Netflix’s Away

I got to the last episode, so I liked it enough to stick with it (which is pretty good considering the number of tv shows I abandon after part 2). So, yup, it was okay, but it wasn’t without its problems.

The story: the first manned mission to Mars, so nothing particularly new there, but this is particular outing gets away from all the science (yes, all of it), and focusses firmly on the astronauts who’ll be away from home for three years and the people they’re leaving behind. We actually don’t see too much of the other astronauts as the real family drama lies with the mission commander, ably played by Hilary Swank. On the day of the launch, her husband suffers a stroke that leaves him in a wheelchair. Naturally, she’s torn between the mission and her family. And, naturally, she chooses the mission, jetting off to Mars and leaving her daughter and her newly disabled husband behind.

Oh, and there are one or two spoilers after the jump, so proceed with caution (something that no one in Away seemed too bothered about).

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The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

I finished this one a few days ago, but it took a while to settle on the review. It wasn’t a question of if I liked it (I did); it just took a while to figure out if I just enjoyed it, or if I enjoyed it a lot. The book drew the short straw in my reading queue: it came after Caste. Any book following that was going to be in for a bit of a rough ride.

In the Midnight Library, we meet Nora Seed on the day she decides to commit suicide after a series of unfortunate events that seem to follow on from a number of wrong turns taken at critical junctures during her life … well, that’s how she sees it anyway.

Nora’s suicide attempt is only partially successful, and she finds herself transported to the Midnight Library. The library contains an infinite number of books, each one representing a different decision or a different circumstance that would have taken her down a different path. Stuck perpetually in the moment she attempted to take her own life, Nora can open a book and slip into any life to see how things would’ve have been different …

Okay, not exactly an original idea, but as with any good book, it’s not just the story, it’s how the story is told, and in my humble opinion, the story is told very well. The prose is light and very easy to read, focussing more on the characterisation than on burying the reader in flowery expression. Obviously, Nora being the central character, her emotional confusion forms the central thread, and this sometimes led to the feeling that parts of the book had faded a little into the background. The other characters are seen from Nora’s viewpoint, so it’s fascinating to watch them change as their importance to Nora changes.

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Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

Once in a lifetime, if you’re lucky, you’ll come across a book that will change your perspective on everything: everything you’ve seen, everything you’ve heard, everything that’s happened before, everything that’s happening now, everything that’ll happen in the future. Once in a lifetime, you’ll come across a book that doesn’t tell you about something you haven’t already seen, or experienced, or at the very least suspected, but puts into a context that’s light a massive strobe light firing off inside your head.

Once in a lifetime, you’ll finish a book that compels you to sit in a dark room for a few hours with a bottle of something strong and NWA playing on a loop, just to make sure you have fully understood what you’ve just read.

For me, Caste is that book.

Being black, I’ve experienced a fair share of overt racism over the years: more than some, certainly a lot less than others, probably an average amount now I think on it; so when a book or article comes along that explores racism, then I’ll take a look (know your enemy and all that). The thing is, Wilkerson isn’t actually talking about racism, she’s talking about caste: a system deliberately created to elevate one group of people while keeping a knee on the neck of another, usually by ascribing an imaginary inferiority of the subordinate group through nothing more than a trait they were born with and cannot change (the colour of their skin, their parentage, their sexual orientation). On the surface, this looks a lot like like common-or-garden racism (or homophobia), so Wilkerson dives straight in and explains the difference:

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