Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Disclaimer by Renee Knight

There's been an awful lot of social media hype about Disclaimer, a twist-laden thriller of bitterness and obsession - lots of comparisons to Gone Girl, The Girl On The Train and so on - and while it's a generally more straightforward novel than, say, Notes On A Scandal, it certainly delivers on tension. It's one of those books where we're constantly asked to question what we've assumed to be truths about the characters, and as such, it's far from easy to put down.

Catherine Ravenscroft is a successful documentary maker whose only child, Nicholas, has just flown the nest, apparently with some reluctance. A couple of weeks after Catherine and her husband Robert downsize to a smaller property, Catherine finds a book on her bedside table entitled The Perfect Stranger. And it's only when she idly begins to read that she realises with terror that the book is all about her - and could not only reveal her darkest secret, with a sinister, vindictive bias.

Increasingly, I've noticed that it's become de rigueur for novels of this genre to alternate between different points of view, and Disclaimer follows this model - primarily, we read about the insidious influence of the book (which details a shameful incident in Catherine's past that she's long kept hidden from Robert) from Catherine herself and from its writer, whose life was irrevocably damaged by the incident in question and has only recently become aware of Catherine's role in it.

Catherine herself is a smart, capable woman, we're led to believe, while her tormentor Stephen Brigstocke is lonely, bitter and struggling to come to terms with bereavement. Both types are fairly familiar in this type of fiction, and most of my enjoyment of Disclaimer came very much from its well-constructed plot rather than directly from its characters. This isn't to say that the characters aren't believable - I just felt as if I'd read about them before.

It is, however, interesting to watch them both disintegrate as events unfold. I wasn't convinced, at first, by Nick, who at 25 seems more like a sullen teenager, but as the story progressed I eventually came to understand why his situation and behaviour were entirely credible.

Disclaimer is also a book about family relationships: between husbands and wives, and parents and children. The tension between what we think we know of our loved ones and what they've hidden from us - or what we've chosen not to see - is always a solid grounding for fiction, and works brilliantly here. Some of the revelations faced not just by Catherine and Stephen but by their respective families are startlingly painful, and the characters' reactions are convincingly handled. 

I have seen Disclaimer described (by the utterly delightful writer of women's fiction, Marian Keyes) as 'grippy' and she is absolutely right; this is one of those books that you'll want to tear through in as few sittings as possible. If you read this on a train journey and arrive at your destination before you've finished, you'll slightly wish you'd been delayed.

Monday, 13 April 2015

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

Rene Denfeld's debut novel The Enchanted is set in a US prison. Awaiting execution for an unspecified crime, the narrator is unnamed until the very end of the book. During his many years of isolation and silence - he is apparently mute - he has come to accept both his environment and his likely fate. Years of living in an environment where a rare glimpse of the sky through a raised window in an interview room is something to be clung to as a tiny positive, combined with what appears to be some form of mental illness, has given the narrator a peculiar, magical-realist perspective on the prison: the building, its routines and its inmates and staff.

There's York, a prisoner whose case is currently under review by a Death Row investigator called The Lady; there's the Lady herself, and her efforts to find enough mitigating information on York to have his sentence reduced from death to life without parole. There's a priest who has recently left the Catholic church and is struggling with guilt of his own. There's the Warden, who oversees executions while his wife is dying at home, and Conroy, the corrupt officer. There's also the 'white-haired boy' - a 16-year-old serving two years for car theft, his story fast becomes every bit as harrowing as that of the prisoners on Death Row.

One of many oddities about the narration is that we are told in detail about things to which the narrator couldn't possibly know - not just things that happen in parts of the prison to which he doesn't go, but events outside too: the Lady's visits to York's aunt and doctor, for example, during which she uncovers the horrific details of his childhood. Are we to see the narrator as a fantasist who constructs his own truths and realities in his head - he also tells us of the 'flibber-gibbets' that crawl over the ashes of the dead in the prison crematorium, and of horses that gallop through the prison when an execution takes place - or has he become some sort of omniscient, almost legendary creature himself in the 'enchanted' underground warren of Death Row cells? 

Rene Denfeld is herself a Death Row investigator, and her novel does not shy away from the grim realities of the prisoners' backgrounds, which are almost inevitably deeply impoverished and full of appalling abuse and neglect. None of this is presented as an excuse for a prisoner's crime - the Lady's childhood was also shockingly traumatic, and yet she has clearly taken a very different path from the men whose executions she seeks to stop - but it would be absurd to suggest that it isn't a contributing factor, and it's hard to finish The Enchanted without a nagging sense of guilt that we live in a society in which a child could possibly lead such a life. The prison, too, is simply a microcosm of the outside, where abuses are ignored, corruption is rife and basic human needs - rudimentary nutrition, for example; the prisoners are fed primarily on food that is literally rotting - go unfulfilled.

The Enchanted is a remarkably insightful, astute and powerful depiction of the American penal system and of the strange plight of people who spend decades locked in tiny cells with little or nothing to occupy them but their own, inevitably troubled thoughts. Denfeld's writing is full of poetry and wisdom, and of small but powerful details that build an all-too-clear picture of the novel's setting and subject matter. It's an uncomfortable read, even sickening at times, yet there are also oddly life-affirming moments.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

On the pointlessness of book blogging

Recently on Twitter I've seen a couple of discussions about book blogging, which have made me think (not that I've never thought it about before) about why I like to blog about books.

One was from a reader who remarked that she couldn't understand why people review books, because she considered it a chore that ate into her valuable reading time, and that the need to 'generate content' must surely take the fun out of reading.

That's easily answered. Firstly, I don't find it a chore at all, and it doesn't take up much of my time. I love books, and I love talking about books, and I love being able to recommend books to others. This blog is a means of doing so, without having to go to a book group and drink warm white wine while awkwardly chatting with semi-strangers about a book I never really wanted to read in the first place. Secondly, I don't feel any need to 'generate content'. When I've finished a book, I like to write about it. I find this easy and fun, and not especially time-consuming.

The second discussion I've seen was prompted by the author Anthony McGowan:

Now, I am a total nobody in the world of book blogging; in fact, I would say that I am not even in a world of book blogging at all. I don't really chat to other bloggers. The number of review copies of books I've received from publishers in the last three years is in single figures, and have never actually been requested by me. However, despite being nobody, I do know that people have definitely, definitely bought books after reading my reviews. Mostly, these people are friends, or Twitter followers. But they do buy books when I recommend them. Not in great numbers, obviously. But, in answer to Anthony's question, yes, people who are not book bloggers absolutely have bought, and continue to buy, books after they've read blogs on them.

Even so, if it was the case that nobody in the world had ever bought a book as a result of book blogging, would this make it pointless? Are book blogs there to sell books on behalf of authors? I'd say no. Book blogs are there because there are people who love books, and love talking about books, and love sharing the news of a book with others. That's all. Personally, I don't think talking about books - which is all a book blog is, a place to talk about books - is ever pointless, and it seems strange to me that someone who makes a living from writing books would think it pointless, either.

Later on, Anthony M seemed to be suggesting that while book blogging is 'a lovely hobby' (I'll leave you to decide whether this was intentionally patronising or not), he feels publishers essentially give too much to bloggers, presumably because he feels there is no evidence that blogging boosts sales.

In fairness, I should point out that later he says 'Don't get me wrong - I love bloggers'. Again, I'll leave you to decide whether that rings true or not.

I don't know, or indeed give a monkey's, how much overall influence blogs have on book sales, or whether it justifies the time or money spent by publishers on engaging with bloggers - although I do work in PR, and in my experience, publicists are rarely keen to dish out a shedload of free stuff if there's no chance it will have a positive impact on either sales or reputation. I would also guess that in the arena of YA fiction, in which Anthony McGowan writes, teenage readers probably read more reviews on blogs than they do in traditional media. 

All that said - while it's certainly the case that some readers do buy books after reading blogs, as I know from feedback I've received even as a blogger with a minuscule readership - Anthony may be absolutely correct that the overall impact on sales may not justify the attention given to certain bloggers (I say 'certain bloggers', but the majority of book bloggers are like me, and get almost none), and I'd be interested to know whether he's taken that up with his publisher face to face as well as tweeting about it, or asked to see any evaluation or monitoring of coverage.

I fully understand that if writing books is your livelihood, you are, correctly, going to be focused on sales, and I have no issue with that whatsoever - but the focus on sales would surely apply to publishers too, and their engagement with bloggers suggests to me that they do see a commercial value there.

Either way, it's a shame to see a writer be quite so dismissive of the wider benefits of talking about books. Some of the book bloggers out there are kids and teenagers who are excited about books; blogging gives them a means of sharing that excitement. Isn't this something to be encouraged, rather than dismissed?


In the interests of fairness, I should absolutely point out that Anthony McGowan later posted this clarification of his views:

Monday, 6 April 2015

The Ice Twins by SK Tremayne

We all know that sinister children are a favourite motif of horror and psychological thriller writers, and we all know that if there's one thing scarier than a sinister child, it's sinister twin children. In The Ice Twins, SK Tremayne makes a pair of identical twin girls with a dark secret the focus of the entire plot. 

Sarah and Angus, a well-off, hitherto remarkably smug middle-class couple, are planning to move to a all-but-derelict lighthouse-keeper's cottage on a remote Scottish island of the coast of the Isle of Skye, inherited from Angus' grandmother. Their move is partly because they are facing bankruptcy and can use the money from the sale of their London home to renovate and sell the cottage at a profit, but they have another motive: a fresh start after the sudden death of one of their twin daughters, Lydia, in an accident a year previously.

Despite the barely-habitable state of the cottage, accessible only by dinghy for most of the day or a difficult walk across mudflats at low tide, Sarah feels positive about the move - until Kirstie, their surviving seven-year-old daughter, suddenly makes an astonishing claim. She isn't Kirstie at all. She's Lydia.

Could it really be that Angus and Sarah have been mourning the wrong twin all along? Or is Kirstie so bereft by the loss of Lydia that she is becoming delusional? Or, as Sarah watches her daughter talking in Kirstie and Lydia's 'twin language' to an unseen presence, is something even more disturbing going on? 

The biggest strength of The Ice Twins is its clever premise, which needless to say is the perfect foundation for a gripping psychological thriller. It is not only packed with suspense but also genuinely unsettling at times, full of uncertainty. Plus, the Hebridean setting is beautifully and accurately described, giving the story an atmospheric backdrop. I know this part of the world very well, and the author gets it absolutely right.

The novel is narrated primarily in the first person by Sarah, with a few sections in the third person fro Angus' point of view. The unreliability of Sarah as a narrator is hinted at throughout, and I'm not sure if we're actually supposed to like her or not (I disliked her almost instantly and continued to do so throughout, although I don't think that necessarily mattered). Both Angus and Sarah do have a touch of the identikit about them; it's their situation, not them or even their relationship, that is interesting. I would have liked a little more depth in both characters. 

I have another issue with this book, although it's difficult to discuss it in any meaningful way without giving away the end: all I will say is that it's a problem I have with a lot of books in this genre and that it relates to stereotyping of women and their emotional responses to trauma. Sort it out, please, writers of twist-in-the-tale psychological thrillers.*

Overall, though, The Ice Twins is an easy, entertaining, creepy, extremely gripping page-turner that most people would find hard to put down. 

*The book's author bio notes that SK Tremayne is a pen name of a well-known journalist, who already writes novels in another genre under another, undisclosed, pseudonym. It also carefully and deliberately avoids revealing whether SK Tremayne is a man or a woman. If SK Tremayne is not a man, however, I will eat every hat I own. 

Saturday, 4 April 2015

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley was first published by Tartarus, a small independent publisher specialising in limited editions of literary supernatural fiction, and is currently only more widely available as an e-book. It appears, however, to get a 'proper' release in hardback in August, and I sincerely hope it then goes on to become a mainstream paperback, because it's brilliant.

The Loney is a bleak, largely deserted stretch of flat, rural coastline in Lancashire, where a group of devout Catholics from the congregation of a London church travel every Easter on a sort of retreat, their priest in tow. Among them are the Smith family and their teenage sons, the younger of whom narrates the story. The older, Hanny, has significant learning difficulties and is entirely mute - and it's Hanny for whom the Smiths travel to The Loney every year, in the hope that he will be 'cured' at a small local shrine. Accompanying them are Mr and Mrs Belderboss, Miss Bunce, employed as housekeeper to the parish priest, her fiance David, and finally Father Bernard, who has recently taken over as a parish priest from Mr Belderboss's late brother. Father Wilfred.

Image result for the loney andrew michael hurley       Image result for the loney andrew michael hurley

It soon becomes clear that there is something very strange about The Loney - the sands are notoriously treacherous, the house in which the group are staying has an odd and unsettling history, and their arrival coincides with that of a peculiar couple and a very young, heavily pregnant girl, who move into a long-empty house only accessible at low tide. I don't think it's an accident that the group are from the church of St Jude, the patron saint of lost causes.

Plenty of what goes on is the familiar stuff of British folk horror - weird objects are found, local people are threatening or fearful by turns, and the very landscape itself seems to have a draining effect on the mental and emotional state of the group. The story of the retreat is interspersed with flashbacks to the events leading up to the death of Father Wilfred, whose sudden deterioration of health began shortly after the previous year's trip.

However, while The Loney is atmospheric, eerie and unsettling, and becomes increasingly so (albeit slowly) as the novel progresses, this is far more than a horror novel. It deserves to be reviewed as mainstream literary fiction, and would easily hold its own on the shortlists of literary prizes. It is a novel about faith, guilt, jealousy and sacrifice, among other things. It is remarkably observant, sometimes amusingly so, and at times deeply sad. Like many books and films of its type, it compares religious ritual to other, darker forms of superstition and magic, but it is perhaps more interesting in its portrayal of the different ways the group adheres to Catholic doctrine. Mrs Smith, desperate for Hanny to be able to communicate, clings to religious ritual as the only means she knows of keeping up hope that he will learn to speak, yet her constant concerns over the strict observation of Lent and timetabled prayers appears to be closer to obsessive-compulsive disorder than faith. It's actually Father Bernard, recently arrived from a challenging stint in Belfast at the height of the Troubles, who is the most relaxed Catholic of them all - and it's also kind, reasonable, capable Father Bernard who saves The Loney from being an extended diatribe against the Catholic church.

It's also a sensitive portrait of the relationship between the two brothers, Hanny and the unnamed narrator. As Father Bernard observes, Hanny seems perfectly happy as he is; it's his mother whose undeniable love for him is channelled into a conviction that he would be better off if he could speak. Nobody understands this better than the narrator, devoted to protecting and understanding Hanny in a way that later in the novel. when we revisit them both in middle age, becomes uncomfortably poignant. 

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

A Song of Ice & Fire by George RR Martin

For the past two years I’ve been steadily ploughing through George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire books – as you almost certainly know, this is the epic fantasy saga from which the TV series Game of Thrones is adapted. It begins with A Game of Thrones, then proceeds with another four books, although two of those books are actually split into two volumes each, so effectively we’re talking about seven physical books in total, which range from around 550 – 800 pages each. 

Apparently, there are likely to be two more books, each split into two volumes once again, before the series is complete, which means we still have at least another two or three thousand pages to go before the whole story is complete. Plus, none of the books has an overall story arc of its own; they’re very much just instalments rather than standalone stories. What I’m trying to say is that I’ve had actual paid jobs into which I’ve put less time and commitment than I have into A Song of Ice & Fire.

Image result for game of thrones box set books

Clearly I wouldn’t have put this much effort into reading a series I didn’t think was any good, so I don’t have to tell you that I liked them – even though, generally speaking, I’m not a great fan of high fantasy at all. When I read fantasy, it's usually the low kind. As a child I liked TH White’s The Once and Future King a great deal, and Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books, and The Hobbit. As an adult, however, I never managed to get into authors like Raymond E Feist, or Robin Hobb, or Robert Jordan. I didn’t even like Lord of the Rings very much (I know).

The thing is, though, A Song of Ice and Fire doesn't always read much like high fantasy at all. Although it’s set in the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos, they are broadly similar in geography and climate to Europe (or even just the British Isles) and, say, the Middle East. And while there is some magic, there’s not a great deal of it, especially in the earlier books. It certainly isn’t part of the characters’ everyday lives – generally, in fact, they are as sceptical and wary of it as we might have been in our own Middle Ages. Generally speaking, these books felt more often like a historical epic than a fantasy one.

The story begins with King Robert Baratheon ruling the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros from the Iron Throne, having previously deposed mad King Aerys, whose Targaryen family had united Westeros centuries previously and presided over it ever since, but who have been weakened by the loss of their dragons and by a streak of insanity caused by inbreeding. The Starks were the Baratheon’s greatest allies during the rebellion, and are now ‘wardens of the north’, keeping an eye on the wild and remote expanse of Westeros that borders the frozen, lawless wastes ‘beyond the Wall’. Lord Eddard Stark and his daughters travel south to the royal seat of Kings Landing so that Eddard can take up a post as ‘King’s Hand’  – essentially, King Robert's deputy and administrator who presides over his Council – and his daughter Sansa can prepare to marry Robert’s heir, Prince Joffrey.

Married to King Robert is Queen Cersei, of the immensely wealthy and unprincipled House Lannister – and it’s the Lannisters that Eddard suspects are plotting to eclipse House Baratheon as the royal family of Westeros. Meanwhile, Robert has two brothers, Stannis and Renly, who may also have a claim to the throne, and overseas, the exiled heir of the Targaryen dynasty, Viserys, is brokering a marriage deal for his sister Daenerys that could see him acquire sufficient wealth and manpower to win back the Iron Throne by force. In the far north, the politically neutral Night’s Watch defends Westeros against the lawless ‘wildling’ tribes the immense Wall and its garrisons were built to keep out.

As the series goes on, battles are fought, strategic marriages are arranged, uneasy alliances are forged and shocking betrayals take place – even the lengthy summary above is a vast simplification of the basic premise. The whole series has a huge cast of characters, made all the more extensive by George RR Martin’s insistence on naming almost everyone we meet, whether they appear for the entire saga or for two pages. The important thing is not to worry about this. You will not remember them all, and you don’t usually need to – when you do, you will. What having these minor characters’ names does do is give us a great sense of the interconnected nature of the ‘Houses’ that are fighting for the Iron Throne, and the smaller families who are loyal to them. While it can be bewildering (pick up one of the later books and look at the list of characters in the back, if you don’t believe me; it’ll go on for twenty or thirty pages) it does make the world of the books feel extremely real, and gives us a strong sense of the colossal implications of every shift in power or change of allegiance that occurs.

There are many characters that we do get to know extremely well, not least because there are chapters from their particular points of view. These characters develop realistically; there are no real heroes here and very few unmitigated villains. Even the most heroic characters do some terrible things and have some serious flaws.

Most notably, George RR Martin has absolutely no qualms about killing them with little warning, not only wiping out some of the most popular and prominent characters in the series but also completely changing what you had previously assumed would be the course of the plot. There are multiple occasions during this series where I realised that this was not going to be the story I thought it would be: viewers of the TV series will have had a similar experience. This is a remarkable tactic and one which makes the saga particularly tense and gripping – although it's also a brave one, as it means Martin is relying on people sticking with the saga for thousands of pages even after their favourite characters, in whom they have been emotionally invested and have assumed will play an ongoing role, have abruptly disappeared.

The first three books in the series are, for me, the strongest, with book four, A Feast For Crows, being by far the weakest. What all later books need is a damn good edit; the digressive detail, long prologues etc do become a little absurd, and because we now have so many characters given points of view, some of the main players are affectively abandoned for hundreds of pages at a time (or in the case of A Feast For Crows, the entire book). The timeline is become increasingly complicated, with the first half of A Dance With Dragons taking place simultaneously with A Feast for Crows, and the second half reconnecting with that narrative and moving it forward. Occasionally, a great deal of time will be spent on subplots in which I didn’t feel particularly interested - I don’t care what goes on in Dorne and the Iron Islands, distant corners of Westeros which have always hankered for independence, for example, and although those plotlines do influence the rest of the story, I don’t feel there was any need to dwell on them for numerous chapters: there does come a point where parts of A Song of Ice and Fire start to feel a little like a sort of fanfiction of itself.

Much has been made of the violence and sexual content (and sometimes the combination of the two) in the Game of Thrones TV series. If anything, the books have slightly more of both, although rendered in a way that’s far less gratuitous than in the television adaptation - the books don't have the TV series' notorious 'sexposition'. I did, however, feel that Martin was trying to out-gruesome himself in the later books. Although he does this remarkably well, it can occasionally become tiresome - not particularly disturbing, simply a little predictable and lazy.

Accusations of misogyny have also been levelled at both the books and the TV adaptation, although I personally don’t find this an especially meaningful criticism. These are novels set in a pseudo-mediaeval world; women lead, by and large, the sorts of lives you’d expect them to lead in this culture and environment and are subject to the same abuses and prejudices. There are characters who actively despise women, certainly, and there are characters who have misogynistic attitudes simply because these were prevailing attitudes of the time, but we as readers are clearly not expected to condone this and the narrative overall doesn't present it in a positive light.

At the same time, women in A Song of Ice and Fire play a stronger and more active role than they would in many novels of a similar genre or setting. There are numerous female warriors, for a start, from Arya Stark and her swordfighting lessons to Brienne of Tarth, essentially a female knight. Catelyn Stark, Cersei Lannister and Lisa Arryn are cunning political negotiators as well as formidable matriarchs, and Daenerys Targaryen rapidly develops into a young woman of immense strength, power and resource. The mysterious sorceress Melisandre may well prove to be more powerful than Stannis Baratheon, the heir she serves, and even Sansa Stark, who begins the saga dreaming of marrying a handsome prince, has a particular talent for self-preservation and inner strength that develops nicely as the story unfolds.

In terms of the actual prose, there's the odd bit of cliche, the odd bit of cod-mediaeval language that made me wince a little, and the occasional irritatingly jarring Americanism, but in an epic of this size, these are remarkably few and far between and in general, the writing is richly descriptive and draws the reader powerfully into the books' world.

The scale and scope of A Song of Ice & Fire is, however, clearly mad. There are so many characters, so many plot strands, so many digressions ... and so many pages still to come. The entire sprawling wonder is as much sort of crazed, violent, fantasy soap opera as anything else, Do I have a clue where the overall story arc is going? No. Do I think George RR Martin knows either? Probably not - it wouldn't surprise me in the least if it never came to end, with George chuckling on his death bed at having got away with it all, still wearing his excellent, trademark 'fat guy hat' . But honestly? I'm not sure it matters. I'm happy to stay along for the ride.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

As I write this blog post, Sierra Leone has just been placed on lockdown for three days in a bid to stop the spread of the Ebola virus, and despite the fact that the number of Ebola cases here in the UK currently stands at just two (both non-fatal), the level of anxiety and tabloid-fuelled panic remains high. It seems that the fear of any kind of pandemic is something we can't quite shake off - and I personally am both fascinated and terrified by them. 

Emily St John Mandel's Station Eleven begins with a renowned actor, Arthur Leander, dying from a heart attack while playing King Lear at a Toronto theatre. Within hours of his death, it transpires that hospitals worldwide are besieged with cases of the deadly Georgia Flu, and once the pandemic takes hold, it's clear that nothing will ever be the same again. Twenty years later, a mismatched group of travelling players travels North America performing Shakespeare to the few survivors - including a community that has sprung from the passengers and airline staff stranded at a quarantined airport on the day civilisation effectively came to end.

Station Eleven isn't a dystopian adventure story: although it's very much about survival, the daily mechanics of this are secondary to the much more interesting psychological elements of living after, and through, what is essentially a form of apocalypse. Kirsten, a former child actor who was on stage with Arthur Leander the day he died and now wandering with the Travelling Symphony, can't bear to part with a glass paperweight and a mysterious science fiction comic that gives Station Eleven its title and has odd, distorted parallels with the post-pandemic world. Clark, in his airport home, collects once commonplace but now entirely useless items for a Museum of Civilisation - credit cards, mobile phones, stiletto shoes. Others choose to follow a charismatic prophet who seems to provide them with a pseudo-Christian cult rationale that helps them to make a twisted sense of the horrors of the pandemic and its aftermath.

Station Eleven is also set apart from most dystopian novels by focusing equally on the lives of selected characters before the flu pandemic, some of whom will survive it, and some who won't - but all of whom are, like Kirsten and Clark, linked to the late Arthur Leander. It explores the ways that one person's life can, even after the civilisation of which they were part has effectively been wiped out, influence the lives and beliefs of many, many others - positively and negatively. All the characters are portrayed with remarkable sensitivity and largely without judgement, and this is a gripping novel despite its unhurried pace.

Moving, thoughtful, sad and often quietly terrifying, Station Eleven is also oddly life-affirming in a low-key, non-showy sort of way. There is a sense of weariness about it, a sense of life slipping away, but also a hint of a world gradually starting to be reborn. As Miranda, creator of the Station Eleven comics, lives her last hours one night on a Malaysian beach, the lights of huge, stationary ships full of the dying are symbolic of the world ending - yet decades later, distant lights on the horizon are a sign of some form, at least, of recovery.