Saturday, August 6, 2011

Will Storr vs The Supernatural, by Will Storr


Will Storr vs The Supernatural is a book unlike any other I have ever read.  It is the completely unashamed account of a skeptic journalist’s mental journey as he seeks out both believers and skeptics alike in his quest to discover a truth behind supernatural occurrences.  It is a book that challenges everything that both skeptics and believers might think of ghosts, demons and the afterlife.

Will Storr begins the book a firm skeptic when he travels to interview self-proclaimed “demonologist”, Lou Gentile in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  What he experiences there sends him on a journey which brings him face to face with ghost lights, anti-Satanist vigilantes, exorcisms, the Vatican, EVP and psychologists, along with a bevy of other fun and exciting characters.  He stays in haunted houses, sleeps in haunted rooms, attends divination ceremonies and goes ghost hunting with paranormal researchers.  What he finds along his journey is both fascinating and terrifying. 

Storr does not give any definitive answer to the question behind the truth of the supernatural.  The book proves to be less a book about proving or disproving the existence of an afterlife of sorts, and instead focuses on the human need to understand something unexplainable.  It is a book about the human mind, and how those who believe wholeheartedly, and those who doubt, doubt with just as much conviction.  It is a work that tries to bridge that divide and show both sides of the story with equal import.  While there is no ultimate conclusion to be gained from reading this book, it does serve as a valuable insight in to how certain subjects can be viewed from the other side of the fence.

The prose flows, and the writing is funny, dark and self aware.  Storr does not seek to force an opinion on his readers, simply to impart an experience, leaving his audience to decide for themselves what to do with the information that he provides.  That he experienced things that cannot be explained is undeniable, but whether the experiences have a natural or a supernatural explanation is ultimately left to the reader to decide.  Storr shares information without passing judgment, but does so in an entertaining, sharply intelligent and subtle way.
The book leaves the reader with the knowledge that there are things in this world and universe that cannot be explained.  To deny something outright as possible or impossible is foolish and is narrow minded, in both belief and skepticism.  Ultimately we are challenged to keep our minds open for the possibility that there are things out there that we as human beings are simply unable to explain.

Will Storr vs The Supernatural is a book that I would highly recommend to anyone.  It is truly mind opening and downright entertaining.

5/5

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Millennium Trilogy, by Stieg Larsson

I’m going against my better judgement here, and reviewing a trilogy as a whole, rather than as individual books. I just didn't truly find enough difference between the stories to promote an  in depth look at each, and so here I sit, reviewing the series that has taken the literary world by storm.


I think I will annoy a great number of people when I say, I’m sorry, but I didn’t love these books. The stories were certainly gripping, but overall I found them shallow. They profess to tackle big issues regarding sexual violence, especially violence against women, but I feel they tackled them in a way that was just as exploitative as the actions Larsson so professes to hate. The books are pure voyeurism, and the characters were essentially unlikeable and completely two dimensional. We never got to know them as people, simply as the concepts they were to represent.


The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo introduces us to characters who will play a role throughout the series. It tells the story of Journalist, Mikhael Blomkvist, and computer hacker Lisbeth Salander. Blomkvist has recently been tried and charged with libel, and with his career on the rocks takes the opportunity to work on the case of the supposed murder of the niece of business mogul, Henrik
Vanger in return for the opportunity to clear his name. Naturally the case brings him in to contact with Lisbeth, they work together (and inexplicably sleep together)to not only solve the case, but to uncover a great many other family secrets, only to destroy their own integrity at the end by agreeing to things they should never have agreed to. The next two books, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, follow the same story arc, which is essentially a story revolving around clearing Lisbeth Salander of murder charges, while they research the case of sex trafficking, and political intrigue in Sweden. Naturally there is more to the stories than this, but I can’t go in to too much detail without ruining the suspense of the books.

The suspense unfortunately is really all the books have going for them. The true tragedies which occur in the
novels, the violence, rape, sex trafficking, among many others, are lost entirely in pages of pointless rambling about the sexuality and sexual exploits of the series’ main characters. The victims of these horrible, dehumanizing crimes, are lost, and hardly mentioned, and replaced instead with descriptions of shallow characters, with shallow lives. The fate of a young Eastern European girl, who has been kidnapped and forced in to the sex trade, is deemed far less important to the plot than the relationship between a man writing an article on sex trafficking, and his thesis writing girlfriend. They are, after all, ‘the good guys’. Again, the stories of countless women murdered, and tortured in the first book are deemed far less important to the plot than the fact that one woman doesn't want her secrets told. There is no way this can be redeemed in my eyes. The victims are given no character, and instead we have to sit through pages of incidental detail, about the tiniest moments in the lives of these superficial protagonists.


The series was apparently inspired by Larsson’s, disgust of sexual violence after witnessing the gang rape of a young girl when he was 15. He apparently never forgave himself for failing to help the girl, whose name was Lisbeth. While this sentiment is admirable, in my opinion the books fail in their objective of absolution. Perhaps these books were meant to be homage to a woman to whom an injustice had been done, but the injustice is simply furthered by sensationalizing something which affects the lives of a great many people, men as well as women. Misogyny, sexism, sexual violence are all real things. The book doesn't glorify these things, but it gives the reader exactly what the author thinks they want; more of it. Instead of writing sympathetically he – taken from his own website – “ knew what ingredients a good detective story should have, and he even reluctantly decided to spice it up with a bit of sex as it would probably please his readers.” A bit of sex? These books are some of the most graphically, sexual violent books you will ever read, and that constitutes
a bit of sex? Apparently put in there only to ‘please the readers’? I’m sorry, but for me this is raping your characters all over again. If the sex was put in there only to please readers, and what readers want is sexual violence, then the writing thereof is nothing short of exploitative.


The character of Lisbeth herself is interesting, in that she metes out her own forms of vigilante justice. She is meant to be a role model, but she is just as typecast and stereotyped as anyone else in the books. The way she dresses, her penchant for fetish style clothes, her genius level mind, all serve to give an image of a woman who is out of the ordinary; a social outsider. And that is exactly what Lisbeth Salander is. A social outsider. The men in her life judge her, then become sexually attracted to her, and in some cases sexually abuse her. There is not a single man in the books who is a friend who is not inexplicably sexually attracted to her, for no other reason than that she is ‘different’. Of course a sexual relationship has to begin between Blomkvist and Salander, which serves absolutely no narrative purpose, and peters out after the end of the first novel as he embarks on a number of other sexual exploits, which in turn serve no narrative purpose. The only man who is her friend, who does not seem to want her sexually, is Poison, a fellow computer hacker. But he is described as a fat, socially inept computer geek, with some form of implied agoraphobia who lacks personal hygiene,
and basic human cleanliness. Therefore, he too fills a stereotype. Salander is often described as violent, but with her own internal moral compass, with its own version of North, as if that is meant to make us excuse her behavior and actions. She is a social outcast, because she has made herself one. Her own moral compass simply points to Nietzsche’s Superman Theory all over again. While Salander has been through a lot, she is not above the law, she cannot do whatever she wishes, and she cannot treat people however she wishes to treat them. While she understandably has issues with authority, these issues were exacerbated by her actions to the point of psychopathic. She is described as sociopathic, and socially incompetent, and I am inclined to agree with those sentiments. She is encouraged at every turn, and her illegal activities are hushed up because they prove useful to the journalistic protagonists. She is not likeable, and she is not a role model, and I don’t think she serves as a good illustration of the power that women can hold, especially in combating sexual
violence. It is true that most judicial systems fail to adequately punish the perpetrators of heinous crimes, but ultimately the true victory is not the punishment, but the way that the victim can personally come through the encounter. Some things can never be forgotten, forgiven and excused, but the victory lies in not letting it ruin, and control your life. In Salander’s case this is exactly what has happened. Her entire personality and all her actions are driven by her inability to combat her own demons, and come through her experiences personally victorious.


The plots of the three novels are odd. Each follows the formula of a simple case turning in to something bigger. These novels are different however in the fact that the initial cases are already huge, but they become overshadowed by a case that is not necessarily bigger, but more personal. Research in to, and in order to stop, sex trafficking is overshadowed by the double murder of a journalist and his academic girlfriend, as well as the pickle Lisbeth Salander finds herself in regarding her supposed role in the murders. While eventually the stories tie in to be part of the one big whole, this is just another case where things turn out just a little too conveniently. Everything is one big coincidence after another; and ultimately the fate of un unnamed Eastern European victim of sex trafficking is deemed less important than Salander’s ultimate revenge and exoneration, or Millennium Magazines annual sales.


I could continue on and complain about the rambling, detailed, completely unnecessary descriptions of almost every detail, mainly of her gear. I really am not kidding when we find out that she owns an Apple iBook 600 with a 25GB hard drive, and 420MB of RAM (outdated as most of the technology is from 2002), And Apple iMac G3, and the long, incredibly detailed description of her Apple PowerBook G4, which we’re told has an aluminium casing, and “PowerPC 7451 processor with an AltiVec Velocity Engine, 960 MB RAM and a 60 GB hard drive” (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, page 216). I’m a techie, but even I think that these descriptions are totally unnecessary. They don’t really serve the plot in any way, the specs were already outdated by the time the books were released, and so fail to impress on any kind of permanent level. If you’re interested in some more detailed descriptions of gadgets, or even just a trip down electronics memory lane, check out this website: The Girl With The Insanely Long Gear List. This doesn’t even begin to mention the huge number of times that IKEA is mentioned. Apparently no other furniture stores exist in Sweden, because we are basically subjected to a hugely long product list of IKEA furniture with which the characters furnish their homes and offices, even using IKEA to convey directions, i.e. turn left when you get to the IKEA. Also, I have the feeling that a company called Billy’s was possibly paying Larsson to plug their ‘Pan Pizza’s’ as every time Lisbeth Salander makes herself a meal, instead of just stating that she ate a frozen pizza, it is mentioned every time that is was ‘Billy’s Pan Pizza’. Unnecessary. One day I will go through these books and count ever time those words are mentioned, every time coffee is mentioned, and every time someone talks
about someone that they’ve slept with, especially Blomkvist. I have a feeling I’d reach the word count of one whole novel.


All in all, the books are gripping, the plot drives you forward, you’re interested in what happens, but I still can’t like them. They fly in the face of everything they’re trying to achieve, using sexual violence to increase sales, rather than to increase awareness. These books have been described as feminist, finally giving women a number of strong, female, literary role models, but I disagree. All I see is a man who chose to exploit women in his own way in order to gain literary fame, in the guise of writing strong female characters. Characters who like so many others eventually do come to rely on the men in their lives. Perhaps that’s the real tragedy; the idea of the ‘us and them’ mentality. It doesn’t need to be. Women don’t need to be fine without men, the same way that men don’t need to be fine without women. We can need each other, not as gendered beings, but as people.


3/5 
Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak


Both harrowing and heartfelt, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is a brilliantly written book, and one that I could easily place within my top 100.


The story is narrated by Death, and tells the tale of a young girl who steals a book from the gravesite of her younger brother. Placed with a foster family in a Bavarian country town she goes through the hardships of poverty and war, while living the joys of friendship and family.


I must admit I generally shy away from Holocaust literature, simply because I find it such an over-used plot device. I know it seems insensitive to call it a ‘plot device’ however, more often than not it is used as just that. It seems that anyone who wants to make their literary mark feels they need to write about the Second World War in an attempt to prove they are capable of tackling ‘the big subjects’. Some writers succeed, others fail, but due to the delicate subject matter it is often hard for reviewers to give negative comments for fear of causing offence, not only to the author, but to an entire culture who have undergone such tragedy. One need only look at the Darville/Demidenko fiasco to realise this truth (click here for info). That so many people lauded The Hand That Signed the Paper when it was thought to portray the real life tragedy of a Ukranian war criminal and his family, only to eventually shun it and its author when it was discovered she had lied about her heritage shows us how volatile the critics can be where these subjects are concerned.


Markus Zusak, rather than focusing on the negative aspects of hate, racism and the human capacity for cruelty instead places these elements in the background of a far more personal tale. Death and tragedy are all around his characters, and yet, while not always rising above it, the novel still has an overwhelming sense of home; that even in the face of such tragedy a family is still able to build something beautiful.


Having Death as a narrator was a brilliant stroke. He sees the capacity of humans to kill, and even though his job is to escort the dead, he still places his emphasis on the life of those he helps on. That the life of one young girl is important enough for him to follow until the very end, shows his (for want of a better word) humanity. He sympathises with each of the souls he takes, and finds comfort in the smallest of kind actions. As a character we don’t learn a great deal about him, but through the emotion of his narration we learn so much about the book’s other protagonists.


Coming from a family of German heritage, with Grandparents who would have been exactly the same age as the children in The Book Thief it was interesting to read about the experiences they had. Having grown up in German culture myself, the way the novel was written, and the phrasing of the German, as well as the descritpion of life in the Bavarian country town gave the entire work a ring of authenticity. Reading the novel I could almost picture my family living through the events described. The novel is so sympathetically written that an understanding of the characters has a depth I haven’t encountered in many books. We, as the readers, empathise with the situations, and the childish innocence with which the events are portrayed serves to show us how a world can be beautiful, even in the face of evil.


Essentially The Book Thief is about words, and the power that they hold. Words are what keep people together, or tear them apart; words are what gives or removes hope. Our lives revolve around words, both written and spoken. They shape our relationships. Markus Zusak is a master wordsmith, and he creates a universe that immerses us, horrifies us, makes us laugh, cry, smile, frown, while all the time showing us that even amidst tragedy a glimmer of hope and love will always exist.




5/5
Friday, October 23, 2009

People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks.

After the travesty of Dracula the Un-Dead, Geraldine Brooks' People of the Book was a breath of fresh air. It was intelligent, visual and entertaining. It is a book the has found a place close to my heart, as it ties in with my own chosen career path, and my love of history.


The novel follows the story of a book conservator from Sydney, who is called to stabilise a very rare Jewish Haggadah rescued from a bombed library in war-torn Sarajevo. As the book is studied certain marks and objects are found within its pages, each telling a story which shows how the book came to be, and how it came to be in Sarajevo at that time.

The novel is perfectly paced, with just the right amount of technical detail. The reader is able to understand the work of a book conservator, without being inundated with too much technical knowledge. The relationships as conveyed in the book are real, not romanticised, and the characters are well rounded although, especially toward the end of the book, their motivations are not always as clear as they could be.

This book is rife with wit, intelligence, tragedy, and hope. Each new story the book unfolds tells us something about our own history, and makes the reader think about their own objects, and how each of the events in our lives helps shape us.

My only gripe with this novel is the ending. It felt a little forced, almost as if Brooks had tried to put a plot twist in for the sake of one. It was completely unnecessary, and in my opinion cheapened a book that up until that point had such integrity. It was by no means a terrible ending, I just didn't feel it was in keeping with the tone of the rest of the novel.

While not part of the novel, the acknowledgements is where this book had it's one true down point. Geraldine Brooks thanks her advisers for helping her determine whether a book conservator was a realistic career choice for an Australian. Really Geraldine? Really? It is this Americo-centric attitude that makes the rest of the world angry. Do we not have history worth conserving? Do we not have top notch universities who teach chemistry and accurate conservation practices? The answer to all this is of course, yes we do! We are not so backward that we are unable to protect our heritage, in fact we are one of the world leaders in heritage and conservation. There we are. Rant over.

All in all this book was fantastic. Without a doubt one of the best books I have read in a long time. It was intelligent without being pretentious, and fast paced without being formulaic. Perhaps it won't be everyone's cup of tea, but as a lover of history this novel really spoke to me.

4/5.

Dracula The Un-Dead, by Dacre Stoker with Ian Holt.

The publication of this book has had me in great anticipation for quite some time, and the reading of this book has prompted me to rethink the entire format of this blog. This book is impossible for me to review objectively and professionally, and from now on my thoughts on the books I review will be far more along the lines of train of thought.


I will have to begin by telling you all a little about myself, and where I'm coming from. I am a student at Monash University, in Melbourne, and am currently doing my Masters in Public History, studying to be a Museum Curator. Before I began my Masters, I did my Honours Thesis on, believe it or not, Vampire mythology. I did an analysis on how different forms of media affect the development of mythology with Vampires as my case study. I therefore did a lot of research into Vampires, read practically every book on the subject, watched every film on the subject, even read obscure gnostic gospel verses that are thought to reference them. While doing my research I read a lot from, and about Ian Holt, the co-author of Dracula the Un-Dead and was generally impressed by his knowledge and his depth of research.

Through my own research I found inspiration, and while writing my thesis also started to write my own novel, with my own ideas. Inspired by the general ambiguity in character, and time that could be seen in Bram Stoker's Dracula, as well as the interesting character of Stoker himself. Reading his biographies are entertaining in themselves, even before reading not only Dracula but some of his other works, which never really afforded him any recognition (regrettably for good reason).

Imagine my dismay then, when after working on my own novel for over a year I heard that a Stoker relative was collaborating with a Dracula historian working around the basic premise that I had thought of. Basically in having Quincy as the protagonist and Bram Stoker as a character is where the similarity between Dracula the Un-Dead and my own work ends, but it was enough for me to have to completely re-think what I had written, which I promptly did.

A few short weeks ago Dracula the Un-Dead hit the shelves here in Melbourne, so naturally I snapped up a copy. Snapped it up, devoured it, and nearly cried with utter disappointment at the book that these two men have produced.

The plot centres around Quincy Harker, the son of Mina and Jonathan Harker, the protagonists of Bram Stoker's Dracula. He wishes to be an actor, but in an attempt to protect their son, the Harker's deem it necessary to send him to Paris to study law, which Quincy sees as a punishment, and wallows in churlish teenage angst against his parents throughout the entire novel, making him seem like a petulant child who doesn't get his own way, and making him unsympathetic as, as a reader, I expect more of any human being already in their 20s.

Each of the original Stoker characters are still haunted by their encounter with Dracula and the death of Lucy Westenra so many years before, and Jonathan and Mina's marriage is strained by Dracula's constant presence between them. When the Jack the Ripper murders grip London the group must once again face their demons with the fear that Dracula has returned to exact revenge.

It all sounds very exciting; a topical historical novel based on the events of a 19th century work. This novel was so clumsily executed however that I actually felt angry at moments. Both writers completely fail to convey a sense of time. The novel could have been set in the modern day, but for a few clumsy references to things we take for granted these days as being 'new'. There is even one scene where Mina trips and her keys and purse fall out of her bag. I half expected there to be a mention of mobile phones ringing. On top of this, in order to convey time the authors have resorted to simply name dropping anything of note from the time period. It starts with Jack the Ripper, escalates to name every single actor or author that was famous at the time, and even goes so far as to use the Titanic in one scene. There is no excuse for this kind of clumsy writing in today's day and age. I believe a novel should be able to stand on it's own feet, without having to resort to name dropping the famous associations of the author's relatives.

Using Bram Stoker as a character quite frankly served absolutely no purpose. He appears in very few of the chapters, and in the chapters he does appear he comes across as bitter, jaded and generally talentless. It even attempts to remove his authorship from the original, claiming he simply got the idea from a drunk in a bar.
What perhaps made me angriest about this book was using Elizabeth Bathory as the villain of the piece. Un-originality, thy name is Dacre Stoker. While I am aware that much of the novel was written based on Bram Stoker's notes, it appears the authors of Dracula the Un-Dead authors never thought that there was a reason that Stoker chose to leave these things out of the novel. That he was aware of the legend of Elizabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess, I have no doubt, and as he created the legend of Dracula I am aware that he used elements of her to create his Dracula. However, since that novel has been written Elizabeth Bathory has become part of the Vampire legend in her own right, and using her, especially in the way she was used, is simply un-original and shows a severe lack of imagination on the part of the authors.

I could write for hours on the historical faults of this novel, but I will refrain from doing so. They are too glaring and too numerous to put down in a few short paragraphs. All in all I think this is a clumsy work, with virtually nothing to recommend it. I almost feel that Dacre Stoker never even bothered to read Bram Stoker's novel, and if he did, he certainly didn't understand it. Dracula has so many undertones, and images, not all of them positive, but they are there nonetheless. He was making an observation on society, on class, on politics, on women and the dangers of sexuality. As a society today we may well be offended by some of his views, but they were his view nonetheless, which he chose to share through the medium of the novel. Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt choose to completely ignore what Bram Stoker was trying to convey, and simply write a voyeuristic gore-fest (and even manage to fail in that, and frankly most of the 'gore' comes across as humour, rather than anything serious) which panders to the modern conception of the 19th century as a novelty.

I am completely unable to give this book any rating over 1.5. The plot was weak, the characterisation even weaker. Not a single character was likeable in this novel, nor even believable. While this novel could possibly stand on it's own two feet as a piece of cheap pulp, destined for the $5 paperback table, as a sequel to one of the world's best known, and best selling books, this book fails. Miserably. There are no traces of the original novel anywhere in this work, and if Bram Stoker knew what had been done to his novel he would turn in his grave.

I think I can categorically say that this is one of the worst books I have ever read.

1.5/5.
Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Rossetti Letter, by Christi Phillips

Christi Phillips' The Rossetti Letter is a valiant effort for a first novel. It tells the stories of two women; the modern day Claire Donovan and the historical Alessandra Rossetti. Claire Donovan is a PhD student writing a paper on the Venetian courtesan Alessandra Rossetti who wrote a secret letter to the Venetian Council warning of a Spanish plot to overthrow the Venetian Republic in 1618. When she discovers a rival historian is presenting on her very topic at a prominent Venetian university she takes the opportunity to play chaperone to the 14 year old student of a friend in order to attend. Her story is mingled with the tale of Alessandra Rossetti herself. We learn her story as Claire's research progresses.

The story itself was gripping and engaging, although incredibly formulaic. The writing brought nothing new to the genre of historical fiction, and followed a linear narrative that failed to surprise. Many of the plot twists were contrived to the point of being unbelievable, and yet somehow still managed to be predictable.

The historical portions of the novel where descriptive and well researched. The same however could not be said of her modern context. All her modern characters were awful cliches. Each person in the modern context was nothing but representatives of the stereotypes of the countries from which they hailed. I felt that very little thought went into rounding them out as characters, in fact most of them weren't even likable.

Where the author loses most credibility is in her protagonist, Claire Donovan. I don't think a more bland character could ever have graced our pages. She lacks personality and flair. She is never adequately described, and yet we are meant to believe her beautiful. Frankly the fact that she is an academic who has never visited the city she is writing a dissertation on defies belief. Not only has she never visited Venice, but she also reads abridged and translated versions of her most important texts and expects to have credibility in the academic world. Quite frankly, for such an otherwise well-researched book, Phillips completely fails to write about the academic world in a believable, or even realistic fashion.

This aside however, it was a joy to read the historical portions of the novel. Phillips describes the sites and sounds of Venice in such a way as to make you feel part of the history. Her historical characters are accessible, and properly motivated, making them believable and sympathetic.

Ultimately this book is an enjoyable read. It's entertaining and fast paced, although rather superficial and contrived at times. It's worth picking up and reading for the entertainment, but it is certainly not a brilliant work of fiction.

3/5.

Spook Country, by William Gibson

Let me first state that I have always been a fan of William Gibson. I found Neuromancer wholly original, and Pattern Recognition an absolute joy to read. With this in mind Spook Country left me entirely underwhelmed.


Perhaps this feeling I have comes a lot from the way I approach this book. By this I mean my cultural milieu. I approached it from the point of view of a ‘young Australian’. It felt like there were so many things in this book I could simply not relate to. My youth made the language seem strained, almost like Gibson was trying too hard to be ‘hip’, and the consumerist driven action was far too – for wont of a better word – ‘American’.

The Plot follows three groups of people; Hollis Henry and her employers Blue Ant, as well as the rock band she used to be part of; Tito, a young Cuban-Chinese man (or is it boy? His age is only passingly mentioned, and then as a ‘he looked like’ not a ‘was’) and his underground crime family; Brown and Milgrim, a claimed DEA Agent and his captive. These stories seem separate but naturally are working to the same conclusion which will lead them from their bases in America to the final showdown in Vancouver, Canada. This said however I think Gibson failed to give each group enough of a story or background. There are connections that are hinted at, but too cryptic for the reader to be certain. Perhaps this was intentional, but throughout the whole work I felt that I missing some fundamental point to each of the characters.

The characters themselves I found empty. I got no sense of motivation, or even appearance, from any of them. Rather than give his characters any personal definition Gibson instead chose to define them by the products they used, consumed, or had the money to acquire. Once again this was most likely intentional, but it made the characters very hard to relate to. The protagonist, Hollis Henry, is the only character with a defined past, but even that is superficial and shallow. Perhaps Gibson was attempting to draw attention to the culture they are currently in, rather than the characters themselves, but as a reader I personally find it difficult to relate to a novel, or even enjoy it enough to want to grasp its meaning if there is not even a single character with whom I can identify. I was irked by Gibson’s failure to let me know what the characters looked like, what their personalities were, or even where they were situated or what time it was. I could never tell if it was day or night. The ‘noir’ was simply so much that I just assumed all the action of the novel took place at night.
All motivation in this novel was pure which with a huge undertone of ‘because I want to’, or ‘because I can’. While this is a criticism of today’s Western society it is a very shallow look at a very complicated world. There were parts of the narrative that excited me, like the GPS driven locative art created by the artists it is originally Hollis’ objective to investigate. For me this was completely original and I wanted more investigation into this side of the world from which the characters originated. Imagine my disappointment when this wonderful concept turned out to be completely incidental to the plot, which drives us toward an ultimately disappointing conclusion.

The plot is so full of incidental information. I felt often it was placed in just to give the characters some rudimentary sense of identity, rather than to say or advance anything really substantial. The only thing I could derive from these hastily constructed artistic backgrounds was that art needs to enter commerce to survive. Was this the amazing revelation that this book claimed it would give me about the society in which I live? I certainly hope not. I am not above admitting that there may be a deep and complex point that I simply may not have understood. I am however an intelligent, educated human being. I very rarely feel that a book is ‘over my head’ so to speak but perhaps this one is. If I delved deeper into it perhaps I might find the promised revelation of my reality staring me in the face, but to be frank the book was not constructed in a way that gave me any interest or inclination to re-read it, let alone pull it apart and find its hidden meanings.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not by any stretch of the imagination a ‘terrible’ book. I simply found it un-engaging and alienating. The constant product placement made me even more unable to relate. I don’t wear Adidas, I don’t us a PowerBook, and I simply don’t think that using an iPod for data storage instead of simply music is an original concept.

Frankly Spook Country is readable, but far from Gibson’s best work. The overall experience was underwhelming and disappointing.

3.5/5

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