Have you been reading (or watching) much fiction over the last few weeks? What kind of stories did you choose?
I spent the first week of my enforced homestay on the sofa, re-reading Jenny Crusie. I picked Agnes and the Hitman, followed by Fast Women. Angry heroines, laconic heroes with just the right skill-set, a dazzling array of secondary characters, terrific dialogue, and murder. Just what I wanted. No softness, lots of snark and action. Edgy stories tinged with darkness and humor, and a heroine with agency who fights her way to a happy ending, for herself and everyone she cares about. Very cathartic.
Then last week, between obsessively reading the news and completing a fiendishly tricky jigsaw puzzle with an underwater fantasy scene featuring strange fish, steampunk machines, grandiose ruins and Pre-Raphaelite mermaids, I revisited MR Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts.
That was a dark choice, given that the book is post-apocalyptic sci-fi, set in a future England where civilization as we know it was wiped out by a virus that turned most people into hungries—brain-dead, decaying, cannibalistic zombies. Only a few pockets of humanity survive, and a group of mysterious children who live in a sort-of school under heavily armed guard. Superficially this is so not my kind of book, but the friend who gave it to me promised I would enjoy it, and he was right. Apart from the subject matter, this book could be a Crusie. It passes every craft test taught to us by Jenny. The heroine, Melanie, the smartest of the children, is compelling. The author makes you care deeply about her, and the stakes start high and get higher. The secondary characters—one teacher, one scientist, two soldiers—are all credible and have their own arc. All the turning points work. The internal and external plots are tightly tied together, all the way to the excellent and inevitable ending. It’s another Jenny-trick—after I read the end, I went back to the opening scene to see whether the author made the right story promise and fulfilled it. Yep. Nailed it.
I’ve posted in the past about Dr Jennifer Barnes, a psychologist, cognitive scientist, and YA romance author (click here to read about Id Lists). Yesterday, as I was wondering what to read next, I remembered her workshop called The Romance Writers Guide to the Psychology of Fiction. I’m pretty sure she said one academic theory is that fiction provides us with a safe space to work out how to deal with real-world problems and to role play potential future scenarios.
Huh. I thought I’d been taking a break from reality. The alternative explanation is that my Girls in the Basement have vented their frustrations at the state of the world, taken a time out to recalibrate, and have now begun to adapt to our new normal by planning for the zombie apocalypse.
Really hoping it’s the former 😉
I still haven’t decided what to read next. I started another jigsaw instead.
So what kind of fiction have you been reading/watching lately?
Jeaniene Frost is the author whose name garners my Amazon ads the most clicks when used as a keyword so I decided to try her out and promptly fell in love.
Ooh, nice choice! I really like Jeaniene Frost’s writing. Kay and I went to a signing with Ilona Andrews and JR when we were at RWA in Orlando. It was great fun–well worth the scary ride downtown 😉
I haven’t read the book but I did enjoy the movie version of The Girl With All the Gifts. Well worth a watch. I’ve been watching, or re-watching, a selection of apocalyptic movies over the last few weeks. I do find them strangely comforting, and maybe it really is how we deal with reality.
By the way, if you ever need advice on dealing with the zombie apocalypse, I’m your man. I have years of research to fall back on. 😉
Ha! I knew you were a man of many talents. How did I not realise your skillz would include zombie defense? I find that strangely comforting. Have updated my notes accordingly 😉
Could you recommend a curated selection of apocalyptic movies? I’m thinking my husband would probably be up for a doom-fest, and the friend who gave me the book, and probably other readers of the blog.
No problem. Here goes:
Children of Men
On the Beach
The Girl with all the Gifts
The Mad Max series
The Terminator series
A Quiet Place
The Book of Eli
LIGHTER SHADE OF BLEAK
A Boy and His Dog
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
This is the End
STRAIGHT-UP ZOMBIE FLICKS (GORY VIOLENCE)
Night of the Living Dead (plus remake)
Dawn of the Dead (plus remake)
Day of the Dead (remake sucks)
Land of the Dead
Diary/Survival of the Dead (if you want to complete the series)
Shaun of the Dead
28 Days Later/28 Weeks Later
World War Z
Train to Busan
Stake Land (technically vampires but much the same)
ITALIAN EXPLOITATION FLICKS (ULTRA GORY VIOLENCE – BE WARNED)
City of the Living Dead
Zombie Flesh Eaters (aka Zombie, aka Zombi 2)
If you’ve ever read I Am Legend, which I love, you’ll know that there has never been a really decent adaptation of it. The Will Smith version was terrible and The Omega Man with Charlton Heston was anti-hippy dross. The Last Man on Earth, with Vincent Price, was the best attempt.
That should keep all that free time occupied. And don’t blame me if you have nightmares. 🙂
I’ve already passed that list on to Him Upstairs. I promise I won’t blame you if he has nightmares. I’m more of a reader than a watcher, and I’ve never read I Am Legend, so am thinking I’ll give that a go this week. Thanks (I think)!
I appreciate the narratives of the zombie takeover and all (I mean, Buffy is still one of my faves), but these days, I’m all about the gentle. I’m watching TV so mild that it’s like falling into a cloud of the unavailable TP. Mostly I’m sticking with home decorating shows, but I branch out into upscale real estate search programs and the program that stages houses for sale. What color do I choose? Blue or green? Oh, no, the conflict! I’ve been wondering if this television preference is because we’re all about nesting right now, so I like to see what other people are doing to their interiors? Or is it about examining the choices over which I have total control? Or something else? I’m not sure. But I’m loving the staging/purchasing/decorating home programs.
As for reading, I’m also for the gentle. I still like murder mysteries, as long as they don’t feature gruesome serial killers with women as tortured victims. However, I noticed today that gentle can be carried too far. I finished “The Undertaker’s Daughter,” which had generally good reviews. I enjoyed the setting and some of the narrative, but overall I found it boring. There’s a follow-up, and I have it and I might read it. Or perhaps there’s a decorating show I could watch on TV instead.