Review: The Blood Miracles by Lisa McInerney

Premise: readers of McInerney’s debut, The Glorious Heresies, will remember Ryan, teen drug dealer with the tempestuous relationship with Karine. Ryan returns here, sinking deeper into the dark underbelly of Cork’s criminal scene. And playing the piano.

Thoughts: the follow-up to the Bailey’s Prize-winning The Glorious Heresies leaves behind the different narrative strands of the first book to focus on Ryan, the young, troubled drug dealer. Other characters from McInerney’s debut do pop up, so it’s helpful to flick through that book in advance as a refresher. It’s also an enjoyable tie to the first book, particularly when Maureen reappears; the world depicted here isn’t exactly charming, but Maureen definitely is. There are added complications; Ryan’s difficult relationship with his father remains a problem, and his efforts to diversify into club culture prove trickier than he expected. There’s the added complication of a break-up with childhood sweetheart Karine and a new liaison with Natalie. If Ryan was a real person, I would strongly advise him to be seeking fewer issues in his life rather than more, but I suppose that would make for a far less interesting book.

As a big fan of McInerney's first book, I was not disappointed by The Blood Miracles. The gritty world she set up in the first book is maintained here, showing the seedy underbelly of Cork and its criminal population. It's not a world you'd particularly want to live in, but it's absorbing to read about. I really like McInerney's writing style; it's as unflinching here as it was in her first book and, as someone whose reading doesn't usually include this kind of story or setting, I find it really refreshing and vibrant.

Would she mind if he detailed reality? It's about moving around all day, talking shite and throwing shapes at those in the same boat but knowing it's all chestnuts and mottos and platitudes, like you're working off a script. It's meaningless but you're disassociated and with disassociation comes hangovers, a bad diet, a smoker's cough. It's a false and empty function and there's no point to it, no comfort in it; you're a boil on the arse of your own country. So you deflect reality with notions like brotherhood, loyalty, hierarchy. Stupid dick-clutching fantasies. Stories Natalie wants to hear.
This is not part of Ryan. It's something Ryan does to keep the wolf from the door, even though the bears are inside picking their teeth by the fire.

As with The Glorious Heresies, there's a real sense of menace pervading The Blood Miracles. Subject to the violent whims of the bosses of the criminal underworld, the sense of danger Ryan lives with is palpable; I actually felt quite stressed reading this. It's not like Ryan's a particularly loveable character, but those around him are so unpleasant it's hard not to root for him.

In Conclusion: I definitely recommend this to fans of The Glorious Heresies and, if you haven't got to that book yet, you absolutely should. McInerney has such a gritty and refreshing style; it's brutal and at times alarming and disturbing, in a way that marks her out as a really unique voice. The Blood Miracles is an excellent follow-up to a superb debut; I can't wait to see what she writes next.

YA Review: The Circus by Olivia Levez

The Premise: Willow has run away repeatedly, but her millionaire father’s impending marriage with a woman half his age is the last straw; this time she’s going for good. Disappearing on the eve of the wedding, Willow flees across England, soon finding that life on her own is not quite what she expected.

Thoughts: I’ll start with positive things. The novel is divided into four distinct sections, each of which provides the reader with a different kind of reading experience. The first shows Willow in her enormous house, talking nonchalantly about her posh boarding school and her pony; I don’t think this part is meant to be funny but I couldn’t help but be amused by Willow’s ultimate first-world problems. At one point, she gets really angry because her father bought her a horse, but ruined it by getting one for her stepmother-to-be too. I know: how incredibly traumatic.

Reaching Hastings, Willow realises the depth of her own naivety when her money is stolen and she ends up sleeping rough. This part is gritty and quite affecting, but the fact that Willow could just go back to her afore-mentioned palace at any time reduced the impact for me. Her tragic friend Suz is what gives the novel its emotional thrust; it would make sense if she was in the book to highlight how ridiculous Willow is being, but that’s not really what’s going on.

I requested this book via NetGalley because I’m a bit of a sucker for circus-set stories. Since reading The Night Circus, I’ve been keen for other stories set in big tops and I don’t think I’m alone in this. Be warned; a circus does feature and the depiction of it is quite detailed, but it takes a long time to get there and it doesn’t last long.

In Conclusion: I am sure some readers (perhaps teen readers with a greater appreciation of angst and melodrama) will lap up Willow’s misasdventures. There’s loads going on in The Circus to keep the reader engaged. I just couldn’t deal with Willow; I kept waiting for an actual reason for her running away and it never came. There are hints at her having some form of mental illness, but these aren’t developed into anything that makes sense of her actions. Overall, this book wasn’t for me.

Top Ten Tuesday: My Reading Wishlist A.K.A All My Stupid Ideas for Books Which Only I Would Read

This week’s TTT, hosted as alway by The Broke and The Bookish, concerns the features we’d like to see more of in books. Here’s what I demand from the authors of today:

European YA
I assume European writers outside of the UK write YA, but it doesn’t seem to be translated or widely available. I actually REALLY LOVE EUROPE (cries for five hours about stupid politics and how much everyone hates us now) and would love to read about teens in Germany, France, Spain and basically everywhere. Specifically, I want these to be by writers from those countries, not English people who once went to Barcelona on holiday. Aside from anything else, I’ve been to Barcelona 4 times so I could write that myself. I recently read a YA novel set in Sweden, by a Swedish writer and it made me greedy.

A book about Hole
I have Courtney Love’s Dirty Blonde, and have read some books that include mentions of Hole, but can’t find a book about them entirely. The closest I’ve come is Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth’s book, Girl in a Band, which contained about 60,000 unflattering references to Courtney that really weren’t necessary.

African history
Very specifically, I want a Penguin History of Africa. I have the equivalent for Latin America, which, yes, I realise involves far fewer countries, but I really want to know a lot about Africa and this would be a very helpful way for me to start. Penguin, are you listening?

Books set in Yorkshire
Because I live there and I like it when books mention places I know. One of Matt Haig’s books mentioned The Cockpit in Leeds, a sadly now-defunct music venue which I used to love, and this namecheck made me extremely happy.

More Very Specific Historical Periods
Specifically, I want a novel about the Suffragettes, some YA about colonialism, the American Civil War, Spain in the Early Modern period and a book about Picasso. I feel like all of this is very reasonable.

Supercool Feminist Heaven
I feel like it would be great if someone wrote a novel or a play about all the cool, dead feminists meeting up in a kind of feminist heaven and bitching about certain politicians and Piers Morgan. Hang on, this is actually a good idea. NOBODY STEAL IT.

Indie Music 2001-2006
Again, perhaps something I should just write myself, but I would very much like to read a book about the explosion of garage bands, particularly in New York, that began with The Strokes in 2001 with the release of Is This It. I would like a chapter on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and one on Interpol please, as well as a justification for why Black Rebel Motorcycle Club aren’t incredibly famous.

The Valois Kings
Another random historical thing here, but I studied the Valois Kings in A-level history and they were, to use academic terms, proper good. I would like to read some variation of the 800 page epic about them. Yes, I could have just put this in my hastily constructed point about Random Historical periods, but then how will I get this list to 10?

Weird Narrators
I have read a book with a dog as the narrator (The Last Family in England) and, in case I haven’t mentioned it a bazillion times yet, a porcupine (Memoirs of a Porcupine by Alain Mabanckou). I have read a book in which a painting was a narrator (The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild). I would like more weird narrators, please. A cat, definitely. Maybe a shed or something. Clouds? Look, I don’t know – I’m not a writer. But you see where I’m going with this.

Time Travel That Makes Sense
Clearly this one is a joke as this will literally never happen.

What do you want to see more of in books? Perhaps you’ve written a YA novel about obscure French monarchs narrated by a wheelie bin and translated by Courtney Love which you’d like to send me a copy of. I am all ears.

Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

eleanor oliphant.pngThe Premise: Eleanor is a creature of routine: she wears the same clothes every day to the same job she’s been doing since leaving university; she drinks the same vodka alone every weekend, and she speaks to her mother at the same time every Wednesday. She doesn’t engage with other people; she doesn’t quite understand other people and they definitely don’t understand her. Eleanor assumes her life will carry on in the same way forever, until inadvertently becoming involved in someone else’s life gives her a new perspective.

Thoughts: that synopsis in no way represents how wonderful and surprising this book is, but I don’t want to spoil it and so want all humans to read it, so that will have to do. I loved this book; it made me laugh more than once during the first half and made me cry in the second. Having seen Eleanor Oliphant compared to Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project, I was prepared for social misunderstandings and general awkwardness; like Don in that book, Eleanor seems to be somewhere on the autism spectrum, although this is never actually stated. Eleanor is far more disarming than Don, however, and I felt tremendous affection for her from very early on. Her befuddlement concerning other people and the things they enjoy is mainly funny, although sometimes heartbreaking, as it reveals the depth of her isolation. Eleanor lives alone in a flat, counting a house-plant as her only friend: a situation obviously imbued with pathos, even before the other complications of Eleanor’s life are revealed.

The majority of Eleanor Oliphant sees its titular character navigating social occasions, making some bad decisions based on romantic inexperience, and exhibiting confusion about the behaviour of her colleagues. But there’s always a hint of sadness in the amusement; a funny shopping trip to obtain ‘normal’ clothes is set against her weekly trips to the local shop to buy enough vodka to see her through the weekend, and Eleanor’s isolation is palpable. Honeyman does a tremendous job of finding humour in Eleanor’s lack of social training, while also hinting at the tragedies in her past which rendered her so isolated. Eleanor’s narrative voice is hugely engaging, and her naivety gave me a developing sense of dread, as I found myself feeling protective towards her; she’s such a brilliantly realised protagonist, it’s hard to think of her as being fictional.

I don’t want to say anything more about the plot, because the surprises should remain exactly that, but I feel duty-bound to highlight the extraordinary shift in tone which Honeyman executes quite late on; I’m not often surprised by books, because all I do is read so there are few plot twists which can catch me off guard, but the about-turn Eleanor Oliphant takes gave me a sense of having been very abruptly and unpleasantly thrown off a rollercoaster. It’s a very discombobulating moment and one which I think Honeyman manages magnificently.

In Conclusion: obviously, I loved this book. It will be my new go-to recommendation for discerning people who seek suggestions, and I will definitely have to buy a copy of my own, having read an e-ARC in the first instance (thank you to the power of a million to HarperCollins and NetGalley, by the way). Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is gloriously written, by turns witty and disturbing, and contains more than a few twists to engage even the most hard-to-please reader. You really, really need to read this book.