Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

This is an odd one, and when I started I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it. The book’s written as a collection of interviews, messages and conversations in Chinese restaurants. It begins with the discovery of an ancient alien weapon that’s been disassembled and buried in different locations across the globe. From discovery, we move quickly to assembly, but the trouble starts when the scientists and military try to make it work. …

Now, I’ve read a couple of books like this, and I haven’t always enjoyed them. Unless you can do it well, then comes across as a bit of a cop-out. Unless you can do it well, then it gets pretty tedious very quickly.

Luckily, the writer pretty much nails it. The whole book is dialogue basically, and it’s written so well that the scenes are set, the relationships defined and the suspense is … er … suspensed, all through these snippets of conversation. The characters are mostly believable, though I did feel that sometimes their behaviour came out of the blue, which demonstrates the problem with this kind of writing: because you’re getting parts of the story, you get the feeling that something’s developing in the background you might be missing. For example, I didn’t pick up that one one player had built such strong feelings for another he’d be driven to do something hideously out of character.

Still, the whole book shows great imagination and attention to detail, which makes it, like all good speculative fiction, strangely believable. A great combination of a quick read and an intensely readable page turner.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

I was starting to worry I’d never read another book I loved as much as Silk. I was telling a good friend about it; they listened, they nodded, and after the Zoom call ended, a gift pinged on the iPad: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.

In a surprisingly low word count, Exit West takes carries us on a stream of consciousness that begins in an unnamed city devastated by civil war, and continues around the world. It’s hard to lump this into any particular genre: definitely literary fiction, with a magical realism element that blends so perfectly that you hardly notice it’s there.

It’s one of the most beautifully crafted books I’ve ever come across; long, flowing poetic sentences that start in a character’s head then spill out into a world coming to terms with itself becoming much much smaller.

Weirdly though, there isn’t much dialogue; the writer relies on the dizzying prose to create the action, build the tension, explore the characters … and even without dialogue the richness of the characters is something I haven’t seen since … well … Silk.

A masterpiece of magical realism that’s well worth reading.

Troy by Stephen Fry

Well, he’s done it again, so there’s not much to say really: if you loved the first two (Mythos and Heroes) then there’s no reason why you’re not going to get the same thrill and the occasional sly smile out of Troy. It’s the same characters we travelled with (in varying depths of detail) in the first two outings, but transposed to the decade-long battle to break the city of Troy.

If you don’t know the story then it more or less starts with a prince called Paris, who judges a contest of goddesses to decide who is the fairest of them all (that never ends well). In return for choosing Aphrodite, he is ‘given’ Helen, thought to be the most beautiful woman on earth, and takes her to his bed behind the walls of Troy. (It should be noted that Helen was under the influence of Aphrodite, so none of this is really her fault). As you can guess, there are handful of kingly-types who are none too pleased about this, one of them being Helen’s husband, Menelaus who, with more than enough help from his bigger, angrier brother Agamemnon, raises an army to take her back.

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