BOOK REVIEW: Words in Deep Blue (by Cath Crowley)

The postmodern convention of intertextuality can be a powerful tool, potentially elevating a story by putting it in touch with the sprawling web of literature that has preceded it. Integrated appropriately, allusions to other books can bring to the reader’s mind an emotion or idea that might otherwise require considerable labour. However, the technique can also be used by authors desirous to imbue their novels with literary merit, to disastrous effect as the references miss their mark. Cath Crowley’s Words in Deep Blue straddles the thin line of effective use of the device—sometimes taking a step too far—in its YA tale about how books can be as deeply loved as people.

Rachel Sweetie’s family moved away from the city three years ago, leaving her best friend, Henry Jones, behind. She made a new life in a coastal town until her brother passed away in a freak accident, which seemed to bring everything to a crashing halt. After all this time, the interference of other family members force…

Thinking About Des Gilets Jaunes and Social Media Protests

Across our French expedition, we have happened across roundabouts awash with people wearing hi-vis vests, some of them burning wooden pallets and all blocking traffic to a greater or lesser degree. At first, we were unsure of what to make of these displays. After a while, we passed one with a banner stating ‘Fin de Macron', which made me realise that the whole affair was political. Only when Amy scrolled past an illuminating post on Facebook did we realise that these demonstrations are protests, and so we delved a little further.

As you are probably aware, France is embroiled in protests, as a loose collective on dissatisfied citizens (termed des gilets jaunes) has taken to the streets to show discontent with President Emmanuel Macron’s fuel taxes. From what I’ve read, these protests have turned violent in Paris and other areas, but those we have passed have all been peaceful. The blocking of the roads and the shortage of fuel is an inconvenience for us as we travel, but we are d…

BOOK REVIEW: & Sons (by David Gilbert)

Father-son relationships are a common subject for fiction, often portrayed as being fraught, if not outright adversarial. This trope is ancient, forming an integral part of the origin story of Greek mythology, and to be found today in texts as diverse as Frankenstein, Star Wars, and Grand Theft Auto V. Taking this age-old theme as its central pivot, David Gilbert’s novel & Sons offers a stunning portrayal of the past smashing into the present to rewrite the preconceived notions of family members who have wilfully drifted apart.

Following the death of his best friend Charlie Topping, reclusive former literary star A. N. Dyer (Andrew) summons his estranged sons to visit him in New York. The passing has sent shockwaves through the old writer, bringing an awareness of his mortality, alongside a need to unburden himself of secrets long held. The synopsis suggests this mystery as the driving force of the novel, but that is not the case. Instead, the story is more strongly concerned wit…

BOOK REVIEW: Faceless (by Alyssa Sheinmel)

The face is, perhaps, the single most defining figure of any individual. Consciously or unconsciously, we acknowledge that the combination of nose, lips, cheeks, eyes, and dozens of other features as the components makes us recognisably us. Alyssa Sheinmel's novel Faceless takes this idea of self-identification as its central conflict through the plight of Maisie Winters, a young woman whose face is seared away in a terrible accident. The subject matter makes a weighty hook for a YA book, but the storyline struggles to maintain the uniqueness of the premise.

Almost immediately on opening the book, readers are tossed headlong into the incident that changes Maisie’s life. Out for an early morning run, this high school student and track star is overtaken by a wild storm that, through mischance, results in her receiving electrical burns across much of her body. This tragedy sets the stage for the recounting of Maisie’s first year of recovery.

Sheinmel's depiction of the incident …

Italy's Last Jab: Frustration on the Shores of the Mediterranean

Remember how I said that the rest of Italy should be uneventful? I was almost right.

We passed from the lowlands to the southern coast, where the landscape is dominated by hills and cliffs, nestled among which are crazy cities. Apartment blocks seem to stack backwards into the mountainside, creating tiers that more resemble grandstands overlooking the Mediterranean Sea than a space for living. The roads here are ridiculous. To accommodate for the awkward positions of houses, they wind about like confused snakes, crisscrossing and colliding at ill-advised angles. The layout of the streets can sometimes seem intended to cause accidents, and still the local drivers don’t care. They bulldoze their way onto intersections and roundabouts, ignorant of whether someone else has right of way. They try to overtake at red lights. They blast their horns at the slightest hint of hesitation. In short, they are utterly insufferable. I’ve heard it said that Italian drivers are fantastic. I beg to dif…

Italy, Downbeat: Tuscan Days and a Sense of Malaise

The weather has turned. East Italy was kind after the initial chills found in Austria. The days may not have been exactly warm, but they were tenable. Since drifting north from Rome, the cold has grown deeper, often accompanied by a blistering wind and persistent drizzle that slips through even the tiniest gap.

I am getting ahead of myself slightly. The Tuscan days were near flawless, the clouds deliciously fluffy and never yet threatening. Set against this wondrous skybox, the famous hills rolled away, dotted with villas both occupied and abandoned. Between these, the olive groves, and the tall thin trees that seem almost unique to the region, Tuscany revealed itself as a portrait of pastoral perfection. I wish I could say more. I wish I could say that we spent days simply basking in the atmosphere of this most revered of regions, but that would be a lie. My memory of Tuscany is reduced to little more than an overall impression, which I attribute to the effects of a cold that I pic…

Reckless Roads Lead To Rome

Sometimes, you simply must question the algorithms that GPS systems use to calculate routes. A human might be able to tell you that the quality of roads caps the speed the any sane person would be willing to drive, regardless of whether the mandated limit is ninety or a hundred kilometres an hour. A machine is incapable of factoring that in. The use of automated logic, multiplying distance by legal speed limit, to find the shortest possible driving time meant that the journey from Mascioni—which was supposed to take two and a half hours—was over four hours long.

The stretching of the trip began almost immediately on our departure. A few winding, pothole-ridden streets led us out of the town before we were routed onto a track that barely deserves that moniker. First, the path led up and over a crest, then it narrowed. Almost before we knew it, we were on a one-lane road, forest pressing tight on either side, and on a hair-raising descent down the side of an enormous mountain. The way w…