Disruption – Jessica Shirvington (2013)
In a dystopian world, M-bands, a bracelet made mandatory to wear by Mercer Corporation, is described as the next step in the smartphone craze and has the power to control and shape lives. The novel’s protagonist, Maggie Stevens, is a young strong archetypal female character whose father has become lost, swept away by the consequences of this new technology. Throughout the story Maggie (‘Mags’) fights to get him back and ‘disrupt’ the system.
The story has a bit of a by-day-and-by-night feel with Maggie leading a life of going to school while also engaging in some seriously intense physical training to prepare her for ‘disruption’. Since the loss of her father, Maggie has felt conflicted – with a mother whom she rarely sees who is struggling to pay debts and taxes, and her own self – rejecting a world of femininity and embracing the ‘tomboy’ in her.
M-bands are the ‘next step’ in technology consuming human lives. At the centre of it however, are their capacity to determine ‘relationships’, ‘compatibility’ or the ‘perfect match’, which kind of makes me question how far we have really come, and if people genuinely share these kind of conversations so openly. Some other uses of the bands are described such as being able to use it to control vehicles, but its other functions are not heavily interrogated, nor are its interactions with other more common pieces of technology.
I also found it a bit unusual how the story tries to integrate ‘real life’ elements like purchasing a Vera Wang gown. For such a dystopian, futuristic context is this really commonplace or believable? Having said all that, the book strikes a good balance between drama, action and love interests and establishes a good and consistent pace from the outset. Maggie is likeable, although sometimes secretive and manipulative, but overall is an easy and enjoyable read by an Australian author.
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess (1962)
A striking, mind puzzling and sometimes difficult to digest short dystopian novel about the rise of violent youth culture in England and juvenile delinquency. The main protagonist, Alex, is a teenager recounting his experiences of rebelling against family, society and every element of authority. Going around with his group of equally delinquent friends, Alex seems to enjoy the thrill he gets from any random attack – mostly burglaries and assaults on women, the elderly and random strangers. It isn’t until the point where he is accused of murder that he is locked up and attempts to be ‘reformed’ by state authorities, that he actually starts to question his own actions.
Whilst it is a short read, the language in the text is one of its most distinctive features. Burgess injects a range of Slavic words (rooka (hand), droog (friend), malenky (little)), which is stylistic more than anything. I believe the author was encouraging readers to sit there with a Russian dictionary to aid in interpretation. Lucky for my heritage, I actually understood most of the words so could skip that step comfortably! A lot of these words are used early on (but there aren’t too many all up) and then repeated throughout, so if you get the grasp of them early, the read should go smoother.
Apart from the odd words here and there, the writing style itself is a bit chop and change and will require some close reading and decoding. To me it read quite similar to Nick Cave’s And the Ass Saw the Angel, which uses a similarly deconstructed style of writing and is equally intense. This novel keeps you engaged, in a constant state of questioning about the arrogance and brashness of youth, and challenged in the energy it requires from the reader to decode and make meaning. How and why the novel came about in the first place (as told by the author in the first few pages of my Penguin copy) is similarly fascinating and adds another layer of intrigue and understanding when reading. I’ll leave that investigation up to you!
Lion, Witch and Wardrobe – C. S. Lewis (1950)
As an introduction to this book, Lewis laments that by the time he has written and published the book, his goddaughter (to whom the book is dedicated) would have grown out of reading fairytales and would be thoroughly over it. Wrong, wrong, wrong Mr Lewis! I seriously enjoyed reading this classic and was not put off by its label as a ‘children’s book’, so much so that I think I read it in about 3 hours. This story (we all know the story by now right?) follows the timeless tale of four English children who have been evacuated from London during World War II to live in the house of an old professor in the countryside. Here, they enter the magical and mystical world of Narnia through the magical wardrobe in the house – a land full of mythical creatures, a witch, magnificent lion, drama, deception, heroism and victory.
I do love sometimes to ‘go back in time’ a bit and reminisce about a particular vintage movie that I grew up with and re-live it through its even more vintage novel form. The language and pace of the book is simple and easy enough for young children to understand, but, at the same time, pulls at the heartstrings and intellect of us older folk to keep us endlessly engaged. A real gem of the book is the visual illustrations (the author selected the illustrator whom he wanted for the book). These honestly bring to life the descriptions in the book and help to pitch at readers how Lewis wants to represent each character or scene. I don’t think that they ‘pigeon hole’ or ‘limit’ your own imagination, instead I feel that it brings to life the ethos of the book even more. Apparently there’s a bit of discrepancy in how many illustrations are included in each version/edition of the book, but my version was rich with them. A beautiful, light read filled with childhood memories.