Welcome to Smugglivus 2012! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2012, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2013.
Please give it up for Jodie, folks!
Some of my favourite stories are the ones that can’t be trusted. Stories that hide; stories that obscure; stories that reveal a mind-blowing hint, before cutting to the credits and saying ‘See you next week, sucker’; you will likely find the names of these stories written on my heart.
Ok, yes, these are also stories that set me up to have my heart broken. Sometimes I care about a character, I believe they’re good and true, until suddenly – oh noes, they were actually the villain all along! Did I learn nothing from the George Wickham episode?
But it is still so satisfying waiting for a secret to be revealed, trying to guess it and finally realising that my secret guessing skills need major work. Oh you clever, clever media, I will never give you up. So, which tricksy stories have caught me in their threads of misdirection in 2012? Here are five of my favourites:
‘Prisoners of War’ is an exceptional drama, which originally aired in Israel in 2010 and turned up on Sky this year. The program follows the story of three male Israeli soldiers, Nimrod, Uri and Ben Horin, who were kept in captivity by enemy guards for many years. Three men were captured, but only two return alive. As the program opens we see the women in their lives waiting to see what the return of these men they care about will bring. For Talia, who is married to Nimrod, her husband’s return is a long held dream. Nurit, decided to move on when her teenage sweetheart Uri did not return and was happily married to his brother, so she greets his return with mixed emotions. Yael, has been desperately holding onto her brother, living in the family home and taking care of his dogs, so she is devastated to hear he died.
The emotional realism of each characters attempt to re-connect with their loved ones, to negotiate grief, or to re-adapt to society, is painful to watch. The pace of the show is tentative and slow, much like the growth of the character’s personal relationships. Silences, forced smiles and words left unsaid hang around everyone, until they explode in waves of bitterness. While you might expect the men’s feelings to take up all the space in this program, equal weight and time is given to showing the way the women in their lives cope with their return. My favourite is probably Yael, but all the women are acting out of their skins and have created specific, detailed personalities for their characters.
By the end of series one, it’s clear that Nimrod and Uri are hiding something. The flashbacks to their time in captivity tease out details which guide viewers closer to their secret, but ultimate knowledge is still held back by the time the final credits of series one roll. Please series two, get into my eyes now!
2012 was apparently the year that political thrillers stole my heart. ‘Feed’, the first book in Grant’s genre mixing trilogy which imagines a world where the threat of zombies is used as a political tool, had so many shocking revelations and soul crushing deaths that I was afraid to pick up the second book. Thankfully Meghan agreed to read the second book in the trilogy with me and then we practically ran through the corpses to get our grabby hands on ‘Blackout’, the final volume.
When I was a kid I read all the books in trilogies and series back to back, cramming them in to my days as fast as I could. When I grew up I stopped doing that for all kinds of reasons; reasons Grant’s novels now convince me were extremely misguided. I read all three of the Newsflesh novels over the course of 2012 and the experience of being so wholly into George and Shaun Mason’s world reminded me how exciting reading was when I was young. Pushing aside all reading related responsibilities to do what I want and mainline zombie books – YES! I recommend the experience to all adult readers.
Homeland is the American remake of ‘Prisoners of War’. The two programs share a central plot conceit; the return of a soldier to his home country after being imprisoned for many years. In this version, Sergeant Nicholas Brody is suddenly rescued from a cell in Afghanistan, after being held captive for 8 years. There are other similarities between the two programs, but the pacing, plotting and stylistic choices made in each program set them up as distinct creations. ‘Homeland’ will work best for people who love the political-thriller genre. Although it too spends time examining what happens when a damaged family member returns after a long absence, a twisting plot about a threat to national security is more to the forefront here than in ‘Prisoners of War’.
Claire Danes plays Carrie Matheson, a CIA analyst and handler currently in disgrace because of a failed mission which ended in the death of her informant. Before he died, her source told Carrie that Al-queda had turned an American prisoner of war. When Brody returns home Carrie’s suspicions are raised, but the program makes it difficult for the viewer to discern whether Brody really is a cause for concern. A lot happened in the first series that I won’t spoil, because this is one of those programs where viewers will get a huge thrill from seeing everything unfold before their eyes, but just know that Carrie is the best! I may have shaped the entire way I reacted to this program around the fact that I loved Carrie.
In series two, everything goes BANANNAS in the best possible way. The level of intrigue will ruin your ability to trust characters. Everyone chucks out complex performances. And the most messed up ship in the world makes a comeback:
Never leave us ‘Homeland’. Seriously, never.
Speaking of narratives that will leave you with trust issues…
’My Cousin Rachel’ is told by a young man called Philip whose beloved uncle Ambrose remarries abroad and then suddenly dies. Just before his death he sends a note to Philip, alluding to concerns about his new wife. Hi widow, Rachel turns up at the family home and Philip, convinced of his uncle’s judgement, suspects her of murder. But is Philip’s judgement trustworthy, or are his misogynistic prejudices affecting the way he views Rachel? And when his views begin to change, is he being manipulated? Du Maurier leaves plenty of space for the reader to question the actions of both Philip and Rachel, but especially, subtly directs the reader to consider how Philip’s disinterested, inexperience with women may skew his thoughts about Rachel. At the end of the book, these questions are left unresolved, which means there are multiple ways to read the text. Delicious. I mean I’m #TeamRachel all the way, but even I catch myself wondering about the way Ambrose died occasionally. That’s the power of the skill woven into ‘My Counsin Rachel’.
To finish off I want to mention another book which refuses to confirm anything for the reader. ‘The Murder of Halland’ is a novella that makes use of crime fiction elements, playing with one of the main expectations of crime fiction; that it’s important whodunnit. The additional fact that the narrative refuses to provide concrete answers about other key plot points will keep readers intrigued after the story is over.
At the beginning of the book, Bess’ wakes to find that her long-time partner, Halland, has been murdered. Bess’ way of dealing with her feelings about his death is rather unconventional. Instead of crying, she investigates his murder, kisses other people, gets drunk and goes dancing, all while following up a of secrets that surface once Halland is dead.
Bess doesn’t act like the ideal grieving woman. She is a character whose actions bash holes in any quiet, black shrouded box that society might like to force women into, when they’re affected by death. A disordered, twirly kind of woman with a zest for life in the face of death Bess is probably a character that many readers can identify with. At least, I had no trouble relating to her (I know, big shock, awkward girl likes awkward female characters). The fact that she is so easy to connect with, even though she responds in a rather taboo way to death, pushes the reader to ask questions about the way society shapes their feelings towards women responding to death. And those questions lead in all sorts of interesting directions. (Disclaimer: I was an intern a Peirene Press, the British publisher of ‘The Murder of Halland’.)
Thanks to Ana and Thea for inviting me to Smugglivus and giving me space to try and convince you all to give an untrustworthy book a chance. Don’t blame me if they smash your heart, but do come find me if you fall in love with any of them.
Thank you, Jodie!