When You Want to Love a Novel but Don’t!

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Author: Jaclyn Moriarty

Publisher: Macmillan Australia

I wanted to love this book. I bought this book and kept it until my Easter break to read because I wanted to read and enjoy it at my leisure without any distractions. Unfortunately, I never connected with this adult novel by Jaclyn Moriarty.

When I saw that Jaclyn Moriarty was releasing an adult book I was so excited. Moriarty is one of my favourite writers. Though, for some reason, I never connected with this book. I am not sure why when every other reviewer seems to have loved this book. Words such as extraordinary, beautiful, astonishing, uplifting and unique have all been used in relation to this book.

The writing is spectacular, as you would expect from Jaclyn Moriarty. At times, I enjoyed Abigail’s internal dialogue, sometimes she would annoy me and I didn’t always find her endearing. Though, nor do I think I should like the main character all the time! For characters to be three dimensional, I feel you should have mixed emotions towards them – like real people. But I also feel that in the end you should be championing for the character and wanting the best for them. In the end, I didn’t care for Abigail and couldn’t have cared less what happens to her.

There were times that I found Abigail’s internal dialogue hilarious, mainly when she made her way to The Retreat to find out more about The Guidebook. Though, don’t get me started on The Guidebook!

A plastic frangipani flower was woven into this woman’s ponytail; I tried not to judge her for this.

Other times I found the internal dialogue quite self-indulgent – which I guess in a way internal dialogue is meant to be (sometimes), but I found Abigail’s internal dialogue more annoying than it was endearing.

I wonder if I wasn’t the target audience for this book.  I don’t believe that Gravity is the Thing was written for childless women. I found Abigail’s child ANNOYING. I think (and I am looking through the book to find the child’s name) Oscar was one of the reasons that I didn’t like this book. I found all the interactions with Oscar tedious and grating. I know I was meant to understand the special bond she had with this child and I do believe that I was expected to fall in love with Oscar. I also can see how mothers would love this part of the book. I am sure there were lots of mothers out there nodding their heads and remembering their own similar instances with their children. BUT I just found Oscar another indulged small child. I didn’t find him funny, adorable or charming.

There was one quote in the book that I loved that was about children and I have probably taken this line entirely out of context!

I mean, they’re a dime a dozen, children.

I often find it interesting that people believe that their children are their most significant achievements. Yes, I imagine raising children is hard but lots of people do it. Lots of people have children – it isn’t really an achievement!

Ultimately, I didn’t connect with the book. I kept on reading hoping that the story and the characters would all fall into place and I would find that magic that everyone else had found from reading this book, but it wasn’t to be.

I do thank Jaclyn Moriarty for shining a light on missing persons. This was a part of the book that my heart did break at, particularly when I read the acknowledgements at the end. It must be truly horrific to have a loved one missing. That never knowing and always wondering and questioning.

I also do love how Moriarty wrote about how life moves on and even though great tragedy has struck your life you can still enjoy life and enjoy the beauty of the world around you.

Later that night, my mother phone and informed me: ‘We are designed to recover.’

‘I mean, I know that not everybody does,’ she added, ‘but that’s the design.’ And she expressed irritation with the number of people who say you never recover from the loss of a child.

‘But often I’m happy,’ she said. ‘You can be happy, Abigail. I myself am happy with my new frangipani tree and Xuang.’

I still love Jaclyn Moriarty and I will still read everything she writes. I am a little heartbroken that I can’t share in the love for this book. I know that  I am in the minority because lots of people loved this book and found great joy and magic within its pages. For me, I didn’t connect with the book and that’s okay. Not all books are for everyone.

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Hive – AJ Betts

Author: AJ Betts

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia

I am not quite sure why I decided to buy this book.  I liked Zac & Mia (AJ Betts most well-known novel), but it isn’t one of my favourite books, so I didn’t buy this book because I loved Zac & Mia.  I think I bought it because I had just come off from reading In The Dark Spaces by Cally Black and How to Bee by Bren MacDibble (who are actually the same person but that’s another blog post!) and I was drawn in by the idea of bees (through the cover) and a new world.

It took me quite some time to get my head around AJ Bett’s strange world in Hive. I often found myself re-reading sections because I thought I had missed a critical piece of information. I struggled to understand the world that AJ Betts had created, but I am happy that I kept reading because, by the last third of the book I couldn’t put it down, I was completely and utterly immersed in this unique world.

AJ Betts builds up this world, slowly and almost hypnotically. Her writing is mesmerising and you find yourself drawn into this strange, distinctive and closed world. I have read a lot of dystopian novels over the years, but this world is utterly original.

The protagonist of the book is a beekeeper named Hayley. At first, it would appear that Hayley is quite content in her small, inflexible and strict world. An underwater world ruled over by a mysterious, indistinct council.

I am not sure whether it is because I am watching The Handmaid’s Tale, but I felt myself making many comparisons. The world is much kinder in Hive – there are no sanctioned hangings or chopping off limbs for disobeying, but there is still this sense of foreboding in the world because everything is controlled by the “council”. Three hundred people live in this constructed hexagonal world. The world is set underwater, so day and night is created with phased artificial light. Zero population growth is carefully maintained and because there are so few citizens, this is a process that is methodically followed to safeguard genetic integrity. Within the world there is a shared sense of community and purpose – everybody does what is expected of them in their job and station. No one questions the council or the way the world operates. It feels very cult-like. There is no spontaneity in the world. Every day, every hour, every second is meticulously planned. This world doesn’t like surprises. Knowledge is confined and the citizens are given a limited vocabulary. The citizens cannot read or write. Books are non-existent for the citizens because as the judge’s son says, “Books never forgot.”

I love how AJ Betts subtly allows you to feel the cult-like world that Hayley lives in.

“Solitude wasn’t a sin, but to desire it was a cause for suspicion. It could be a symptom of sickness or melancholy – or worse, madness. Solitude was frowned upon and not to be trusted.”

Hayley enjoys her role as a beekeeper and it would appear that she is quite happy with her life, but she suffers from “head pains” (migraines).  In the world that Hayley lives head pains are seen as a sign of madness and Hayley has seen what happens to those who are deemed “mad”. Hayley finds that the one place that she seems to have relief from the head pains is the engineering room, so she breaks the rules and finds herself seeking solace in the engineering rooms on a regular basis.

During one such visit, Hayley finds a drip in the ceiling and it this drip in the ceiling and her interaction with the judge’s son that makes Hayley start to question everything she knows about her world. Hayley’s questioning takes her into a dangerous place because being inquisitive is not acceptable. The council likes their citizens ignorant and docile. The more Hayley questions her world and the council the further removed she is from her safe and predictable world. Hayley’s head pains lead her to seek relief through different avenues and at times she finds herself seeing the harsh reality of her world. The more Hayley sees, the more Hayley questions. Though Hayley finds all the questions “maddening” and she wishes for a simpler life – like her fellow citizens, but Hayley can no longer go back to living in her simple, ignorant world.

“I inhaled the sweet smoke of paperbark, hoping it would calm me as it calmed the bees. If only I could fall asleep while someone took apart my world, cleaned it up and put it back together in a neater version than before.”

Hive is a cleverly written dystopian novel that will appeal to fans of this genre. Hive, though, is much more than a dystopian read. AJ Betts has carved out an intimate, intriguing world and in this world, she has placed a tenacious protagonist who is questioning everything that she knows. Hive has captured my imagination and I am very much looking forward to reading the second and final volume in the series, next year.

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