Stillicide by Cynan Jones
Published by Catapult, 2020
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Set in an unnervingly believable dystopian future, the climate crisis means water is now commodified; the vast armoured trains that transport it around the country often attacked by frustrated, displaced citizens. Though not hugely plot driven, we move between various perspectives, gaining insight into the new normal, and the persistence of love, loss, and the will to survive when it feels like hope is lost.
Initially, I felt this series of linked short stories existed in a frustrating state of flux; each piece neither stand-alone nor connected enough for the book to be entirely certain whether it was indeed a collection of shorts or simply a fragmented novel. We spend such little time with certain characters that it was hard to form an emotional connection to them, but as others begin to recur, disparate viewpoints weave together in a satisfying way that cleverly brings the overarching narrative full circle.
In all, I’d describe this as a book of great ideas peppered with moments of real promise that never quite comes together to capitalise on the power of its potential. That said, Jones’s signature spare yet powerful prose is present throughout, and I was left curious once again to see what he will write next.
Thank you to the publisher for a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
Hearts in the Hard Ground by G.V. Anderson
Published by Tor Books, 2020
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Following the death of her mother, Fiona moves into a new house, but the ghosts of former residents haunt her new home as much as Fiona’s guilt and grief haunt her.
The way Anderson weaves equal amounts of pathos, creepiness, humour, and poignancy into this brief tale is really impressive. Above all, she does a fantastic job of capturing the fine lines between love and hate, and care and cruelty, as Fiona reflects on the strain of watching her mother’s declining mental state. Anyone who has seen a loved one fall into the grips of dementia will know this unique frustration all too well.
“It’s kindness at arm’s length, but still, you tell yourself you are kind. Slowly, time and circumstance erode your conviction: you hope you are kind. You’re impatient with your mum when her mind starts to go. She fumbles with buttons, eating utensils, her knitting, and its irritating because you know she’s better than this – she was whip-smart not five years earlier, beating you at Countdown. And its unfair, too, because you’ve only just started to catch glimpses of what your relationship could become. […] You have to yank her out of someone’s way in the supermarket because she’s staring into space again, blocking the vegetable aisle, and though she soon forgets, you replay it over and over in your head, more violent each time until you expect to see bruises on her arm where there are none.”
Evoking hauntings both real and self-inflicted, with some striking imagery and a lot of heart throughout, this is an emotionally complex story that says a lot in few words about the pain of letting go.