By: Neil Gaiman
Format/Source: Hardback; my purchase
Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales.
In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, son of a giant, blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Once, when Thor’s hammer is stolen, Thor must disguise himself as a woman, difficult with his beard and huge appetite, to steal it back. More poignant is the tale in which the blood of Kvasir, the most sagacious of gods, is turned into a mead that infuses drinkers with poetry. The work culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and rebirth of a new time and people.
Through Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerge these gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.
I was pretty excited when I heard that Neil Gaiman was going to tackle Norse mythology through his own narrative. Norse mythology is a fascinating body of work, the characters intriguing and powerful yet very human, and their concept of the world and its structure just intriguing. I’ve read the Elder Edda and some of the other works associated to Norse mythology but of course there’s so many different Eddas out there that as Gaiman mentioned in his introduction his take it just another voice to its body of tomes.
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
In 1989, a North Korean dissident writer, known to us only by the pseudonym Bandi, began to write a series of stories about life under Kim Il-sung’s totalitarian regime. Smuggled out of North Korea and set for publication around the world in 2017, The Accusation provides a unique and shocking window into this most secretive of countries.
Bandi’s profound, deeply moving, vividly characterized stories tell of ordinary men and women facing the terrible absurdity of daily life in North Korea: a factory supervisor caught between loyalty to an old friend and loyalty to the Party; a woman struggling to feed her husband through the great famine; the staunch Party man whose actor son reveals to him the theatre that is their reality; the mother raising her child in a world where the all-pervasive propaganda is the very stuff of childhood nightmare.
The Accusation is a heartbreaking portrayal of the realities of life in North Korea. It is also a reminder that humanity can sustain hope even in the most desperate of circumstances — and that the courage of free thought has a power far beyond those who seek to suppress it.
I first heard about this book and the story around its eventual publication on The Guardian (see article). I was immediately intrigued–there’s no fiction coming out of this country, let alone dissent literature from a writer still living in said country, so after reading the article I immediately pre-ordered a copy for myself to check out.
Ward No. 6 and Other Stories, 1892 – 1895
By: Anton Chekhov
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
“Ward No. 6 and Other Stories 1892-1895” collects stories which show Anton Chekhov beginning to confront complex, ambiguous and often extreme emotions in his short fiction. This “Penguin Classics” edition is translated with notes by Ronald Wilks, and an introduction by J. Douglas Clayton. These stories from the middle period of Chekhov’s career include – influenced by his own experiences as a doctor – “Ward No. 6”, a savage indictment of the medical profession set in a mental hospital; “The Black Monk”, portraying an academic who has strange hallucinations, explores ideas of genius and insanity; “Murder”, in which religious fervour leads to violence; while in “The Student”, Chekhov’s favourite story, a young man recounts a tale from the gospels and undergoes a spiritual epiphany. In all the stories collected here, Chekhov’s characters face madness, alienation and frustration before they experience brief, ephemeral moments of insight, often earned at great cost, where they confront the reality of their existence.
Anton Chekov is one of my favourite Russian authors. He’s quite succinct when it comes to writing short stories, with their good lengths and rich with characterisation and wide-ranging themes. Admittedly I did pick up this book on a whim as I’ve read a number of his stories to date, but nonetheless this collection did contain titles of stories I haven’t yet read.
Pistols for Two
By: Georgette Heyer
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase
In eleven charming short stories, the Queen of Regency romance presents an exquisite romp through affairs of honor and affairs of the heart. Featuring rakes and rascals, orphans and heirs, beauties and their beaus, the legendary Georgette Heyer’s signature wit and inimitable style bring the Regency world dazzlingly alive.
I had been eyeing this short story collection by Georgette Heyer for ages but for whatever reason just did not get around to picking it up until recently. Anyway, this is very exciting, and you guys know that I’m a big fan of her books (see author tag) and as I was in something of a reading slump some time ago, short stories felt like a good way to pick me up a bit.
Pistols for Two was an eclectic mix of short stories featuring Heyer’s signature storytelling and the kinds of romantic tropes you’d see in historical romances: second chances at love, two people who hate each other but then fall for each other, love stories involving two people you wouldn’t imagine falling for each other in the first place, family members getting in the way of romances, young loves trying to run off to Greta Greene and their family members run in pursuit of them, etc. It’s all in good fun, really, but I think my favourite story has to be the title story, “Pistols for Two”; it stood out in my mind the most from all of the stories featured because it was more about the friendship between two gentlemen that becomes strained as they both become love rivals for this one rather popular woman who’s returned to their community. It was interesting and quite thrilling in that you don’t know how things were going to turn out.
The short stories may seem a little abrupt in their endings, but otherwise they felt pretty fleshed out, both in the character and presenting the situations that they are in when the story starts. I suppose if you’ve never read any of her books and want a bit of a taste in how Georgette Heyer writes, it’s not a bad place to start.
Learn more about the author on Wikipedia || Order a copy of this novel on Book Depository
By: Robert Shearman
Format/Source: Mass market paperback; my purchase
Analyzing the complexity, absurdity, and blessedness of seemingly ordinary people, this debut collection examines the metaphysical assumptions surrounding death. From the end of a relationship to the meaning behind its title, this anthology continually surprises and subverts, utilizing topics such as alien intelligence, reincarnation, imaginary children, and even conversations with Hitler’s childhood pet. Engaging and diverse, this compendium offers a fascinating perspective on mortality.
So fun fact: this was actually the first Robert Shearman book I came across and that I added to my wishlist. It was a wee bit difficult then to get my hands on a copy of it but lo and behold, I finally did indeed get a copy of it so hurrah! 😀 Tiny side note, but how awesome is that book cover? One of my favourites that, coupled with the title of this book, definitely drew my attention in the first place 😛