Top Ten Tuesday: Toxic Relationships

This week’s TTT, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish, is a Valentine’s special. As previously mentioned, I hate Valentine’s Day, so I’m going to treat you all to a cynical list of couples who should never have even swapped numbers.

Jasmine and Royce, Something In Between by Melissa de la Cruz
Literally the most annoying couple in YA ever; I know they are actually adolescents but I don’t think that’s a good enough excuse for the level of pathetic adolescent behaviour on display here.

Mr and Mrs Bennet, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
For some bizarre reason, daddy B is seen as a really good literary father, while his missus is widely derided as being a nightmare. This is completely unfair. Mrs Bennet, quite justifiably for a mother of 5 daughters in the early 19th century, is anxious about her family’s prospects. Mr Bennet doesn’t care. She deserves better.

Luz and Ray, Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
These two are just not right together. She’s completely helpless, while he seems to want to protect her but has really poor methodology.

Maria and Lily, As I Descended by Robin Talley
I loved the demented nature of this relationship in Talley’s lesbian Macbeth retelling, but, realistically, these two were a disaster from the start.

Lotto and Mathilde, Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Groff does a great job of showing just how bad a relationship this is, through Lotto’s bombast and arrogance in the first half and Mathilde’s borderline psychotic version of events in the second.

Romeo and Juliet, Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
In case you’re under any illusion that this is the greatest love story the world’s ever known, let’s get real. Romeo is in love with Rosalind, than ditches that idea when he sees Juliet and think she’s pretty. Juliet recognises a chance to piss off her parents and maybe get out of marrying Paris (who, FYI, does nothing wrong and deserves better). Then they die. This is a terrible relationship. Although Juliet can hardly be blamed for this as her parents have a similarly awful marriage so how would she know any better?

The Narrator and Marla, Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
From the moment they meet in a support group meeting for an illness that neither actually has, it’s clear that no good can come from this hook-up.

Amy and Nick, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My hatred for this book knows no bounds and this horrendous pair are the main reason. Although they are both so awful they deserve each other, if they had never fictionally met, I wouldn’t have subjected myself to this horrible book.

Jane and Mr Rochester, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I hate Rochester. He’s such a mansplainer and he is SO HORRIBLE to Jane. She should have just gone off with St John and then abandoned him to have a foreign journey of self-discover. On her own.

Aelin and Rowan, the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas
This is probably an unpopular view but I hate these two together. I don’t think his massively abusive behaviour is particularly romantic (I know, I’m weird like that) and when they finally exorcise their sexual tension, it is the most uncomfortable moment in the history of ever. And yes, I did use the word “exorcise” deliberately.

Any other toxic literary relationships to add to the list?

Review: Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

swimming-lessonsThe Premise: If you’re in the mood for some family drama, Swimming Lessons may well be the book for you. The plot centres on Flora, whose mother disappeared twelve years ago. At the outset, Flora’s ageing father, Gil, tumbles to a hospitalising accident after believing he’s seen his missing-presumed-dead wife. As the family tries to make sense of the past, long-buried secrets come to the surface and people do a peculiar amount of naked swimming.

Thoughts: I maintain a great degree of love for Claire Fuller’s last book, Our Endless Numbered Days (you can read my gushing review here) and a significant part of this was the beauty of the writing. Swimming Lessons is equally lyrical and lovely. The story is split between the present day, third person narrative and the letters that Ingrid, the long-lost wife and mother, wrote to Gil and left in a selection of books, expertly chosen for their titles; the contrast between the two time-frames creates a fascinating disjunct, as vulnerable, aged Gil is revealed to have been a somewhat less sympathetic figure in the past. It’s also a clever way for the reader to get to know Ingrid in her own words, rather than through the contrasting views of her family.

As with Our Endless Numbered Days, Fuller has crafted engaging and flawed characters; Flora is endearingly peculiar, while sensible Nan, the older sister, has never had the luxury of being “quirky,” instead having to act as a mother to Flora in the wake of their actual mother’s disappearance. The supporting characters, like the old family friend who knows more than he’s letting on, and Flora’s boyfriend, who is a fan of Gil’s infamously rude novel, also contribute plenty to the richness of the plot.

As a serial bookworm, I also loved the way in which Fuller weaves book collecting throughout the book. While the descriptions of Gil’s home overflowing with tomes may horrify a neatfreak, I wanted to move in. The writing process is presented painfully, also serving to show how the single-mindedness necessary for success can make a person selfish and distant. And, while I will continue to keep my books in the most immaculate condition you can imagine, I liked reading about Gil’s passion for marginalia and what you can learn about a person from what they underline in their books. It’s nice to read something that’s so concerned with reading.

In Conclusion: Claire Fuller has written another beautiful and appealing novel; while her work is undoubtedly literary, it’s also extremely accessible. Swimming Lessons is simultaneously warm and haunting; I’ll continue to eagerly grab everything Fuller writes.

Review: Silver Stars by Michael Grant

silver-starsThe Premise: the sequel to 2016’s Front Lines, Silver Stars picks up the story of the female GIs of Grant’s slightly fictionalised WWII. Rio Richlin continues her attempt to become Rambo, while superspy Rainy takes on a dangerous mission, traveling deep into enemy territory. Meanwhile, Frangie continues to be the best thing in the whole war, despite being doubly patronised for being both female and black.

Thoughts: I really, really liked Front Lines. It was exciting and fresh and I loved reading about such badass girls. Silver Stars covers two of these qualities, with freshness inevitably reduced somewhat given that this is a sequel. Where Front Lines focused on the three girls signing up for combat and their struggle to be respected within the army, its follow-up, with the benefit of the background having been established, gets straight onto it (not that this has any impact on the page count – it’s a pretty hefty 576 pages long).
There’s plenty of action in Silver Stars, with all three main protagonists thrust into life-threatening situations on a regular basis. It seems to me that Rio is the one in whom Grant is most invested; her narrative seems to dominate the novel, and, consequently, there’s plenty of blood, guts and gore. Rio’s attitude is really interesting to read about; actively enjoying war and not ashamed to feel that way, she’s simultaneously aware of how unfeminine her achievements are and the ways in which this might limit her post-war options in a still-sexist world. Personally, I still find Frangie the most interesting; her story covers both anti-female sentiment and racism, with some upsetting revelations about her family and the ways in which they’ve suffered coming in Silver Stars. On the battlefield, she’s constantly put in more dangerous situations than a white medic, because her lie is deemed more dispensable than theirs, and the injustice of this really rankles. Of the three girls, it was Rainy’s story with which I failed to fully engage, partly because her mission seemed highly improbable; would the army really send a soldier into Italy during WWII just to escort a douchebag gangster to his stereotyped mobster family? The descriptions of the consequences of this frankly ludicrous mission were compelling and horrific, but I still questioned the validity of this plot strand.
Grant certainly doesn’t stint on the gruesomeness of war, which I think is to be commended; in high fantasy YA, the violence can be disturbing but the unrealistic setting means it’s not so alarming, whereas Grant is dealing in real-life situations and battles, meaning his violent scenes have more potential to horrify.

In Conclusion: I didn’t enjoy Silver Stars quite as much as its predecessor, and part of this was due to the lack of a centralised point of interest; the three strands of the plot are so disparate, without obviously leading to anything specific, that I found my attention waning. But now that I think about it,  maybe this is a clever way of highlighting the randomness of war; there isn’t a central narrative in real-life battle, and the geographical sprawl of WWII means that a more cohesive plot might risk being unrealistic. Moreover, I like what Grant’s doing with these characters; each of them developed in really interesting ways in Silver Stars, and I will be continuing with the series to see if Rio ends up singlehandedly destroying the Nazis, probably just by swearing at them.

Top Ten Tuesday: For the Love of God, Let’s Punctuate, People

This week’s TTT is a pleasingly vague one: books that need more X. I’m an English teacher and grammar pedant, so welcome to my list of books that need more punctuation. Thanks, as always, to The Broke and The Bookish, for hosting this weekly list extravaganza.

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
I’ve picked this book, but really any McCarthy novel would fit. Why does the man not use speech marks? I find his books basically impossible to read at the best of times, and the lack of proper punctation does not help.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Clearly, I am not going to criticise Maggie A, my chief goddess of literature. But, sometimes there are speech marks in The Handmaid’s Tale, and sometimes there aren’t, and if I have to invent an explanation for this to deliver to a class again, I might cry.

Hotel World by Ali Smith
There is a whole section of this book with no punctuation. None at all. As I recall, there also aren’t any spaces. WHY?

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill
This is a bit of a cheat because the weird punctuation in this book (girls’ names not being given a capital letter) is actually very relevant to the plot of female subjugation. Also, have you read this book? It’s brilliant.

Broken Glass by Alain Mabankou
I was almost put off reading this book because it has no punctuation or even paragraphs. What I found was that, once I got into it, I didn’t really notice and it was an excellent read. I’ve just picked up another Mabanckou book, Memoirs of a Porcupine, from the library and seen that the style is the same. I am brave enought to cope with this now.

All recent poetry (yes, this is a broad generalisation)
Look, I’m all for messing with the form and pushing boundaries. But I can’t help but feel that one of these 21st century confessional poets (most of them, as far as I can see, women – look, everyone, I’m not sexist; I criticise girls too) decided not to bother with full stops or, you know, actual meaning, and now they’re all at it. People, you are not e.e. cummings, so just stop trying.

Meg and Mog by Helen Nicoll
Don’t get me wrong: I love Meg and Mog. And so does my daughter, and that’s the main thing. But the lack of full stops is something I find disproportionately annoying. How am I supposed to know when to take a pause? Come on, Meg; sort it out.

Gertrude: The Cry by Howard Barker
Confession: I haven’t actually read this, but I was alerted to its existence (and reprehensible lack of punctuation) by Seb from my year 13 class (hi, Seb, if you’re reading). Obviously, plays are meant to be watched rather than read so the lack of punctuation here is less appalling, but still surely quite annoying; if I was an actor, I know I’d want to see semi-colons to help me get into character.

The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner
I really want to be the kind of hipster who genuinely likes Faulkner (or can at least convincingly lie about it) but I just find his books impossible to read. The odd punctuation mark would go a long way, Mr Faulkner.

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
This is not actually Williams’ fault, but in my copy of the play there’s a formatting error which means there’s a double exclamation mark at one point and I. Just. Can’t. Cope.

Do you share my obsession with accurate use of the semi-colon? Perhaps you have another book that could be added to my list? Say “hi” in the comments; then I won’t feel so alone in the world.