Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Mini Reviews #5 // Dystopias, Vampires, and Magic Realism

These three stories are all about women who dare to imagine the world differently. Despite having different backgrounds, the characters in these stories are connected by worlds similar to our own, with twists of science fiction and fantasy that give an entirely new perspective to how we see the world.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - ★★☆☆☆
After years of meaning to pick it up, I finally read The Handmaid's Tale. The book tells the story of Offred, an inhabitant of the Republic of Gilead. As one of the few fertile women remaining in society, she is a womb to the household she is assigned, with the sole purpose of reproduction. But Offred remembers a time where things were not so dire, and it is those memories that help her survive in a state of oppression.
The concept is both interesting and bleak, yet I struggled to connect to it. Much of that was to do with Offred's lack of personality. I know that she has had her identity stripped from her and that she represents the possibility of this happening to any woman, but I could not connect to her suffering. The Audible narration definitely helped bring the words on the page to life, but there still felt like there was something missing for me to truly connect Offred's world to our own. I could see how Gilead reflects on our society, but I just wasn't convinced that this dystopia could ever become a reality. I couldn't buy into this world. I cannot place exactly what it was that left me so disconnected from The Handmaid's Tale, but I don't regret reading it. It was intriguing, but it is not a book that has haunted me like I expected it to.
Warnings: suicide, cutting, self-harm, rape, arophobic language, murder, hanging, physical violence, death

The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez - ★★★★☆
The Gilda Stories were a wonderful re-imagining of the vampire story. Gomez's short stories take us through 8 key moments in Gilda's life, spanning from 1850 to 2050. These are not tales of vampires who take blood from their victims with nothing in return, but of beings concerned with a mutually beneficial cycle.
What captured me about these stories was how Gilda could never distance herself from humans, despite not being one of them herself. I loved seeing this relationship with humanity and identity explored. As a runaway slave Gilda loses her family, yet along the way she meets many humans and vampires alike that she grows to care for, some of whom stay with her for years to come, even when they pass. The sense of chosen families in these stories are strong, however, the connection to where Gilda came from is never lost as she carries the soils of her homeland with her on her journeys. This is all tied together with the prominent thread of concern for the future of this world, and what could become of it should we neglect it and the beings that depend on it.
Diversity note: black lesbian protagonist
Warnings: slavery, attempted rape, murder, death, blood

The New Moon's Arms by Nalo Hopkinson - ★★★★☆
I was not prepared for how much I would enjoy The New Moon's Arms. It is not a book I would have picked up for myself which is such a shame, so I'm glad it was on my required reading list.
As a child, Calamity was a finder of lost things. Now experiencing menopause, every time she has a hot flash something missing returns to her. The most unexpected of these is a three-year-old boy, washed up on the shores of her Caribbean island home, where seals mysteriously disappear and rumours of sea people are scattered among the locals. With webbed fingers and peculiar features and only speaking an unrecognisable language, Calamity adopts the child as her own, causing problems with her adult daughter.
Calamity is a terrible person. If it is not obvious from the beginning, it quickly becomes so. She is unsympathetic to her daughter, disgustingly homophobic and biphobic, and incredibly selfish. She is a woman stuck in her ways, and the author does a brilliant thing by making me still want to read about her and see if adopting Agway will change her. Even more brilliant is how Hopkinson holds off information yet keeps you wanting more. The severity of Calamity's actions did not fully dawn on me until the final two chapters, and the result is effective. The thread of disconnect from culture and family is spread thinly throughout, but it really comes together when all is revealed. What I also loved was the setting. I don't know if the novel entirely counts as magic realism, but I loved that aspect of it being in between real and imagined, and how some people shrug off the supernatural occurrences and others pretend it's not happening. I've never read anything quite like this before, but I loved it.
Diversity note: black protagonist
Warnings: death, illness, hospital, drowning, blood, homophobia, biphobia, ableism

Have you read any of these books? What were your thoughts?


  1. I read The Handmaid's Tale, but I read it about 15 years ago, so I only remember a few details.

  2. I've only read Tha Handmaid's Tale but I just wanted to say I agree with you 100%! Although the world was definitely bone-chilling because of its possibility of becoming a reality, and their situations and the events that happened were horrible, I couldn't connect to any of the characters which left me distant from some of the emotions which would really have made the book hard hitting. I also wasn't entirely satisfied with the ending... I've recently been watching the series and having it visualised takes the creepy factor up to new levels. I highly recommend it!