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Vladimir Nabokov, Brian Boyd
Pale Fire
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Progress: 99 %
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Zoo City - Lauren Beukes While I'm not usually a big fan of urban fantasy, I really enjoy the writing style of Lauren Beukes, and loved her other novel Moxyland. Her female characters are strong, flawed and cynical, but above all realistic and relatable. On top of that, the protagonist in this one has a sloth. Yep. A sloth.Zoo City has one hell of an original premise - that people who commit a grave crime such as murder, find themselves bonded to a magical animal familiar, and should that animal die, a dark force called "The Undertow" claims that person - and yet this never seems to stretch credibility. That in itself is quite a feat. For me, it would have been much more satisfying had the "rules" been made clear, though. For example: Does it apply only to murderers? On what basis is a person deemed truly responsible for the act in question? To really give myself over to fantasy, I find that I really need to understand the internal logic. The same applies to the different forms of traditional and animal magic that form a large part of the plot. As someone who has a working knowledge of many forms of cultural and traditional "magic", I found the logic to some of the spells and practices to be rather unclear, and therefore slightly less credible.One of my favourite elements to this novel is Beukes' incorporation of local language and pop culture. The book is riddled with language and slang from various parts of the African continent and from various cultures. For the most part, the meaning of the words can be inferred from the context, but I did find myself spending a lot of time Googling all the same. Many of the words are surprisingly ungooglable, (my own word!), but I found some great references along the way, including the Sowetan Kasi slang dictionary here: http://blogs.sowetanlive.co.za/slang/category/dictionary/. Throughout the book, there is a lot of background information given on historical, political and civil issues from across the African continent. The references given at the back are well worth a read, and as valuable an exercise as the novel itself. Beukes not only thoroughly researched the specialised topics in her novel, but had a lot of guest writers involved in writing faux news articles, research papers, movie reviews etc. My favourite section was a set of prison interviews written by Sam Wilson. In three short case studies, barely two and a half pages in total, Wilson conveys a full spectrum of human experience and emotion, and hints at the potential of the central premise to be used as a basis for many more stories. I will remember the story about butterflies in prison forever, I'm sure.For me, structure, balance and symmetry are important in a novel, and I really found this to be an oddly unbalanced structure. The story chugs along quite smoothly for the first 75% of the book.... and then "Part Two" begins. I'm not sure it needed to be broken up into two parts, since there wasn't an enormous difference between the two. Part Two also seemed rushed, with the author racing to wrap things up, along the way skipping many of the details that could have made this a really wonderful novel.Don't be put off by my 3 Star rating - it's really more of a 3.9. I did enjoy the novel. I do really, really want a sloth. I'm just a little disappointed that the book didn't fully realise its potential. I look forward to Beukes' next novel all the same.