Book Review: Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

“Hello? I hope somebody is listening.”

‘Radio Silence’ is one of those powerful, powerful novels that sticks with you long after you’ve finished it. It’s striking, rebellious, startlingly funny and incredibly honest at the same time. Most of all though, it’s a beautiful story about two people finding love and solace in each other. And when I say that, I mean in a completely platonic sense. Yes that’s right, the main relationship in this novel is a boy-girl friendship that DOESN’T turn into a romance. And frankly I think that’s what makes this book great.

There’s so much pressure in society nowadays to find a romantic partner – romance is portrayed as being the only way to love and be loved. Anything else is useless and a waste of time. But I really hate that idea, that love is basically worthless unless it’s a certain kind of love. I believe that you can find soulmates in platonic relationships too. And I don’t think a platonic relationship is less strong or less valuable than a romantic one. They’re just different kinds of love. Both good, both beautiful in their own ways.

Anyway, rant aside, I don’t see enough good friendship stories around, and ‘Radio Silence’ satisfies my need for one. It’s quirky, fun and the main character is a nerdy fangirl so I think most of us bookworms out there can probably relate. The story is written in first person from the point of view of Frances who feels alone, misunderstood, and basically pours all of her energy into her studies to distract herself from it. Her secret obsession is a sci-fi podcast called ‘University City’ which she draws fan art for and puts on tumblr. Then the maker of the podcast asks her to become the official artist for the show. Around the same time, she also meets and befriends the maker in real life – Aled Last, a shy boy who’s hiding more than one secret, including a missing sister who Frances used to be friends with.

Frances and Aled quickly bond over the podcast and become best friends, however when Aled’s secret identity as the maker of the podcast is revealed, the trust between them is broken and things start to go downhill.

Alice Oseman’s writing style in ‘Radio Silence’ is very grounded and authentic – she’s only 21 herself which is absolutely incredible, and in my opinion makes her very relatable to this generation of young readers. Tumblr and online culture play a big part in the book, much more so than in any other YA I’ve read, which again is all down to the author drawing from her own personal experiences. Also there’s a lot of diversity – non-white characters, LGBT characters, asexual characters, characters with mental health issues. I think this is an incredibly brave move, as I get the feeling that despite the demand for diversity YA publishers still tend to stick more to ‘conventional’ books as they believe there’s less risk attached.

Anyway, in conclusion, GO AND READ THIS BOOK. It’s a book about so many things – identity, sexuality, goals, friendship. Frances and Aled were more than just main characters, they were people I was rooting for and wanted to be friends with. And I think that’s how you know when a book’s good. When you’re so invested that it stops being fiction and becomes real to you.

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Review: Number 9 Dream by David Mitchell

“Dreams are shores where the ocean of spirit meets the land of matter. Dreams are beaches where the yet-to-be, the once-were, the will-never-be may walk awhile with the still are.” 

Rating: 5/5 stars

I’ve just finished reading the novel ‘number9dream’ by David Mitchell, acclaimed author of ‘Cloud Atlas’ which was recently made into a film. It’s his second book and was shortlisted for a Booker prize (though in my opinion it should’ve won one.) Though it must be clear by the rating I gave it, I was thoroughly impressed with this novel. It’s the sort of book that makes you question your own sanity, as well as the author’s, but that’s what I loved about it. By the time I’d finished reading it I was beginning to wonder if I was in a dream or not as well.

I was given this book as a present from a friend who said it ‘reminded her of Haruki Murakami’ (who I absolutely adore). She couldn’t have been more right: not only is ‘number9dream’ in the same vein as this Japanese cult author, it is actually inspired by it and freely acknowledges ‘Norwegian Woods’ as its inspiration within the text. There are certainly many aspects shared by both books: the writing style, the surreal image of Tokyo and the characterisation of the two female protagonists (Ai Imago and Midori) have clear similarities. It seems the Beatles are a very popular muse in literature nowadays.
‘Number9dream’ is a coming of age story at heart. Much like Norwegian Woods, it’s about coming to terms with identity, finding love and dealing with loss. Eiji Miyake, the protagonist of the novel, travels to Tokyo with the goal of finding the father he’s never met. However along the way he gets side-tracked, falls in love and gets in trouble with the Yakuza. I guess that’s the simple summary of the story. Except the narrative structure is far more complicated, as it contrasts the parallel universes of reality and dreams, to the point where you’re no longer sure what’s real and what isn’t. So basically, it’s a 418 page existential crisis in bound print.
Eiji’s story is the over-arching backbone of the novel, and everything else within is perceived through his point of view, including his fantasies. Each chapter, or ‘dream’, features another of these ‘illusions’ that Eiji uses to escape from reality, sometimes through video games, or books, or film. In fact one of these ‘illusions’ has recently been made into a short film: it’s called ‘The Voorman problem.’ Fun fact: my screenwriting professor this year helped produce it! Another of my favourites was the chapter ‘Kai Ten’ in which Eiji reads the journal of his great uncle, who was a Kai-Ten torpedo pilot during the 2nd world war. Through these illusions, the author manages to showcase a number of different narratives and ways of story-telling, creating a compelling blend of voices.
One of the things I love most about this novel is its blatant pretentiousness. I know that sounds a bit strange, but it takes a lot of skill to pull off something so experimental. Though there are a lot of detailed, banal and very realistic descriptions of Tokyo, it’s clear the author is not confining his writing to the category of ‘believable.’ In fact a lot of the dialogue is precocious, quirky and witty in a way that real people just aren’t. But that’s okay, because it’s good dialogue and even though it’s a bit cheesy, sometimes cheesy can be good when done in the right way. The author doesn’t just make his meaning obvious, he goes a step further and has his characters actually discuss it. Oh, the irony and meta-drama.
One very apparent example of this is the chapter ‘Study of Tales’, which is a collection of children’s stories that Eiji reads. They are more like thinly-veiled allegories for the writing trade and publishing business, each story dealing with a different aspect including the search for originality and the effect of the internet revolution on publishing.
Overall, I love this book because despite the magic realism side, the heart of the narrative contains genuine granules of human truth. Eiji tries to escape from reality to deal with the loss of his sister, but in the end he has to face his past in order to heal. One of my favourite quotes from the book is this: “maybe the meaning of life lies in looking for it”. A valuable piece of advice, it’s the reminder that meanings are not a fixed point to strive for but something that can change and evolve with us.

Ender’s Game – Best of Sci-Fi

So, it took me three whole days to finish reading the novel ‘Ender’s Game’ by Orson Scott Card, and then move quickly onto the film. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s one of those books that you can’t put down, that makes you forget your body’s annoying need for things like sleep, that makes all other tasks in life seem dreary and completely unnecessary because, dammit, you could be reading instead.

I digress, but my point is that it was very hard to tear myself away from this particular book and it became a bit of an addiction. Let’s face it, beautiful prose is basically a Literature student’s version of substance abuse.

I’ll be focusing only on the novel today, though I may blog in the future about the film adaptation also. I’m going to choose the top 5 things I love about the novel. 

The Originality – I have to admit, there has been a LOT of sci-fi ‘stop the alien invasion’ fiction around lately, but Ender’s Game has got to be one of the most creative and original concepts I’ve seen in a long time. For one, the aliens aren’t actually the main focus. Yes, they’re the driving force of the plot, but that’s all they ever are: a mysterious ‘enemy’ that must be defeated, except no one really knows why until the very end, leaving us to question the morality of it throughout most of the book.

The Detail: Card’s writing style is very easy to read and get into. He delves right into the story and constantly moves the plot along at a pretty fast pace. No time to stop and dawdle on the majesty of the universe, or waste a few pages describing the artful space chair (cough Charles Dickens cough take a hint). There’s a nice balance between dialogue, description and emotion. Enough so that we as the reader have the chance to connect with Ender and feel sympathy for him, but not so much that we start to hate him for being a whiney brat. Though I did find some of the action scenes in the battle room hard to visualise because of the whole ‘null gravity’ thing, I liked that Card didn’t try and patronise readers by over-explaining everything and instead trusted us to use our own imaginations. He’s fantastic at the whole ‘show but don’t tell’ thing, a skill which has been drilled into my head by every creative writing guide I’ve ever read.

The side-plots: I liked how the author wasn’t afraid to shift perspective from Ender to some of the other protagonists, making the plot that much more complex. General Graff, for instance, provides an interesting insight into how the bureaucracy has chosen to justify using children as military weapons. His relationship with Ender, too, can be seen as almost paternal. The other big plot line is that of Valentine and Peter: Ender’s siblings. After all, if a 10 year old military space commander is believable, then why not a 14 year old megalomaniac intent on world domination? Peter and Valentine’s little political stint makes a nice real-world contrast to all of the intergalactic conflict happening in Ender’s life, and in a way reminds us that the futuristic society that the novel is set in may not be all that different from our own.

The supporting characters: I found that every one of the supporting characters had their own distinct personality traits, and there was something to either love or hate about all of them. Sometimes, especially with the bullies like Bernard and Bonzo, it’s how they react to situations and how they are provoked. Sometimes it’s the language they use: certain slang words, a way of speaking. A lot of the time it’s through Ender’s relationship with them, most notably Alai and Bean.

Ender himself – ah. How do I even begin? Of course you have a soft spot for him. Everyone does. Even the people training him to commit genocide. Admittedly, I do have a soft spot for misunderstood clever boys (cough Sherlock cough) but Ender is a special case. Maybe because he’s always getting bullied and everyone loves an underdog. Maybe because he actually defends himself. But I think the main reason is that despite being a child prodigy, he still retains his innocence and compassion. ‘Ender’s Game’ is just as much about Ender’s humanity as it is about him being a badass military commander. He feels guilt for hurting others, but does it anyway because he knows he has to. It seems like the reluctant hero is always the most loved.

Overall, it’s a brilliant book that deals with a lot of dark themes. Honestly, it doesn’t seem like YA at all, even though it would technically be in that genre as the protagonist is only 10 years old for most of it. Somehow, Card made the entire concept of a kid in the military very believable, and while telling Ender’s story simultaneously questions the morality and ethics of warfare. Though it may be set centuries into the future, Ender’s Game relates to timeless issues affecting all of us – what makes us human? How far can we go while retaining our humanity? To destroy monsters, you must become one. I have no idea who came up with that quote, but it seems very applicable to Ender Wiggin.