Recent reads in brief

I seem to have been reading so quickly for a few weeks there that I am way behind on reviews again, so here are a few quickies.

lifeboatThe Lifeboat
by Charlotte Rogan

This is the story of Grace, survivor of a 1914 ocean liner disaster. We learn at the start that she survived for three weeks in a lifeboat and is now facing trial for her life. She narrates the story of the shipwreck and Lifeboat 14, gradually revealing the crime she now stands accused of.

Most of the boat’s occupants are upper class women, and as such practical matters quickly fall to a small number of characters. Grace is young, recently married to a rich man, but her background is murky, as are her actions. Throughout a fairly suspenseful, exciting story she muses on matters of guilt and innocence, on character traits and social status. She watches alliances being formed, gossip spreading, moments of human strength and weakness. But ultimately Grace is a frustrating narrator. She rarely places herself in the story, and when she does her position is often unclear. Is she as weak and on the fence as she seems or is it an act? The whole narrative is being written as a piece of evidence for her lawyers, so she has a clear motive to paint her actions whiter than they perhaps were. I like ambiguity and unreliable narrators, but I found the hints at Grace’s unreliability were a little too hidden. And for a lot of the start of the novel I found the uselessness of the majority of the women incredibly annoying.

“The present seemed fixed and immovable, the past compressed and distant, as subject to interpretation as a passage of dense theological text. It seemed just as likely that we had been born in the boat as that we all had histories and ancestors and a blood connection to the past. As for the future, it was impenetrable, even to thought. Where was the proof that it even existed?”

Published 2012 by Virago Press.

Source: I bought this secondhand in 2013, I don’t remember where from.

Signs-Preceding-the-End-of-the-WorldSigns Preceding the End of the World
by Yuri Herrera
translated from Spanish by Lisa Dillman

For a more positive review, though certainly not a more positive story, I finally picked up the first Yuri Herrera novel published by And Other Stories. Makina leaves behind her happy, comfortable life in Mexico to search for her brother across the border in the USA. Neither country is named outright, and neither is the fact that she is planning to cross the border illegally, as her brother did before her; these facts are alluded to, gradually becoming clearer. On her journey, Makina makes deals with various frightening men, heads of criminal operations, but to begin with she seems in control. As she travels further, and sees more evidence of the fates of illegal migrant workers, she starts to unravel.

I really enjoyed this novel, if I did find it rather depressing. The language is exquisite. A translator’s note at the end explains some unusual word choices, showing how thoroughly considered such decisions are. I look forward to reading the second Yuri Herrera book on my shelves from And Other Stories.

“I’m dead, Makina said to herself, and hardly had she said it than her whole body began to contest that verdict and she flailed her feet frantically backward, each step mere inches from the sinkhole, until the precipice settled into a perfect circle and Makina was saved. Slippery bitch of a city, she said to herself. Always about to sink back into the cellar.”

Señales que precederán al fin del mundo published 2009 by Editorial Periférica.
This translation published 2015 by And Other Stories.

Source: I subscribe to the publisher.

Giant Days, Vol. 1
by John Allison (writer)
and Lissa Treiman (illustrator)

This British indie comic is the story of three young women thrown together by the randomness of student housing in their first year at university, and their growing friendship. Daisy, Esther and Susan appear at first to be familiar stereotypes – mainly because they are introduced as such. Daisy is “home schooled and naive…50% hair and 100% not ready for this mean old world”. Esther is “pale and interesting…maybe too interesting”. Susan, our narrator, is “a human common sense silo”. All three are actually complex, loveably imperfect people and they enjoy the occasional silly escapade, in-between the everyday matters of adjusting to uni life, testing the boundaries of their new-found friendship and learning about their newly adult selves. It’s a lot of fun, with profound thoughts on life and friendship sneakily squeezed in there. I like it a lot and highly recommend if you’re looking for a new comic series.

giant-days-1

Published 2015 by Boom! Box.

Source: Borrowed from Tim, who I think bought this at Gosh! Comics in London.

Giant Days, Vol. 2
by John Allison (writer), Lissa Treiman
and Max Sarin (illustrators)

The friendship and adventures of Daisy, Esther and Susan continue. The room-mates attend their first university ball, and then one of them doesn’t come back from the Christmas holidays and a search party is the order of the day. Love and lust rear their heads, as does the pesky business of studying for exams. The humour is slightly on the silly side, but packed with so much heart that I can’t help but love every page.

Giant-Days-2

I fully intend to keep reading these published volumes, but to keep me going while I wait for volume 3 (due out in October), I will be delving into the extensive web archives of Allison’s other (loosely linked) comics: Bobbins, Scary Go Round and Bad Machinery.

Published 2016 by Boom! Box.

Source: Borrowed from Tim, who I think bought this at Excelsior! Comics in Bristol.

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