The View is Clear North

Bookish news and some thoughts about a favourite author

Issue #2, Wednesday 11 August 2021

In this issue:


Bookish News

Dervla McTiernan signs 3-book deal

Crime writer Dervla McTiernan, born in Ireland but now an Australian resident, has just signed a big contract with Harper Collins Australia to deliver three new novels.

I enjoyed all three novels in her Cormac Reilly series set in Galway (shown above), so I’m definitely looking forward to new books from this author.

Miles Franklin Award

The 2021 winner was The Labyrinth by Amanda Lowrey, which I’ve yet to read, but I have reserved a copy at my local library and I’m looking forward to getting hold of it.

Awards Lists now out

The Booker Prize longlist came out a week or so ago. The winner will be announced early November. All the books sound very interesting, but alas, I will probably be lucky to have time to read more than one or two of them. Here are three out of the list of thirteen which I really hope to get to this year:

Also out is the shortlist for the Ned Kelly Awards for crime fiction. I’ve already read four of these, so that’s something. Asterisks against the ones I’ve read:

Candice Fox’s Gathering Dark would be my pick for this out of the books I’ve read in this category, but that’s hardly fair given I haven’t read the others. The Disher novel is said to be very good and I will definitely get to that one soon.

Not to forget the Davitt Award given by the Sisters in Crime (Australia) for female crime writers. Their 2021 shortlist is also out. There are several categories, this is just the Adult Crime Novels. It’s surprising that there are only two books here from the Ned Kelly list, given that 5 of those nominees are female:

And finally we have The Age “Book of the Year” Award shortlist:

I want to read all of these!

Newly released books

Just out this month is this interesting-looking book, Fox and I by Catherine Raven, nominated by Readings as their Non-Fiction Book of the Month. I might put this on hold at my local library.

I see that Book 9 of the Expanse series, Leviathan Falls, is now available for pre-order, so of course I’ve ordered a copy. I would really like to re-read the entire series from the beginning before I read this one, but I fear that is too great an ask.

I also pre-ordered Memory’s Legion, which collects all of the short stories and novellas belonging to the Expanse series.


My Reading

I’m Currently Reading

Can I really be reading four books at once? You bet. But it can explain why it sometimes takes me quite a while to get through any individual book.

Completed Since Last Issue

Uncompleted

I ran out of time to finish The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott before my library loan ran out. I’ve put it on hold again, but I’m far down in the queue.


Claire North: an Appreciation

In the last issue of Through the Biblioscope I mentioned that I had pre-ordered Claire North’s new novel Notes from the Burning Age. The following account is why I was so excited to see a new novel from her.

I first came across this author a couple of years ago, when I saw an interesting preview of her novel The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August in a promotion by Kobo Books, which is where I buy most of my ebooks. The title was intriguing, as was the summary of the book, so I bought it, and loved it. I’ll do a proper review further down in this newsletter, but suffice it to say that Claire North was my major author “discovery” of 2019. It’s always great when you discover a new author you really like and then find out that they’ve written heaps of books.

Now, as it turns out, “Claire North” is a pseudonym. The author’s real name is Catherine Webb, and what is remarkable is that she had her first novel Mirror Dreams commercially published when she was only 14, and it’s still in print. She wrote it during her school holidays. Since then she’s written some 22 books, published either under her own name, or as Kate Griffin, or as Claire North. She was born in 1986, which makes her only about 35 today, and so we can hope for many more books from her in the future.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

This book has a great concept: that there are certain individuals who live a normal life and die as we all do, but then they are reborn, back in their original life. As the child grows up into a toddler and then a young school-age child, he or she starts to remember their previous life, until they are fully aware of everything that happened to them the last time through. This drives many of the children crazy, or at least, has them considered to be so by their bewildered parents.

Harry August is one such individual, and in his second life he is confined to a mental asylum for young people before committing suicide there. Then once more he finds himself growing up, and this time he has learned to be more conscious about what he says to adults in order to escape the same fate. And a key fact: he can act on his memories and change the life he subsequently lives.

As I say, a terrific concept. But the author takes it further. Harry discovers that he is not alone: there are quite a few other individuals who loop through their lives again and again like this. These ‘ouroborans’ have formed the Chronus Club to locate and support their fellows, particularly during their difficult childhoods.

Claire North keeps on adding twist after twist to the story, which becomes quite dark and brooding. Harry August discovers that there’s someone, another ‘ouroboran’ who’s trying to manipulate things in a way which is going to hasten the end of human civilization, a cunning and determined antagonist against whom Harry has to struggle through several of his lifetimes. There are several very clever twists to this conflict.

I really enjoyed this, highly recommended. It’s the kind of out-of-the-ordinary speculative fiction of which I wish there were more.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2015.

The Sudden Appearance of Hope

I thought that when I read North’s novel The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August that it was going to be my pick for the best SF book I read during 2019. Then I read this one, which I think is even better, so good, in fact, that I nominated it as the best book I read in any genre during 2019.

The intriguing concept is that the protagonist, a mixed-race young woman called Hope Adern, tells us that she started to be forgotten from the age of about 16. What does she mean, ‘forgotten’? Well, her family start forgetting that she is one of their children; they forget to set a place for her at the dinner table; they start to become vague in their dealings with her. At school, the teachers forget to call on her in class; they forget to do reports on her, and so on.

This strange condition persists and deepens, to the point that, as an adult, no one can remember her or any interactions they have had with her. If she introduces herself to someone at a party, within fifteen minutes she can introduce herself again to the same person, and she’s completely new to them. Obviously this creates problems for Hope; she can’t ever make friends or have a serious relationship with anyone, and the author manages to show us her loneliness and anguish. But at the same time, she turns her condition into a kind of super-power. She can steal and if she’s caught, within a short time those who have caught her have completely forgotten why; if they lock her in a room they will forget she’s there and if she bangs on the door to get their attention they will be astounded to find her inside, apparently locked in by accident.

Then (as in Harry August) the author starts turning the screw, as it were, and the plot deepens. Hope becomes angry with an organisation called Perfection, a Facebook-like entity with a smartphone app which promises to guide the user into a state of perfection: a Holywood-type concept of perfection, perfect body, perfect hair, perfect job, perfect relationships. All while mining the user’s personal data for profit. Hope determines to exact revenge on this organisation after the app leads to the suicide of a young woman Hope has (temporarily) befriended. In pursuing her revenge, she comes across a group of urban terrorists led by a woman who calls herself Byron, who is also going after the Perfection organisation. How Hope, despite her affliction, is able to cooperate with this woman and where that relationship eventually leads, is very cleverly done.

There are also some very clever and moving passages about Hope’s odd long-term relationship with a policeman who at one point arrests her after a bank robbery (but who of course forgets why). She becomes obsessed with him and in a sense haunts him, to his bewilderment. Eventually he, and a few others, while continually forgetting her, gain a sense that there is this kind of ghost in their lives.

Brilliant stuff. Loved it, just loved it.

The Sudden Appearance of Hope won the World Fantasy Award in 2017.

Touch

This is another of Claire North’s novels where she comes up with a very clever little concept and then just plumbs the depths of it and keeps on going.

This one tends much more toward the thriller category than her other books mentioned above.

Here the first-person protagonist describes herself as a ‘ghost’. Bear with me on that. What it means, we discover, is that she can transfer her whole identity, her ‘soul’, if you like, into another human being, so long as she is able to touch their skin. Once transferred, she is completely in control of that person’s body. When she leaves, the original person’s ‘soul’ returns with a big gap in their memory.

As I say, it has more of a thriller emphasis than the other two books I’ve read. In fact, it starts with her current host—she calls the people she’s inside ‘hosts’—being shot to death by an assassin at a train station. She manages to escape by touching someone else and tranferring into their body just before the previous host dies. But the assassin knows of her strange ability and can somehow sense when she’s moved from one body to another. So he keeps tracking her in order to kill her. If he kills her host and she can’t get out of the host’s body before it dies, she will be dead forever.

We don’t know the protagonist’s real name, or even exactly when she was born, though I think eventually we find out it was somewhere in the late 1700s, but because she’s been moving from host to host to host she’s effectively immortal. Rather than her real name, we are told a handle used by those trying to eliminate her (and all others like her, of whom there are quite a few). This group calls her ‘Kepler’.

There’s also a ghost tagged as ‘Galileo’, who, it turns out, is no ally of Kepler, but who has his or her her own agenda. I say “his/her” because the ghost’s physical gender of course depends on their current host.

Gripping stuff. Great concept, edge-of-the-seat action. If this had been the first Claire North book I had read I would have rated it very highly. It’s not quite as good as The Sudden Appearance of Hope and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, but it’s still pretty darn good.

This one was published in 2015 following just after Harry August, which was published in 2014, and just before The Sudden Appearance of Hope, which came out in 2016.


Then I made the mistake of hunting up the author’s YA novels written under the pseudonym Kate Griffin. Dang, they all look good, too. And her books for even younger readers published under her real name Catherine Webb, such as her “Horatio Lyle” series, also look like a lot of fun. More books to pile onto my toppling To Be Read List! Oh, and my copy of North’s Notes from the Burning Age is literally due to arrive any moment now.


The Podcast

You can also listen to my thoughts on books, movies and television, alongside those of my co-host Perry Middlemiss, on the Two Chairs Talking podcast.


And that’s it for this issue of Through the Biblioscope. If you’re a subscriber, thanks so much and please share this with your friends. If not, please subscribe, it’s free!

See you next time!

— David

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