Reviewing the Book Review: Crawling at Night by Nani Power

Alaa El Fadel is finishing her MFA in Creative Writing, working on a fantasy novel and a screen adaptation. Her blog is Mountain Quill.

The passage through the mountainous regions of craft has left me with a permanent love of literature and the arts. Wonder, spirit, boundless imaginings – those are the things that are worth writing about.

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When I was studying book reviews with my students, I pointed out that some critics only review books they liked. In literary terms I don’t believe this is healthy. Reviewing books you don’t like can deepen understanding of yourself and literature in general. What worked and what did not work to appeal to your interests as a reader? Having said that, here is the review I wrote on Nani Power’s Crawling At Night:

Crawling at NightOk so I’m reviewing this book… well… hmmm. Honestly this is a very difficult book to review and you will know why in a bit.

Crawling at Night by Nani Power was chosen for an undergrad class I was teaching. The story revolves around the characters of Ito, an ageing Sushi chef and Mariane, an alcoholic waitress, whose lives intermingle with several other characters in bizarre twists of fate. Power’s story is emotionally grasping as we are absorbed by the character’s choices and history. With a non-linear structure, the past and present fracture to unfold the horrors of why Ito and Mariane are the way they are. Sympathy grows for each character as more is revealed about them. Secondary characters are quite realistic and entertaining as they clash with Ito and Mariane.

Power uses several techniques including fracturing text, capital letters, italic and bold formats for specific sentences or words, 3rd and 1st points of view, flashbacks, dramatic irony and foreign names and words. The post powerful technique was the use of lists. With an introduction to how lists dominate our lives, food items and other things are listed at the beginning of each chapter. Sometimes, the last item kicks the curious cat, like ‘Sleep’ or ‘Tears.’ It’s a lot of fun to check things off the list and figure out how they play a part in the story. Like menus, the novel begins and ends with a list, enclosing all the information a customer needs in between. All of these elements would classify Crawling at Night as an experimental book.

Empirical books such as this are always fascinating; they challenge our perceptions of novels and question the novel form. After all, the original meaning of novel meant ‘something new.’ (Dictionary.com).

The page before the first list explains the term ‘crawling at night.’ Night crawling or Yobai is the practice of an unknown man crawling into a woman’s futon for anonymous copulation. Yup, you read right… If the woman rejects the man, the man saves himself from embarrassment by wearing a cloth to cover his face. He simply, crawls away without being identified.

Wrapped within the sushi roll of the plot, a dominant theme of coition is read in excruciating detail with intimate moments between characters and the defilement of innocents. The novel becomes emotionally draining and difficult to continue. In two hours, I read three consented couplings and two forced ones.

I could not believe this book was in the syllabus, but I understand why it was. The novel has two major sides to it – the story and the distinguishing literature. As a story, I felt quite sad and uncomfortable after finishing it. It did not leave me with wonder or satisfaction. However, when looking at the prose, the novel was a masterpiece in writing. To write proper and effective back-stories is a difficult skill for writers to perfect and Power’s does it fantastically. The dynamic plot drip feeds the truth without losing our interest, all the way to the very last list. If you can stomach the events then this is a book to learn from as a flourishing writer. But Crawling At Night is not the only book with well written back story and is certainly not the last one we can learn all these techniques from. This is not a matter of censorship but one of personal choice. So the question remains – is it worth trading skills you can get some place else for emotional disturbance?

Annual MFA Anthology, Writings…, Goes to Print, Launch Scheduled

Cover by Hannes Pasqualini, www.papernoise.net

Cover by Hannes Pasqualini, http://www.papernoise.net

 

We are excited to announce that the annual Kingston University MFA anthology, Writings…, goes to print this week. The official launch will be next week and we hope you’ll join us for a reading, drinks and a celebration of the achievements of all out MFAs. This event is free and open to the public so please join our Facebook event and invite your friends. You’ll even get a free copy of the publication!

 

 

Writings… Launch

Thursday, 30 May 2013

7pm

Waggon & Horses Pub

Surbiton, KT6 4TW

The Dilemma

Alaa El Fadel is finishing her MFA in Creative Writing, working on a fantasy novel and a screen adaptation. Her blog is Mountain Quill.

The passage through the mountainous regions of craft has left me with a permanent love of literature and the arts. Wonder, spirit, boundless imaginings – those are the things that are worth writing about.

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Every young writer goes through this dilemma – should I or should I not write about this story? Once in a while, an event, a moment a sliver of dialogue catches our attention and we are irresistibly moved to write about it. But is it our right to do so? How can we write a story respectfully? Will someone sue us? Why am I writing it? Once decided, the question of how to make it entertaining comes to mind. Can I add a little spice or Frankenstein the events?  Would it be better to lock the story away for a few years or publish it before that other writer who seems to think the same way I do gets to it first?

So what does a writer do when they come across a story like Joyce Vincent’s, when her tale was wrapped up in a documentary film like the Christmas presents surrounding her skeleton? Three years, that’s how long she waited before anyone knew she was dead in her council flat above a mall. No one reported anything, not the foul smell or the noise of the TV that was left on all that time. She was 38, had a bubbly personality, was extremely beautiful and never drank or did drugs. But there were rumours of domestic abuse and she did move a lot. Other from that, no one knew what happened to her.

In an interview with Carol Moley, the director of the documentary Dreams of a Life, Moley answered all those invisible questions. And after watching the film, I can see how respectful she was in presenting the facts. That is where it stopped but that is not where it can end. This is where writers come in. During my studies I learned two very important things when it came to narratives – write properly and tell a story. Great writers are entertainers, leaders in affection and inspire the strangest of thoughts. Dramatizing a story like Joyce’s requires skill to entertain within the facts and still remain respectful of those involved. Just as Black Beauty impelled the world to stop treating horses cruelly, Joyce’s fate can influence the way we think of people around us and those who are left in a vulnerable state.

There once lived a beautiful girl who dwelled with her sisters. They tended her when their mother died and their father abandoned his duties. Her heart broke as her beauty grew. She became the light of the world, with her silken voice, her soft skin and her handsome smile, she delighted all she knew. But such loveliness is never left without notice and a storm chased her. She ran away from all to protect them but the storm followed her wherever she went. It hounded her for years until she could run no more and it swallowed her in darkness.

Writing is a powerful tool and a scary one to wield. The pen really is mightier than the sword.

Horror Divas

Alaa El Fadel is an MFA student who is currently working on a fantasy novel. Her blog, Mountain Quill, is where you can follow her journey on writing.

Although people say don’t judge a book by its cover, that’s exactly what I did when I spotted the Narnia chronicles in a bookstore. I thought the unicorn was pretty. I delved into a world of fantasy that mesmerised me. Ever since then, I wanted to create such worlds. Making up stories has been a passion, especially when it came to explaining report cards.

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Fear. Panic. Terror! Sound familiar? That’s what the horror genre used to do before the big monsters were tamed. Vampires, werewolves and zombies petrified the bravest of souls – that is until everyone wanted to date them. Well, except zombies, we can get over necrophilia and murder but rotting flesh is just disgusting.

So what happened? Looking back into the history of the genre, it is safe to say that horror started off in folklore. The superstitious collected unexplained experiences and melded them with cases of unfathomable, human cruelty. Diseases and mental conditions became curses, possessions, witchcraft and divine punishment. How else could anyone explain such things? It was those dang, meddling monsters! Or a deity was upset with you…shame on you.

Then what happened? Just like any ravenous beast with wild imaginings, writers lunged at the tales and Frankensteined them in their narratives. No longer counting on memory, the monster’s immortality evolved on stone, paper and finally, iPads. Yay. At one point, vampires were so feared that bodies were exhumed and staked for those better safe than sorry moments. The horror genre was born and soon obeyed the whims of mass interest; they had their ups and downs over the centuries, even more so when novels and movies partnered on the dance floor. Hollywood reigned in the latest hype when they produced movies like The Exorcist, Blade, Dawn of the Dead, Dog Soldiers, etc.  But who could ignore the literary stars who began or excelled the genre of dread? Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, Anne Rice, Stephen King, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P.Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu and many more.

But all was about to change in the land of blood and gore. The first instance I realised not all monsters were created equal was when the comic book character of Blade appeared on film. A half-vampire (Daywalker) who hunted other vampires? My writer’s brain got knocked over. No longer were heroes restricted to virtuous nobles or gifted underdogs, the monsters themselves practised human choice by slaying their kin. Japanese novelist, Hideyuki Kikuchi created compelling novels of a ‘young’ dhampir by the name of D. D travels the nuclear wastelands of 12,090 AD, where the vampire civilization rose and fell. Occupation – vampire hunter…for a hefty price off course. Those mechanical horses won’t oil themselves.

When vampires softened by refusing to ‘eat’ humans and opted for the vegetarian menu of blood substitutes or animals, sorry Bambi, their scare level dropped. Werewolves soon followed in The Sookie Stackhouse Novels by Charlaine Harris and the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. I missed the old monsters. It was a breath of fresh air to read, The Passage by Justin Cronin. Vampires were the lovely, blood-sucking monsters that would sooner rip your head off than give you a smooch. I went back to peacefully worrying about them creeping into my room in the dead of night. John Connolly didn’t disappoint either in, The Book of Lost things and his comedy horror, The Gates. Oh, those rascally demons and their possessings.

So what does this mean for horror? Pretty much anything. Genres shift and change along with people’s interests. Horror coupled with romance to birth ‘Paranormal Romance’ – its own little, gurgling sub-genre of joy. Although the diapers stink, it’s still a whole new adventure that’s going to grow up one day.

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