Don Quixote – Cervantes
My reading list this year has been all about taking on big challenges, and as 2016 marks 400 years since the death of Cervantes, it seemed the perfect time to finally tackle The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha.
I won’t lie, this one was a toughie. Intended to parody the banal, soap opera-esque tales of chivalry and romance popular during the Renaissance, Cervantes wrote Don Quixote in the same meandering and inconsistent style as the books he was satirising, and unsurprisingly that does make it difficult to follow sometimes. But even so, Don Quixote‘s bark is far, far worse than its bite – take it slow and accept it for what it is, and it can actually be quite an enjoyable novel.
One of the things I loved about Don Quixote was its relevance to issues today. Marcela, for example, the vilified shepherdess who calls out the male sexual entitlement of the suitor she apparently spurned (and of men in literature in general); or the many cruel pranks played on Don Quixote’s foolishness, which – read in 2016 – seem all too similar to the kind of spiteful Internet bullying that’s passed off as “harmless banter”. It’s incredible how pertinent a 400-year-old novel can be to 21st century life.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne
If I went back in time and told my eight-year-old self that he would one day be disappointed by the eighth Harry Potter story, he probably would have called me crazy. But unfortunately, a disappointment is exactly what The Cursed Child was.
It started out pretty well. That initial nostalgic buzz of opening a brand new Harry Potter book for the first time in nine years was everything I expected, and I loved how the new viewpoint for The Cursed Child – that of Albus Severus Potter, Harry’s son – brought a fresh perspective to the wizarding world: one in which Slytherin House is not just a one-dimentional Death Eater Youth, and Hogwarts is not as *ahem* magical as the original books portrayed.
But the problem with The Cursed Child was that it read more like an Internet fan fiction rather than a legitimate instalment in the Harry Potter cycle. There were too many shoehorned cameos and throwaway references to the original books, and the returning cast were so out of character with themselves that it was all too clear how little involvement J.K. Rowling had with the finished script – take Draco Malfoy addressing Harry by his first name rather than with a bitter and disdainful “Potter”, for example. I’d love to see the play performed live as I imagine it would be a spectacular production, but as for the story itself, I think I’ll pretend Harry Potter ended for good back in 2007.
The City of Woven Streets – Emmi Itäranta
On an island city wracked by storms and regularly flooded, young weaver Eliana discovers her name tattooed on the hand of a woman with no tongue, and is whisked straight into a world of conspiracies, dream-plagues, and giant, world-weaving, celestial spiders. Sound barmy? Welcome to the world of Emmi Itäranta.
With such a niche premise it would be so easy for The City of Woven Streets to flounder, but Itäranta keeps the story afloat by rooting it in Eliana’s first-person, present tense perspective. The fantastical elements are only ever brought in to support that human grounding, never to overshadow it, giving the story a pseudo-folklore feel – think Ursula le Guin, or Studio Ghibli. Itäranta’s unique lyrical writing style also adds to this oral folk tone; I think a lot of that is the result of the musicality and rhythm of her native Finnish coming through the English translation.
If you like sci-fi and dystopia, I heartily recommend looking up Emmi Itäranta and giving her books a whirl.