It’s an antidote to violence and the kind of toxic masculinity this was not just hurting Oli, but destroying our species. Below Deck is a rich, powerful, and wonderful novel full of exquisite writing, important themes, and powerfully realised textures.
Suzanne Leal, an Australian novelist and lawyer, has contributed a powerful novel to this large body of Holocaust literature. It is based on a true story she learned from her former Czech, Jewish landlords, who were also Holocaust survivors. The strength of the story lies in her characters, particularly Hana Lederová. She has a clear and distinctive voice, and we learn of her experiences directly from her, in contrast to Karel Kruta who is described by an omniscient narrator.
McDonnell draws upon her extensive investigation into early African tribal practices in order to better set down a representation of the rituals, mores and qualities of the assorted parties in order to portray a representative clash of societies where social traditions and customs are absolute law.
It is fascinating to watch Jeanne’s character transformation. Early in the novel, she is businesslike, professional, and analytical. She wishes to get things done quickly so she can get back to work. But slowly, cracks in that façade emerge, and she learns human emotions are not business transactions or “deals” to be made.
The Weekend is about so many things: preconceptions, societal norms, continuity and difference, about the self and about relationships, but most particularly about friendship and what it means to be both separate individuals in this world throughout life changes, and also the ways in which we are implicitly connected and collective.
A Superior Spectre is deftly constructed piece of literature. It sits shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the greats. Thematically it is a worthy companion-piece to Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve. Structurally it folds like the origami of Italio Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler, and Jennifer Egan’s The Keep. Stylistically it employs some of the fuzzy voice of China Mieville’s This Census Taker, where the who and when of the narrator becomes blended and circular.
Loss and grief are rooted in a large part of the Haitian diaspora identity and manifests both overtly and covertly throughout these stories. Danticat is meticulous in her writing about Haiti and its people’s complex relationship with the U.S. In each character’s search for a better life, she magnifies the usually unexplored grief that comes with years of generational trauma and migration.
Birnbaum, a CODA himself, loves florid, beautiful, language. Perhaps being a hearing child of Deaf parents channeled his talents to the written page more readily than to a spoken art? Some well-turned sentences are spot on: “Matthew was a walking gerund, always stating things that could’ve just been done in the first place” personifies the unity of word and action by using its difference.
The book is fast paced, consistently engaging, and is often very funny. It comes across as light and easy, but amidst the intriguing mix of Vivian’s self-deprecation and self-aggrandisement there are serious themes in the book. The key one is the relationship between female desire and male aggression. The book subtly but powerful explores the way in which women are both diminished by the men around them and the ways in which they retain and reclaim power.
This is a well-crafted coming of age fantasy story for teenagers and young adults. It is a quick-paced story that will capture the reader’s attention and not let go until the last page has been read.