What Should Be Wild

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Before Women in Translation month began, I resolved to read more of the books I already have at home on my shelves. What Should Be Wild has been with me for ages  – through several job changes and a major move. It has definitely waited long enough to be read, and I’m sorry it took such a length of time!

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Maisie Cothay is born with the ability to kill and resurrect with a touch, her first casualty being her mother while she is still growing in the womb. Maisie’s father Peter raises her in almost total isolation on Urizon, his wife’s family estate. A man of science, Peter uses Maisie’s childhood as an opportunity to conduct controlled experiments testing his daughter’s capabilities and limits. As Maisie grows, so too does her longing for companionship and it isn’t to be sated until an unexpected event sends her out into the world for the first time.

Conceptually, I loved this book. The narrative certainly had a fairy-tale quality that I enjoyed, and the prose was often beautiful. This is the kind of book that it would be a pleasure to read aloud to oneself. Maisie’s narration from childhood to young adulthood was interesting, clearly unreliable but all the better for it. I did wish that she had stayed younger for more of the novel, but then I suppose it would have been more of a candidate for a duology instead.

Maisie’s perspective is interspersed with that of the ‘lost women’ of the Blakely family (her mother’s family), women who throughout the ages have sought refuge of different sorts in the woods surrounding the estate.

These two perspectives played well off each other and were probably my favourite part of the book outside of the concept itself. The ‘origin’ chapters of each woman were the parts I liked the most.

The lost women are all interesting in their vices and faults, and I would have gladly read more about them all. Maisie is exactly as you’d expect someone so isolated to be: naïve, eager to make friends, and foolish as heck. Peter (her father) was a flawed man, whose character arc I found excellent as he learned and grew during his short presence in the narrative. The two male side characters were both quite forgettable and firstly seemed to be shoehorned in as possible love interests. When one is revealed to be something else, it was a rather stale twist that didn’t quite make the impact it should have.

There were some pretty gruesome scenes in the book, but I expected that considering the subject matter.

Ultimately, the problems I have with this book are the same ones I always seem to find in magical realism or literary fiction that feels like dabbling in the fantastical: it just didn’t follow through. The author spent so much time laying the groundwork of Maisie’s (and the other women’s) circumstances, but then ignored them in favour of tying a neat little bow around the boring ending of the book. Maisie’s powers and the intrigue of the woods are the central focus of the story, but it isn’t enough to keep them the focus at the end.

While I did enjoy reading this, I was disappointed that I read through so urgently to the end only for it to be such a letdown. There was so much potential here for the story to say more about women’s bodies and agency (which I did feel it attempted) but it really let itself down at the end if that’s what it was trying for. Previous events and interactions were glossed over to the detriment of the story.

There was the possibility for the narrative to come full circle, which was entirely ignored to my dismay. Though the book does try to focus on morality and the importance of one’s actions and choices, it failed by believing the fantasy elements it introduced couldn’t further an ending with any impact – and in doing so robbed readers of any satisfying conclusion.

Still, if you’re in the mood for a book with lovely prose, and don’t mind the complete disregard laid by the fantasy groundwork in the beginning, you might be well served by giving this one a try.

Have you read What Should Be Wild? Do you have any similar recommendations? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

 

Moshi Moshi

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August has arrived, and with it Women in Translation month. While there are several different events this month, I’m participating in Tamsien’s (Babbling Books) photography and reading challenge which you can find on her instagram.

I went through my bookshelves to find translated titles, but didn’t turn up many as I generally avoid translated works on purpose. (More on that in a later post.) I headed to my local library branch to browse and turned up quite a few likely titles. The first one I’ve finished is Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto, translated from Japanese to English by Asa Yoneda.

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Moshi Moshi follows main character Yoshie as she moves into a new apartment and forges a life for herself in the wake of her father’s death. Her father was killed in a suicide-pact with an unknown woman, and Yoshie and her mother are left to come to terms with not only his loss but also the manner of his death.

This meandering novel was easy to sink into, the narration clear, and the dialogue clean (if a bit dense at times). The characters often monologue aloud to each other in a way I haven’t encountered before, expressing thoughts and feelings that can range from nebulously philosophical, to intellectual, to seemingly inconsequential.

Small every day actions and moments make up the bulk of the narrative, to it’s benefit. As I was reading I thought rather fondly back to more melancholy times in my own life and how much things have changed for me. Though the focus is on normal life, things often seemed very dreamlike as they occurred, the passage of time taking center stage in a way that worked well to highlight Yoshie’s emotions and mental state.

I really enjoyed Yoshie’s mother as a character. She’s also trying to deal with her grief in the best way she can, and it was interesting to see how her process differed from her daughter’s. The side characters throughout the book were never delved into deeply but despite that it was clear that they had their own lives and motives beyond those known to Yoshie. Their interactions with her (and her mother) really furthered the narrative.

While the loss of Yoshie’s father is the main ‘conflict’ of this book, it also focuses well on other types of grief and the changeable nature of life itself. While this book wasn’t plot-driven, I enjoyed it all the same.

If you’re going through a life change filled with uncertainty, or are in need of some kind of literary catharsis, you need look no further than this lovely little novel.

Have you read any of  Yoshimoto’s work? Are you participating in Women in Translation month? If you have any thoughts to share, let me know in the comments below!

 

 

Foe

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I’ve been eager to get out of the house a bit more of late, and in doing so have re-discovered my love of the library. This book was on display and certainly caught my eye. The enormous and deceptively simple title juxtaposed against the background of a split country scene intrigued me so I checked it out without even reading the synopsis.

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Foe is narrated by Junior, a man who lives a quiet life in near-isolation with his wife, Hen. The book opens with a visit from a representative from OuterMore – an innovative company with government ties. They’ve come to offer the good news that Junior has been long-listed for an Installation that will take him away from home for years. It’s a non-voluntary (read: mandatory) trip that will separate him from his wife and throw him into completely unknown circumstances.

Iain Reid does a phenomenal job at constructing what I can only describe as a carefully clever story. Junior, Hen, and Terrance facilitate it every step of the way, providing a wonderful character study. Because there are so few characters, I was really able to focus not only on their relationships, but also on the things that made up Junior’s every day life.

I can’t go into too much detail about the plot or characters without spoiling the whole book. I will say that each character provided something valuable to the narrative. There were no unnecessary flourishes, nothing included without reason. It was an intricate and self-contained tale.

My only complaint about the book was the strange formatting when it came to dialogue. All of the characters had quotation marks around their speech except for Junior. I found it really off-putting in the beginning, not entirely sure where his speech ended and the narrative began. Even after finishing the book, I can’t see any good reason why that tactic was used and I believe it would have been better off without it.

Though I was able to guess the ending almost from the first page, I think I may be anomalous in that regard because I’ve read so many books with similar themes. Still, I enjoyed this immensely and finished it in one sitting. It’s a quiet and unassuming read that nevertheless asks some very pertinent questions about relationships and what it means to be human.

I’ll be checking out more of the author’s work, and continuing to pick up reads based purely on covers and titles to see where it takes me.

Do you have any quiet reads to recommend? Let me know in the comments below!