Monday, 31 March 2014

The Books I Read In March

'Humility Garden' by Felicity Savage
I read the sequel to this book, 'Delta City' (1995) about three years after it came out, picking it up in a remaindered bookshop in Greenwich, London.  I was intrigued by it but found it difficult to comprehend.  It is clear that I should have read this book first as through it not only are you introduced to the world of Salt, but a language of various species is built up which unless you have followed the staged introduction will be hard to follow.  Savage published the book while still and undergraduate student and it was certainly an incredible debut, painting a really rich but unnerving world that packs a punch.  The world of Salt consists of various continents sitting South of the Equator of a world, where people are known as humans, but in fact are green-furred humanoids.  They are ruled by gods on their planet, from the capital of all the lands, Delta City.  The gods turn out to be mutants from among a species of predator with a range of abilities including teleportation.

The story follows the character Humility Garden (people's first names come from their characters) as her fiance is sent to Delta City to be made into a ghost.  Artists called ghostiers kill people but trap their ghost as a statue, sending their spirits to live as decaying fish in a pool.  The ghosts are shaped into art works that give off emotion.  The ghostiers and many of the elite of Delta City are debauched.  Humility is drawn into the city's and indeed the world's politics rising through the social strata and becoming involved in coups and counter-coups.  Savage does not hold back in being unnerving.  The middle portion of the book, however, could have been trimmed as there is a lot of toing and froing, which does not seem to advance the story much, though the pace picks up towards the end.  It is a very imaginative work of fantasy fiction, but many readers will not like scenes portrayed and some continue to unsettle me now.  I guess that is the mark of a good piece of fiction and I can see why it was acclaimed at the time.  I would recommend the book, but approach with caution and with patience and read them in the correct order to avoid confusion!

'Extreme Rambling - Walking the Wall' by Mark Thomas
I tend to only buy Mark Thomas's books when I see him on tour, so there had been a gap between me getting 'As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela' (2006) which I reviewed in January and this one published in 2011.  I had not read the three books he had published in between, so was immediately pleasantly surprised by the improvement in his writing.  He was always detailed and funny, but this book shows that he has really sharpened those skills, apparent from the first page.  The book recounts his walk in two stages along the barrier which separates Israel and parts of the West Bank from the rest of the West Bank.  He walked it travelling with and meeting an incredible diversity of people.  Though the actual wall is patchy, it has caused immense difficulties for many Palestinians and indeed for some Israelis too.  Thomas is brilliant at exposing the ridiculous nature of authority and crossing back and forth meeting with police, soldiers and politicians, he simply recounts what was said to him, with minimal comment, allowing the reader to make their own judgements on the situations he encounters.  Constructing a snaking fence/wall/defensive zone, which keeps looping to put certain settlements on one side and others on the other side, running through fields and infrastructure is inevitably going to be difficult.  However, for a UK reader the passion of people insisting on things which seem absurd, can at times be humorous, but at others, very uncomfortable, indeed upsetting to read.  This is certainly the case with Thomas's book.  Children in particular seem most hurt by the situation.

Whilst Thomas does not set out to provide an explanation of the situation, he achieves it more effectively than many straightforward political commentators could.  Perhaps an absurd situation needs a comedian to accurately articulate it.  In addition to this being an engaging read which atypically for me I kept coming back to at different times of the day and stayed up to read more, it is a very good book for learning just what is going on in this highly contested region of the world and the human cost of that contest for all the sides involved.  It is not just 'them' and 'us' but 'them' and 'them' and 'them' and 'them' and 'us'.

No comments: