Review (Discworld): Witches Abroad

Witches #3 is a very interesting instalment on reread. I didn’t actually remember a whole tonne from when I first read it but I remember not being that enthralled because there was so much focus on OLD Granny Weatherwax, instead of the YOUNG relatable Magrat (I must have been pretty young oh dear).

What I’ve noticed rereading is I think this the real beginning of more bad-ass Discworld stories. Reaper Man had a little bit of this style but Witches Abroad is much more of a coherent fantasy action story, with a proper quest, villain and even somewhat serious twists.

There is still a rambling element of random adventures which is sort of relegated to the 1st act while the Witches make their way ‘abroad’ where Pratchett riffs on some cultural oddities before subverting fairy tales – the main theme being what if witches were the good guys in fairy tales?

Most of Pratchett’s characters are the best, but I feel like Granny Weatherwax is by far the most complex and dynamic. Even by book 3 I feel like she is still somewhat developing (and there are only 3 more books to go!) I can’t quite decide whether Vimes or Weatherwax are the most author insert of Sir Pratchett (or is it Rincewind LOL)

Review: Reaper Man (Discworld)

#discworld
This is kinda what I imagined new Death would look like (I know that technically he’s made of smoke)

Continuing my Discworld journey – Reaper man is an interesting one. As #2 of the Death series its of course going to rate highly – but there is something odd about this edition which probably detracts from it a little.

The basic premise is that Death finds himself given a ‘life’ and told his replacement will arrive soon. With little to no explanation Death decides to settle down on a local farm and adopt the life of one ‘Bill Door’.

Every single scene with Death in it is brilliant and perfect and everything you want from Sir Terry, from Death’s struggle to relate to life both humorously and philosophically to the strange connection between Death and a small child who can tell he’s a skeleton, and the final confrontation and struggle with the New Death.

So what’s the problem?

The weird thing with Reaper Man is the majority of the book is a wizard subplot. Death barely takes up any pages, and most of the book focusses on Windle Poons a recently undead and ancient wizard as him and his colleagues join with a small gaggle of typical undeads and fight against the effects of the build-up of excess ‘life’. The subplot is funny enough but is mostly silly narration – aside from a few really good gags (conversations with a medium) it mostly felt like distraction from the really good stuff.

Of course Reaper Man is all important in the series for introducing the seminal and significant ‘Death-of-[spoiler]’ so will always hold a special place for me!

Review: Moving Pictures

Wow its actually been 3 months since my last Discworld read (At this rate I’ll be done in about 10 years!).

Moving Pictures is one the standalone Discworld novels, although has a fair few familiar Ankh Morpork characters, I and I think, unless I’ve got this wrong introduces a couple of recurring wizards who remain in place for the rest of the series (Ridickully or however you spell it and Ponder Stibbons).

MP is possibly one of Pratchett’s more pointed satires where he more squarely takes aim at Hollywood – God only knows what this book would be like in modern times but I suspect there would be a lot more skewering going on, although something to always keep in mind is that Pratchett was masterful at satire without actually targeting anyone hurtfully so he would have found a way to make us laugh.

Sorry onto the actual book, not my weird daydreams. MP is also a little different from other Discworlds its a bit more traditional in plot structure with a straight MC, inciting incidents and epic battles towards the end. It also introduces the best character ever: Gaspode! I can’t believe I forgot about him until rereading!

Overall MP feels like the beginning of the more familiar Discworld novels, packed with crazy subplots, multiple characters and unexpected turns of Discworldly magic. While its not my favourite story its a fun romp.

Reaper Man is next, another one that I can’t remember much of which is actually a bonus on this journey!

Review: THE SANDMAN

Anyone following my blog will know that I’ve been anticipating this for some time – for me Sandman sits in the perfect mix of nostalgia, genuinely great storytelling, and weirdness.

I’m not sure if anyone felt the same but whenever adaptions for favourite works happen I get pretty nervous its going to be wrecked (next up Lord of the Rings) but probably the most important thing to begin with is that the new Series, is an AMAZING ADAPTATION.

My two main concerns for a Sandman screenplay is the either is would faithfully adapted but either look like crap or not successfully pull off the esoteric style OR be so heavily tweaked that it wouldn’t be very similar.

Shouldn’t have worried, somehow the creators have remained incredibly faithful to the original story, to the point where I struggled to notice differences, whether omissions or additions. There where a few aesthetic tweaks (such as having Dr Destiny in pyjamas rather then being a kind of deformed naked zombie/thing). There were also a few rearrangements of individual stories which worked really well, and a few adjustments to modernize which worked well.

SPOILER TERRITORY FOR BOTH SCREEN AND PAPER SERIES

It was interesting to me that the creators decided to put both Vol 1. and 2. into the first series. I assumed that each volume would map with a season, with possibly some of the more random stories (such as Tales at the End of the World) merged into other seasons. It worked pretty well for the series to be honest, Vol 1. is a good story on its own, but is more of a traditional hero journey/fetch quest which just touches on the themes of the whole story, whereas Vol 2. introduces the more eccentric tales and longer term themes.

It will be very interesting to see how later seasons go. One possible challenge is that many tales within Sandman comics don’t actually feature much Sandman, but rather interlinked characters – while its a fun concept, and Gaiman pulls it off well, I don’t know if a TV series would survive that way (although based from seasons 1 they did well speeding up the pace of random characters and making the interlinking a bit more obvious)

What I think secretly I liked most is that Sandman himself’s character development is a bit more overt and obvious, the reason I like this is that after reading the intricate graphic novel its cathartic to have a more on the nose show!

I’m really looking forward to future seasons of this show – in particularly further involvement of the rest of the Endless. My favourite part of the graphic novels was any part involving the Family and I’m extremely keen to see what they do with Destiny.

On a final note I might mention the casting of Sandman – I think they did great! I honestly think of Sandman as ever changing, sometimes being older, sometimes more childlike. But something about Tom Sturridge works really well, he seems simultaneously capture the authority and childishness of the character.

What were other’s thoughts on the show?

Review: Piranesi

How many times can I misspell a book title within one review?

First up, I luuuurve Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, but I will say Paranesi is quite a different work. First obvious thing is Paranesi is quite a bit shorter, and reads closer to a novella or short story than a tome.

Explaining the story for a review is a little difficult! We follow Paranesi, a foggy narrator living in a mysterious world of birds, statues and ever changing tides. As the story progresses we gradually learn more about the world, and eventually start to get hints about the ‘real world’ and what is really going on.

I confess at first I worried the story might be too complex or subtle for me, as there are many mystery messages and interesting allusions, but even though the book begins with a lot of questions and still has some intrigue by the end, its not a chore to follow.

Paranesi is definitely an acquired taste, I actually thought the closest influence was HP Lovecraft, the book is highly original and recommended for those who want something a bit different.

SPOILER FILLED ANALYSIS

While shrouded for much of the book it’s later revealed that Piranesi is a journalist/writer who had been investigating a small group of occultists who believed they could travel between worlds. In part of his investigation ‘Piranesi’ is tricked into entering this other world full of statues and is gaslit and manipulated by ‘the other’ to basically run errands in this other place.

By the end of the tale Piranesi doesn’t fully recover his old persona and doesn’t fully want to leave the Other World. It’s never quite explained what that other world is, however its revealed that the statues are all of real people, suggesting the world was perhaps a collective subconscious, shared dream, or oddly when I first started reading the book I thought it might be the very beginning or very end of the universe.

I haven’t Googled the deeper meanings or rather when I did I saw a lot of metaphoric analysis which is going to be awesome to enjoy. I won’t try and summarize it all here as I feel its a bit beyond me – but indeed, very much enjoyed.

Review: Shadow and Bone

I’m probably either 10 years too late for this review, or 1-2 years if latching onto the Netflix release

So first off this is going to sound like one of those weirdly negative reviews where people might be like ‘did you actually like this book’ – hopefully I can explain.

I’ve been aware of Shadow and Bone for a while but didn’t feel the need to read, until a friend recommended. I was pleasantly surprised.

Overall the tale is fairly cliche and tropey BUT I feel this was done well. Generally what I noticed is whenever something a bit tropey came up the pacing of the novel was quick enough that I never felt bogged down in it.

To explain the trope accusation, we have orphans the MC is a surprise chosen one who goes from rags to ‘riches’ love triangles, hard to access power which (why is this such a trope) seems to basically be a generalizes glowy power.

Also this might just be my person nitpick but some of the world-building was really just relegated to tweaked spellings and odd names for things – the most egregious example being referring to a “Kaptain” in dialogue and then literally referring to Captain in the narration. I’m not sure if it was a typo or just kinda lazy writing to make it seem like a ‘world.’

Anyway as I said it probably sounds like I’m being super negative, the story is actually exciting, intriguing, and the magic stuff was a tonne of fun. I wouldn’t necessarily pick this book up if you wanted something mind blowingly new or different, but if you just wanted a solid fantasy adventure then this is the book.

Review: The Grapes of Wrath

Possible as far from Ayn Rand as I could get

So continuing my trend towards classics my next victim was The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck.

Set in the US during the Great Depression Grapes of Wrath follows the Joad family as they leave the farm that’s just been pulled from under them, and try to find work in California.

There’s an interesting narrative twist to this book which I haven’t really seen before, each chapter has a kind of interlude where Steinbeck riffs on the state of the country and general happenings without focussing on any main characters. I actually sometimes enjoyed these poetic and powerful interludes more than the MC’s story! This style created a strong sense of what was happening broadly while also creating an impeding sense of dread – in many respects the ‘Villain’ of this story is poverty and politics and misfortune.

As to the characters story its very much a challenging tale about the trials of sudden poverty, culture shock from travelling between state lines and the quickly changing pace of the world during this pivotal. Characters don’t so much go through arcs but rather represent different ways the situation effects them.

The prose is painfully detailed, but which I mean its not bad – but Steinbeck’s writing creates a vivid impression of what is happening, and while the pacing is slow because of it I always felt like I was ‘in’ this story.

One caution for this book is that not having a traditional structure don’t expect a happy or unhappy ending, as a story it very much ‘is what it is’

While I don’t want to “spoil” (A 50+ year old book) the very ending is quite, um, different. I haven’t Googled what it means but if you are keen for something a little different then Grapes of Wrath’s final words are that!

SPOILERS (I’ve Googled it now)

For those wondering what I’m talking about in the final sequence the Joad family are in a desperate situation trying to support a birth all while their makeshift camp is flooding. The baby is born stillbirth, and the family decide to flee the flood. They made their way to an empty barn in a random field, and find an old man and his son. The old man is borderline dead from starvation, and after the Joad family settled in the recently given birth mother provides some breastmilk for the starving old man.

And the book ends.

While it was very surprising I guess a which research shows its not that hard to interpret. Steinbeck himself said it was the ‘final nail’ in describing how bad the Dustbowl/Depression was. The act represents the extremity of desperation for people during that time.

There is however also a tiny (strange) flair of hope in the action, that people are willing to go so far to help others, bearing in mind the starving man was literally just met moments ago. The story is littered with examples of people in need helping people in need.

Just an aside it’s interesting that the book presents young Tom Joad as the main character, when introduced he’s returning from prison for killing a man in self-defence. A common tension in the story is that being on parole he shouldn’t be crossing state-lines and as the story becomes more tense he finds himself again on the wrong side of the law after assaulting a police officer again in a form of self-defence. We last see Tom as his Ma gives him some food and money as he hides out in the wilderness. We aren’t told the effects of the flood on him, whether he ever gets caught by the police or what.

Really ‘Ma’ the matriarch is the MC of the story, as she pulls together the family and is involved in all the other characters struggles, Tom takes a backseat through most of the story although is ever present as Ma’s favourite. Even though his character’s fate is unknown, his belief system is explicit that he will take up the cause of worker’s rights wherever it takes him.

Phew – heavy read.

Travelling back to 1984

“In moments of crisis one is never fighting against an external enemy, but always against ones body.”

So as a bit of a cleanse from Atlas Shrugged I had a reread of 1984 (my birthyear coincidence or….). I haven’t read Orwell’s work since high school and it was actually pretty interesting to absorb the book as an adult and in such turbulent political times.

Summary

For such an intriguing and high impact book the plot is actually fairly simple:

Part One introduces us to Winston Smith, a relatively insightful but benign, presumably middle aged, man who explains the basic premise of the world: the telescreen monitoring, the various Ministries, how The Party manages language and history. Most importantly the existence of “thoughtcrime” and how everyone is at relentless risk of being detained by the ‘thoughtpolice.’ The main event of Part One is Winston deciding to start writing a diary – a major thoughtcrime in this world.

Part Two begins when a young woman that Winston originally thought was thoughtpolice, slips Winston a note stating that she “loves him.” Part Two largely details the pairs affair and efforts to evade detection as, you guessed it, affairs are not acceptable either. Part Two escalates up to an apparent reaching out from ‘O’Brien’ who Winston believes is a member of The Brotherhood a resistance group. However this positive change does not last long as both Winston and Julia are abruptly captured by the thoughtpolice.

Part Three, deals with the harrowing process of The Ministry of Love. Where we are effectively shown The Party’s method for breaking down a person and turning them into the ideal Citizen. We witness both the physical and psychological torture of Winston until he becomes a completely loyal and loving citizen of Big Brother.

Impact

I don’t really intend to capture all the impact this story has had, mostly because its sooo broad that it could possibly fill an entire book. Published in the era following WWII 1984 was largely seen as an anti-communist work, however has continued to be applied to many different political situations, sometimes used as a cautionary tale, sometimes used as a political insult/tool against various beliefs. I’m not sure if its always been a high-school fixture, but it seems to me like this book has and will be studied in school forever.

While typically the focus is on the political system and ramifications of Big Brother and The Party, there is also considerable depth in the book examining the impact of the system on individuals and also IMO the metaphoric links between The Party ideology and individual traits.

For this post I mostly wanted to discuss somewhat random bits and pieces of 1984 that stood out to me, and piqued my interest as I re-read it.

The Character of Winston Smith

When I first read 1984 I sort of interpreted Winston as a sort of ineffectual everyman, a somewhat perceptive but not particularly outstanding MC, really just someone to show us the world.

But on rereading I sensed something a little ‘off’ about Winston, while at a lot of his criticism of others could be seen as his general frustration at their acceptance of the world as it is, there is an air of arrogance about Winston. He often derides others intelligence, and he dehumanizes his workmates saying they look like bugs etc. He also recounts a strange story about his early years. Its very ambiguous but he tells a story about how he straight up steals chocolate from his baby sister, a baby sister that he realizes is starving.

Even though Winston is anti the dystopian world he is part of, and longs to be part of The Brotherhood that rebels against The Party he also takes pride in his work in the Ministry of Truth, where he rewrites newspaper articles to fit with The Party’s desires.

I’m not sure if this is a bit of a stretch but I think part of the ‘lesson’ of 1984 isn’t just about the horrors of the controlling state, but also a character critique of Winston. Despite his ire about The Party he does ultimately fall to loving Big Brother. An initial brush might interpret this as simply being a statement that ultimately any individual will fall to horrible torture, however I wondered if part of the story is that Winston’s pride and judgement, his foolishness in running head-first into what he thinks is a legit rebellion. I think part of what Orwell is saying is that Winston is the ideal candidate for making Authoritarian Dictatorships thrive – sensible, but also cruel and judgemental, and at risk of selfish foolishness.

Unreliable Narration

Except not in the way usually presented. Something infinitely confusing is that we know that The Party rewrites history, and despite the story being called 1984 Winston realizes he doesn’t even know for sure it is 1984. As well as being a shocking example of the control of information The Party its also an statement of how even the whole book could be a piece of Party propaganda, the entire book meant to shock and terrify citizens into not defying the party.

More so than that something even more confusing to me is ‘the book.’ When Winston talks to O’Brien and believes himself to finally be joining The Brotherhood he is delivered ‘the book’ which explains the operation of The Party in a surprisingly detailed description of using War as an excuse to deprive citizens of resources, and the fact that the three mega-nations keep switching sides is that there is barely any unclaimed land left, and essentially a small part of Asia just keeps getting switched between the nations. The part of all of this that is confusing is that ‘the book’ is a work delivered by The Party to would-be rebels and one has no way to ascertain whether any of it is true or again more propaganda.

For my part I think that the whole thing is just more propaganda and at the time of the story the entire world is conquered by The Party or at least is an empire so wide-spread there is no actual war. On that note:

The War and Information

I never quite clicked when first reading that the whole control of information thing of The Party isn’t to deceive citizens into supporting and mythologizing The Party and Big Brother – its essentially to disorientate and power-play citizens, almost daring them to defy The Party. It always confused me that Winston seemed to be well aware of all the manipulations of the Ministry of Truth and everyone else seemed aware of it too.

This is most glaring in a sequence during ‘Hate Week’ when the nations at war literally changed in the middle of a speech – and not in a ‘a new announcement everyone we are now at war with Oceania’ the orator literally starts mumbling and then just changes to whichever nation they are at War with. Point being is the deception is almost absurdist, its not ‘cover ups’ or misinformation so much as destruction of information. This is reflected in the overall plan for ‘Newspeak’ which is effectively to destroy language to destroy individual thought.

In a similar vein, 1984 is often described as an ultra-controlling rule based society, but strangely there are almost no rules, simply ‘crimes’ (thoughtcrime is the most commonly cited, but also facecrime where you literally don’t have the right expression on your face) in fact the idea is not so much that there are endless rules, rather that The Party can accuse you of anything unorthodox, there is even a part where O’Brien criticizes Winston for using a couple of ‘Oldspeak’ words in an article rewrite, even though the dictionary that would have told Winston that wasn’t even published yet. It’s an intriguing paradox but actually common in authoritarian practices because obviously the idea isn’t to follow the ‘rules’ its to follow the ‘leader’ who can do whatever they like.

Who is this book criticizing anyway?

As a political insult being considered like 1984 is generally pretty bad. Funnily enough its typically been used as a criticism of leftist ideology either through being linked to Communist Regimes or (apologies for the rant) a very common attempt to link political correctness with thoughtcrime.

If you’re unfamiliar with this particularly annoying argument (it is a little old-fashioned now) but because a common progressive cause has been to remove offensive terminology, usually from various groups of people and use more acceptable terms, opponents often try to smear this by suggesting its thought control akin to 1984.

I would just like to take this chance to rebut this by pointing out that the purpose of inclusive language isn’t to manipulate thought (although bigots would feel this way because of their prejudiced thinking) but to remove harmful and disgraceful use of language. For example referring to indigenous peoples by the terms they identify with and not the labels that, usually colonists, gave them, is not an attempt to manipulate people’s thinking but to reduce the evidence based harm that labels cause (e.g. ‘othering’ people, promoting stereotypes, being used as slurs)

Back on track though – 1984 does have some heavy communist themes. The citizens call each other comrade, the lower classes are called ‘Proles’ the former society that is hated on in 1984 are referred to as the ‘capitalists’. That said there other themes and practices from other regimes that I think Orwell was riffing off. For example when mentioning capatalists, the propaganda does sound awfully true of highly classist society, people were stated in being required to tip their hat to the rich.

Also their are elements of 1984 which I think are critical of religious fundamentalism. When being tortured one of the key beliefs demanded of Winston is to believe that 2+2=5, also O’Brien tells Winston that if he wants Winston to believe O’Brien can levitate than O’Brien can. This sort of belief over reality seems almost fanatical religion to me than political.

The origin of The Party, Big Brother and such is also ambiguous, throughout the book Winston refers to invasion, revolution, and also implies that the country drifted into the state its in. ‘The Book’ suggests that Britain was absorbed into the USA either through conquest or necessity which kinda fits with the UK being renamed Airstrip One, but like everything in the book we’re unsure what to believe.

One final point in Orwell’s work is the strange nature of The Party itself. Rather than say Animal Farm where Orwell describes a situation where the ‘Pigs’ basically become ‘Human’ (e.g. that the rebel leaders effectively become the oppressors straight after rebelling against said oppressors) In 1984 The Party almost exists leaderlessly. It’s never fully revealed but the way O’Brien describes it The Party acts almost like a self-sustaining organism rather than political leadership. One almost has the sense that no-one is in charge and everyone just behaves in line with ‘NewSpeak’ and people are disappeared and everything just in line with a deranged natural selection.

There is an odd part in the book which supports this. Despite all the control and fake-news of the system there is an unusual sequence where Winston has to rewrite a prediction that The Party made about an impending invasion. According to Winston the prediction was wrong and thus the rewrite. Now, here’s what’s weird – the war and invasion are all probably fake anyway, so how did The Party make an inaccurate prediction? Either there is a genuine war going on and its unpredictable OR The Party is just a chaotic mass of people just as terrified and deluded about Big Brother as everyone else and its hard to act to keep stories straight – I’ll leave that one for you to decide.

Summing up

So 1984 remained a terrifying read especially in a “post-truth” world. It’s hard to say whether we really edge towards 1984 or some more concerning scenario but its worth studying up on this one. Personally I think that Orwell gathered all his worst nightmares and ideas about totalitarianism to craft 1984, I don’t actually think its a prediction or likely occurrence (but doesn’t mean a worse situation could arise).

Just to stir the plot further I have several questions that were not covered by the book that I would love anyone else to weigh in on:

  • Was Julia ever genuinely in love with Winston or just a trap from the start?
  • Does The Brotherhood even exist?
  • Whats scarier 1984, or Brave New World?

Anyways – would love to hear others thoughts on this classic!

Review and (Spoiler-filled) Over-analysis: The Lamplighters

Come for the review – stay for the over-analysis

Okay first up – I always enjoy myself stories abut Lighthouses, and clearly I can’t be the only one. Secondly Stonex is a very cool surname!

As to the book – I must confess I’ve been mostly nostalgia reading fiction lately so I’m probably a bit positively biased to pick up a more recent book. The story of Lamplighters is divided up between 1972 when the three men disappeared and 1992 when a curious author investigates the event, largely told by the three wives left behind.

The narrative I would describe as a little strange, the perspective of the three women tends towards ‘stream of consciousness’ where we get a mix of history, opinion and perception drip-fed to us the reader to generate the mystery. In these moments there isn’t a lot of grounding prose, dialogue is rarely captioned, and descriptions are heavily in the POV of the character.

When back in 1972 we get 1st person POV from one of the men and we tend to get more visceral ‘lighthouse’ type imagery and experience. The overall experience is quite odd, sometimes disorientating but useful to keeping the mystery alive.

Obviously the main plot thread is the question of what happened to the 3 men, but Stonex does a good job exploring the many inner workings of the character’s lives – diving into themes about family, the past, guilt and truth. So on the one hand while I said the story’s main plot was obvious it actually kinda isn’t, in many ways this book as about everything except the exact reason the men disappeared.

While there are a couple of nail-biting and tense moments, I would say overall the story is more of a character study than a thriller, I see some other reviewers deducted points for this not being a more classic story structure.

Really I only have one beef with this story, and that is at times between the 6 characters across 2 times periods perspectives, it was sometimes hard to retain who was who and how all the characters interlinked. I think part of this was intentional to create a bit of a sense of being adrift, but in my opinion just a few clearer markers for each character could have been ideal – also it was almost impossible to keep track of minor characters properly as they’d often just be mentioned in passing and kinda up to the reader to be aware of their significance (or not).

Overall – happy with this one! Read on if you don’t mind spoilers and want a bit of over-analysis

SPOILER TERRITORY

Summary

So I won’t probably capture the whole book here, but just a quick summary to set the scene.

The story begins with a brief segment introducing the Main Character: The Maiden Lighthouse – a ‘tower’ lighthouse, one of those ones that literally sticks out of the rocks, with little more than a ‘donut’ railing around the base, no separate cabins, or storage, the keepers have to sleep on bent bunk-beds.

Sorry, as to human characters we are introduced briefly to Vincent, Bill, and Arthur the 3 lighthouse keeper who we are told mysteriously disappeared that year details unknown.

Fast-forward to 1992 (8 years ago right??) and we are introduced to the wives of the men, Helen, Jenny, and Michelle. (as mentioned in the review at times its hard to keep track of the matches and mismatches so if I get something wrong please forgive). The Women’s stories are kickstarted by the appearance of “Dan Sharp” an author who wants to investigate the disappearance and write a story about it.

While the obvious plot thread would be information about the disappearance the actual story here is about the past, and the characters responses and ways of dealing with past loss and trauma. As the story progresses we learn that Helen and Arthur lost a son at sea, Arthur filled with guilt and depression buries himself in his work and the Lighthouse. Bill’s mother died in childbirth and his father blamed and abused him for it, Bill’s perspective appears to be one of delusion and cynicism and he has an ‘affair’ of sorts with Helen. Vincent’s mother was an addict and he grew up on the wrong side of the law, prior to working at the Lighthouse he engaged in some particularly disturbing animal cruelty to punish a rival, and after leaving prison is both on the run from his own guilt and potential retaliation.

For the most part the women’s stories are about the impact of the loss of their husbands, but also their reactions to the above events.

From a literally perspective its an interesting juxtaposition of gender, having a thread about 3 men and another thread about 3 women – I don’t think its meant to be that explicit but there is a sense of contrast, the men in the story retreat into isolation and fall apart (more on that later) while the women attempt to move on with their lives.

In terms of the main mystery there are a number of red herrings, the official line is that Vincent a criminal must have killed the others, however we also have a mysterious visitor that may have been associated with Vincent’s rival, penultimately we are told that driven mad by grief Arthur killed the men and himself. The final reveal is in fact Bill did the deed, after half-heartedly not-rescuing Vince from accidently falling into the sea, Bill decides its OK to continue on this path and clubs Arthur, in Bill’s deluded mind still entertaining a life with Helen. Unfortunately for his plans Bill is (possibly) killed by the ghost of Arthur’s child.

However the final scene of the story which sees Dan Sharp’s manuscript thrown to the wind tells us that the mystery of the men’s disappearance its the relevant ending, its the resolution of trauma that we see the characters go through.

One of the more disappointing aspects of the story is we learn the author uses a pen name and their real identity is relevant. It turns out he is the son of the main boatman for the Lighthouse a minor character named Jory who barely features in the story. It’s a bit of a letdown because it doesn’t really add too much to the tale other than to just pummel the theme of past trauma.

Through the Women’s stories we find out about their own responses to the past of the men, but also how they’ve coped with the loss. Helen tells us that she didn’t really have an affair with Bill, other than a stray kiss but then she struggled to distance herself while he kept pursuing the affair. Jenny was very aware of the whole thing and suffering terribly poisoned some chocolates that she sent with Bill – unfortunately Vince ate the chocolates resulting in an illness that may have contributed to him falling into the sea. Michelle lives a complicated life, having remarried but still considers Vince the love of her life, and also fears losing the financial support of the company if she speaks up against their assessment that Vince likely killed the others.

The women are estranged from each other at the beginning of the book, but as they tell their stories they finally reconcile. All struggling with the past they each must get to a place where they tell the truth and accept their losses to do this.

In my opinion the story speaks to the effects of loss and trauma, how you can isolate and bury the past, or be open and reconnect. The men and the Lighthouse represent problematic ways of dealing with a dark past. Vincent tries to evade his history and it catches up with him, Bill is so deluded in his perspective he thinks he can murder his friend and be with his wife. Arthur is so torn up with guilt and grief he literally deteriorates mentally and physically.

The Women on the other hand, attempt to overcome their past through telling the truth and connecting with people. While not perfect, Jenny for example attempts to poison Bill rather than confronting him and ends up hurting Vince (a comment on spreading pain in revenge) she confesses all to her daughter who is both understanding and forgiving.

The destruction of Dan Sharp’s manuscript, after he allows Helen to decide the ending – its a slightly cheesy “it’s not about the ending but about the journey” type statement, but its a deeper comment on not necessarily being empowered to fabricate your own through, but to take hold of one’s own story and the relevance thereof. In some respects saying the important part was not how the men disappeared but that they did and what the women did after.

While some might have been disappointed that this story didn’t have a thrilling conclusion its an intriguing end nonetheless.

Has anyone else read the book? Would be intrigued to hear your take on it…

Review (Non-Fiction): This is Going to Hurt

Didn’t hurt me at all!

This is Going to Hurt is basically a serialized book of Dr Adam Kay’s experience as a Junior Doctor working for the NHS. The emphasis is on laughs, and there’s no doubt of Kay’s comedy chops / ability to awkwardly destroy the sanctity of a Doctor Consult.

Dark humour is a central theme of the book, both between Kay’s struggles of being overworked and the various difficult and at times mortal moments of his patients. I’m not a doctor but as a Psychologist who has also worked on-call hours in a social service I completely understand the struggles of ethical obligation while lack of sleep and an oddly careless system grind you down.

The writing style of This is Going to Hurt is very more-ish and easy to read despite the weight of some of the topics. Since this was published in 2017 and refers to the decade early its set long before Covid-19 hits and one can’t help but wonder about what the experience of Doctors nowadays is.