The Employees by Olga Ravn
Translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken
Published by Lolli Editions, 2020
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
This is presented as a series of mission logs from the vast crew aboard a ship millions of kilometres from Earth. A blend of humans and humanoid beings, this ruminative little novel is a series of semi-abstract vignettes concerned with classic sci-fi questions: What does it mean to be human? Where is the line between living and merely being alive? Is there a danger of pushing science and technology too far?
As alluring as these themes continue to be – hence why so many authors continue to visit them – I don’t feel like this presents us with anything particularly new or impactful. If a book is – albeit deliberately – void of traditional plot and character development, I would hope for stunning prose and insightful social commentary. While Ravn’s offering is solid enough on these fronts to be worth checking out, again it doesn’t feel like she’s breaking any new ground.
In all, I appreciate the unique structure, strong translation, and ever-appealing themes, but was ultimately left feeling cold.
Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Published by Orion, 2021
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
With her father hired to work on digitising a lighthouse, and her marine biologist mother seeing this as the perfect opportunity to continue her research into the rare Greenland shark, Julia moves to a remote island for the summer. Across the months that follow, she will encounter friendship, othering, and the reality of her mother’s deteriorating mental state.
By focussing much more closely on its characters, and placing an important emphasis on big themes such as mental health and conservation, this is the kind of middle grade release that really transcends any potential limitations of its target age range. As such, I can see it speaking to adult readers just as much as their younger counterparts. The prose is engrossing without feeling overwrought, reaffirming that Kiran Millwood Hargrave is as an author I’m excited to follow.