BOOKS | REVIEWS
GRAPHIC NOVEL RACHAEL BALL Wolf (SelfMadeHero) ●●●●●
The award-winning artist behind The Inflatable Woman returns with a poignant tale about childhood, grief and the irrepressible power of imagination. Wolf introduces us to Eric, a small and imaginative boy whose father is killed in a tragic accident. The story is set in the 70s and Rachael Ball’s illustrations capture the era beautifully, while a satisfying and entirely relatable blurring of reality
makes the tale all the more touching.
Following his father’s death, Eric’s family is uprooted to a new neighbourhood where he and his siblings quickly find new friends while getting on with the difficult process of grieving. Their efforts are undercut with a sense of unease, thanks to rumours of the Wolf Man who lives next door. Despite being the youngest (and most susceptible to flights of fancy), Eric is the one driven to confront the stories head on.
Inspired by watching The Time Machine, Eric becomes enraptured with the idea of building his own contraption. His siblings and new friends blithely join in; never realising that the young boy truly believes that time travel is within reach. He hopes that if he can get their machine working it will return him to a place where he can have the thing he wants most. It’s his determination to succeed that throws Eric into the Wolf Man’s domain and begins their unlikely relationship.
At its heart, Wolf rips right into the kind of confusion, anger and resentment that afflicts the bereaved. Soft pencils and charming characterisations lull the reader into a sense of nostalgia that helps evoke the mystical and sometimes terrifying world of childhood perfectly. (Lynsey May) ■ Out now.
FANTASY NATASHA NGAN Girls of Paper and Fire (Hodder & Stoughton) ●●●●● BIOGRAPHY HENRY BELL John Maclean: Hero Of Red Clydeside (Pluto Press) ●●●●●
FICTION YELENA MOSKOVICH Virtuoso (Serpent’s Tail) ●●●●●
Ngan is no stranger to writing for a young audience: with two Young Adult novels under her belt, Girls of Paper and Fire marks her first foray into fantasy. Her newest protagonist is Lei, a young girl with golden eyes who wishes for nothing more than the busy life her father’s herb shop provides, but who is thrust into the group of Paper Girls that are chosen yearly to serve as the Demon King’s concubines. No Paper Girl is allowed to take lovers other than
the King, a rule that doesn’t stop Lei from finding love and stoking the fire that might just burn the court to ashes. The world of Ikhara is one that easily incites
wonder. Ngan masterfully paints a layered society with detailed, beautiful, but also harsh brush strokes. The balance between the peaceful, self-contained remote village of Lei’s birth and the chaos and injustice living just outside its boundaries makes for an enveloping read, where parallels to our own demon-free world are easily drawn.
At a time when ‘strong female protagonist’ is an easy classifier to attach to any woman with a sword, Lei embodies just what that should mean. Her empowering character growth is unlike most in the genre, and the step outside of the heteronormative frame is a breath of fresh air. (Sofia Matias) ■ Out Tue 6 Nov.
84 THE LIST 1 Nov 2018–31 Jan 2019 84 THE LIST 1 Nov 2018–31 Jan 2019
John Maclean is an icon of the Scottish left and a hero to radicals worldwide. Born in Glasgow in 1879, he helped radicalise a generation of Scottish workers through his teaching and activism. Feared by the British state, Maclean was jailed several times in his life, an ordeal that undoubtedly contributed to his tragic death at the age of 44. Henry Bell deftly places the details of Maclean’s
life against such momentous events as the Glasgow Rent Strikes, WWI and the Russian Revolutions. From the harrowing picture Bell paints of the hardships endured by Glasgow’s working classes – Maclean lost his father to an industrial illness in his teens – we gain a clear sense of where Maclean’s revolutionary socialist convictions came from.
Maclean was no orthodox Marxist, and his opposition to the war, and attempts to instigate a general strike, brought him into conflict with some comrades on the left. Maclean’s support for Scottish home rule made him a hero to left- nationalists, but Bell is careful to avoid claiming him for any one faction.
As capitalism leads the world towards disaster, Maclean’s message is as vital, and inspirational, as ever: ‘We are out for life and all that life can give us.’ (Stewart Smith) ■ Out now.
Yelena Moskovich is back with a second novel and much like her debut, The Natasha’s, Virtuosa shares the same surreal style and shunning of linear narratives and definitives. It follows a young Jana and Zorka in 1980’s Communist-era Czechoslovakia, who are figuring themselves out and exploring their sexual identities together. Zorka is an angry child, Jana is studious, but when Zorka leaves without a trace, Jana is pushed to discover who she is by herself. Unfolding side-by-side is the story of Aimée and Dominique living in Paris, their relationship traced through falling in love, hardships and ultimately grief. As the women move on with their lives, Jana, Aimée and Zorka collide in Paris and it brings with it realisations and relief. As well as following the four women, a third narrative is jaggedly woven in, showing 0_hotgirlAmy_0, an American teenager, and Dominxxika_N39, a repressed Czech housewife, in a lesbian internet chatroom.
Throughout the novel, what is real and what is not is hard to discern, but that’s where the magic of the text lies. Queer fiction can often (wrongly) be corralled into a restrictive category but Moskovich deliberately strays from stereotypical tropes. Particularly poignant is Zorka’s friendship with Rico, a trans man. The representation of acceptance and pure love we see from his family is stunning and necessary in these times. Ultimately, this is a bizarre, challenging yet unique read. (Katharine Gemmell) ■ Out Thu 17 Jan.