Book Review: Release, by Patrick Ness

cv_release.jpgAvailable today in bookshops nationwide.

The novel explores relationships in all their complexity through the character of teenager Adam Thorn, taking place over the course of a single day.

Ness said he was inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. ‘I feel like I can’t write a good book unless I scare myself, and what’s scarier than taking your inspiration from one of the finest novels ever written in English? The intense focus of Mrs Dalloway, its psychological power, seemed an unexpectedly superb way to portray a YA character.’

And so it has transpired. This is a remarkable – and remarkably different – offering from the awesome Patrick Ness.

There will be no spoilers from this reviewer – but the book deals with the tangled mess of family and personal relationships, homophobia, sexuality, religious bigotry and murder just for starters.

As with all of Ness’ work, there’s much more going on than the surface story. I want to say ‘the secondary plot’ but in fact the ‘other’ story clings and twines its way around the novel until the strands finally come together – a bit like the tendrils of a creeper winding up a host plant until they reach the top, and join. So not really a secondary plot at all, but an integral part of the story, woven and meshed throughout the day-long events that make up Adam’s complex and demanding day.

The characters are wonderfully written – in particular the depth of friendship between Angela and Adam is brilliantly drawn – and credible.

The struggles that all of us face at some time in our growing-up and developing into the adults we want to be are there with all their attendant complexities; Ness has the ability to make the reader think and reflect on significant moments in one’s own life, with compassion and understanding. Even the bleakest situations can be viewed thus, even though the thoughts and actions involved may not be supported.

The tensions in relationships, the heartaches and thrills of first loves, the humour, the depth of understanding of young people discovering their sexuality – all of these are written with immense understanding and compassion. Patrick Ness is reconfirmed as a truly wonderful writer.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Release
by Patrick Ness
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406331172

 

Book Review: City of Lies – Love, Sex, Death and the search for truth in Tehran, by Ramita Navai

“Let’s get one thing straight: in order to live in Tehran you have to lie. Morals don’t come cv_city_of_lies_love_sex_deathinto it: lying in Tehran is about survival.”

Searing words form a harrowing reality, giving the reader an excellent basis to start an exceptional book. British-Iranian journalist Ramita Navai tells the real-life stories of eight protagonists in City of Lies – Love, Sex, Death and the search for truth in Tehran. The sycamore-lined Vali Asr Street is the central setting, while the stories span over years.
Navai has created a remarkable non-fiction book. Her choice of stories may make the reader think they’re reading a collection of fiction short stories. Every now and then I remembered that these were true stories, throwing me in to disbelief and I found myself researching the author and book to ensure that these weren’t made up.

The Tehran in City of Lies is one made of gangsters, housewives, terrorists, and schoolgirls. Following extensive research and interviews, Navai has been able to bring the reader in to the world of an Iranian-American terrorist who has been given an important task, a schoolgirl finding love in an unexpected place, and a basiji making a life-changing decision.

The stories reveal a Tehran riddled with political, religious, social, and sexual contradictions. In one story, following her first encounter as a prostitute “she did not feel dirty or degraded. Just scared of God”. Navai doesn’t shy away from any topic throughout the book, and an open-mind from the reader is required. The ending of at least one story left me shocked, a ringing in my ears. Just be prepared. “This was the new Tehran, where tradition and class are blended together and trumped by money.”

Navai provides a short autobiography at the end of the book, which sheds further light on her relationship with Tehran. A glossary appears also, and is accompanied by her sources divided by chapter. The sources provide excellent information for the reader, but I suggest waiting until you complete all the stories before reading them.

With an excellent mixture of stories, characters, and settings that Navai has managed to track down and document, City of Lies is a must-read for any person interested in astonishing stories of human survival.

Reviewed by Kimaya McIntosh

City of Lies – Love, Sex, Death and the search for truth in Tehran
Written by Ramita Navai
Published by Weidenfield & Nicholson
ISBN 9780297871316