amortristis's reviews
138 reviews

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, by Jeanette Winterson

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dark medium-paced


Meandering. A bit obnoxious. Lacking something I can’t quite pinpoint.
I was tempted to give it a lower rating but it is readable and it’s not too long. I think it’s fair to call it mid.

CONTENT WARNINGS: psychotic levels of religiosity, references to missionary work, racism, classism, misogyny, lesbophobia, child abuse, sexual assault 
Woman, Eating, by Claire Kohda

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dark emotional reflective sad tense medium-paced


“Do you think God would feed a body like yours?”

Woman, Eating reminds me of that standout quote from Nick Groom’s The Vampire: A New History: “Vampires are good to think with.” Here, vampirism serves as a jumping-off point for explorations of religious trauma, mixed heritage, colonial violence, and self-loathing and self-harm, particularly as it relates to disordered eating. This is a contemplative and introspective novel. The first person, present tense narration conveys Lydia’s reflections on her upbringing and ruminations on her identity and her place in the world. She’s lost. She’s lonely. I’ve seen others describe this as a “sad girl book” and I think that’s accurate, but the vampirism does lend those listless lists some flavour other entries to the genre lack.

I think Woman, Eating could have afforded to be more fucked up. True,
SpoilerLydia dispatches Gideon at the end of the book,
but I wanted more of that. More sensual revelling. And more consequences too. Aside from the protagonist, the characters are granted little interiority. Maybe it’s just that Lydia’s too stuck in her own head to exercise real empathy, but I think it would have been interesting – expanding on those themes of colonialism and greed – to have her actually consider Anju’s feelings in a perverse sort of way, and feel good about taking something from her. As it stands, Anju is a non-character. Lydia is the main character, Ben and Gideon are secondary, and the rest of the cast is just set dressing – fake plants hanging from the ceiling.

I like introspective novels so I don’t mind the lack of plot so much. I understand that isn’t to everyone’s taste, however. If the idea of an angsty artist vampire book appeals to you, check it out. It didn’t blow me away but I’ll give it a good four stars.

CONTENT WARNINGS: abuse, disordered eating, depression and self-loathing, self-harm, blood, death, violence, cheating, stalking, sexual harassment, racism, colonialism, dementia 
Blindsight, by Peter Watts

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adventurous challenging dark mysterious reflective tense medium-paced


What is there to say about Blindsight? I admire its ambition, its musings on the nature of consciousness, its surreal mindfuckery, its depiction of neurodiversity. It’s a thoughtful and thought-provoking book. And there’s a vampire! In space!

As much as I enjoyed the philosophical and scientific discussions, I did find the writing a bit inscrutable at times. I struggled to visualise scenes and to feel connected to the characters. That may have been intentional, incorporating Siri’s whole “Chinese room” thing into the narration. Still makes for a tricky read, though.

Intriguing concepts. Execution fair-to-good. I probably won’t revisit it but I’m glad I read it.

CONTENT WARNINGS: violence, abuse, torture, body horror, psychosis, existentialism, and death
Children of Dune, by Frank Herbert

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adventurous mysterious reflective tense medium-paced


“Every judgement teeters on the brink of error. To claim absolute knowledge is to become monstrous.”

Children of Dune is... a lot. It’s a story about change and ensuing identity crises. It’s a story about suicide, metaphorical and literal; (ego) death. It’s about what makes a person no longer a person and makes them, instead, a monster. It’s about the future and how far some will go to pursue a particular vision.

SpoilerAlia is possessed by the Baron, becoming ruthless and ambitious and indulgent. I think Herbert did a good job at avoiding the common pitfalls of plurality-/psychosis-as-horror. Baron!Alia is criminally underused, it must be said. Paul returns as the Preacher, an anonymous vagabond kindling dissent. He became disillusioned with his deification, and he rejects his premonitions and his former identity. The titular children, Leto and Ghanima, embark on a quest to secure the Golden Path – supposedly the optimum future for humanity – no matter the cost.
And that’s just the main characters. Half a dozen others take the spotlight at various points throughout the narrative, each advancing their own agendas, their allegiances questioned and their beliefs put to the test. As in Dune Messiah (and, to a lesser extent, Dune), the POV shifts constantly. Messiah, however, was more confined and contemplative – a series of character study vignettes, as I said in my review of that book. Children of Dune weaves multiple dramatic and emotionally charged plot threads simultaneously. I’m not sure it quite comes together.

Something must be said of the pacing/structuring of this book. At times, the story flows well even with the shifting perspectives (eg:
SpoilerFarad’n is intrigued by Idaho’s recent (false) suicide attempt → the Preacher (survivor of a false suicide) delivers a passionate sermon about “moral suicide” → Idaho argues with Jessica in a similarly incendiary tone
). It makes sense, it feels right. An example where this is not the case:
SpoilerJessica realises that Alia has been possessed by the Baron → the twins wander in the desert, anticipating an ambush.
Why is that sensational, pivotal scene followed by suspense? Surely it would make more sense to swap these scenes around, so the tension can build up to that oh shit moment. Even though these are two separate plotlines, there could be an emotional throughline there.

All in all, I was enjoying the book well enough until the last quarter, which is when things started to get weird.
SpoilerLeto becomes one with a school of sandtrout (sandworm larvae). I understand that this was his way of sacrificing himself, of ending his (human) life and becoming something monstrous in service of a grand vision. I can also appreciate how it mirrors Alia’s fate. But also... huh? The Dune franchise can be very strange, but for some reason this stands out to me. I don’t know...
And, speaking of Alia,
Spoilerher death was so disappointing. If she had to kill herself, she could have used a gom jabbar, at least, as she did when killing the Baron at the end of Dune. Throwing herself out of a window was just weak. And why did Leto swing her around like that? F.

For a long time I thought I’d give Children of Dune a solid four stars, but the ending did bring it down a little. I think it’s fair to say it’s more or less on par with Dune Messiah.

CONTENT WARNINGS: drug use, overdose, hallucinations/visions, psychosis, intrusive thoughts, possession, some body horror, violence, murder, suicide, imperialism/colonialism, racism, eugenics, incest, beefswelling 
Stone Fruit, by Lee Lai

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emotional hopeful inspiring reflective sad


“It’s not soft all the way through, babe. You gotta take it slow.”

Tender. Tough. Bittersweet. I love the artwork – it manages to be well thought out yet organic at the same time, and the melancholy atmosphere is captured perfectly in the blue-grey washes.

CONTENT WARNINGS: transphobia, queerphobia more generally, religious trauma, depression
Cuckoo, by Joe Sparrow

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emotional mysterious fast-paced


if it sucks, hit da bricks
Nevada, by Imogen Binnie

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adventurous reflective slow-paced


Nevada is something of a cult classic, a landmark of trans literature. Does it live up to the hype? Hard to say. I want to say something pithy like “Nevada walked so Detransition, Baby could run” but, while there is some truth in that, I feel like it undersells Nevada. It’s a good book in its own right. It’s not for everyone but it doesn’t have to be; I appreciate that Binnie wrote a book that’s a little unorthodox, instead of taking the radical idea of “trans fiction by trans authors for trans readers” and compromising to make it more palatable to a wider audience.

The stream of consciousness writing style and the abrupt ending may seem off-putting but they work. The POV characters, Maria and James, are stuck in their own heads, and they’re unable/unwilling to communicate effectively or to form meaningful relationships with others. They’re not irredeemably awful but they are certainly flawed, and they do make you want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them sometimes. I suppose that’s how Maria feels about James. Her plan to
Spoilertell James he’s trans because he reminds her of her younger self, and to essentially redo her twenties through him
is silly. It’s understandable on a purely emotional level but it was a doomed project from the start. Of course it doesn’t come together with a neat and tidy resolution.
Nevada is a book about failure. If you expect anything else, you’ll be disappointed.

CONTENT WARNINGS: sex, relationship issues, transphobia (largely internalised), dissociation, drug use 
What It Feels Like for a Girl, by Paris Lees

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emotional funny hopeful lighthearted tense fast-paced


“Would ya rather have loadsa people hate ya an’ loadsa people love ya, or not be hated by many people but also not be loved by that many people?”

Fucked up but presented in a “c’est la vie” kind of way. The memoir follows Lees throughout her adolescence, with higher highs and lower lows than most. She’s so naive to begin with. I suppose that only makes it all the more gratifying to watch her mature and figure herself out.

Charismatic. Sympathetic. I’d love to read a follow-up.

CONTENT WARNINGS: homophobia, transphobia, racism, child abuse, adult/minor sex, grooming, violence, drug use, psychosis, suicidality, death, imprisonment
Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov

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mysterious reflective slow-paced


I don’t have particularly strong feelings about this book. I can see what Nabokov was going for (taking the idea of an unreliable narrator to an extreme degree and using that to explore fiction within fiction), but the book just didn’t hold my interest. I considered calling it a DNF but I powered through and yeah, I don’t have much to say about it. I think maybe it’s a little too enigmatic? I don’t know how to read Pale Fire – the poem or the novel.

I don’t know. I want to like this book – and in some ways I feel like I should – but I just don’t care for it. Oh well.

CONTENT WARNINGS: death, murder, suicide, delusion, obsession, stalking, implied csa, homosexuality equated with pedophilia, the word n*gro used repeatedly
Accident Dancing, by Keaton Henson

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dark reflective sad medium-paced


“if it weren’t for those boots, good grief / I’d bat-fly to bell towers easy.”

I liked some of the earlier poems, the ones detailing Henson’s childhood. They were morbid but with a sweetness to them. The book does lose steam (which kind of works? because it coincides with talk of depression and grief); the poems become less distinct and less interesting. Or maybe I just got bored.

CONTENT WARNINGS: death (including the deaths of parents and friends), suicide and suicidality, mental illness, body horror