Friday 24 February 2023

Review by Isabelle Kenyon of "The Love Genes" by Eleni Cay

In her novel The Love Genes, Eleni Cay presents a thought-provoking exploration of love, relationships, and mental illness in a futuristic society set in 2039 Sweden. Through the eyes of protagonist Katie, the reader is transported to a world that is both familiar and strange, where technology has advanced to the point of ubiquitous phone use, but where societal norms and attitudes towards mental illness are still very much a work in progress.

Cay's writing is vivid and evocative, painting a detailed picture of the setting and the characters. The opening scene, in which Katie takes a train from London to Sweden, sets the stage for the novel and provides insight into the fast-paced, technologically advanced society in which it is set. The reader is immediately drawn into the world of the novel and is able to relate to Katie's struggles as she adjusts to her new life in Sweden.

One of the novel's main themes is the relationship between Katie and her boyfriend Mark, and the couple's struggles with infertility and their desire for a child. Through their conversations and interactions, the reader is able to gain a deep understanding of their characters and the complexities of their relationship. The novel also explores the impact of medical conditions, such as Katie's Multiple Sclerosis, on relationships and the difficulties of managing pain and sleep.

The novel also delves into the darker side of relationships, as Katie starts dating someone called Erik, who turns out to be violent and dangerous. This storyline raises interesting moral questions about the nature of mental illness and the effectiveness of prison as a means of rehabilitation. The novel's exploration of these themes is both nuanced and thought-provoking, and it invites the reader to consider their own attitudes and beliefs about these issues.

Overall, The Love Genes is a thought-provoking and well-written novel that explores complex themes and characters in a futuristic society. It is a novel that will resonate with readers who are interested in exploring the nuances of relationships, mental illness, and societal norms. Highly recommended.

About the reviewer
Isabelle Kenyon is a writer of prose and poetry based in Manchester with her two guinea pigs. She is the Managing Director of Fly on the Wall Press and also runs PR and editing services under Kenyon Author Services. She tweets at @kenyon_isabelle

Wednesday 22 February 2023

Review by Lee Wright of "The Book of Niall" by Barry Jones

Niall Adams is a Hollywood actor who seemingly has it all. The career, the good looks, the gorgeous girl, the apartment in LA. 

In this sense, he isn’t too far removed from Bret Easton Ellis’ Patrick Bateman. And like the narrator of American Psycho (1991), Niall Adams is finding out that success, and indeed reality, isn’t all that it used to be, as his grip on the real world is beginning to slip in frequent and alarming ways. 

Niall often feels like he is watching a television, that those around him aren’t real people. Is his entire life nothing more than a pre-written script? Will the director call cut in time to save Niall from himself? 

With surrealist echoes of David Lynch’s Inland Empire (2006) and Spike Jones’ Being John Malkovich (1999), author Barry Jones addresses the difficult conversation of the three Ds, (depression, depersonalisation, and derealisation) in a richly narrated and multi-layered debut graphic novel that occasionally dares to break the fourth wall, and which Jones achieved by teaching himself to draw (a demonstration of extraordinary effort). 

The Book of Niall is a novel which requires some investment. It is at times seductive and deep, and at other times boarding on heady surrealism that some readers might find too impenetrable, though it pays to stay with it. There are many unexpected happenings; turns that takes the story slyly in the direction of horror, then backflips into comedy, leaving the reader upside-down, forcing them to reassess everything they thought and felt about mental health, as Niall teeters on the delicate edge of infinite regression, witnessing himself crumble and reform over the endless cycle of days.  

Reading The Book of Niall is an uncompromising experience, but it does have an important urgency that deserves further thought, and a bigger conversation. 

About the reviewer
Lee Wright has an MA in Creative Writing and is currently working towards a PhD which merges film summary with personal memoir. His short fiction has been published by Fairlight Books, and époque press. He is also writing a novel set in 1950s New Mexico. 

You can read more about The Book of Niall by Barry Jones on Creative Writing at Leicester here

Monday 20 February 2023

Review by Sally Shaw of "Imagine Living" by Deborah Morgan


Imagine Living is the sequel to Deborah Morgan’s critically acclaimed debut novel, Disappearing Home. Imagine Living continues Robyn’s story of growing up in Liverpool, where life is difficult and at times dangerous. 

I’m drawn to the photograph on the cover. It’s a black and white photograph, taken by Rob Bremner, Liverpool, circa 1980. Rob is a British documentary photographer, who, in this photograph, has perfectly captured a whole era. In the forefront is a young woman, her overcoat too big, her handbag guarded on her knee as she writes in a notebook. I know the young woman is Robyn and I want to discover how she is doing. I also like the format of the book. It is slightly bigger than an A5 diary and it feels familiar to me. Being the same format as Disappearing Home it is welcoming and inviting. The layout of the pages and short chapters create comfortable reading, uncrowded and relaxed. 

The first chapter, I recognise Robyn’s voice: ‘If words could eat other words, then hope would be the word to eat despair. HOPE. A word that for years had protected me from myself: from thinking too much about everything lost, and everything I could still lose. The word slid across my lips, its sound full of light. I breathed in its warmth, soft as feathers under a pigeon sky.’ Deborah Morgan’s poetic words allow Robyn to express her strength and awareness that her life can get better, but at the same time she’s scared. I like the reference to pigeons, recalling the importance of Robyn sitting with Nan down the Pier Head, pigeons at their feet as they ate their cheese butties.

Robyn lives with her nan as her mum has moved to Edinburgh with her new boyfriend and Robyn has started work. I join Robyn on the bus into Liverpool, deep in thought, trying to make sense of herself. She’s two weeks into her government scheme at a bakery, Waterford’s. Along with this change her Nan is waiting to go into hospital and Robyn is worried. As I read, I recall being sixteen: Robyn’s voice and inner being has been written with the wonder and fear of a teenager in 1980s Britain. 

Robyn takes me on her journey. A voyage of growing, forming relationships, decoding personalities and life, while searching for the meaning of Home. Throughout this journey Robyn meets a band of characters: some offer help, provide insight and encouragement, others are dangerous. I found the characters to be believable and of their time. Deborah Morgan has the ability to create important characters like Norm and Claudia. Through meeting Norm, Robyn learns there is the possibility of a person other than Nan wanting to care for her while demanding nothing. Norm demonstrates the many dimensions of being human. He illustrates that life experiences provide choice. Norm carries a burden of loss, yet it hasn’t made him bitter. Claudia enables Robyn to see herself and understand her worth, while prompting her quest to find her real dad. 

Waterford’s bakery provides Robyn with an anchor during her roughest time. Maud, Stella and Dot work at the bakery. The carry-ons in the workplace provide an education for Robyn, on the differing pathways in life and men. These characters are written with humour and a real sense of place.  

My favourite bond was that between Robyn and Claudia, as I felt she was the one friend that Robyn longed to keep, and the moment she realised Claudia liked her was beautiful: '"‘Why don’t I try and get Phil to cover for me next week?" "Okay, yes I’d like that." "I’ll meet you at the station, say half ten?" I pick up the painting and the tape for Norm. "Okay, see you." Claudia was taking the day off to be with me!"'  

Imagine Living will take the reader on an odyssey. It explores the reality of what Home means, and how it is not always found purely in bricks and mortar. Morgan uncovers how friendships form between differing generations, gender and circumstance. Robyn discovers that loss doesn’t always mean the end. That the ability to reflect and consider the past, present, future and self will enable her to find what Home is and begin to live. I absolutely loved the novel, and I think Imagine Living would make a wonderful film.

About the reviewer
Sally Shaw has an MA Creative Writing from the University of Leicester.  She writes short stories and is currently working on her novel based in 1950s Liverpool. She sometimes writes poetry. She gains inspiration from old photographs, history, her own childhood memories, and is inspired by writers Sandra Cisneros, Deborah Morgan, Liz Berry and Emily Dickinson. She has had short stories and poetry published in various online publications, including The Ink Pantry and AnotherNorth and in a ebook anthology Tales from Garden Street (Comma Press Short Story Course book 2019). Sally lives in the countryside with her partner, dog, and bantam. Twitter: @SallySh24367017

Saturday 4 February 2023

Review by Nina Walker of "The This" by Adam Roberts

Social media is becoming an increasingly pervasive companion as the twenty-first century drags its mangled body onwards. The idea of engaging with the virtual world before you even get up to brush your teeth has become something of an unquestioned norm for many (myself included). It is these new abnormal norms that The This plays upon. The novel centres on ‘the this,’ a device in the roof of your mouth that allows you to tweet without lifting a finger. When I have presented this concept to friends, the response is always a slightly horrified and yet intrigued grimace. 

We are already too deeply entangled with social media and yet the allure and elegance of a hands-free interface! You have to admit it has some attraction about it. But from the first chapter we become aware that ‘the this’ aims for more than just an easier user experience. It wants to create an empathy gorge - a virtual space where you can live a million lives in the same way you might ravage a packet of Revels. ‘You are a farmer. You are a farmer. You are a farmer. You are a farmer, pressed into the army and spiked with a spear from behind on a battlefield whose name you do not know.’ We have become the product people pay to experience; our lives and traumas are just raisins in the trail mix of The This. Your life is no longer private or special. That treasured memory of your wife kissing you for the first time is now everyone’s treasured memory of your wife. 

What is so startling about Robert’s novel is not only its relevancy - it is, after all, science fiction - but how unbelievably alluring it is. To never be lonely again, to access the knowledge of your peers, and be truly useful: who could turn down an offer like that? 

Not me. 

That’s for sure. 

About the reviewer
Nina Walker is studying a Modern and Contemporary literature MA at the University of Leicester. She writes poetry on modernity, dogs, and pub men (among other things) which can be found on her blog here. Her most recent project is an extended prose piece on work culture called The Anatomy of Work. She also enjoys dystopian fiction, producing digital art and the work of e. e. cummings. She can’t swim or ride a bike so it's probably for the best that she stays inside and writes. 

You can also read one of Nina's poems on Creative Writing at Leicester here

You can read more about Adam Roberts's The This on Creative Writing at Leicester here