Natives: Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire (Akala)

Okay, a confession: I thought about dropping the book, a couple of times. It’s not that it’s not well-written, because it is (one of the best I’ve read actually). It’s not because it isn’t relevant; it’s been relevant for the past three hundred years. No, the problem is that I’ve been reading a lot (and I do mean A LOT) about race over the past year, so when I started Akala’s book, I think I started with a few preconcieved notions about what I was getting into, and for the most part I wasn’t surprised: it’s a brilliantly-researched, honest, opinionated, and occasionally bitter read from someone who’s elevated himself out of a place where white privileged society told him he belonged. I think the problem was that I was expecting the kind of jaw-dropping revelations that Isabel Wilkerson came up with in Caste, and I’m sure that there would’ve been a few, if I’d read this one first.

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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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Short story: The Chicken Seat

Another day, another short story. Some call it humour, the author who judged it called it a horror story, which I was rather proud of actually.

The Chicken Seat is the fictitious (at least I hope it’s fictitious) final meeting between an unnamed battle-weary prime minister, and a president stumbling into his stride.