Good Omens – Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
I somehow hadn’t read either Pratchett or Gaiman before, so I joined seemingly everyone else in reading their joint story of the apocalypse going wrong. It’s a playful blend of funny and dark elements, with great turns of phrase and imagination, like when the demon Crowley ‘blessed under his breath’.
The Antichrist getting into new-age magazines, the corporate-training-paintball-thing, Aziraphale’s attempt at stage-magic despite being an actual angel, the holy water: there’s fantastic memorable scenes.
Like Ally said there’s the odd bit like ‘prease to frasten sleatbert’ (no enormous deal for me, but, eh). I would’ve liked a bit more of the sinister notes too, but taste varies.
Milkman – Anna Burns
An account of the Troubles from ‘middle sister’ in an anonymous town, with conflict brewing in an environment of rumour and sternly enforced unwritten rules. Another story of simmering darkness lightened with absurdity, but with a very different feel.
Burns captures a mood of conflict and rumour baked in community life – a place where there are acceptable or unacceptable baby names, films, even brands of butter; depending on political/sectarian allegiance. Along with the Troubles, there’s an intriguing feminist angle. Middle sister’s wry narration addresses the town’s perception of the feminist ‘issues women’, the policing of men for proper masculinity (with enjoying cooking or viewing sunsets being suspect), and the psychology of unwanted sexual attention going unrecognised as a form of threatening harassment (if they’re not touching you, it can’t be violent).
The absurd elements keep a current of laugh-worthy wit through what would have been dense and depressing by itself. The humour shifts the tone brilliantly, with great side characters like tablets girl, nuclear boy, or chef.
The language is evocative while maintaining the air of protective secrecy, with turns of phrase steeped in implication. The style is thoroughly distinctive, although the first third is slow in places and the dialogue can be a bit stodgy and unrealistic. I see what Burns was going for with the speeches filtered through middle sister’s knotted mind, told in her non-committal and defensive style, but some more direct straightforward speech could’ve been a nice contrast.
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea – Jules Verne
The mysterious Captain Nemo takes unwilling guests on a journey under the seas in a submarine far advanced for its time.
It’s a unique view of the world, with lush description of marine vistas. There is a fair amount of specialist vocab and exposition in there, explaining the submarine and doing sums. Unless you know the names of a lot of marine species, you’ll find your eye glazing at points, unsure what you’re meant to be picturing.
Definitely a bit stiff in style and dialogue – but it’s an enjoyable voyage, with striking scenes and interesting thoughts.
The Spellgrinder’s Apprentice – N.M. Browne
An orphan boy runs from his apprenticeship grinding spellstones, an escape punishable by death, but this doesn’t explain why the island’s tyrannical ruler is hunting him: fearing a return of true magic to threaten his power.
A quick easy read with deft worldbuilding and strong characters, magic and betrayal. The plot packs in a good clip of action and connecting threads. I last read this when I was a lot younger so half-remembered a few surprises, but it still holds up as a clever adventure with deep details, like how magically providing bread affects the market for farmers. Vevena’s ways of working around her curse make for inspired writing.
The dodgy comma placement is annoying, though.