If you haven’t read this book yet, here is a link you can use that will take you to Amazon.co.uk where you can get it. This is an affiliate link so if you use it I will get an astonishing 2.5 pence or so for every pound you spend, so feel free to be generous!
Hi everybody, changing things around again! I’ll be sticking a post about the book of the week and people can chat in the comments when they the time, that should make it easier for everyone and make it less important to be all on the same schedule!
This week we are starting off with The Only Harmless Great Thing, by Brooke Bolander!
This is technically the third week we’ve had it on the schedule, but given that over the last few weeks that everyone has been working out what the new normal means for them I don’t think it is too unreasonable that we’ve all been a bit scattered in our thoughts and planning! I know I definitely have. But I’ll be posting more about that later, it deserves it’s own post, I think.
But onwards to the book.
The Only Harmless Great Thing is, I have found, a very difficult book to describe. Or, at least, there are parts of it that are very easy to remember to mention but it all kind of turns into patchwork of ideas rather than a good description. This isn’t to say that telling people it’s a book about “memory and glow in the dark elephants and who gets to tell their story” isn’t a good way to get people to read all about it, I’ve certainly found that it get’s people’s attention at least. But I kind of feel like doing enough to explain what it is that I love about it.
So, first of all. I love stories with differing points of view or narrators from different eras or even in different styles. This is a thing that I have noticed again and again when I look over my favourite books. Some people call it head hopping and don’t like it because they find it confusing to switch to different stories or to see the same story through someone else’s eyes. I freaking love it.
And The Only Harmless Great Thing has it in spades. There are about four different points of view in the story. We have Regan’s, Topsy’s, Kat’s, and the fairy/folk tale style that is the way elephants remember and pass down their stories. This is such a cool way of telling a story, especially since they all have moments where you recognise a bit of the story from one of the other points of view pops up in them, which is fun and is a lovely way to tie them together.
The way Bolander manages to infuse each point of view with the voice of the narrator is also incredible, it’s something I need to work on in my own writing and it’s honestly inspiring to read someone do it so well. Every separate point of view feels like someone else is speaking and it’s such a beautiful way of writing that I can’t wait to emulate it someday.
I can’t leave out of course the fact that this is an alternate history book, it borrows from real history in some of the facts but builds a world around them to make the facts tell different stories. Which is another thing I love, I’ve always loved history, but even while I was studying it I was wishing I could write a different ending to the lives of some of the people. Here Bolander doesn’t give the characters a different ending, as such, but so much about how we get to those endings has changed that it almost feels like it has been.
Can you tell I’m trying not to be too free with the spoilers? Maybe I should just give up on that? Well tell me in the comments if you think I should.
I think it’s also an excellent book for examining the idea of humanity’s first encounter with non-human sentient life. In stories about aliens these tend to either show humanity and the new species becoming best friends, or becoming hated enemies who will fight to the last moon colony to see the other side burned out of the galaxy. It is very interesting to see it, instead, as an uncomfortable relationship with the humans acting to take advantage of the other life forms. I don’t know, I just like it when a writer does something that is out of the traditional best friends/worst enemies relationship we see a lot.
And vague spoilers for Space Opera by Cat Valente, but I also love the idea that in a galaxy where this crossed over with Space Opera the elephants would probably win and then we would like be their awkward backing dancers or something. But that’s enough fan fiction, though now I’m honestly tempted to go write that story, but no! I have a schedule and things I am supposed to be doing. Remind me in like a year or two when I have time.
But yeah, I loved this book, I can already tell that it’s going to be one of those ones I come back to when I need to remember how to do a particular craft thing (voices, narration, point of view) but I also just really enjoyed it.
Leave a comment about what you thought and if you can leave a review on Amazon or somewhere that would be great too! This is a really tough time for writers so let’s be as supportive as possible!
Next week I’ll be posting about the first half of Jeannette Ng’s, Under the Pendulum Sun, see you all then,