Tag Archives: Canada

Deni Ellis Béchard, Into the Sun

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While this is a novel and not a memoir or biography, this book provides an interesting window into the world of expat workers and consultants in troubled areas of the world. It illustrates the tension between staying safe and experiencing life in the new place, as well as the various motivations that draws people to these places. It maybe a missionary streak, a need to challenge oneself, a desire to help, or the drive to profit from the situation.

The first paragraph instantly conveys the mood of the setting:

Winter was premonition. We know something was going to happen. We saw it in the desolation and poverty, the gusting indeterminate scraps, the men pushing trash carts, their figures like engravings of the plague, heads wrapped in tattered keffiyehs; or the smog of traffic, wood fires, and diesel generators – the effluvium of four million souls desperate to heat concrete and earthen homes – mixing with dust in the thin, chill mountain air and hanging over the city in blunt journalistic metaphors: shrouds, palls, and, of course, veils. Snow fell, churned into mud that rutted and froze. Pipes burst. Handy men returned to our doors, grim and extortionate, like doctors.

Kabul in winter is inhospitable to most of its inhabitants. For expats, there is the addition of the fears of this foreign environment, the feeling of being a target for the sole reason of being different or being perceived as an unwanted intruder in a complex, fraught situation.

The story is told by five voices: a Japanese writer, an American teacher, an American security contractor, a Canadian lawyer, and an Afghani youth. They all become linked in the story, so some of the events are told from different points of view, which slowly reveal the design behind an event that might originally have been thought to be accidental…

What surprised me in the book is the relative absence of organized armed forces or peace keeping and the heavy presence of private security contractors.

This book was very satisfying in the way scenes and action combined with description to make the setting come alive. I could really see, in my head, the settings and actions moving along with great clarity as if seen through the eyes of the narrator.

 

Reference:

Béchard, Deni Ellis. Into the Sun. House of Anansi Press, 2016.

Other things:

http://www.quillandquire.com/review/into-the-sun/

https://blogs.brown.edu/litr-0710-s01-spring-2017/2017/02/01/the-novel-as-device-in-deni-ellis-bechards-into-the-sun/

https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2016/09/08/before-the-blast/

Guides pour découvrir Montréal et trouver des endroits où aller dessiner

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Je ne manque pas d’idées pour trouver des choses à dessiner, ou j’ai tendance à dessiner ce qu’il y a droit devant moi (comme la vente de garage de mon voisin samedi dernier), mais j’aime quand même pouvoir explorer la région et en profiter pour croquer ce que j’y trouve.

Il y a toujours les guides touristiques qu’on retrouve dans les centres Infotouriste. J’ai fait une visite à celui du centre-ville de Montréal et j’en suis ressortie avec de multiples pamphlets que je garde maintenant à la vue dans mon bureau:

  • 50 musées de Montréal
  • Les guides officiels de Montréal, de la Montérégie, de l’Estrie, des Laurentides et de Lanaudière

Je suis aussi tombée sur les livres suivants dernièrement:

  • Nancy Dunton et Helen Malkin, Guide de l’architecture contemporaine de Montréal. 2e édition. Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 2016.

Par quartier, on y présente des bâtiments et endroits publics qui ont une particularité au niveau architectural et qui sont accessibles par les transports en commun. On souligne la présence de plusieurs ensembles récents au caractère novateur. Il ne s’agit donc pas d’un guide qui reflète l’histoire de l’architecture de la ville, mais d’une série de vignettes sur ce qui a un intérêt en ce moment. Le livre possède trois index: un par nom de lieu ou de bâtiment, et ainsi qu’un index des architectes et un index des types de bâtiments. Le livre contient de bonnes photos, surtout des vues d’ensemble ainsi que quelques photos de détails. Pour moi, ce qui sera intéressant sera de trouver des points de vue stimulants pour le dessin.

  • Philippe Renault. Montréal insolite et secrète. Éditions Jonglez, Paris, 2014.

Quoique ce guide contienne beaucoup d’endroits qui se retrouveraient dans une guide touristique standard, on y trouve quelques surprises intéressantes pour le dessin…

J’ai aussi deux  autres livres moins récents, mais quand même intéressants:

  • Hélène Laperrière, Promenades montréalaises. Fides, Montréal, 2003.

Ce livre est écrit par une urbaniste. Comme pour les deux guides déjà mentionnés, celui-ci est organisé par quartier. L’auteur s’intéresse à la géographie urbaine ainsi qu’à son tissu social. Elle nous fait découvrir la ville sous un autre angle. Bien sûr, certaines parties de la ville ont bien changées depuis 2003, mais ce guide est encore très valable.

  • Un guide Ulysse 2000 – 2001 de Montréal

Je suppose que beaucoup d’information sur l’hébergement, les restaurants, bars et commerces donnée dans ce livre n’est plus valide, mais pour l’information de nature historique et architecturale, ça tient la route. On propose 17 circuits à faire à pied et un autre à faire en voiture vers l’ouest de l’île.

Cet après-midi, j’avais une rencontre au centre-ville qui finissait vers 16h00. Je suis allée au Dorchester Square pour dessiner ensuite. J’ai trouvé un banc à l’ombre à l’arrière d’une statue représentant un soldat avec un cheval et je m’y suis mise… Le soldat a disparu de la statue et le cheval n’a pas tout à fait la même pose. J’ai aussi rencontré, Sharon, une femme âgée d’Edmonton qui traversait le Canada en voiture et on a eu une longue discussion sur les choses à voir au Canada. Les rencontres que je fais quand je dessine dans des endroits publics sont souvent très sympathiques.

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Linden MacIntyre, The Only Café

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In my head, I keep calling this book “The Other Café”; I have no idea why.

Young Cyril Cormier is a budding journalist. His father died under mysterious circumstances some years ago. Well, the body was never found until a bone and a piece of jewellery are recovered by some fishermen. Cyril inherits his father’s journals and starts looking into his past. Pierre Cormier, born Haddad in Lebanon, came to Canada as a refugee in the early 80s, shortly after the Sabra and Shatila massacre. We know from flashbacks in the book that he lost his family in the Damour massacre and was involved with a gang led by Elie Hobeika (he is a real historical figure). Once in Canada, he becomes a corporate lawyer. Some trouble with an intervention at a worksite in Indonesia leads him to take a long vacation on his boat in Cape Breton. The boat blows up and his body is never found. There are hints that he might still be alive and covered up his disappearance.

Information into the mystery of who was Pierre Cormier and how much his family did not really know him is distilled slowly and artfully. We follow Cyril in his difficult relationships with his mother and stepmother, his trouble with his girlfriend, his growing engagement with his new job and colleagues, his increasing obsession over what happened to his father and the role of Ari, the odd Israeli that his father used to meet at The Only Café. Cyril seems to be convinced that he is involved in his father’s disappearance.

While the father and son are quite well fleshed out as characters, I felt like the mother and stepmother, as well as some of the secondary characters such as Cyril’s friends and co-workers lacked a bit of substance. We know relatively little of their backstory and they only remained bare outlines in my mind. It is fine that the odd Israeli remains a bit of a mystery though…

I would like a sequel for this book, to get to know some of the characters better, to see different turns and twists in the developing relationships between Cyril and his coworkers, to see him evolve professionally, and to see new clues about Pierre Cormier’s life and death come to life.

Note: There is a place called The Only Café on Danforth in Toronto. It just doesn’t look like I imagined it from the book.

This book will be published in August 2017 and can be pre-ordered in both e-book and hard cover, here: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/545973/the-only-cafe-by-linden-macintyre/9780345812063/.

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for advance access to this book.

Reference:

MacIntyre, Linden. The Only Cafe. Random House, 2017.

Madeleine Thien, Do Not Say We Have Nothing

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When I started this book, I was dismayed. I thought it was yet another book about the hardships of daily life in Communist China and I have read books about this theme before (a very good one though is June Chang’s Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China).

In addition, I started getting lost amongst the many characters and the switches between locations and times. Blame it on fatigue the week I started the book because I usually don’t have trouble with non-linear storytelling. However, there is a point where I got hooked and could no longer put the book down.

What I could best relate to was the musical theme. One of the most likeable characters in the book, Sparrow, is a musician and composer who teaches at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. His music is in favor with the regime, so while it is, the family can live a relatively peaceful life. However, being in favor can only last so long and there is trouble ahead. Falling out of favor can be due to personal actions or characteristics, or it can happen at random when a whole group of people is designated as counter-revolutionary and targeted for punishment or re-education. This eventually happens to Sparrow and he is sent to another in the south to work in a radio factory.

While Sparrow is at the Conservatory, a young cousin, Zhuli, just a child, shows up at the door. Her parents, who were formerly prosperous landowners dispossessed of their land and house were sent to a labor camp and Zhuli was brought to Shanghai by someone from their village. Zhuli grows up playing the violin and attends the Conservatory. She is in Shanghai in turbulent times and encounters serious problems… Pianist Kai, one of her classmates who came from a less prosperous background, joins the revolutionary guards and survives a time of riots, social disorder and purges.

Kai ends up in Canada, marries and has a daughter called Marie who loves mathematics.

Sparrow eventually marries Ling and they have a daughter called Ai Ming. Sparrow continues working in the radio factory but Ling who works in radio broadcasting eventually is given a position in Beijing. Because Sparrow is not reassigned along her, he stays in the South and brings up Ai Ming. They see Ling once in a while. Their life is one of hard work for the parents and diligent studies for Ai Ming. As she gets older, she desires going to university and perceives Beijing University as being her best choice. Sparrow and Ling manage to bring both her and Sparrow to Beijing so they can obtain residency permits. With a residency permit, Ai Ming stands of better chance of admission.

This is counting without further turbulence in their troubled world. Student strikes are organized, as well as hunger strikes, and the standoff between students and government officials culminates in the Tiananmen Square events. Ai Ming, not being yet a student, is only peripherally involved but nevertheless gets in trouble with the authorities.

Ai Ming manages to make her way illegally out of China and arrives in Canada, to knock on the door of the apartment where Marie and her mother live. Her father left for Hong Kong there and dies there without having come back.

Now the interesting questions are:

Why does Ai Ming end up on Marie’s door step?

What was the nature of the relationship between Sparrow and Kai?

Why did Kai go to Hong Kong?

How and why did he die?

How does all this affect Marie?

What happens to Ai Ming in the end?

All very interesting to find out about… This novel is very intricate and the successive cause-and-effect actions that move the plot along are often far from obvious…

One character still somewhat eludes me (and maybe a reread might enlighten me) and it is the personality and motivations of Ling, Ai Ming’s mother. There are many characters in this novel that the reader gets to know quite well as we follow part of their path along with them, but in the case of Ling, it seems that we only get bits and pieces and the story is never told from her point of view. It might be interesting to re-imagine the story from Ling’s point of view…

I did not speak about “The Book of Records”, a hand-copied manuscript that plays a role both as a record of events and a way to transmit coded information…

While most characters in the novel seem to be fictitious, except for names government officials and members of the party’s elite, there is one character from real life and it is He Luting, the director of Shanghai Conservatory. In the novel, we hear of him being stripped of his position. However, in time, he did come back to the Conservatory and died in 1999 at the age of 95.

All in all, this novel was great fun to read and a great door into looking again into XXth century Chinese history. It was short listed for the 2016 Man Booker Prize and was awarded both the Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Award in Canada in 2016.

References:

Thien, Madeleine. Do Not Say We Have Nothing. Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2016.

Chang, June. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. Harper Collins, 1991.

Other things:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/He_Luting

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/book-reviews/review-do-not-say-we-have-nothing-cements-madeleine-thien-as-one-of-canadas-most-talented-novelists/article30385361/

https://thewritesofwoman.wordpress.com/2017/04/02/do-not-say-we-have-nothing-madeleine-thien/

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien #Bookerprize

‘Do Not Say We Have Nothing’ by Madeleine Thien

Margaret Atwood, Hag-Seed

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This book is published by Penguin/Knopf Canada in The Hogarth Shakespeare collection. It is a creative retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. I am not a huge fan of Shakespeare: the language usually stumps me and the plays I have seen were difficult to follow (and if held outdoors, we got eaten alive by mosquitoes).

Atwood offers a version of the story of revenge where the former creative director of a theater festival seeks revenge on the men that terminated his position. The occasion for revenge takes many years to show up and our mad man (mad in many sense of the word) lives in seclusion until he sees an opportunity to teach in a literacy program for inmates at the local prison. Coincidentally, after a few years of being involved with the program, the two men aforementioned are now government ministers and are scheduled to visit the penitentiary at the time where a literacy session ends and the inmates will be ready to perform the play they have been working on. The teacher gains the collaboration to stage a bit of interactive theater to scare the ministers into continuing funding for the literacy program as well as getting the teacher his former position back.

What I didn’t like in the book:

  • Too many coincidences! A coincidence may be a useful device to move action along, but there are many, many coincidences in this book.
  • Some parts are a bit too long and I was losing interest.
  • The ending is very unrealistic, with the mad man being reinstated in his former position with the theater festival. Too many assumptions here: the position still exists after many years, there wasn’t an incumbent (or one was easy to kick out – see my speculations on what could happen next with this), the mad man was still the right person for the job.
  • The teacher smuggles things into the jail way to easily.

What I liked in the book:

  • The dialogues are very good and very entertaining.
  • I am glad that I stuck through the parts I thought were too long. In the end, it was a rewarding read and I think I have a better understanding of the play.
  • There was quite a bit of humor, especially in the interactions with the inmates.
  • Showing the inmates are men with existing skills and the ability to develop new skills even though it was not always easy humanized those characters.
  • The book ends with a synopsis of the play, which helps to put a lot of the information in the book into context.

One of the exercises that the teacher asks his inmates-students to do at the end of the course is to come up with a story about what happens with a specific character after the end of the play. So I will do that with the character of the teacher in the book.

First option: In order to give the teacher his old job back, the current director had to be reassigned to another position. While he agreed to go along, he nevertheless carries a grudge and spends years waiting for an opportunity for revenge. And on it goes…

Second option: In the short term, the teacher gets what he wants, and all seems to go well for a while. He is getting on in age and is starting to have some short term memory loss. As dementia sets in, he starts having both nightmares and hallucinations in which the vengeful actions he took against the two ministers turn against him. So, similarly to option 1, he becomes himself the victim of revenge even though it is only happening in his own head… One day, in the middle of a very powerful hallucination, he runs across the street is struck by a van. The end.

I suppose there could be many other ways to continue the story. What do you think?

Reference:

Atwood, Margaret. Hag-Seed. Knopf Canada, 2016.

Other things:

http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/series/HSR/hogarth-shakespeare

http://www.repercussiontheatre.com/shakespeare-in-the-park/

 

Jared Young, Into the Current

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I bought this book because the author’s mother is a friend of mine and so I had committed to reading it no matter what… And I was afraid I would not like the book! I found myself completely drawn into the book. The writing is very engaging, especially when the narrator is showing the main character’s thought process, his hesitations, repetitions, and what he tells himself when he is willing his body to do something that seems quite impossible in the real world. But the book is not quite set in the real world, but in the strange, at once suspended and stretched time, in between the moment at which the airplane blows up and the time at which the main character dies.

And this time is enough to tell the story of his life, his desires and yearnings, as well as his regrets. And he needs this time to resign himself, or better yet, to fully embrace, going into the void that follows the end of sentient life.

Who is this main character? He is a young man named Daniel Solomon, 23 years old, from Saskatchewan. At the beginning of the book, he is departing from Bangkok because his visa was not renewed and he is being expelled. The book tells the story of how he got there, and because this entails telling his whole life story, this could be considered a bildungsroman. We follow Daniel’s development, the origin of his interests and the building of his character through a number of experiences, most of which seem to consist of conflict-ridden relations with other boys and troubled relationships with young women.

The novel starts this way, at Chapter 0, a sort of prologue:

Hello, my love.

I suppose I really ought to explain.

So the narrator, first person, the person of Daniel Solomon, is telling this story to “his love”. And who might that be? This love is never given a name and as we go on with the story, we keep wondering to whom he is telling this tale, sometimes run-of-the-mill details of a teenager’s life, sometimes preposterous, where all the people he encounters do not seem to be this “love” that he keeps addressing throughout the book. Of course, we eventually do find out but it takes a while, and I won’t tell you who it is because that would spoil the fun.

Neither will I tell you about the ending… I thought for a long time that he would wake up from a dream… but no…

One thing I really liked about the presentation of the book are the little glyphs that appear at the beginning of each section that indicate whether the story is moving forward, flashing back, doing a rewind/retell, and so on. It helps the reading figuring out where the narrator is going with great economy of words.

Reference:

Young, Jared. Into The Current. Goose Lane Editions, Fredericton, NB, 2016.

Other things:

http://www.jaredyoungreview.com/about/

Book review: Jared Young’s Into the Current chronicles a young mans plummet to earth as his life flashes before his eyes

http://www.quillandquire.com/review/into-the-current/

Brad Pattison, Unleashed: A Dog’s-Eye View of Life With Humans

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After such a long hiatus publishing on this blog, the first post will not be about literature, no, no, no. I am reviewing a book about dogs I read recently. Dogs has been my obsession of the past few months. Somehow, I become obsessed with the idea of having a dog, so I began reading about dogs. I also offered to dog sit a friend’s goldendoodle for three weeks in the month of August. The reading about dogs was quite enlightening, especially combined with the experience of having one around the house (my four-legged shadow!).

Brad Pattison, the author, is a dog trainer and was at one time a dog-daycare operator. He developed a peculiar approach to training dogs that does not rely on treats and aims at having the dog be totally responsive to his or her master when off-leash, hence the title. His approach is based on ensuring that the dog’s psychological and social needs as a pack animal be met.

The most important thing is that the master must be considered the pack leader by the dog (yes, even of your pack of two!). Many dog behavior problems come from dogs not be sure who the pack leader is, which leads to confusion, anxiety, a lack of sense of safety.

Pattison’s method of dog training starts with what he calls “alpha umbilical training” or umbilical for short. Here is what he says about it:

I use the word umbilical because during training, your dog will be on a leash attached to your waist. And when you’ve finished the training, your dog will be so tuned into you and primed to follow your directions that it will be as if you’re joined to each other by an umbilical cord. Alpha umbilical training should happen during the first two weeks, and it should be combined with my no talking rule, which strengthens your ability to bond in your dog’s primary language: movement.

He then proceeds to explain in detail how to set up an umbilical session, and the rules to follow during the session. This book contains very practical information on how to implement elements of the approach. While I have not tested the approach, the principles and their application looked really straightforward. Each chapter ends with important points reiterated in a bulleted list.

The book is very readable with many anecdotes illustrating the approach that the author proposes. He tries to debunk some myths, explains why he disagrees with some approaches used by other trainers and explains the negative consequences of many behaviors of dog owners (such as baby-talking to dogs, carrying them, letting them sit on couches and sleep in their bed, etc.).

So overall, a very interesting book that I look forward to comparing with the other dog book on my pile: Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know by Andrea Horowitz, a professor of animal behavior.

So the dog sitting was a lot of fun, little Mia was great to have around and the experience was a great reality check for whether I can live with a dog. And I think I can. However, the hubby strongly believes that we should wait until at least one of us retires before we get one, so that we don’t leave poor Fur-Ball alone in the house all day. He does have a point… but I still want a dog! It’s a long way to retirement.

Reference:

Pattison, Brad. Unleashed: A Dog’s-Eye View of Life with Humans. Vintage Canada, Toronto, 2010.

Other things:

http://www.bradpattison.com

Ann-Marie MacDonald, Adult Onset

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Ann-Marie MacDonald is on my short list of “must read” Canadian authors and I was really happy to see another novel by her. Mary Rose MacKinnon and her partner, Hilary, have a young son and a toddler named Maggie. Mary Rose used to write children’s books and put her career on hold to care for the children, while Hilary pursues hers in theater. The story is told from Mary Rose’s point of view and involves the exploration of her relationship with her partner, her relationship with her parents (Canadian military father and a mother of Lebanese origin) who do not accept her homosexuality when she comes out to them, her ethnic and sexual identity, her insecurities as a mother.

She is also plagued by phobias and panic attacks, strange childhood memories, and wearing the same name as her stillborn baby sister, usually referred to as “other Mary Rose”.  My mother had two sisters with the same first name, but they were both alive. Weird but in a different way.

And Mister (aka Mary Rose, “MR”) also carries shame, and insecurity and a blooming kind of anger that can surface at the oddest times. She is afraid that one day she will hurt the children.

She never knows when it might strike. The rage.  And when it does, she loses her grip on herself—literally. At times, she could swear she sees another self—shiny black phantom, faceless, as though clad in a bodysuit—leaping out of her, pulling the rest of her in its wake. Over the edge.

If someone had injected her with a potion labelled Mr. Hyde, it would make sense, for the rage always feels like it comes out of nowhere. It is only afterwards that she recognizes that whole sections of her brain have been shut down, whole circuit boards. For example, she loses language. Gone. It is akin to what used to happen to her in the bad old days when a strip of the world would cease to exist in her visual field, just as though it had never been. Or, equally disconcerting, when a giant yellow orb would appear right in front of her, blocking her view—it was like trying to see around a big yellow sun. “Incomplete classic migraine,” said the ophtalmologist. “Panic attack,” said Dr. Judy, and asked if she would like to “see someone.” But Mary Rose knew they were really evil spells—she needed a sorcerer, not a shrink.

Those times are like dreams or the pain of surgery however—they get filed separately. She has undone many evil spells since becoming a mother—even so, there is still a spinning wheel somewhere in the kingdom and she never knows when she might prick her finger…

There is nothing wrong with her life. She has a loving partner and two healthy, beautiful children. She has put money into education funds, she has put photos into albums. She can make pancakes without a recipe, she knows where the IKEA Allen key is, and has memorized the international laundry symbols—she has not Polaroided her shoes, she has her inner Martha Stewart in check.  That is a slippery slope; you start making your own ricotta, next thing you know you’re in jail.

So Mary Rose is striving to understand what drives her as well as to make sense of her life. Her coping strategies might be a little strange and she does have obsessions such as her forever sore arm and her mother’s battles with postpartum depression.

The beauty of Ann-Marie MacDonald’s writing is how it brings to life the details of the everyday lives of her characters. She also describes very well the complexity of the negotiations of multiple identities that people take on in the contemporary world.

Reference:

MacDonald, Ann-Marie. Adult Onset. Vintage Canada, 2015. [2014]

Steve Stanton, Freenet

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Once in a while, I like to dive back into a good science-fiction novel. Sci-fi used to be a staple of my reading diet back in high school where anything as far away as possible from the mundane, restricted world I lived in (home, school, the suburban town I lived in). Over time, other genres have displaced sci-fi but I will still gladly pick one up once in a while.

In Freenet, human beings from Earth have travelled to different parts of the universe and have set up colonies connected to each other through wormhole portals. In a remote corner of the universe, a young woman, Simara, seeks to escape from a lecherous stepfather by boarding a space capsule that she crashes on a desert planet called Bali.

Much of what follows is the classic stuff from space travel fiction: encounter with locals, learning about lifestyles and culture, dealing with misunderstandings, exploring the technological possibilities of escaping from an unwanted situation. For Simara and Zen, who rescued her from the crash, this also results in romantic entanglement.

A complication occurs when Simara is accused of murdering her stepfather. She is arrested and put on board a space ship travelling to another planet where she will be judged. Zen finds a way to follow her on this journey and is instrumental in proving her innocence.

Another complication more seriously affect their relationship: Simara is an omnidroid, a human with brain implants who is in constant interaction with an information network, with an incredible capacity for information processing. The omnidroids, a very small group of “freaks”, are under attack…

What distinguishes this book is the author’s tongue-in-cheek approach. It starts with the name of the desert planet, Bali… and it continues with descriptions of locations and scenes which make the novel nearly a satirical version of sci-fi/speculative fiction. However, this does not detract from the tension building as difficulties pile up for Simara and Zen, and I was captivated right until the end.

This book will be published April 12, 2016. Thanks to ECW Press and NetGalley for access to a review copy.

 

Reference:

Stanton, Steve. Freenet. ECW Press, Toronto, ON, 2016.

Other things:

http://stevestanton.ca/

Anakana Schofield, Martin John

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Anakana Schofield tells the pitiful story of strange Martin John, a slow-witted, obsessive compulsive hoarder who likes to touch girls (maybe he’s slightly psychotic as well). His mother sends him away from Ireland after an incident with a girl. He now lives in South London and works as a security guard on the night shift. He lives according to a rigid routine which includes visiting his aunt on Wednesdays.

Martin’s world includes religiously reading the newspaper, but avoiding P or p words, doing circuits around the train station, and avoiding Baldy Conscience. Baldy Conscience seems to be his upstairs neighbour, mostly likely a bald guy, but at some point I really wasn’t sure that he wasn’t a figment of his imagination.

The genius of Anakana Schofield’s writing is to give us a fascinating picture of Martin John’s twisted, fragmented thinking, showing his confusing world populated by hostile figures.

His best weapon for observing Meddlers is the puddle. He can stand by a puddle and wait for them to pass. He can stand in their way. Just. Like. That. Stop! Stop hard and abrupt in the middle of the pavement. Sometimes people bump into him. He likes that. They apologize. The Meddler will claim not to have seen him. They call him mate. Instead of bait. He is bait. Baited to them. But subtracted now because of a puddle. A puddle is the most successful way to separate from a Meddler

All Meddlers and the noticeable increase in Meddlers can be traced to the arrival of Baldy Conscience. There have always been Meddlers but never ever at this volume. It was Baldy Conscience who brought the maximum Meddlers out.

If you think that does not quite make sense because you are lacking context, that is not quite it… Martin John does not quite make sense. He has a odd perception of the world, he is incapable of developing and maintaining normal relationships, he enters into very odd behaviors and derives pleasure from pain. He thinks that he can be protected from his fears and from certain troublesome people by performing repetitive acts, such as doing circuits around the waiting area of a train station. When he was a child he used to drive his mother crazy by doing endless loops around lamp posts.

There is some suggestion that some of his psychological issues may have their origin in being mistreated as a child but that is never spelt out and Martin John never seems to blame this himself, nor to have a damaged relationship with his mother, although their relationship is a little odd.

And though his mother seems to have made a lot of efforts to keep him outside of institutions, living in the community, by providing some means, and making rules for him to follow, it may be that in the end, an institution is the only place where Martin John can be supervised and taken care of, for his own good. Right?

I read this book as an e-book. I understand from some comments I read some place that the text display in the paper version is also peculiar.

Reference:

Schofield, Anakana. Martin John. Biblioasis, Windsor, ON, 2015.

Other things:

https://pacifictranquility.wordpress.com/2016/01/13/getting-to-understand-the-situation-of-that-guy-review-of-martin-john-by-anakana-schofield-2015-biblioasis/

http://www.scotiabankgillerprize.ca/finalists/2015shortlist/

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/review-anakana-schofield-probes-the-mind-of-a-disturbed-man-in-her-brilliant-second-novel-martin-john/article26333164/

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/feb/05/martin-john-by-anakana-schofield-review