Saturday, 28 September 2019

Frankissstein: A Love Story by Jeanette Winterson

"Prometheus turbo charged"

Hot on the heels of Ian McEwan's Machines Like Me Jeanette Winterson turns her hand to the theme of artificial intelligence and transhumanism in new title Frankissstein. Rather than set in an alternate version of Britain, Winterson weaves a contemporary story about medical science and ethics around a fictionalised account of Mary Shelley's time on Lake Geneva in 1816 where she original told her ghost story that would become Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus.

The flashbacks to the circumstances that led to Mary Shelley creating the most famous gothic horror story in history are expertly told through her relationship with husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and with their vacation buddy Lord Byron. Likewise Shelley's journey back to London and visits to the Bedlam Hospital are a great build on the Frankenstein myth but it is the contemporary story that really stands apart.

Ry Shelley is a young transgender doctor who falls in love with AI expert Victor Stein whilst investigating the medial ethics around Stein's work. In this adaptation Mary Shelley herself becomes the protaganist, in Ry, which enables Winterson to authentically weave together gender politics and transhumanism in a way that is characteristically thought provoking,

Like McEwan's Machines Like Me the story raises questions about the role of AI and the relations we form with them. In Frankissstein most research and development revolves around the Chinese sexbot industry which drives exponential growth in the development of AI like a turbo charged Prometheus. The unintended consequences are articulated with realistic danger in this cracking read.

The reinvention of a classic story brought right up to date 5⭐️ 

Frankissstein: A Love Story by Jeanette Winterson published by Jonathan Cape 352 pages

Saturday, 21 September 2019

How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

"Step One, move to the city"

Though the paperback cover looks more like an advert for a Bollywood movie this novel is actually a well crafted work of literary fiction in the guise of a self-help book.

As the title suggests, Hamid parodies the step by step approach of countless business books in this tale about a boy born into poverty who moves to the city in search of fame and fortune. The story is packed with romance and humour which balances the sheer hard work required to 'get filthy rich'.

The narrative is told in the awkward second person which some readers will find off putting. The omnipresent narrator's use of 'you' keeps us as readers at some distance to the main character which ultimately risks any opportunity for empathy. Luckily Mohsin Hamid understands the risk and more than compensates with the self-help conceit.

Read right now for maximum impact 3.5⭐️ 

How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid published by Penguin 240 pages

Friday, 13 September 2019

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

"Read right now for maximum impact"

On a Japanese island, in a dystopian near future, the population are fiercely governed by The Memory Police who enforce social order in a world where things simply evaporate. Disappearances come suddenly and unannounced; flowers, birds, calendars, simply vanish without a trace along with the memories associated with them. 

Seen through the eyes of an unnamed novelist this is a story about the unreliability of memory. Though there is hope in the clues concealed within the sculptures created by her mother and love in the relationship she has with her editor there is an inevitability to life on the island; "After these relatively uneventful weeks, another disappearance occurred..... but this one was more complicated; this time novels disappeared. 

Stephen Snyder translates Ogawa's original mid-nineties prose and is able to maintain the crisp and minimal style that Ogawa is known for in works such as Revenge and Hotel Iris.

Whether as a cautionary tale about enjoying what you have before its gone or as a meditation on growing old and the cruelty of Alzheimer's, The Memory Police is hugely successful. The image of the Memory Police maintaining pervasive surveillance in a world that changes overnight seems as relevant and prescient as John Lanchester's The Wall

All that's missing is more world building; who governs the Memory Police and who decides what and when disappears? The lack of answers if frustrating but then again, when it comes to Yoko Ogawa, where's the fun in full resolution.

Read right now for maximum impact 4.5⭐️ 

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa published by Pantheon 288 pages

Monday, 2 September 2019

Brother by David Chariandy

"A story deeply influenced by the setting"

David Chariandy's new novel has already won a sack full of awards at home in Canada, including the Toronto Book Award, and is now available in the UK published by Bloomsbury. The novel is told by Michael who looks back on the series of events that led up to him losing his older Brother, Francis, when they were young men in the 1980s.

This is a story deeply influenced by the setting of Scarborough, a poor migrant neighbourhood in Toronto sometimes referred to by the monikers 'Scarlem' or 'Scardistan'. It is Scarborough that drives the extreme work ethic in the boys' Trinidadian mother who works double shifts to raise her children. It is Scarborough that taints the expectations of the boys who are acutely aware of the social order; 'Even as kids, we learned to be gentle with each other's hoped and dreams'. It is Scarborough that defines the response to a key incident that is described in the first quarter of the novel.

The novel pivots on the murder of a boy at a local convenience store. The neighbourhood becomes a scene of danger and fear which is described effortlessly; 'Even the ordinary clothes that people hung out to dry on laundry lines suddenly looked suspicious. Conspiracies in the open hanging of slacks and saris, in the headless baby jumpers'.

Chariandy's prose is elegant yet contemporary. His characters are believable and authentic yet there is something that gets in the way of the narrative being truly immersive. Mother is the best formed and most memorable character but Michael's childhood girlfriend, Aisha, is less fully fledged . Like Aisha, as a reader we feel slightly too removed from the world of Scarborough.

A thin novel that packs a bigger punch  3.5⭐️ 

Brother by David Chariandy published by Bloomsbury 249 pages

For a similar read try In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne