Wordy Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I’ve mentioned before that my review method leans heavily on the critical aspects of things, mainly because I just tend to have much more to say about the stuff I don’t like compared to relatively brief views on the stuff I do, which I realise is about as balanced as a seesaw with a walrus on it but whoever said I had to be balanced? I’ve previously called this method of critique ‘praise by exception’, basically if I think a book, game or movie is good I’ll just say so whereas if I think it sucks I will have a long speech about why it sucks locked and ready to fire at people because I generally stand by the idea that the only wrong opinion is the one you can’t justify. If being bad was a terminal illness then consider my reviews like an autopsy, pulling out its guts out to be weighed and measured so I can accurately doctor House the thing, whereas if it’s good I’ll pretty much leave it intact.
With that in mind, Never Let Me Go gets to keep all its innards inward as it’s good, petty damn good actually, which is why this intro is more heavily padded than an American football player on their period.

Much like A Scanner Darkly I’d already seen the movie version of this novel before picking it up for book club and it was a movie I really liked. The film is one of the few pieces of media that nearly drew tears from my hardened cybernetic eyes and for those of you playing at home other members of that exclusive club include Y: The Last Man, Red Dead Redemption, MASH: Goodbye, Farewell and Amen, The Lion King and maybe the end of Terminator 2. So while I knew what was coming I was still keen to see how it played out in the novels greater detail and if it too could make my eyes wetter than a whale at orgasm.

Plot wise Never Let Me Go follows three lifelong friends who were specifically born to be spare parts for other people, clones who embody the old adage ‘life is just nature’s way of keeping meat fresh’. We follow the three, Ruth, Kathy and Tommy from childhood all the way to their donations as adults, all told through Kathy’s perspective from growing up in an English boarding school to life beyond and caring for others as they make their donations. Basically it’s the same principal set up as The Island only with a heavy dose English sensibility and not being shit. There’s a line from a Pink Floyd song that came to mind while reading this, as Pink Floyd lyrics tend to do: ‘Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way’ and by gum is that ever true here. Here the clones don’t rise up or rebel or even really question or fight their lot in life, just sort of accept it as the hand they were dealt, which might be a tough pill for some to swallow, the notion that those built for harvest would just go along with it, but its presented as such a norm for these kids it’s kind of hard not to see it in the same way everyone accepts some kind of inevitability in their own lives simply because it is, like income tax or having to live under the law of a political leader with the intelligence and personality of a boiled cauliflower.

As I said before, it’s all pretty good, the writings good, the characters, dialogue, prose, over arching narrative, character arcs, sentimental references to the title, all good gooey goody good. A standout piece of good is how the book encapsulates the sense of how school friendships and social standing work in adolescence. As Kathy grows up describing her close but often dualistic friendship with Ruth and Tommythere’s a genuine feel of authenticity, like it could be the life of any teenage girl, and yes I would know because I was one briefly in the 70’s.

If I have one complaint it’s that the novel often has Kathy reference a part of the story she hasn’t explained yet, using it as a sort of cliff-hanger. It’s sort of like talking to that one guy at work who’ll end a conversation with something irritatingly leading, like ‘but that was nothing compared to what happen on new years even in Chinatown.’ Leaving a gaping hole in his exposition, casually whistling while waiting for you to bite and ask what exactly he means by that just so he appears interesting. You don’t need to be coy book, I’ve already bought you and intend to finish no matter what so you can stop making flirty eyes at me to get me to keep reading.
But ultimately I can’t get too mad at that, it is the way people talk after all, unravelling a complex relationship means occasionally crossing threads and as I’ve said repeatedly, Never Let Me Go is good, well constructed, painfully human hitting you right in the feels especially on its last few pages. Even though I already knew how it ended, drawing emotion from a robot is a lot like getting blood from a stone, even if that stone is now thinking about the end of Y: The Last Man and pretending there’s something in its eye.
Written by B.T. ‘I know now why you cry’ Calloway


Wordy Review: HorrorstÖr by Grady Hendrix

I’m going to make this one short because I feel I said my peace during the audio in which I was the sole commenter on this book, it being my intended Secret Santa which never left my hands due to missing yet another club meeting due to my work being, well, not Nazis but at least the sturmabteilung. As for the other books I’ve missed, you can put Metal Fatigue, The Demolished Man and The Satanic Verses on my ‘To Do’ list under ‘learn proper use of the comma’ and ‘yo momma’ although plenty of things have been under her, amiright? Zing, I’ll just add those bonus points for a perfectly executed yo momma joke myself.

Anyway HorrorstÖr, a good concept drowned in its own clichés. Well, that was easy and surprisingly concise, maybe I could cut this entire page down to a Twitter account or at least some kind of haiku review process.

For those not into brevity the story takes place in an ORSK store, a pseudo IKEA, which is what drew me to the book initially. An IKEA showroom seemed like it would be the antithesis of the typical horror setting of old, abandoned and run down locations. Horror set in what’s new and clean is usually reserved for taking Jason Voorhees into space so it’s a shame that unique setting quickly falls into old patterns without a single hint of freshness, like the underwear of somebody’s momma, specifically yours. We’re pretty quickly introduced to the same old same old of omens, séances, the harbinger who bears grave warning, helpless characters fumbling through the dark, and ghosts of the restless dead. A few brief moments of originality shine through but are quickly lost and forgotten, like a toddler at an actual IKEA. For all the reasons for a storage solutions warehouse to be haunted, having it being built on an old prison is pretty damn weak. How about OSRK furniture is manufactured from the trees of a forest inhabited by Swedish demon pixies who travelled in the mulched wood and now seek revenge for their homes being turned into convenient storage units? Is that a great plot, no, but you haven’t seen it before, have you?

Still, I’m sure I’ve said before that predictability is not synonymous with being bad and there’s some entertainment to be had here if you have an afternoon for a light, easy read, it’s just that beyond that there’s no saving grace, no great characters or gripping dialogue, no real humour or horror of either the visceral or unnerving kind. It’s a book about a place that’s haunted, which is easy if unremarkable, just like yo momma. Mic drop, credits.

Written by B.T. CallÖway, who would like to apologise to momma’s everywhere.

Various Books: A Very Book Club Christmas (In January)


The unedited audio from the brilliant few who could make the January meet-up. In this special episode, we review the books we were given to read over the holiday period by our fellow book clubbers. Prepare for raw opinions and a massive lag in discussion when the pizza arrives because I don’t know how to edit things recorded on my phone!

Wordy Review: House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

Every now and then I read a book that reinvigorates my interest in reading in general, that exemplifies the written word as the highest form of storytelling and on the darkside of that sentiment are the kind of books that makes me wonder why I read at all when there’s a whole world of gaming, movies, and car doors out there, with which playing, seeing or jamming my fingers inside of would be a better use of my time, time which is a precious resource that’s impossible to get back once spent and anything that wastes time is truly guilty of a crime society is yet to recognise or have designed sufficient punishment for and can you see where this is going yet?

I am, of course, being a touch melodramatic, but after nearly 500 pages of underwhelming uneventfulness I feel I’m entitled to a bit of drama to amuse myself for man cannot live on tequila alone. All I got out of House of the Spirits was the potential name of a liquor store and the most bored I’ve been in this book club thus far. Say what you like about previous books where people eat stillborns, at least it can’t be accused of being the resident dullard, at least Eleven Minutes had the mercy to boring but brief, at least Confederacy of Dunces could appeal to someone who had never heard of comedy before and had recently suffered a stroke, House of the Spirits is just one long march along an uneventful road, a road that occasionally looks like it might have some nice scenery coming up but when you get a little closer is all made of balsawood held together with spit.
To give an early idea of just how I felt about this book I actually wrote most of this review while only about 75% of the way through the story, pressing on only because my commitment to journalistic integrity is what drives all the ladies wild. Now complete, I could have posted that review unedited and am only rewriting it to add more complaints, because I’m a completionist like that.

Anyway, to the review itself, and if you’re wondering what the plot is then spoiler alert there isn’t one, instead House of the Spirits is basically and very long list of births, deaths and marriages as we trudge through three generations of a family living in an unnamed Latin American country.

It took a while to come to realise how useless a book this is because at first I was quite enjoying things. It wasn’t until around about the time the eighth character had been introduced by giving their exact details to their history, personality, aspirations, favourite colour and preferred starting Pokémon that I began to suspect that this might be the kind of book that tends to go on and on, my suspicions confirmed a few pages later when the book continued to go on and on. But plenty of novels ramble on before things truly start happening, you’ve got to get through a few dozen pages of songs and suppers before Tolkien will let you have dragons so I was happy to march through the long roads of character set-up to get to the parts where things actually happen, only to have those established characters give birth to a new generations of character set-ups who would in turn birth characters for the books closing chapters. Is this your only bit House of the Spirits, pulling one character out of another like a babushka doll?

What truly confuses me is the number of times potentially interesting plots arise but get cast aside. A young woman is poisoned but no one ever tries to find her killer, someone murders the beloved family dog but we never find out who or why, two brothers form a love triangle but it’s hardly ever mentioned and just sort of goes away, the youngest daughter is telekinetic so she settles down, has a family and does as little with her powers as possible. Either the author has a crippling allergy to excitement or this book was written in a bizzaro universe where mundane activities are immortalised in song and script and a thrilling afternoon consists of visiting the Museum of Discarded Tax Receipts.

I will say the writing is decent, though if Allende is allergic to excitement then she must go into full anaphylactic shock if she uses the ‘entre’ key more than once a page. We often go entire pages without a paragraph break, filling every inch of paper with block text. Still, that block text forms a realistic world and creates some well filled out characters and while going through the long explanation of why they chose Charmander over Squirtle you actually get to know them as though they were real people, which makes the fact that nothing ever happens all the more irritating. I was totally invested in the life and times of several characters but by the time page 250 rolled around I realised that all this wasn’t a set up for a plot that would happen later but rather the ‘plot’ had been happening the entire time and was just too boring to be noticed. You could argue that this is a story about characters, not events, and that the lineage itself and the lives within it is the novels story arc. You could argue that but then you’d be defending a novel that doesn’t do that particular bit very well. Shirley Jackson pulls the same character-based plot-was-happening-while-you-were-waiting-for-it trick and I really like her books, so don’t try that “it’s not me, it’s you” bit here, book.

Two unusual things do stand out about the novels writing. Firstly an occasional chapter will switch to a first person perspective, usually to the books main male character/serial rapist/general asshole Esteban Trueba, who sometimes recounts the events relative to their occurrence and at other times seems to be recounting those times from years after the fact, which is sort of jarring, similarly there are the times when the first person narration will be unidentified, which is even more jarring. Eventually you discover who this mystery narrator is which opens up some more irritations for all the times when neither of the narrators were present when something happened or somehow manage to explaine another characters personal thoughts and feelings without ever having been told.
Secondly sometimes the third person narration will give away future events, which at first I found engaging but soon became annoying, removing any surprise or drama by basically telling you a characters eventual fate, just in case you began to feel a tinge of excitement and needed to put the book down before you broke out in hives.

In conclusion I struggled to even finish reading this one, both out of a lack of motivation and from the sudden urge to nap it often gave me. Bland and bloated, House of the Spirits gives you detailed interesting characters then stubbornly refuses to do anything with them for more than a few pages and is about as much fun as reading 1 Chronicles 1:34 during a lecture on the history of the paint. I’m going to describe this one as a time thief and natural sleep aid so put me down as not a fan and lets be done because I’m getting the sense I’m wasting my time just talking about it.

Written by B.T. “House of the Irrits” Calloway