Saturday 25 November 2023

The Power


'The Power' by Naomi Alderman won the Women's Fiction Prize in 2017. At one point I did a challenge to read all the winners but I have not kept it up in recent years and there are four that I have not read (but probably still will at some point). The Power is a pretty scary book. What might happen if women suddenly find they have the power to inflict pain on others ... will they behave just like men do? It turns out that power does corrupt. A young woman finds she can produce electricity from a mysterious skein organ across her collarbone, and with practice can target and control it. Soon more women can, and younger women can awaken the power in older women. There ensues a fight for control of the human race. Men try to cling to their millennia old position but you can see where it is all going to end. A new religion is born and wars begin. Some women just go mad with their new found freedom. The tale is told in retrospect ... somewhat I suddenly realise, like Handmaid's Tale, but by a man, who has researched and written a book about the period of transformation. His editor suggests he might want to use a woman's name, to add credibility to his narrative. That's all really. So much going on in the story, lots of strong women characters of course, but not lacking in men, and utterly gripping. Fantastical but also utterly believable.
Here Margot is a politician, and has had to pretend that she doesn't have the power. I love the notion of 'constant ease', the idea that having this new strength makes her feel safe.

"Late at night in a part of town that she knows has no surveillance cameras, Margot parks her car, gets out, puts her palm to a lamp post and gives it everything she's got. She just needs to know what she's got under the hood here; she wants to feel what it is. It feels as natural as anything she's ever done, as known and understood as the first time she had sex, as her body saying, Hey, I got this.
All the lights in the road go out: pop, pop, pop. Margot laughs out loud, there in the silent street. She'd be impeached if anyone found out, but then she'd be impeached anyway if anyone knew she could do it at all, so what's the margin? She guns the gas and drives off before the sirens start. She wondered what she'd have done if they'd caught her, and in the asking she knows she has enough left in her skein to stun a man, at least, maybe more - can feel the power sloshing across her collarbone and up and down her arms. The thought makes her laugh again. She finds she's doing that more often now, just laughing. There's a sort of constant ease, as if it's high summer all the time inside her." (p.64)

Stay safe. Be kind. Don't let the bastards grind you down.

Saturday 18 November 2023

Library books and not-library books

Like number 17 buses the library books always arrive all at once, so I will have to check out which ones have a reserve queue and read them first. I was handed a sample chapter of Naomi Alderman's new book 'The Future' when I was in Chorlton Bookshop the other week, so I ordered it along with 'The Power', that won the Women's Fiction Prize in 2017.

'Quilt' by Nicholas Royle (who is not the Nicholas Royle who has written several other novels) was bought because I thought from the ambiguous blurb that it might have something to do with quilts. It doesn't. A man coming to terms with the death of his father goes quietly crazy and builds a huge aquarium in the downstairs of the father's now empty house ... to house rays. They require a very specialist environment and he goes to a great deal of trouble and expense. Weird and disconcerting as he behaves as if it were all totally normal for the people at the wake to have to move around this huge tank in the middle of the dining room.  Not quite sure how I felt about it. Just a very unusual story.

'A Widow for a Year' by John Irving again suffered from the fact that it was not Owen Meany, which I loved so much and nothing else I have read by him has quite measured up to it. What I did like very much about it is that it is not about one person. All the characters in it seem equally significant to the story and the relationships between them and their own individual story arcs combine to create something very engaging. Eddie spends his life pining for Marion. Ruth spends her life pretending that she is not pining for Marion. Ted is an arsehole. I loved Harry and I sympathised with Marion's decision. And the whole book is somehow overshadowed by the lingering legacy of death of the two sons. The empty spaces where the photographs had been are this huge glaring symbol of the sense of loss that people struggle to cope with. A book very much about the human condition. And who the hell would publish children's stories that are so fucking scary. 

'The Zoo of the New' has been a lovely large anthology of poems edited by Nick Laird and Don Paterson. It covers a few hundred years (so a lot of poetry) and mixes up old favourites with undiscovered gems. I stated off reading them all, as I often do and then began to flick through and pick and choose. I still managed to pick out lots that I enjoyed so now I'll have to find just one ...

Field Guide by Tony Hoagland

Once, in the cool blue middle of a lake,
up to my neck in that most precious element of all,

I found a pale-grey, curled-upwards pigeon feather
floating on the tension of the water

at the very instant when a dragonfly,
like a blue-green iridescent bobby pin,

hovered over it, then lit, and rested.
That's all.

I mention this in the same way
that I fold the corner of a page

in certain library books,
so that the next reader will know

where to look for the good parts.

Stay safe. Be kind. Look for the good parts.

Tuesday 7 November 2023

Pre-Christmas post - postage and scams

These old postage stamps are now no longer any good for posting letters. If you use them your item will be surcharged. If you have some they can be swapped for the new bar-coded stamps. If you buy postage on the website or app please don't guess how much your item weighs or measures, if you underestimate your item will possibly be surcharged. Be aware there are lots of fake stamps out there ... the main clue is the price, you are not getting a bargain to send your Christmas cards, you are getting worthless bits of sticky paper.

Beware. It's nearly Crimbo time so the scammers are going to be out in force. I have had several people in recently with messages about missed deliveries. Beware of any message that does not include a tracking number. If you are expecting a package check with any dispatch confirmation you might have been sent that will provide tracking information. Messages might refer to a specific delivery company or might be vague. Some messages include a delivery driver's name in order to seem more authentic. Any message that asks for money outright is a scam. I don't know about other companies but Royal Mail never asks for payment for redelivery. Some ask for a very nominal sum, this is because it is your bank details they are after. If you click any link or supply details to any scam website, contact your bank immediately. The Royal Mail website has lots of examples of scam texts and emails:

Enjoy your Christmas preparations, I'll be back in a few weeks with my annual posting advice.
Stay informed. Be cautious. Delete that scam message.