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!

 

 

Mini-Reviews

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It’s been a while, folks! It’s true that things have gotten a bit away from me this year. Still, I have been reading despite being busy with other things, and I’m back to share my thoughts on some titles.

You know when you’re looking forward to reading something and then begin it and realise rather quickly that it isn’t what you thought it would be? Yeah, that was The End We Start From in a nutshell.

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I received an e-arc of this earlier this year and it took me a while to start it. When I finally did, I wasn’t as wowed as I expected to be. The cover is undeniably beautiful but the content wasn’t to my liking. I was expecting a book centered more around a dystopian society or a world-shattering event. The book is narrated by a woman navigating her way through what appears to be society-altering flooding. It’s quite fragmented, taking place over a large period of time. Despite that, I really wouldn’t shelve this as science fiction or dystopian.

The book focuses a lot on the protagonist’s sense of new motherhood. The story meanders and there isn’t really a plot. This wasn’t my favourite read, but if you’re looking for something sparse and contemplative to read during the winter this may be for you.

Next up: Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend.

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That’s right, this is a real book. I was egged into reading this by a co-worker after she told me that Bearllionnaire was a thing. (Review of that to come in the new year, fear not.) Thinking it might be the exact kind of weird and hilarious read I would enjoy, I caved to the peer pressure and went for it.

Sadly, it was not good. Not the kind of not good that you can enjoy and read because it’s still fun, but just the didn’t finish kind. The protagonist was unlikeable, and while that isn’t usually a deal-breaker for me, if I’m 50 pages in and still haven’t had very many scenes with the aforementioned Pterodactlyl Boyfriend, I call foul on the whole thing.

Next, Ask Baba Yaga.

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I’ve been dipping in and out of this gem since I picked it up a few months ago. I read a couple pages before bed every night and I’m super sad for the impending end of the book. Formatted as an advice column, regular mortals seek answers to every day problems from the well-known oracle/witch Baba Yaga. Beautifully formatted with thick, glossy pages and intricate illustrations, I highly recommend this.

While Baba Yaga’s advice is obviously strange, sometimes violent, and often cryptic, it reads well and is always rather solid stuff. Just great on all fronts. If you like weird, you’ll love this.

Another good read was The Witch Boy.

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I read this back in spooky season, on the recommendation of a co-worker (not the same as above). Bless her heart she knows me well, I did indeed love this. The story revolves around a boy born into a magical family where boys become shapeshifters and girls become witches. His entire life however, he’s felt no pull to shapeshift, only a desire to learn the spells taught to his female kin.

This graphic novel was wonderfully illustrated, and the story, while straightforward was really lovely and absolutely something I would recommend, especially to younger readers. I’m sad that this is a standalone and I hope the author revisits this ‘verse in her future work.

That’s all for now. Have you read these titles? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!