This week in book reviews.
Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity, by Kerry Cohen
Reading this book was kind of hard going, especially at first. I don't want to give the indication that the writing was bad; it was actually really good, but that was part of why it was hard to get through. Kerry Cohen's matter-of-fact narration of her teenage years, and the way she spared nothing in her quest for attention and approval from boys, is unflinching, and sometimes it's hard to make it through the harsh stories she tells, especially when she describes with clarity and detail the feel...more Reading this book was kind of hard going, especially at first. I don't want to give the indication that the writing was bad; it was actually really good, but that was part of why it was hard to get through. Kerry Cohen's matter-of-fact narration of her teenage years, and the way she spared nothing in her quest for attention and approval from boys, is unflinching, and sometimes it's hard to make it through the harsh stories she tells, especially when she describes with clarity and detail the feelings of need and desire that lay under the surface for her throughout these experiences. I actually put the book down for longer than a week on two separate occasions, both times because I just didn't feel like I could take any more of the book's bleakness.
However, towards the end, when Kerry started to pull herself together, recognize the bad behavior patterns she had, and work towards changing them, I started to feel a bit better about the story I was reading. Even though I didn't have that much fun reading a lot of this book, I think it was quite well-written, succeeding in its effort to place the reader inside the mind of the titular "loose girl", a teenaged and, later, twentysomething girl who sought affirmation in sex, often from men who didn't care about her and treated her like an object. And it was probably good for me to read it, too, because even though I didn't recognize myself in Kerry's methods of dealing with her own feelings of emptiness and insignificance, I saw a lot of myself in those feelings. There was a point, towards the end of the book, when Kerry started talking about her desire to be a writer, and how she wasn't working towards it, instead focusing all her energy on her boyfriend. She said, "I'm wasting my life on this man," and I realized that I myself do a lot of the same things--waste my life on constantly worrying about whether or not I'm in a relationship, and, when I'm in one, focusing on it to the exclusion of all of my other goals in life. Thankfully, I've never gone the route of frequent, meaningless sex, but I've done plenty of things that were just as damaging in my own way. In the end, even though I'm a shy boy instead of a loose girl, I saw a lot of myself in this book. It may not be a fun read, but it's definitely a worthwhile read, even for those whose experiences are very different than those of Kerry Cohen.
King Rat, by China Mieville
OK, I actually finished this one last week sometime, but I've been sick ever since and having trouble coming up with the energy to write anything. So this may not be as accurate as it would be had I written it the day I finished reading "King Rat", but I'll do my best.
This book is about a twenty-something boy in London who still lives with his father and is resisting the process of growing up, spending his time and money hanging out in the drum n' bass scene, hitting up dance parties and traveling to outdoor festivals instead of getting a full-time job and a place of his own. He feels unsure about what he wants from life and his relationship with his father could be a lot better than it is, but he's trying to find some way to proceed forward. However, as the book begins, his life is turned upside-down when his father is murdered and he is arrested for the crime. He didn't commit it, but to the police, it looks almost certain that he did. Things get simultaneously better and worse for him when, after a night in jail, a man with strange supernatural powers comes to him and springs him from jail. This man is King Rat, and he tells our protagonist, Saul, that he is descended from rat royalty, is both rat and human, and must therefore learn to use his rat instincts to survive now that the human world is closed to him. Furthermore, King Rat tells Saul that someone he calls the Ratcatcher (who soon turns out to be none other than the Pied Piper of Hamelin) is at large in London and is hunting for both of them. He blames Saul's father's death on the Ratcatcher, and along with his friends Anansi (king of the spiders) and Loplop (king of the birds), he and Saul begin working on a plan to stop the Ratcatcher from killing all of them.
Meanwhile, Saul's friends Fabian and Natasha wonder where Saul has gone. Natasha is a drum n' bass musician who begins working on some new compositions with Pete, a stranger who plays flute and who randomly showed up at her flat one day wanting to make music. Soon enough, it becomes obvious to the reader that Pete is the Pied Piper. Natasha doesn't suspect anything, but Fabian is creeped out, and starts poking around trying to figure out what's happened to Saul, as well as what Pete's deal might be.
That's what happens in the first quarter of the book or so, but there's a lot more going on than may be apparent from that synopsis. First of all, Mieville subverts the usual cliches of fantasy tales like this--Saul's rat relative, as well as his spider and bird pals, are not the cheery, innocent, and benevolent creatures of many other tales of this sort. In fact, before too long, I found myself questioning the honesty and trustworthiness of both sides of this power struggle. Granted, the Pied Piper seemed like a bad guy from the jump, but the animal kings didn't seem much better. Mieville does a masterful job of plotting this novel in a way that's far different from the usual cliches of the genre, something he's also been praised for with his more recent young adult novel, "Un Lun Dun". His original spin on the nature vs. evil forces plotline kept "King Rat" unpredictable to the very end. Also, as a tangential note, this book made me really curious about drum n' bass and jungle, both subgenres of techno music, which I typically have no use for as a whole. Surprisingly enough, the albums this book led me to check out (A Guy Called Gerald's "Black Secret Technology" and Burial's "Untrue" foremost among them) have really struck my fancy, and I think I've become at least somewhat of a convert.
So yeah, "King Rat" is worth checking out, both for obvious and non-obvious reasons. Highly recommended.