Thought I’d share a couple of book recommendations written last year. These were published in Paper Magazine’s first issue.
SUM by David Eagleman
If traditional views on the hereafter leave you cold, if you believe you’re meant for more than worm fodder, or if fountains of milk and honey don’t really grab you, then step right this way, for David Eagleman has an afterlife for you that will not disappoint. Sum is a collection of forty short stories, each a re-imagining of what happens after you’ve been excused from life as you currently live it. What if one was reborn to discover that life had to be relived, only in reverse? What if you died and were given the option for another shot, with the ability to ask for just one thing to be different? What if God turns out to be even better than they said, but no one is prepared to accept a version different from their religious beliefs? This odd and provocative little volume will keep you enthralled and wanting more.
Eagleman, a neuroscientist in addition to being a writer, has brought this rather morbid topic into the realm of the fantastical with a twisted sense of humour and a lot of ingenuity. This imaginative and insightful book has won fans across the world, including Philip Pullman, Stephen Fry and Alexander McCall Smith.
Best devoured in greedy little bites, with thoughtful mastication to follow.
As Time Magazine puts it – “Read Sum and be amazed. Reread it and be reamazed.”
The City & The City by China Miéville
China Miéville’s intelligent and highly original volume begs to be compared with Kafka and Orwell, in that it creates a nightmarishly bizarre vision of a totalitarian dystopia fraught with a maddening bureaucratic framework, sure to engage fans of either author.
Initially it appears to be set in a perfectly acceptable fictional city, culturally reminiscent of south eastern Europe, with its mix of Balkan refugees and some Germanic and Slavic language thrown in for good measure. Told from the perspective of a police officer, this could be an otherwise believable detective story, with all the fixings of murder and conspiracy. However, it soon becomes apparent that the city of Beszel has an unconventional and extraordinarily intimate relationship with the city of Ul Qoma, which is not a neighbouring city, as one would rush to imagine, but in fact exists in the same physical space as the former. Citizens of each place are psychologically conditioned to ‘unsee’ anything that doesn’t belong in the city they call their own for fear of the secret police. Now add a city-less murder victim and some power politics and you have a truly different animal. (Yikes! If you’re already perplexed you may want to give it a miss, but if you’re a fan of the quirky and ready to tangle with this new ‘urban surrealist’ genre, you won’t find a better story than this to do so).
It’s hard to escape the parable that we all choose to ‘unsee’ the parts of reality we don’t want to acknowledge or accept, but Miéville follows through with his page-turning detective story rather than flouting our demons in our faces too obviously. So take a leap and try out, what Neil Gaiman calls, ‘the fiction of the new century’.