Up For Review: The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards

I love novels about writing…

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma

NetGalley Blurb:

An inventive and witty debut about a young man’s quest to become a writer and the misadventures in life and love that take him around the globe

From as early as he can remember, the hopelessly unreliable—yet hopelessly earnest—narrator of this ambitious debut novel has wanted to become a writer.

From the jazz clubs of Manhattan to the villages of Sri Lanka, Kristopher Jansma’s irresistible narrator will be inspired and haunted by the success of his greatest friend and rival in writing, the eccentric and brilliantly talented Julian McGann, and endlessly enamored with Julian’s enchanting friend, Evelyn, the green-eyed girl who got away. After the trio has a disastrous falling out, desperate to tell the truth in his writing and to figure out who he really is, Jansma’s narrator finds himself caught in a never-ending web of lies.

As much a story about a young man and his friends trying to make their way in the world as a profoundly affecting exploration of the nature of truth and storytelling, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards will appeal to readers of Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists and Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize–winning A Visit from the Goon Squad with its elegantly constructed exploration of the stories we tell to find out who we really are.

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards will be published on 21 March 2013 by Viking.

Links:
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On the publisher’s website
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Buy a copy: Book Depository | Amazon | Exclusive Books

About the Author
Kristopher grew up in Lincroft, New Jersey.  He received his B.A. in The Writing Seminars from Johns Hopkins University and an M.F.A. in Fiction from Columbia University. Each month he writes a column for Electric Literature’s blog, “The Outlet” about Literary Artifacts, and loving books in a digital age.
Currently, he lives in New York City, where he is an Adjunct Professor of Creative Writing at Manhattanville College and SUNY Purchase.​ – Author’s website
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Debut Author Snapshot interview on Goodreads
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February 2013 Round-up

February was another lazy month in terms of reviewing, but a pretty good reading month, with a perfect balance between review books and leisure reads.

February Review

I had a bit of trouble deciding exactly what I thought of A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan. The worldbuilding is well done, if a tad insistent and the story is fine, but I had some issues with Brennan’s creative decisions, particularly her decision to make her fantasy world exactly like ours during the Victorian period, but with dragons added. With the Victorian setting comes all the related sexism, classism, and insistence on propriety, all of which I found irritating to various degrees. I wished the narrator, Isabella, could just have been allowed to get on with the challenges of studying dragons without having to tell us, constantly, how unladylike her aspirations are.

Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui is a novel about technology used for viewing and engaging with people’s dreams, and a ‘dream detective’ who goes into people’s dreams to sort out their mental troubles. Things go awry with the latest version of the dream technology is stolen and misused, causing dreams to invade reality. The novel reminded me a lot of anime, with the way it so easily conflates fantasy and reality, its absurd villains, exaggerated emotions, and ideas about gender. Some of this works, but most of it is troubling, particularly the gender issues.

The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian is a more thoughtful dystopian novel than most, featuring a post-apocalyptic society based on utilitarian philosophy and the idea that humanity has at least been unable to outgrow its need for natural impulses. The conflict in the novel comes from this society’s mercy-killing of the primitive tribes that live in the lush forests outside the settlement’s reinforced glass walls, and the ethical questions related to those killings and the vastly different lifestyles of the two groups of humans. It wasn’t quite as great as I’d hoped, but it’s undoubtedly one of the best books that I’ve read in the genre. I was really pleased by its absence of easy answers and its ability to surprise me. Review to follow soon.

I hadn’t planned to read The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke this month, but it came in very handy when I needed a quick read to finish a reading challenge, and writing the review was a rare pleasure in that it only took about 2-3 hours. The novel offers the standard commercial YA content: a feisty kick-ass heroine, a broody mysterious guy, a fantasy world that’s not too fantastical, and a bit of adventure. Nothing special, but luckily nothing infuriating either. That might be because I didn’t care enough about the characters or the story to be upset by the fact that the plot barely moves at all, and there’s an utterly pointless dearth of useful information about the curse, the world, and our mysterious brooding assassin. I won’t be reading the sequel.

February Leisure

It’s only when I did the pictures for this post that I realised I’d managed four leisure reads this month. The first was Carrie by Stephen King. I read this years ago, and I liked it even more this time around. I can’t wait to see the new movie starring Chloë Grace Moretz as Carrie and Julianne Moore as Margaret White.

Farewell Waltz by Milan Kundera was another short book I read for a reading challenge, although this one took me much longer to finish than The Assassin’s Curse. It relates a bizarre story that begins when a young nurse calls a famous, married trumpeter to tell him that she’s pregnant with his child, and quickly expands to include a large cast of related characters. I like Kundera’s philosophical and political musings more than anything else, and it wasn’t a bad read.

I’ve been downloading Clarkesworld Magazine podcasts lately, and Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente is my favourite so far. I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads. It’s a story about machine intelligence that brings together sci fi, fantasy and folklore in a beautiful story that’s particularly magical when read by Kate Baker. I’ve listened to it twice in its entirety already (the podcast is broken up into 3 parts) and I will no doubt listen to it many more times. I was devastated to find that I currently can’t buy the limited edition hardcover of this novella.

I’ve had a copy of UFO In Her Eyes by Xiaolu Guo for a few years. It’s set in a village in rural China, where a peasant sees a UFO (or thinks she does) and saves a foreigner who has been bitten by a snake. Investigators are sent to find out what happened, and the chief uses the incident as a means of getting money to modernise her village. The story is told entirely in interview transcripts and other documents, with the pages designed to look like they’ve been photocopied and filed. It’s partly hopeful, but mostly quite sad and critical of the crass attempts at progress that benefit very few while ruining the lives of most of the villagers. a very quick read, and nothing like I’d expected.

I had hoped I could list Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson among my leisure reads for this month, but alas, I am still struggling to finish it… Here’s hoping I’ll complete it by the end of March!

Up for Review: The Accursed

Joyce Carol Oates is one of those highly acclaimed literary authors whose books I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. However, since I tend to favour speculative fiction over literary fiction, it was only when I saw The Accursed, an “eerie tale of psychological horror” that combines both types of fiction, that I jumped at the chance to start reading Oates’s work. This novel marks a departure from her usual style, so it might not be the best place to start, but I’m looking forward to it nevertheless.

The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates2The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates (Fourth Estate)

NetGalley Blurb:

This eerie tale of psychological horror sees the real inhabitants of turn-of-the-century Princeton fall under the influence of a supernatural power.

New Jersey, 1905: soon-to-be commander-in-chief Woodrow Wilson is president of Princeton University. On a neighbouring farm, muck-raking novelist Upton Sinclair, enjoying the success of The Jungle, has taken up residence with his family. Grover Cleveland, fresh out of his second term in the White House has retired to town for a quieter life. Meanwhile, the elite families of Princeton have been beset by a powerful curse—their daughters are disappearing. A young bride on the verge of the altar is seduced and abducted by a dangerously compelling man—a shape-shifting, vaguely European prince who might just be the devil. In the Pine Barrens on the edge of town, a mysterious and persuasive evil takes shape.

When the bride’s brother sets out against all odds to find her, his path will cross those of Princeton’s most formidable people, from presidents past to its brightest literary luminaries, from Mark Twain to Jack London, as he navigates both the idyllic town and the Dante-esque landscape of the Barrens.

An utterly fresh work from Oates, THE ACCURSED marks new territory for the masterful writer–narrated with her unmistakable psychological insight, it combines beautifully transporting historical detail with chilling fantastical elements to stunning effect.

The Accursed will be published on 5 March 2013 by Fourth Estate, an imprint of HarperCollins UK.

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Joyce Carol Oates speaks about the novel on YouTube
The novel at HarperCollins UK

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January 2013 Round-Up

I can’t believe January’s already over. At first it seemed to crawl and every time I looked at the calendar I felt liked I had loads of time to finish the reading I’d scheduled for this month. And then suddenly it was 1 February and I’d only read 5 books.

Revenge by Yoko IgawaLuckily I started off with an excellent read – Revenge by Yoko Ogawa. It’s a novel made up of interlinked short stories that are deceptively calm and hypnotic with scatterings of shock horror. The writing is exquisite; Ogawa is exceptionally talented when it comes to the finer details of fiction. I’m also giving away two copies of Revenge, so if you haven’t entered, go and do so now!

January 2013

Next up was A Killer in the Wind by Andrew Klavan, a somewhat self-reflective hardboiled crime novel. The protagonist, Dan Champion, is trying hard to live up to his name and come to terms with the times he failed to do so. A decent story with plenty of action is unfortunately spoiled by utterly dismal female characters – lacklustre, weak and whiny. Can a man only be a hero when the women around him are damsels in distress? Perhaps Klavan is being satirical, but either way I wasn’t impressed.

The Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher is a fantasy-horror-western about a primordial monster  slumbering within an abandoned silver mine out in the Nevada desert in the 1800s. Of course, something begins to wake the monster, and it’s up to the citizens of the town of Golgotha to save themselves, not to mention the entire universe. An average read, but with a few issues I want to discuss. Review to follow this week.

I’m still processing my thoughts on The Best of All Possible Worlds  by Karen Lord. On the one hand, it’s an elegant, skillfully written piece of literary science fiction with exceptionally well-rounded characters. On the other hand, it’s very much a love story, and although the love story takes a long time to develop, it dominates the ending with what I find to be far too much cheesiness. So while the novel is undoubtedly far above average, I have my reservations.

Expecting Someone Taller by Tom HoltMy leisure read for January was Expecting Someone Taller, Tom Holt’s debut novel. I’ve read several of his comic fantasies (and one or two sf ones), and although they’re enjoyable I find that they can get a tad chaotic with their very large casts of characters. Expecting Someone Taller, which draws on Norse mythology, had a lot of people to keep track of, but in general it was simpler. Perhaps my favourite of his novels that I’ve read so far.

I’ve embarked on the very daunting task of reading Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, but although I started on 15 January, I’ve only made it through about 20% of the novel. If you’ve seen a copy of the book though, you’ll know that 20% of it is already the length of your average novel. to add to that, it’s a pretty dense read with loads of rather technical infodumps. But Stephenson can write infodumps like no one else, and I’m really enjoying the book so far. I just hope I can find time to finish it within the next month!

Review and Giveaway of Revenge by Yoko Ogawa

Revenge by Yoko IgawaTitle: Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales
Author: Yoko Ogawa
Published: 
29 January 2013
Pubisher: Picador
Genre: 
literary fiction, short stories
Source: 
eARC from the publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 8/10

I googled a bit of information on Yoko Ogawa when I started writing this review, and I was impressed but not too surprised to learn that she has won every major Japanese literary award and has published over twenty works of fiction and non-fiction. Revenge undoubtedly showcases the skills of a talented, experienced author. When I read “Afternoon at the Bakery”, the first of the “Eleven Dark Tales” in this collection, I was stunned. It’s a devastating kind of story, like many of the stories here – very calm and quiet, with sudden stabs of shock and pain, like a surgical knife slid quickly but gently into the heart of an unsuspecting victim. A simple narrative draws you in – one sunny afternoon, a woman walks to the bakery to buy two strawberry shortcakes for her son’s birthday. For some reason, the shop is empty – there are no customers, and no one behind the counter. The woman is not in a rush, so she sits down to wait for the pastry chef. Soon, another woman comes in, and they make small talk. “How old is [your son]?” the second woman asks. The first woman replies with this:

Six. He’ll always be six. He’s dead.

She tells us about her son’s death twelve years ago, and how she kept the strawberry shortcake they were meant to share one his birthday and watched it rot. When her husband told her to throw it out, she react violently:

I threw it in his face. Mold and crumbs covered his hair and his cheeks, and a terrible smell filled the room. It was like breathing in death.

I fell in love with Ogawa’s writing in this story. I know it’s translated, but it’s still superb – elegant and hypnotic, with details that tease your senses (I’m thinking of the mention of vanilla, strawberries, cream and the warmth of birthday-candle flames) or cut right into your heart and lungs. It’s the kind of thing that makes you pause to consider or savour what you’ve just read.

“Afternoon at the Bakery” remained my favourite Revenge story (I think I got attached, since it was the first), but with such a wonderful writing style, the others certainly did not disappoint. Ogawa’s great talent, it seems, lies in her absolutely exquisite details and the skilful ways in which she uses them. Most of the stories have rather odd plots. In “Old Mrs J”, the creepy old landlady of an apartment complex finds hand-shaped carrots growing in her vegetable garden. In “Sewing for the Heart” a woman asks a specialist bag maker to sew a bag for her heart, which is particularly delicate because it beats outside of her body. In “Welcome to the Museum of Torture”, a young woman takes a walk after her boyfriend leaves her, and ends up going on a tour through a museum of torture, imagining how she might use some of the devices on her boyfriend.

Besides the plots, there are many beautiful, quaint, tragic or bizarre details within the stories. In “Fruit Juice”, the narrator describes the way that the events of the story he just related “sank into a hole at the bottom of my sea of memories” giving the reader a vague sense that he’s lost something important but inexplicable. Another character describes a woman’s voice as having “an impressive coldness to it – I could almost imagine its tone freezing my ear drum”.

But the most impressive details are the ones that can’t really be quoted and are difficult to write about because they are scattered within and across stories, linking characters and tales, reminding us of sinister things, exposing eerie truths, or revealing the conclusions to earlier stories that ended ambiguously. The strawberry shortcake and the bakery from the first story are mentioned in a later narrative, and the reminder gives an ominous feel to the current tale. We learn about a character’s murder in one story, and when people are looking for him or mention him in later stories we recall why he was killed and the gruesome way in which he died. There are many elements of horror, entwined with the drama unfolding between the characters.

With these tiny but memorable details, Ogawa delicately links lives and stories, creating an unusual kind of novel composed of separate tales. It’s an interesting form; my only problem with it is that one or two of the stories are a bit dull, and seem to be there largely to provide links for others. But for the most part it works beautifully. Although most of the characters never meet each other, the events and artefacts of their lives join them and form a coherent whole for the reader.  There is also one notable recurring character – an obscure writer – who appears in several of the stories. We learn that she has actually written some of them, although whether we read her versions or the real-life events on which they are based is unclear. The book is enjoyably vague in that way – it’s not the kind of novel that offers answers or meaning or easy conclusions; instead it taunts and delights you with its intricacies. Ogawa has said that “one of the fundamental values of fiction is its power to express the inexplicable and the absurd” (Q&A with Yoko Ogawa) and I think that’s exactly what she does with Revenge.

Another notable thing is that almost all the characters are unnamed (a trademark of Ogawa’s according to the Q&A just referenced). The only characters with anything akin to names are Mrs J and Dr Y, and both are secondary characters. Every story is intimately narrated in the first person, and it can sometimes be unclear how old the “I” is or whether they are male or female. The location is completely anonymous too – there are no place names, no landmarks; the novel could be set in any well-developed country. The only suggestion that it might take place in Japan, where Ogawa lives, is that characters sometimes bow to each other in greeting or thanks.

Unencumbered by these specifics, the novel seems almost ghostly, and reading it can be a rather strange and hypnotic experience. But I like it a lot. It’s so well done, that names and places aren’t necessary. It’s a pensive rather than exciting read, but it’s the kind of book that can teach you to appreciate the qualities of good writing, particularly the way writers can manipulate certain elements of a story in order to leave an impression on the reader. Most authors can only dream of writing something this evocative, or writing a sentence or crafting an image that etches itself into the read. Yoko Ogawa is one of the few who can, and I’m glad to have found her.

 

Giveaway

Now, I my thoughts on Revenge have convinced you that it’s worth reading because I’m giving away two copies on Violin in a Void. One has been generously provided by Gabrielle Gantz at Picador, for residents of the USA and Canada. And since I don’t want everyone else to miss out on a chance to get a copy, I am providing one as well, via Book Depository. Here are the details:

  • To enter, follow me via email (sign-up on the homepage), WordPress or Twitter (@Violin_InA_Void) and leave a comment on this post. Be sure to mention whether you’re from the USA/Canada or the rest of the world.
  • The USA/Canada copy will be sent to the USA/Canada winner by Picador.
  • I will be sending a copy to the second winner via Book Depository, so you are only eligible if they ship to your country.
  • This giveaway will last for two weeks and ends at midnight (GMT+3) on 12 February.
  • I will choose the winners using random.org, and contact them on 13 February for their addresses. Both winners will be announced in a blog post shortly thereafter.

Thanks so much to Picador for sponsoring a giveaway, and good luck to all those who enter!

Up for Review: Japanese Novels

In the past two or three months, I’ve requested (and been lucky enough to receive) a couple of novels by Japanese authors, so I decided to do a group Up for Review post. All these novels are in different genres – the first is a literary novel told in short stories, with a touch of horror; the second is surreal sci fi; and the last one reinvents a Japanese creation myth. Each of these authors have several other books that have been translated into English, and I’m hoping that these three will open up a whole new world of literature for me.

Revenge by Yoko Igawa

 

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa (Picador)

I’ve already read this one, and I think it’s fantastic. I’ll be posting my review soon, along with a giveaway, so keep an eye out!

NetGalley blurb:

Sinister forces draw together a cast of desperate characters in this eerie and absorbing novel from Yoko Ogawa.

 

An aspiring writer moves into a new apartment and discovers that her landlady has murdered her husband. Years later, the writer’s stepson reflects upon his stepmother and the strange stories she used to tell him. Meanwhile, a surgeon’s lover vows to kill him if he does not leave his wife. Before she can follow-through on her crime of passion, though, the surgeon will cross paths with another remarkable woman, a cabaret singer whose heart beats delicately outside of her body. But when the surgeon promises to repair her condition, he sparks the jealousy of another man who would like to preserve the heart in a custom tailored bag. Murderers and mourners, mothers and children, lovers and innocent bystanders—their fates converge in a darkly beautiful web that they are each powerless to escape.

Macabre, fiendishly clever, and with a touch of the supernatural, Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge creates a haunting tapestry of death—and the afterlife of the living.

 

Revenge was first published in 1998. This edition will be published on 29 January 2013 by Picador.

Links:
Goodreads
Buy a copy: The Book Depository I Amazon I Exclusive Books
On the publisher’s website
About the author: Wikipedia I Goodreads

 

Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui

Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui (Vintage Books)
According to Wikipedia, Yasutaka Tsutsui is one of Japan’s most famous sf writers.

NetGalley blurb:

Widely acknowledged as Yasutaka Tsutsui’s masterpiece, Paprika unites his surreal, quirky imagination with a mind-bending narrative about a psychiatric institute that has developed the technology to invade people’s dreams.

 

When prototype model of a dream-invading device go missing at the Institute for Psychiatric Research, it transpires that someone is using them to drive people insane. Threatened both personally and professionally, brilliant psychotherapist Atsuko Chiba has to journey into the world of fantasy to fight her mysterious opponents. As she delves ever deeper into the imagination, the borderline between dream and reality becomes increasingly blurred, and nightmares begin to leak into the everyday realm. The scene is set for a final showdown between the dream detective and her enemies, with the subconscious as their battleground, and the future of the waking world at stake.

 

Paprika was first published in 1993. This edition will be published on 05 February 2013 by Picador.

Links:
Goodreads
Buy a copy: The Book Depository I Amazon I Exclusive Books
On the publisher’s website
About the author: Wikipedia I Goodreads I Website (Japanese) I Twitter (Japanese)

The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo KirinoThe Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino (Grove Press)

This is another book in Canongate Myth series

NetGalley blurb:

“A spectacle that includes multiple layers of opposing forces: life and death, love and hate . . . The author uniquely depicts an unruly mythological world.” —Shincho Magazine

In a place like no other, on a mystical island in the shape of tear drop, two sisters are born into a family of oracles. Beautiful Kamikuu is admired far and wide; Namima, small but headstrong, learns to live in her older sister’s shadow. On her sixth birthday, Kamikuu is chosen as the next Oracle, while Namima is forced to become the goddess of darkness, destined to spend eternity guiding the spirits of the deceased to the underworld. As the sisters serve opposite fates, so begins a journey that will take Namima from her first experience of love to scalding betrayal. Caught in an elaborate web of deceit, she travels from the land of the living to the Realm of the Dead and back again seeking vengeance and ultimate closure.

Natsuo Kirino turns her hand to an exquisitely dark tale, masterfully reinventing the Japanese creation myth of Izanami and Izanaki. A fantastical tour-de-force, The Goddess Chronicle is a tale as old as the earth about sibling rivalry, ferocious love, and bittersweet revenge.

 

The Goddess Chronicle was first published in 2008. This edition will be published on 6 August 2013 by Grove Press.

Links:
Goodreads
Buy a copy: The Book Depository I Amazon I Exclusive Books
On the publisher’s website
About the author: Wikipedia I Goodreads I Website

Review of The Uninvited by Liz Jensen

The Uninvited by Liz JensenTitle: The Uninvited
Author: Liz Jensen
Published: 
5 July 2012; this edition published 8 January 2013
Pubisher: Bloomsbury USA
Genre: 
science fiction, fantasy, horror, literary fiction
Source: 
eARC from the publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 8/10

Mass hysterical outbreaks rarely have identifiable inceptions, but the date I recall most vividly is Sunday 16th September, when a young child in butterfly pyjamas slaughtered her grandmother with a nail-gun to the neck.

So begins a disturbing global phenomenon where young children violently kill the adults in their families. On the day of the nail-gun incident, Hesketh Lock returns home from a business trip to Taiwan, where he was investigating a whistle-blower who essentially sabotaged his company by exposing corruption in the Taiwan timber industry. He finds the whistle-blower easily enough; the poor man is ashamed, because he never meant to do what he did, claiming that he was possessed by the spirits of the dead, according to Chinese superstition.

Hesketh has Asperger’s Syndrome, so he’s not good with people, but he has a superb memory and an incredible talent for spotting patterns. He also has a degree in the anthropology of belief systems, and an interest in foreign languages (he collects the dictionaries); a combination makes him an excellent investigator. After the Taiwan case, Hesketh finds himself globetrotting to investigate other cases of corporate sabotage, all with similar features. The perpetrators always claim to have acted against their will after being possessed by a child-like spirit or creature. Descriptions of the creature vary according to cultural superstitions, but the pattern is obvious, even if you’re not a savant. Hesketh however, also notices a link between the cases he’s investigating, and the growing number of child murderers across the world.

At first, this seemed like a horror story that was quietly, pensively building to a climax. I was immediately intrigued by the promise of ghosts or demons, not to mention the excellent writing conveying it all. In the end, I didn’t quite get the story I was looking forward to, but the one I got had more depth and was so unexpectedly touching that it put my expectations to shame. The horror is certainly there, in all those terrifying children, but it is just one aspect of a more complex novel that is both elegant and nightmarish. The blurb calls The Uninvited a “powerful and viscerally unsettling portrait of apocalypse in embryo”, and that’s not an exaggeration.

There are several reasons why I enjoyed The Uninvited so much – the vivid writing, the creepy child killers, the final reveal – but the main reason is that Hesketh narrates it. I found him instantly likeable – odd, observant, poetic, hypnotically calm most of the time, but emotionally vulnerable in his own way.

Jensen describes the experience of being Hesketh in fascinating detail, and his character brings humour, warmth and a touch of pathos to the story. Despite his social and emotional difficulties, Hesketh has learned to adapt to some social norms. Using Venn diagrams (an invaluable tool that his mentor taught him to use) he has studied human thought and behaviour in order to read people and mimic the appropriate responses. He can’t make eye contact, but he has learned to fake it. He assures us that his reverence for the truth makes him an honest narrator, but in work and daily life his inability to lie can make conversations either refreshing or extremely awkward. Of course, most people find Hesketh incredibly odd regardless of the adjustments he’s made, but he prefers to be alone anyway. His home is on Arran, an island in Scotland where, as he notes, a human voice seems a strange sound in that empty space.

He also has a variety of quirky, memorable habits. He collects paint catalogues and has memorised the colours so that he is able to, for example, describe a woman’s red coat as “what Dulux, in 1984, called Carnation” or a man’s skin tone as “Dulux’s 2010 Cointreau”. His favourite hobby is origami, which not only pleases him but calms him in times of stress – he keeps sheets of origami paper in his briefcase, and if he is unable to physically fold the paper, he goes through the designs in his head. In keeping with his systematic way of thinking, he doesn’t choose designs at random, but goes through a sequence of 18 favourites.

Hesketh tends to create the impression that he doesn’t feel emotion, but this is untrue, as he states:

Kaitlin used to call me, affectionately, an ‘incurable materialist’. Later, this changed to ‘a robot made of meat’. This is unfair. I’m not a machine. I feel things. I just register them differently.

Kaitlin is his ex-girlfriend, a woman with whom he lived for about two or three years. If Hesketh ever seems incapable of caring for people, their relationship makes it heartrendingly clear that he can:

When I say to someone that I love them, however, I mean it. For someone aged thirty-six I have not said it very often. Three times in two years, to the same woman. And when I stop loving them, I say: ‘Kaitlin, I don’t love you anymore and I can never love you again.’ She confessed to her affair on Saturday 5th May.

[…]

When she had finished, she declared that it was my ‘impenetrability’ which made her seek comfort in a lover. That’s when she called me ‘a robot made of meat’. But I am not a robot made of meat. In that moment, though, I wished I was.

The worst part about his break-up with Kaitlin is that she forbids him from seeing her son Freddy, with whom Hesketh formed a deep, loving bond. Freddy became an important part of his life (perhaps more so than Kaitlin) and Hesketh misses him very much. Disturbingly, it’s only the plague of child murderers that offers Hesketh any chance of seeing Freddy again.

It’s important to note that the reader isn’t expected to pity Hesketh because he has Asperger’s. Hesketh himself points out the problem with this approach:

Perhaps she pities me. It’s a frequent mistake. People misunderstand who I am, and assume I want to be like them. I don’t.

Hesketh simply lives a different kind of life. If you were to pity him because of his condition, you would also have to pity all the other characters because they don’t have it and lack his skills in memory and pattern recognition while being bogged down by emotional concerns. If anything, every other character seems disappointingly normal compared to Hesketh. Things can be difficult because his way of life is not the norm and many people find his demeanour disconcerting, but Hesketh certainly hasn’t allowed it to be debilitating. In fact, he’s more successful than most people, with a good job tailored to his personal preferences, and a beautiful home where he is able to devote time to his interests.

When we do feel sorry for Hesketh, it’s because of things that could apply to any other character – his girlfriend cheated on him; he loves and misses her son but isn’t allowed to see him; he witnesses painful and horrific things and struggles to cope with those experiences.

I’d prefer not to say much more about the details of the story; it’s better to experience it unfolding for yourself. It’s an odd but successful combination of horror and optimism with touches of dystopian fiction, and I think of the whole as literary spec fic. If I have any complaints, it’s only that I thought the characters could sometimes be a little slow in figuring things out, but for the most part I really enjoyed the novel’s pensive feel. Hesketh might not be someone I could spend time with socially, but on the page he’s captivating; undoubtedly one of the most memorable characters I’ve come across in a while. The Uninvited was the last book I read in 2012, and I was pleased to be able to end the reading year on such a classy note.