84K by Claire North

Money speaks in this depressing, sci-fi world with nothing in the name of human rights or mass petitioning.

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Title: 84K

Author: Claire North

Publisher: Orbit

Date of Publication: 24 May 2018

Rating: 3.5/5

84K

 

“This is the daily diet on which Theo Miller is fed:

murder

theft

fraud

burglary

rape”

Bound in never ending plot twists is the story of life being defined by a single number. 84K is a dystopian thriller which revolves around the central character Theo. He is set against the world that surrounds him with its darkness encroaching on him like worms eating up a dead body. Bewildered and terribly shocked by the sudden death of his ex-lover Dani, Theo has his world turned upside down as he begins to question and ponder on the legitimacy of social systems.

This make believe world of his has severe punishment for every crime that is committed. The book goes on to enlist all the crimes and the punishments for each follow. Though a lot of readers will come with the excitement of reading a modern day dystopian novel, however, the writing style of the book can kill a lot of thrills. Constant shuffling between events and juggling of facts leads to an overload of information that is random, fragmented and scattered. It is not until a few chapters that the story catches some pace but that doesn’t do away with the fact that the way it is written is confusing making the book a difficult read. But if one can get past that, then the book has several highs and lows and enough matter to keep readers entertained.

Having to go through the first few pages over and over again to get a hang of what exactly is going on is rather frustrating. Passages are followed by single words mentioned one after another. This is followed by dialogues or other verbal exchanges in this confusing write up. Of the several themes are the important underlying ideas on capitalism that continuously forges its double standards. Class politics abounds in cases where the middle or lower classes are severely punished while the rich get away even after having committed some of the most heinous crimes by just throwing in huge sums of money.

Money speaks in this depressing, sci-fi world with nothing in the name of human rights or mass petitioning. The eye for detail is great as it allows for the creation of an other worldly world that is both interesting and astounding. But for readers familiar with more hard core dystopia this piece may not seem so original. For readers wanting to begin reading sci fi dystopic novels this is a good starter. The writing style is a barrier and multiple attempts may be required to try to grasp the happenings of the novel.

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

They are every bit dark, sinister and respond only after having put through suffering. Like the snake sheds its skin, the spirits shed their old forms after the naming ceremony of Ada.

Title: Freshwater

Author: Akwaeke Emezi

Publisher: Grove Atlantic

Date of Publication: 13 February 2018

Rating: 5/5

freshwater

 

When a child is born the whole family remains involved with it. Chima’s next born Ada is no exception. She is the apple of every member’s eye. Ada is adored by all but little do they know that she’s special in a different way. Not just is she a fast learner, she’s also a bright and happy child with supernatural powers. Told from an initially confusing second person narrative, the story moves between the perspective of Ada and the spirits that reside within her.

A frightened Ada runs away when a coiled snake snarls at her during potty training in the bathroom corner. It is a similar snaky reptilian shape shifting figure in the image of an other worldly divinity that has been stuffed within her. These spirits are of the few who have been able to traverse the supernatural realm into the human world to reside within as individualistic masks. It is only in the second chapter that things start to get clearer when the coiled figures of ‘we’ identify themselves as the voices of the spirits. The child is often disturbed by their presence and is rattled in the middle of the night because of nightmares. What holds this enchanting story is its interesting narrative style. Emezi’s writing embodies lucidity to the core. It is as fluid and swift as a snake’s slithering maneuver. These spirits have been separated from the ‘brothersisters’ of their kind but each with a varied potentials and personalities just as it is with humans.

The story is highly desolate, very dense yet subtle at the same time. Certain lines can be picked up and hung around as universally true quotations. Almost each chapter leads to newer speculations that are never ending. “Love is almost protection enough” but at its heart the story dissects all kinds of love only to showcase the futility of loving in the face of difficult circumstances. There is only hurt, separation and more hurt to be braved. Anuli’s accidental run down by a truck is considered a sort of baptismal release of the spirit in the best possible fluid. The incident itself is dark, gory and graphic. Focusing on the couple Saul and Saachi who are both professionals and have a nuclear family. Their difficult financial status forces Saachi to work in Saudi Arabia as a nurse. Saul hates the money she makes but needs it. The woman takes up the role of the man as the bread earner of the family and Emezi proclaims that the best way to break a child is by taking the mother away.

These unnamed spirits take God like forms and like holy rituals are thirsty for holy sacrifice. These forces consider themselves Godly but they have none of God’s mercy, protection or forgiveness. They are every bit dark, sinister and respond only after having put through suffering. Like the snake sheds its skin, the spirits shed their old forms after the naming ceremony of Ada. Is she cursed or is the world? The pace of the story is moderate and easy to follow though very adventurous in a topsy turvy world. There is a constant cycle of birth and death, movement and invariability, sorrow piling upon sorrow with no little joys to steal from grim predicaments. What remains persistent throughout are the spirits. They are metaphoric of narcissism, self gratification and demons within our own selves, possession, spiritual awakening and teleportation. The metaphors function on several levels and are hard to do away with.

Though based on the ‘ogbanje’ things get darker as the narrative enters deeper into Igbo ontology. Moving to America is a whole new experience. Ada is a black person, sidelined and living on the margins of societal existence. University is not a pleasant experience as the treacheries of worldly pleasures take over her. Sins pile up as mountains but confession is a long way despite the fact that she’s guilt ridden. Forgiveness is not hoped for as it is hard to seek. The story remains disturbing throughout as Ada experiments with drugs, hormone pills, attempts suicide several times and looks schizophrenic and hallucinatory most of the time. The ‘we’ is not plural and the ‘I’ is not singular. The polyvocality infuses with the multiplicity of personalities which ultimately subsides into a single voice- the Satanic voice of evil whisperings:”…..and wallahi, I was unforgiving and petty and vindictive.”

Freshwater is almost like a fresh glass of water to a thirsty reader who’s waited too long to read something that’s never been done before. To sum down in a single adjective the story is ‘indescribable’. It is a sensual and breathtaking but must be read to be experienced. Freshwater is too mind boggling for a debut and will leave readers speculating over numerous abstractions like never before.

Surreal, mesmerizing and phenomenal.

Cold Plate Special by Rob Widdicombe

Though subtle at times, the humour is sarcastic and eccentric leaving the reader in splits.

Title: Cold Plate Special

Author: Rob Widdicombe

Publisher: Saltimbanque Books

Date of Publication: 28 July 2017

Genre: Thriller

Rating: 5/5

A student’s dreams of entering law school to become a master ‘Zinger’ leaves him a ‘Zingee’ in the middle of psychotic events.

Jarvis wants to be a zinger-lawyer so that he can mince words and hurl them at other culprits who deserve to be grilled. His greatest obsession is to be able to answer back to others. But this tongue tied lad can barely retaliate verbally let alone even think up responses on his feet. Initially, it seems like a baseless reason that may possibly motivate someone to become a lawyer. He also shows murderous instincts. He mentions all those he wants to kill and the various ways of murder that he’s chalked out in his mind already. Ironically, he’s contemplating murder just after being released from rehab. Far from recovering he has visions about how to murder Motorcar. Motorcar, who?

The narrative is highly descriptive and many minute details convey the entire story while maintaining every bit of the suspense. The imagery is filled with gross and drastic descriptions to the extent that at times it gets almost hilarious at how hysterical and expressive the narrator can be. Humour is an integral part of the plot and is used in varying doses. Though subtle at times, the humour is sarcastic and eccentric leaving the reader in splits.

Jarvis wants justice like that of the medieval times where revenge was healthy. The story gets more and more dramatic with each page. It evokes several emotions of horror and shock that strive to maintain the fear factor. The narrator is highly animated. After his boss questions him about his invoices he’s fired for whiling away his time in office. The emotions are drastic and Jarvis can get from strange to excessively weird with his expressions about situations. He notes down almost every single thought that crosses his mind and most of it is exasperation spelt out loud. Then he has a complete nervous meltdown.

The eye for detail makes the narrative more tantalizing as it may seem to be adding excessive information but it only helps build the plot and take it to a whole different level of exhilaration. Being fired from work leads to a series of unforeseen happenings that make up the maddened narrative of the novel. The events lead to an almost psychic downturn which gets represented in his constant desires to kill some others and himself. With funny encounters with his cousin Shred and being beaten up by a bunch of hippies, the story turns wild with never ending twists. All of the craziness and recklessness only reveals a deep hurt in his childhood that he keeps reeling back into. It is the suffering in the hands of a pedophile one summer camp. Jarvis has been through some haunting and pathetic practices; experienced by a brittle mind in “a zone of cosmic confusion” that lead to his derailed thought process. The story brings out the idea that a molestation is an awful experience for a child but they do not have the vocabulary or the understanding of the experience to put it into proper explainable words. The innocence within the child’s mind cannot process the event but can feel its grave nature. Yet, he can do little to have justice. He fumes on the inside and grows worse. He fails to catch his molester’s real name. The story brings out the message that after an abusive episode it is too difficult to get back to normal and act as though nothing ever happened. Forgiving isn’t an option and revenge seems the only legitimate thing to ask for.

The novel gets denser as several turns lead to newer unexpected events with Jarvis barely realising how much he gets caught down in his own depressive sorrows. What is worth noting is that male child abuse is still not understood by the majority to the extent that many may not even know of its existence. Most of his friends can sympathise with him but only few can empathise. His rehab does not help much either.

So is a face to face confrontation with his perpetrator the only way out of his personal mess?

Despite the constant doses of coffee taken by Jarvis, the novel does not require any caffeine to keep readers wide awake throughout the fast paced narrative. This thrilling book must be read ear to ear and will entangle readers in its web of eventful episodes making it difficult to be put down till the last page. Widdicombe is off to a promising start in this debut novel. However, the offbeats mentions about the Illuminati and the status of Jarvis’ relationship with Carly remain unclear till the end raising a lot of questions unanswered.

Psychic, dark comic thriller fluctuating between walking and running in a farrago of startling trials within a backdrop of a haunting coffee ‘beige.’

Click the book cover to grab your copy. Happy Reading!

The Crazy in Babylon by Darrin J Friedman

This chiaroscuro is the very spirit of the novel. It delves in the darkness of the world and human nature in which the rules of the game change upon shifts of fortune. At all times it is both a monetary and a mind game.

Title: The Crazy in Babylon

Author: Darrin J Friedman

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Date of Publication: 11 July 2017

Genre: Thriller

Rating: 4/5

babylon
A top notch money broker battles depression as he tries to overcome the humiliation of a terminated work contract and an untimely divorce.

Being the best is always not easy. It comes at a price of self- sacrifice, determination, steadfastness and most importantly a steady temperament. Yale graduate Dan is well aware of the demanding nature of his work but his bipolarity will not allow him to focus through the very basic of daily activities. With events, both in his professional and personal life moving out of his favour, it is a rough ride as Dan struggles to make ends meet and regain his lost vigour.

Darrin J Friedman creates a fast paced thriller that will leave the readers asking for more. The story revolves around Dan’s personal and professional failures only to reveal the hidden darker realities of the brokerage industry. Sooner or later the incidents hint at realms of global political scenarios. With the constant intrusion of the CIA on the one hand and the underworld mafia on the other hand, Dan is in for a surprising set of mishaps that are far from putting his life together. He gets reappointed into his previous workplace on the basis of his ingenuity and diligence. Is it a sudden realisation on the part of his boss or are there more names at stake?
Becca is the biggest surprise, both to Dan and the readers. Initially she may appear to be a stupid and selfish person but Friedman instils in her the attributes of a strong lead female protagonist. Though the story revolves around Dan, it is Becca who shows great moral strength, courage and clear insights. Things take a toll as he is sent on a secret mission by the largest stake holder of the firm. A murky Bess sends along her granddaughter Becca for accompaniment as the duo move from posh locations and grand hotels, oodles of cash at their disposal and American military spying equipment. Underneath the glitz and glamour of elitism are the not so subtle hints of panopticism, surveillance, cyber-attacks, artificial intelligence, the banes of military nuclear weaponry and the difficulties of choice that harsh situations provide. With a clarity of thought, Friedman is straight forward in expressing his ideas. What is remarkable is the unbiased and open minded positions he is able to take in wheeling the entire narrative to a positive end despite dramatic and heart breaking downfalls. The scenery is not elaborated in detail except for mere mention of geographical locations such as Vegas or Washington DC. This enhances the focus on the characters and their personal histories.
Most characters are round and each is drawn distinctly from the others. They evolve as the story progresses to reveal the psychological reasons behind their behavior that is eventually shaped by their experiences. This chiaroscuro is the very spirit of the novel. It delves in the darkness of the world and human nature in which the rules of the game change upon shifts of fortune. At all times it is both a monetary and a mind game.
However, most of the characters recurrently use curse words in place of meaningful English language adjectives which after the first third may be a bit unsettling. Yet Friedman never misses to highlight the inherent goodness present in people who are hardened by the world. The plot is highly episodic and non- linear. Reminiscences glide from the present to flashbacks of the past and pining for a better future.
Dialogues are crisp and conversational. The second half of the novel races through events at a break neck speed as more characters and drastic defeats add to the climactic asphyxiations. Emotions run riot as Dan and his ex-wife feel estranged; Dan’s own drug regulated existence and Becca’s vengeful attitude caused by childhood molestation after the death of her mother. The power of a woman to woman relationship is at the heart of the novel.
It is the femme fatale Becca who brings a resolution by balancing passion and profession in a truly superhuman way. Above all, it does away with the notion of mental illness as a barrier to performing well in life. The author’s note at the end of the book is a judicious inclusion. With some added cadence and detailing of plot, the novel can be readily materialised into a major motion picture. Friedman reveals with sensitivity the bad things that happen to good people but with patience and perseverance a suitable end can be accomplished.

Informative, racy and an unpredictably jolted ride that fascinates the imagination.