lives of Cannibals‘ was a title I felt comfortable telling my new team-member Caitlin that I was reading this week!

Bad Girls by Jacqueline Wilson — Reread Review

I think the first Jacqueline Wilson book I ever read was Cliffhanger, but I certainly went on to enjoy most of the books with female main characters, until I aged out of them somewhere around Secrets. Her characters are inseparably linked with Nick Sharratt’s illustrations – several of which I remembered as clearly as if I’d seen them 18 days, rather than 18 years, ago. My first independent attempt at creative writing was a blatant rip-off of The Lottie Project only without the historical sections, because even at the tender age of 13 I was afraid to get the research wrong! I wish I still had it somewhere so I could do a side-by-side comparison.

I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I just wanted to stop being me. I wanted to grow up a whole new person, not Mandy White.

Bad Girls, Jacqueline Wilson

I don’t remember whether I identified with Mandy when I first read Bad Girls, but I do enjoy her character development now. Every stage of her story feels realistic, from the shy, friendless girl who can’t confront her bullies or her parents to the cautiously optimistic Year Six student who rises above the classroom teasing.

Tanya and Mandy’s mum are equally well-drawn, despite being supporting characters. Even the bullies aren’t entirely one-dimensional, though Kim is never really redeemed and it’s only hinted that her bullying might be a sign of deeper unhappiness.

The little, memorable details are probably my favourite thing about Bad Girls. Mandy’s ‘orange treat tea’ on the best tray, the blue-and-silver Indigo storefront with the navy handknit jumper. They feel like the kind of things that would have mattered to me as a child. And it doesn’t hurt that there’s a rainbow theme.

It was getting easier and easier, the story spinning out of my mouth like silk thread, and I was embroidering as I went, making it as detailed as possible.

Bad Girls, Jacqueline Wilson

I wanted something quick and easy to read so that I wouldn’t have to stress too hard about my blog this week while I attempt to reach 31,667 words of my own novel for NaNoWriMo, and Bad Girls certainly acheived that! It was fun to revisit a story from my childhood, and it felt quite different from my more regular forays back into the worlds of Lucy Maud Montgomery or Louisa May Alcott.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Binding by Bridget Collins — New Review, Bookclub Edition

I was really excited about The Binding! It’s a book about making books, and Caroline (from book club) described it as ‘a total slush-fest’, so I was entirely prepared to really enjoy reading it.

A thin crust of windblown snow clung to the rough plaster, as intricate and granular as salt crystals.

The Binding, Bridge Collins

The beginning was good. Perhaps because I’m attempting NaNoWriMo this month, I really noticed all of the descriptions of things. (My own writing tends not to be descriptive.) I liked piecing together the hints we were given about what had happened to Emmett, and the Bridget Collins uses reading and books as a kind of magic, reminded me of a piece of writing advice that I think is really cool:

So run with that: pick a perfectly ordinary skill or pursuit, one that’s integral to our everyday life, and suppose that in your world, it’s a mystical practice that transgresses against the natural order.

David J Prokopetz

The middle third of the book was my favourite bit. I really liked the building romantic tension, the way Collins weaved in moments that she’d already hinted at. You get the satisfaction of filling in all of the backstory and understanding how it has shaped what you’ve already read and contemplating how it might relate to what will happen in the future.

The air was warm and as soft as cream, scented with hay and summer dust.

The Binding, Bridget Collins

Unfortunately, at least for me, at the moment Emmett gets his memories back, Collins switches the narrative to Lucian, who hasn’t. As the reader, I knew exactly what had happened to him. It was pretty obvious that he was going to find out, and I was fairly certain that I knew how it would resolve when he did. So the final third of the book was just waiting for that to happen. All that was left was to wonder exactly when and how Lucian would recover his memories, and it was agonising! I’ve mentioned before – in my review of The Fandom – that I don’t read much portal fantasy because I hate that moment when I know the character is in a fantasy world but they’re still questioning their reality.

The Binding was like that, only so, so much worse! I don’t even think it was Bridget Collins’ fault, because the writing was still good, the characters were still interesting, the tension was still high. It was just that I found the background tension of knowing something Lucian didn’t to be unbearably frustrating! I honestly struggled to make myself read every word rather than just skimming until the resolution of that dandling plot thread. It was just too much dramatic irony for me to handle, which is a real shame!

This was my most unpleasant reading experience of the year, hands down, but it’s not a bad book! Just not one for people who can’t handle knowing things that the character doesn’t for page after page. I should add that I really liked the ending! I just hated getting there.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell — Reread Review

Even though I’ve read Wives and Daughters before, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy Elizabeth Gaskell’s prose is to understand. This is certainly no Rob Roy. It doesn’t seem fairy to declare an author one of my favourites when I’ve only read one example of her work, but I certainly want to try reading more of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels – if I can ever get to the end of TBR pile that I already own.

Not only are the descriptions and dialogue clear, I also find Molly’s emotions to be more relatable than those of some other classical heroines. I don’t think I’ve ever seen myself in Tess or Jane Eyre, certainly not in Cathy of Wuthering Heights or Emma Bovary. But I definitely see myself in Molly Gibson: in her desire to be good and selfless, to put her own happiness aside and never to make herself an inconvenience.

If Roger was not tender in words, he was in deeds. Unreasonable and possibly exaggerated as Molly’s grief had appeared to him, it was real suffering to her; and he took some pains to lighten it, in his own way, which was characteristic enough.

Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell

Wives and Daughters is brimming with other great characters, too. Squire Hamley and his son Roger are, to my mind, the most lovable. The squire certainly has faults, but his pride in his son absolutely touches my heart, especially when he rereads letters praising Roger so often that he practically has them memorised.

If Molly had not been so entirely loyal to her friend, she might have thought this constant brilliancy a little tiresome when brought into every-day life; it was not the sunshiny rest of a placid lake, it was rather the glitter of the pieces of a broken mirror, which confuses and bewilders.

Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell

Cynthia and Osborne are more complicated characters, which is what makes them so interesting. Osborne’s disinclination to work is hard to stomach in 2020, but, even with that in mind, Elizabeth Gaskell manages to make him sympathetic.

Though far less significant to the plot, the unmarried Miss Brownings might be the characters who best show Elizabeth Gaskell’s skill. It would be so easy for them to be stock spinster sisters, faintly ridiculous but well-meaning, after the pattern of Miss Bates. Instead, the Miss Brownings are distinct from each other, and have views and interests that go beyond themselves and the novel’s main characters. I was particularly interested by Miss Browning’s rant against married life.

Despite not having a proper ending – Elizabeth Gaskell died with one chapter left to write – Wives and Daughters is certainly satisfying!

Rating: 4 out of 5.