All the books in March

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I know it’s been April for a while, but better late than never, right?!

Ann Veronica by H.G. Wells || 3/5
This book floored me a little. I’ve never read anything by H.G. Wells (yes, I know), so when I came across one of the most #relatable exchanges between a man and a woman since Cat Person, I was not prepared.
Ann Veronica, subtitled A Modern Love Story, is the story of our titular heroine who, in her early twenties at the turn of the 19th century, is still under the thumb of her father, who wants to decide over her comings and goings until he can marry her off. One day their disagreement escalates and Vee flees to London, where she realises that a young educated woman stands barely a chance to create a life that is independent of men. As we follow her on her struggle against a system that does not want her to succeed on her own, we encounter suffragettes, artists and scientists with varying attitudes towards life and the relationship between the sexes.
Ann Veronica makes some excellent observations of attitudes that are still around today (‘I respect and admire women too much to burden them with the ugliness of politics!’), but ultimately doesn’t go quite far enough for me. Ann Veronica’s time with the suffragette movement feels more like a confused phase than genuine conviction, and the ending seems like an indulgence for the author more than a gift to the reader. Altogether, not too bad for a book that is over 100 years old.

A Change Is Gonna Come by various authors || 4/5
This is a donation bin find from work – and what a find! A Change Is Gonna Come is a YA collection of 12 stories and poems by British BAME writers, aiming to ‘give creative space to those who have historically had their thoughts, ideas and experiences oppressed’. It’s an absolute treasure chest of stories dealing with race, racism, mental health, LGBTQ issues, history, the refugee crisis, disability and... time travel? Apart from being thoroughly enjoyable, this kind of book is the perfect argument for why we need diversity in writing and publishing – these are stories I’ve never encountered before, or not enough, and I really, really want more. I can’t wait to pass it on to the next happy reader.

I Still Dream by James Smythe || 3/5
I Still Dream is a (beautifully designed) book about artificial intelligence. The AI in this case is a system called Organon, created by Laura Bow in her teens during the 90s. The story follows Laura’s (and Organon’s) life as they follow the rise and development of another (commercialised) AI, SCION, as it worms its way into every part of everyday human life. I find it hard to describe what the book is about, because I couldn’t quite figure it out. The story spans Laura’s entire life (and some before and after), but I missed some sort of dramatic structure. While the narration mostly sticks with Laura, two or three chapters are inexplicably told from someone else’s perspective, but it takes pages to make clear who that person is. Neither Organon nor SCION are your average dangerous sci-fi AIs like HAL 9000 or VIKI, which is a nice change, but there is also no real sense of threat or stakes. The language seems geared towards people who know a thing or two about AI, so for me as a layperson who clearly didn’t get it, the overwhelming mood was ‘sounds like it’s gonna be okay, I guess’. Maybe the beautiful complexity I’ve read about in other reviews went right over my head. Who knows.

You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman || 4/5
A lives with B. B admires A and wishes she could be like her. A is dating C. A finds it more and more difficult to tell herself apart from B. Is B turning into A? Is A turning into B? Why have B and C never met? Would C prefer B to A if he met her?
I read this book in a bit over a day, which is a pretty intense experience. Afterwards I wrote in my journal: ‘It’s something I’m not sure I want to exist. I feel unclean, like I caught something.’
I find it hard to say what this book is about. It’s about consumer culture, about advertising, about body image and love and religion and identity. But overall, it’s just plain terrifying. I don’t think it is meant to be a horror novel and I wouldn’t classify it as such, but there is such a strong sense of displacement, of standing outside oneself watching the world like something completely alien and incomprehensible. As someone who experiences dissociation on a regular basis, this book touched something I’m not sure needed touching. One element that needs to be mentioned is the text design, at least in my edition: every chapter starts with a plain smiley emoticon. Like the book looking back at you. It’s fucking terrifying. I loved it.

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