Review: Featherhood [Memoir, Non-Fiction]

Rating: 5/5 stars

I’ve been following Benzene and Charlie’s story on Instagram from nearly the beginning, so of course I lost my ENTIRE shit when I found out he’s publishing a book.
Eyebrows are often raised amongst the cynical and the merely pragmatic whenever someone with famous connections – in this case the son of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour – lands a book deal, but in this case within the first few pages it becomes clear that Gilmour is a superb writer, and that this book was published on its own merit rather than because of friends in high places. It is ostensibly a memoir about the bond between Gilmour and the magpie he rescued from near-death as a fledgling, but also dives deep into the very heart of Gilmour’s past, his relationships, and ultimately his soul.

As a celebration of the magpie, it is a must read for those indifferent to magpies or those who hate them – because it will certainly change your mind. It is impossible to read this book and not come out as a magpie-lover, as Gilmour extols the virtues, vices and sheer sparkling intelligence of these wonderful birds. By turns humorous and heartfelt, tragic and triumphant, if you are looking for a book that will bring a new, multi-faceted perspective to your life, Featherhood is it. It is a reminder in these troubled times that there is always room for tenderness and kindness, both to our human and our animal neighbours.

NB: If you’re wondering why this review is more flouncy than my usual fare and why I used proper orthography for once, it’s because most of it was cannibalised from a cover letter I wrote to Penguin Random House (I did not get the job.) 

Review: This Town Will Never Let Us Go [Science Fiction]

Rating: 5/5 stars.

“This superstition, that anything you do makes any kind of sense on the grand scale, is only right and proper. It’s the ridiculous, impossible, great and unarguable superstition which makes the whole of humanity possible.”

Listen. 

I am offended – an offence which cuts not only to the bone, but to my very marrow – that this has so few ratings, that this is so obscure. I understand why. An indie publisher; a spin-off known only to the most hardcore of fans.

Faction Paradox reaches, with its bare hands, into the dark cosmic horror underbelly of Doctor Who and pulls it, glistening like obsidian, to the surface. Almost literally. 

For this is a Doctor Who spin-off, except you don’t need to know anything about Doctor Who at all. I am not joking; they are ALL standalone characters, ALL standalone plots. You will find no Doctor here. Even if you don’t like Doctor Who, or tried to get into it and failed, if you like science fiction then I implore you to read this. not only is there no crossover of basically anything except from the general universe, it doesn’t feel like Doctor Who. It’s something utterly different. It is Doctor Who’s estranged cousin, the one who none of your family ever talk to, and you aren’t sure what they do for a living but something about them screams mortician, taxidermist, and/or mad scientist. 

For some reason, it reminds me of a cross between Welcome to Night Vale and Black Mirror. It is at turns poignant, trippy, what can only be described as batshit insane, and humorous:

“Valentine doesn’t think clothes are particularly relevant, and it shows. Just look. They’re as uninterested in him as he is in them.” 

“Now she’ll never get hold of a decent fried malmotti wrap ever again, and if there’s one thing guaranteed to make people turn against the War, it’s that kind of inconvenience.” 

But most of all, it’s somehow very Joycean. This is James Joyce doing hard sci-fi, and it is utterly glorious.

Even the format itself is Joycean: it’s a book written in chapterlets probably only 500 words each, a format that I adore anyway, but these are not just any chapterlets: each one represents a minute. We begin at midnight, like all good things do, and go through until six. It’s an extremely clever format, and I’m in love with it. 
So, by now, you’re probably wondering – well, what the hell is this all about? Well, there are three main characters: 

– Inangela, a teenage goth who spends most of the book zooming around the town in her Hell Truck with her friend named Horror. She is desperate to become part of Faction Paradox, even if she pretends it isn’t, and even if nobody is entirely sure if this cult/criminal syndicate/subculture is even real.

– paramedic Valentine, who has unacceptable opinions about the War. what is the War? Nobody really knows. Nobody wants to know, because they could never begin to comprehend something on such a celestial, vast scale. This is a War between what can only be gods. 

– pop star Tiffany, antic and strange, with a public image even more so. I would be surprised if her storyline wasn’t based on a crazy sci-fi version of Richard Dawkins’ memes, a word that has been more than a little bit ruined for me due to its internet connotations, but never mind. 

This is my first Lawrence Miles book, which is almost a sin for someone who claims to be such a big fan of Doctor Who and its extended universe. I don’t know if all his books are like this or this is just his faction paradox style, but holy hell. It is incredible. I had a really hard time whittling the number of quotes down, because I just wanted to put in practically everything. Extremely witty and profound, Miles’ narrative sucks you straight into the story and makes you experience an insane acid trip that will never let you go. 

I actually started to write this review when I was less than a third into the book. This is astonishing because I never draft reviews or write them before I’ve finished reading; they are usually just stream-of-consciousnesses thrown into the void of Goodreads. But I had so many thoughts bouncing around that I was terrified of losing any. 

I hope I have managed to stir your interest. If not, take a gander at the blurb. If that doesn’t interest you, then I don’t know what will. 

This is not light. This is heavy and deep, and if you’re not really into science fiction I don’t think I’d recommend it. It does not just tie your brain into knots, it knits a jumper from it. (I apologise for that visual image.) It is slow, yet also captivating in a way that never fails. It took me a while to read this; although I can sometimes read excellent books very quickly, this one is certainly like a bottle of scotch, or a very strong cheese: it’s gorgeous and wonderful and you must take your time – partially so it ends slower and you can savour it, and partially because, despite it being incredible, it can get a little much in large doses. 

This Town Will Never Let Us Go is empirical proof that genre fiction, specifically science fiction in this case, is not inherently inferior to literary fiction. On the contrary, it can be deeper and more intelligent. Sci-fi can say something profound about modern society in a way that, perhaps it can be argued, literary fiction never can. not in this world, this tech-drenched, augmented-reality world.