Three Things about Elsie by Joanna Cannon
The pace seemed too slow, with a manufactured mystery I didn’t care much about, but that might be a requirement of chunky commercial fiction. The voice, despite some fine writing, seemed not to take itself sufficiently seriously, but that might be a consequence of a certain type of unreliable narrator. It niggles, this not knowing; should I be targeting this novel’s readership or are they different species? Maybe I need to read it again now that I understand the author’s intentions.
The Pear Field by Nana Ekvtimishvili translated by
The teachers’ ambitions for the children centre around adoption from the USA and Lela puts her plans on hold to give her favourite child the best possible chance. She sacrifices herself to finance his English lessons and, when he leaves, she plans to kill a teacher deemed responsible for abuse.
Despite these goals, as a reader, I often wondered where the story was going. Heavy with detail that might or might not be relevant (I’m sure several weren’t) this prize-winning novella unfolded like a first draft. Perhaps this was intended to convey the sense of a chaotic system or the children’s learning disabilities (which aren’t otherwise apparent). However, the twist in the ending is excellent and took me by surprise.
Although I have read another novel set in Tbilisi, I think this is my first ever translation from the Georgian: the script actually reminds me of a South Indian language (but don’t quote me, I’m no expert). Thanks to Peirene Press for my review copy.
Oshibana Complex by Craig Hallam
In a neon city in a (hopefully) far-flung future, where citizens are manufactured rather than born, Xev works twelve-hour shifts in the McJob of McJobs, earning barely enough to eat. The stakes are raised when e’s assigned a freshly-cloned apprentice, because e’ll be destitute if the new synth messes up. As Xev tries to teach the as-yet nameless minion some street cred, e’s forced to confront big questions about the status quo.
Cyberpunk is not my favourite genre. I didn’t even know it was a genre until ordering my copy of this book. While Shika-One is an uncomfortable place to visit, even in the pages of a book, I was enthralled by the author’s inventiveness in creating an alternative universe and avoidance of gender-specific pronouns. Although I lost my way slightly when the action moved into the world of gaming, I never stopped rooting for the hero, an ordinary person doing what we all have to do: doing our best with what life throws up. As with publisher Inspired Quill’s other books, Oshibana Complex entertains while digging deeply into fundamental issues about our human values and the societies we create.
This week’s flash fiction challenge is to compose a spooky tale told around a campfire. Mine draws on both The Pear Field and Oshibana Complex, seasoned with one of my favourite novels about segregated communities, Never Let Me Go.
Hailsham’s Most Illustrious Alumnus
A branch cracks, spitting fireflies into the air above the logs.
“How’s this a prom? No dancing, nor even walking. Just staring into flames.”
“Tradition. Hailsham’s hot on tradition.”
“Wish my back was. It’s freezing, while my front roasts.”
“Stop moaning, she’s here!”
“Who cares? I won’t get a graduation prize.”
The students shiver as Hailsham’s Most Illustrious Alumnus looms the fire’s glow. Armless, legless, minus half a face.
“Tell me it’s a trick!”
“Prepare to meet your destiny!” says Hailsham’s Most Illustrious Alumnus. “Tonight you’ll learn the point of your education. Tonight you’ll learn why you were cloned.”