(But keep the books out of the water. It’s bad for them!)
Scottish author Kirsty Logan’s folklore-inspired dystopian future fantasy about a world mostly submerged in the sea is atmospheric and captivating. Land is scarce and there are two classes of people: landlockers who are the wealthier landowners, and damplings who make their lives at sea, essentially working for the landlockers and suffering their scorn. Callanish is something of an other in this equation–a landlocker who is considered an outsider for reasons we find out as her story develops. She is a gracekeeper, one who performs “restings” (ritual sea burial) and maintains a “graceyard” (think graveyard, only wetter). Callanish’s lonely, hungry and damp existence is forever altered one day when a dampling circus ship arrives at her graceyard for an impromptu resting after one of their acrobats drowns. She becomes fascinated by North, the circus’s bear girl, and the feeling is mutual. Told from multiple viewpoints, Callanish’s and North’s stories unfold and intertwine as Logan creates a surprisingly believable, completely haunting and enchanting future world shaped by a rising sea.
This is an oddball recommendation from me; I hate the circus and I don’t typically go in for fantasy. I find the cute nomenclature a bit heavy handed and cringe-worthy to be honest. I mean, are dystopias created by committee? Do the arbiters of the future sit down together and say “OK, we need to place everybody left after [insert whatever humanity crippling event, crisis, plague here] into two categories, preferably with goofy names implying how single-minded and one-dimensional society will be”? In this case I forgave it because this book was just so darn compelling I could hardly put it down to come up for air. Ahem.
Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness
Lifelong islander Mayumi Saito is a librarian and an unhappily married mother. Hers is a small, quiet world interrupted when she becomes fixated on a shy 17 year old male patron at her library, eventually striking up a secret affair with him and also a friendship with his mother. Her obsessions with mother and son drastically alter her carefully ordered life. Mayumi’s narrative is a confessional, but she isn’t apologizing for anything. Her peculiarities and wry observations on people and life make for a highly engaging read.
A little note on the text: I love Europa Editions and get pretty excited when a new one comes in. There is something about the sturdy matte paperbacks with flaps, uniform title text and pretty cover designs, and I haven’t met one I didn’t like.
Sara Taylor’s debut novel The Shore starts off with a bang! The first chapter seriously knocked me out of my seat and I nearly called off sick to finish the book that morning (just kidding, Library!) There is a complicated family tree in the front of the book for reference, which I admit I flipped to a few times to orient myself. The narratives moving around over a 150 year span seem disconnected at first, sharing only geography and the loose associations of multiple generations of two Eastern Shore families. Powerful and affecting, this is an intense multi-generational family saga if there ever was one (my favorite), so I couldn’t be happier. This novel was so well-crafted I could hardly believe this was a first. Five stars and two thumbs way up.