BOOK REVIEW: Under the Pendulum Sun, by Jeannette Ng

BOOK REVIEW: Under the Pendulum Sun, by Jeannette NgTitle: Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng
Published by Angry Robot
Published: October 3rd 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 416
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley

Catherine Helstone's brother, Laon, has disappeared in Arcadia, legendary land of the magical fae. Desperate for news of him, she makes the perilous journey, but once there, she finds herself alone and isolated in the sinister house of Gethsemane. At last there comes news: her beloved brother is riding to be reunited with her soon - but the Queen of the Fae and her insane court are hard on his heels.

 It has been as long as it takes to tell a tale, neither long nor short.

If you found yourself wanting something more in the same vein as Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak, wait no more. Jeannette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun expertly weaves fantasy, the Gothic, academia, and religion in this compelling novel about missionaries to Arcadia, the land of the Fae.

The story explores a lot of the conventions and repressions of the times and of Gothic tropes (it’s got that weird castle with hidden passage ways, clever uses of light, and the madwoman down below); delves into folklore, fairy tales, and the Fae; and manages to make you think about how we view those ideas, concepts, and social constructs if you’re familiar with them. The story also manages to twist and invert all of that and make it very new, something that I think can be difficult to do well and Ng makes it look effortless.

I loved the inclusion of documents at the beginning of each chapter and spread throughout to ground the story in its own reality and explore the beliefs of Catherine and Leon. The narrative moves in such a way that you, as a reader, begin to question everything, especially once Queen Mab makes her appearance and throws everything for a loop. As we are experiencing all of this through Catherine’s eyes, once the veil is lifted, all we can do is experience the horror and awe as truths come to light.

Under the Pendulum Sun is dark, twisted, and well-executed, and it’s a debut. There was much failing and ahhhhh-ing from me while reading it. If you are already interested in Gothic literature, religion and its functions in society, the taboo, the Fae, you’ll want to read this. You won’t want to put it down once you’ve started, and you’ll be thinking about Arcadia long after you turn the final page.

Thank you to Angry Robot and Netgalley for an advance reader’s copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara


BOOK REVIEW: A Little Life, by Hanya YanagiharaTitle: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Published by Doubleday
Published: March 10th 2015
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 720
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

 Life is so sad, he would think in those moments. It’s so sad, and yet we all do it. We all cling to it; we all search for something to give us solace.

This is one of those books that everyone’s been talking about forever, and I finally decided to get it and read it, and oh my god, I cried a lot. It’s a difficult, graphic, and upsetting novel, and it’s one that requires a dedication to read it, because once I reached the halfway point, I made the decision to finish it that night.

This novel follows the lives of four friends who graduate from college and live in New York City. Most of the novel revolves around one character, Jude St. Francis, and the narration switches between past and present, first and third person. It is very much a character novel, and it explores the relationships of these four friends with each other and others throughout Jude’s life.

I initially had a few issues with it. This novel is timeless. The events in the novel take place in a New York that is not cemented in any specific time. There are no references to 9/11, no references to election years, no reference to politics or major news. I also felt that this was a little too long. Don’t get me wrong, I could read endlessly about any and all of these characters and would love to, and I got the impression that we as readers want to feel as if these four specific friends are our four specific friends. But. I felt that with some removal of some scenes, the novel could have been more solidly focused around Jude because, in essence, this is a novel about Jude. And finally, sometimes I couldn’t tell whether or not I was reading about a Jude (or a Willem, or a JB, or a Malcolm) who was twenty-five or a Jude (or a Willem, or a JB, or a Malcolm) who was forty-five. Some people don’t change, sometimes our inner voice stays and sounds the same throughout our entire lives, but I really wanted to hear that growth sometimes. Again, it adds to the timelessness of the novel, that we’re who we are no matter who or what anyone else says or does, so I understand.

Finally, is anyone’s life that consistently miserable? I read a handful of reviews after finishing it that called it “grief porn” or something to that effect, and in some ways I agree, because I can’t see how anyone who considers Jude that much of a friend would let so much of his later-life violence happen to him. All of Jude’s close friends at some point or another seemed to enable Jude’s behavior. How, after such atrocities have been committed against a person, does anyone, including the victim, allow it to continue happening to such a violent degree? Yes, I know, at some point we’ve got to let the person live his life, that he’s allowed to have his own say in what happens. I know there are legalities regarding committing people, to help them. It just seemed so implausible that there was no hope for Jude.  Half the novel was implausible, but the fact that there’s a prevalent trope of gay men always having unhappy endings is disheartening?? There’s a sense of dread surrounding Jude, a sense of wondering when that suffering is going to end and who’s going to end it and when, because there’s no hope for happiness for him and that’s probably the most upsetting part about the entire thing.

The more I thought about the problems I had with the novel, the more I thought about the history and construction of various genres of the novel. And it hit me. There’s a reason for all of this.

It’s so Gothic it hurts.

A Little Life is a modern Gothic novel, with its secrets,  its big empty living spaces, and its explorations of love and death. Jude is our virginal maiden, Brother Luke and Caleb are our villainous tyrants (members the clergy in Gothic literature are often evil, and god is Brother Luke and everyone in that monastery evil), Willem and Andy are our heroes, the spaces in which Jude lives are often characters in themselves, and so much of the violence occurs at night, that psychological overlay of darkness. The Gothic novel is wildly implausible, preys on our emotions, is utterly sensational, and pleases us with its terror.

This is one of the best, most engaging novels I’ve read in a long time. There were times when I didn’t even realize I was turning pages. I’d look at a page number, and some time later, a hundred or more pages had been turned. It’s visceral, it’s violent, it’s emotional, and it’s powerful. Yanagihara has a way with words and development that kept me reading long after I should have been in bed. She makes us care immensely for Jude and his friends before she delivers the hefty, difficult stuff, so that makes us ache and cry even more. She is unflinching in her descriptions of abuse, of love, of friendship, of the ache of life, and I couldn’t put it down.

Read it, laugh and cry a little, and live that little life.

An Homage to the Ghost Story; Gillian Flynn’s The Grownup


An Homage to the Ghost Story; Gillian Flynn’s The GrownupTitle: The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
Published by Crown
Published: November 3rd 2015
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 64
Format: Hardcover
Source: Blogging for Books
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)

I get really critical when it comes to genres. Especially critical when the genre is a glossed-over one. The Grownup is touted as an homage to the “classic ghost story.” There aren’t any ghosts in Flynn’s short story. Not really. After I read this, I thought back to my courses on Gothic literature and sensation fiction. This is a story meant to titillate the senses, to make you jump out of your skin a little bit. There’s an old house with blood stains, a “psychic” woman, a “psycho” woman, strange children, and stranger behaviors emanating from an even stranger house. The Grownup felt more like an homage to the Gothic style rather than the ghost story. Ghost stories come in all forms, so I feel like that’s not descriptive enough. And I do get it, the average reader will be more interested in the ghost story as the word “Gothic” brings up romantic silliness and grandiose language.

The story starts out normally. Well, normally for Flynn. It gets progressively weirder the more the narrator gets involved with Susan Burke. And by act three, shit hits the fan. Is Susan trying to kill the narrator? Is her stepson? Is anyone trying to kill anyone, and is everyone just a little off their rocker? It ended on an open note, and you can’t really get from the ending whether or not it’s going to end well for the narrator. However, if you are reading it as if she’s writing this herself, the end of it is quite literally the end. She possibly never got the chance to finish writing her story.

I like Flynn’s writing. I wanted more of The Grownup. I didn’t realize it was a standalone printing of a short story I read in George R.R. Martin’s Rogues anthology until I received it in the mail and read the front cover (sometimes I like to be surprised by things by authors with whom I’m familiar). I admittedly have only read this and Gone Girl (I own the other two), so this makes me want to bring up her other titles to a higher spot on my TBR because she writes fascinating women.

This book was provided to me by Blogging for Books for review. All opinions are my own.