BOOK REVIEWS

Bunny: A Novel by Mona Awad — book review

Untitled drawingThere are those bizarre and experimental books that manage to be entertaining, transgressive, and on occasion even thought-provoking. And then, there are books like Bunny whose weirdness largely rests on overusing the word bunny(which appears approximately 350 times, one time too many).
An intentionally silly story that owes more to Scream Queens and The Babysitter then Heathers or Mean Girls. If you are picking up Bunny thinking that it is some sort of intriguing campus novel, you should reconsider given that this book is the anthesis to The Secret History. If you are hoping for some sort of absurdist black comedy à la Yorgos Lanthimos, think again. The ‘satirical horror’ I was hoping to encounter in Bunny was closer to the ‘comedic horror’ in the Scary Movie franchise…

Writing about writing is never an easy endeavour since there is the high risk that you will remind your readers that they are indeed ‘reading’ a fictitious work. Since the main cast in Bunny is part of a creative writing MFA program…we were constantly reminded of how inane criticism can be. The five girls part of this program are apparently only able to write fiction that reflects their personal life or preferences…funnily enough, a lot of the criticism that these characters throw at each other’s pieces of writing could easily be aimed at Bunny (oh, the irony):

“Um, what the fuck is this, please? This makes no sense. This is coy and this is willfully obscure and no one but [the author] will ever get this […] spoiled, fragmented, lazy, pretentious […] And then I feel like screaming JUST SAY IT. TELL ME WHAT HAPPENED. TELL ME WHAT THE FUCK THIS MEANS AND WHAT YOU DID WITH HIM EXACTLY.”

Four of these girls are part of a clique that is the ultimate parody of cliques. From the first few pages they are presented as some sort of ‘hive-mind’, some sort of multi-conscious entity. Some of their conversations between them—as well as the narrator’s observations about them—could be amusing.
Although the narrator keeps insisting that she is ‘different’ (aka the only ‘big’ difference between her and the bunnies is her finances) she falls prey to this clique. Personally, I don’t think the story provides with a convincing reason for the MC to fall in with these girls. Even when the Mc sees their most secretive activities…it seemed that she stayed with them out of laziness (or merely as a way to further the plot).
The weirdness of this story seems contrived. This whole novel seems (rather ironically) like an exercise for a creative writing class. Many of the ‘bizarre’ elements in this story were predictable and had me rolling my eyes. The whole book is like a joke that goes on for too long. The first few chapters were amusing and the scenes that took place in the creative writing workshop were on point (and reminded me of the creative writing module I took in my first year of uni):

“Samantha, we’re at Warren. The most experimental, groundbreaking writing school in the country. This goes way beyond genre. It subverts the whole concept of genre.”
“And gender narratives.”
“And the patriarchy of language.”
“Not to mention the whole writing medium.”
“It basically fucks the writing medium, Samantha. Which is dead anyway, you know?”
“Exactly. This is about the Body. Performing the Body. The Body performing in all its nuanced viscerality.”

Yet, soon enough the repetitiveness of these exchanges grew tiresome and the style of the narrative became increasingly annoying and unnecessary. The narrative mimics the language—and perhaps vision—of this clique of girls: it is sweet, sticky, and extra. If you like eating candy floss until you feel sick you might be up for it…the narrative—if not the whole story—is a parody that lacks subtlety or real wit:

Here at Mini they have many cupcakes in mini but they should have more. Why don’t they have more? They should have more in mini, more! We tell them how they should have more in mini and they do not seem to make a note of it.

The narrative’s style was so repetitive! All too frequently words were repeated three times in a row in a cheap attempt to give urgency to the story.
The plot (if we can call it that) even in its ‘wtf moments’ is tedious. The characters and story seem merely a backdrop to this sickeningly sweet and repetitive language (hair like feathers, tiny pink-y small-ish hand, glossy this and that, teensy-weensy girls who eat teensy-weensy food).
This book didn’t inspire feelings of panic or fear, which I was expecting given its summary…I was never afraid of these demented girls and their stupid activities. A lot of the things seem to just happen to the MC as if she isn’t capable of these laughable ‘terrible’ things from happening (insert eye roll here). Again, I find it ironic that the MC’s own writing is criticised for this exact reason:

“Although we could hardly call her a heroine, could we? I mean, could we even call her that, Samantha? […] She’s quite passive, Samantha, isn’t she?”

I guess you could argue that this is all ‘intentional’. The stupid characters, the saccharine and repetitive language, the MC’s spinelessness…these things come across this way on purpose…but that seems like a cheap excuse to make the lazy and unfunny elements of your story ‘deliberate’.
The worst ‘sin’ of all is that this book leaves us with a less than favourable opinion about writing and criticism…which isn’t a great message.

 

My rating: ★★✰✰✰  2 of 5 stars

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The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal — book review

x510.jpgMy rating: ★★★✰✰ 3 stars

An absorbing start gives way to an increasingly frustrating reiteration of the same arguments which provided little character development.

“Grief came to her like a series of aftershocks—every time she thought she had moved on, something new reminded her of Mum.”

The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters started well enough. We are introduced to three sisters who are leading different lives and are not particularly close to one another. There is the serious older sister Rajni (married and with an eighteen year old son), the loud middle sister (whose career as an actress is having more downs than ups), and Shirina the youngest and most subdued of the sisters (who currently lives with her husband and his husband in Australia). The three embark on a pilgrimage-of-sorts after their mother’s death (who in her last letter to them lists the places they should visit during their journey).
The unfriendly dynamics between the sisters are apparent from before they reach India. Resentment, jealousy, and misunderstandings abound. All three sisters happen to have a big secret that they are keeping from the others and from the narrators…however obvious this secret was the narrative would only allude to it in an attempt to create some sort of mystery (which ultimately failed as it built 0 suspense ).
In spite of the tile and front cover (which is lovely) the story delves into serious topics such abortion, sexism, and abuse. The India portrayed by Jaswal is beautiful but dangerous. For instance, although Delhi is a city that bustles with energy and holds many attractions, it is also full of leering men who can quite readily resort to violence. Yet, Jaswal does not let her depiction of India be submerged by darkness and there are instances in which the sisters are assisted and helped by the locals.
Sadly, the sisters frustrated me to no end. They thought the same thoughts throughout the majority of their travels (ex: I can’t tell them; they don’t know how it is; she is careless, she is mean, yadda yadda). Their arguments were tiring and repetitive, which although is realistic, it also made a lot of scenes somewhat redundant as they added little to the characters or their relationships. The sisters were also somewhat stereotypes of certain personalities which never bodes well…
The moments of humour were occasionally jarring or forced. For instance, the characters walk into a laser eye surgery instead of an (view spoiler) clinic. A lot of the jokes stemmed from misunderstandings which made for many unnecessarily goofy scenes. These oddly contrived moments of humour undermined the serious tone of the story. Some of the characters seemed cartoonish (the evil mother-in-law, the spineless husband, the you-don’t-understand 18 year old). And I was vaguely annoyed by the implications that all the sisters are better off by being more ‘chilled’ (for example being okay that your son is marrying a woman 18 years older than him when he himself has just become a ‘legal’ adult…).
<b>The story had few adventures, and the pacing felt rather slow, lagging especially in the middle part. A lot of the things that happen seemed predictable (and avoidable), and soon I grew tired of the sisters.
Still, I might try Jaswal’s future works…

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Everything You Want Me to Be : Book Review


Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia

★★★✰✰ 3 stars

Last summer I read Mejia’s latest novel Leave No Trace: A Novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought it had a suspenseful and fast-paced story with alluring main characters.
While Everything You Want Me to Be is an undoubtedly well-written novel that juggles different point of views and timelines, I mostly found it to be extremely dull. rather flat.

Each of the three narratives was well-rendered and I was always able to tell whose pov I was reading from. So, while I think Mejia is a skilled writer, I did find her story and the characters to be incredibly boring. As believable as they were, I found myself caring little for them. Their arcs were predictable so much so that it was easy to see what would next happen. This sort of plot has been so overdone that this novel might ‘work’ for those readers who aren’t all versed in this genre.
While Mejia succeeds in rendering the atmosphere of a small community, I mostly felt annoyed and unaffected by her characters or their struggles.
Hopefully the next novel I read by Mejia will showcase more of her talent.

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Walking on the Ceiling : Book Review

  Untitled drawing (3).jpg
Walking on the Ceiling
by Aysegül Savas
★★✰✰✰ 2 stars

I don’t mind plotless novels or meandering stories but there has to be something that holds my attention. Some of my favourite books feature characters with little to no backstory, and simply focus on a time of their life or certain feelings that they experience throughout the course of their life. What I am ‘getting at’ is that I started Walking on the Ceiling knowing that I wasn’t going to get a straightforward story. However, even if I was prepared for a more ‘metaphysical’ type of novel, I wasn’t expecting such a pointlessly self-indulgent narrative.
The nonlinear timeline makes the story all the more irritating. There is this narrator who could as well be nameless given how boring she is. Her only characteristic is that she lies or acts in obscure ways for no reason whats-over. Although she is presented as this deep and complex character who is grappling with her past, she is a self-pitying and a singularly uninteresting individual. A few months ago I read The Far Field which featured a very ‘remote’ main character, but there her self-restraint worked well. I believed her and why she was unable to express herself to others characters and the readers. But here….the protagonist comes across as detestably obnoxious whilst claiming that she is a selfless and ‘lost’ person. To top it all off she is extremely judgemental towards others and provides no explanation for her ‘remoteness’. The advantages she had in life are swept aside to focus on her ‘sad’ parents. Boo-hoo.
The different timelines are confounding and all this background adds little emotion to the narrative.
The chapters tended to end rather abruptly, often cutting through the flow of the story or interrupting the narrator’s contemplation or thoughts.
The thing I did enjoy was the way Istanbul was portrayed. The city seemed far more nuanced than anything else in this novel.
Overall, this was trying too hard to be something abstract and introspective. It would have worked with a compelling narrator; regardless if this character had likeable or dislikable attributes…as long as they were believable and fleshed out their story would have been a cohesive and thoughtful cogitation, rather than this patently elusive mess.

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