This week we are reading Under the Pendulum Sun, by Jeannette Ng. Here is a link to where you can buy a copy as a paperback, an eBook or an audiobook.
I’ve been struggling with how to start this book review, partly because I don’t want to spoil anyone, which is made all the harder when you’re talking about the first half of a novel versus a full one, but also because this is, I think, a hard novel to explain.
To make things clear before I start, I have really enjoyed this book and am looking forward to getting to read the rest of it this coming week. It’s an incredibly interesting book to read with beautiful and weird descriptions and a fantastic voice. And that’s coming from someone who has a bit of a prejudice against first person. But I think I’ve worked out the loophole of that bias, it turns out that I devour stories in first person where the narrator speaks in linguistically complicated and Gothic tones, with the description heavy on the senses like honey that sticks and makes you work to get through it.
Because this book isn’t an easy read, though I certainly read it quickly enough to make it seem like it was. This book makes you think and consider every line and every word, which is particularly apt given the plot, setting, and just everything to do with the characters and what’s going on in this book.
You could write this story with spartan detail and brief descriptions, but it wouldn’t be nearly as good. So, really I guess you couldn’t write this story without the depth of detail that is used, but well, I think I’ve written myself into a muddle.
Here’s the thing, I studied fairy tales and Gothic and Romantic Literature at Uni, and this book feels like a perfect addition to these groups. I’m not an expert by any means but it feels like it’s been written as a continuation of the genres, rather than two hundred years later.
Catherine Helstone is a character that is very clearly built on the same lines as Gothic heroines, I mean it’s not subtle. Her name is Cathy and she’s from the Yorkshire moors and she wanted to go off and be a missionary while having a deep inner life of constrained passion. But I think Jeannette Ng manages to translate that character into something that I at least find a lot easier to understand and empathise with. I’ll be honest, I have had trouble reading books by the Bronte sisters, I have read Jane Eyre multiple times, but that’s about it.
And there are a lot of reasons for that, at least one of which is that I sometimes want to shake the characters in these novels and give them a good telling off. But Catherine Helstone makes sense to me in a lot of ways that other characters don’t. I mean, I’m not saying that I agree with what she does nor would I do the same thing, but I can see where abouts she is coming from. I mean, the world is strange and confusing and nothing seems like it makes sense in the way it once did (ah, reference to Corona Virus, there you are) but I can see how she is trying to make sense out of the world with what she has as reference points and I get that.
But we are currently living in a world where things don’t make sense, people don’t seem to be doing the obvious thing, and you can’t go outside your home, this book is being surprisingly helpful in getting me to understand what my issues with the current state of the world are. I get Catherine Helstone right now, in ways that I might not have a couple of months ago.
I don’t know if it helps or hinders my understanding of the story that I did not grow up in a religious household, but in a quite religious part of the world. So I have heard about a lot of the religious references, but I have next to no familiarity with any of the practical side of religion. It makes things weird for me in reading this book, because in a lot of ways I kind of feel like the Fae watching these strange humans do religious things and not quite understanding why they are doing that. And yet, the Fae are clearly much weirder and unrecognisable in almost every other way, so I am also not a part of that community either. Now I’m thinking about it, this is probably intentional and is an excellent way of getting the reader to understand and connect with the characters.
So what to say about this book so far. I loved it. I love the subtle and not so subtle references to books I have read. I have a hundred and one theories about what is going to happen next and what revelations are going to be revealed. And I would heartily recommend it to other readers. It is also an instructive book to read from a craft point of view, since it is so good at blending the multiple cultures of the Fae and Humans and putting forth so many threads for people to pick up and wonder at. I think if you are having trouble with writing mysterious and subtle books, or getting more description into your stories, then this is an excellent book to read and learn from.
I’ll be finishing it off later this week and posting a review about the rest of the book, that one probably will have more spoilers in it. I also have a favour to ask anyone who reads this book along with the book club, as well as posting your own review in the comments could you please post a review on Amazon or any book selling website you can? I just think it would be a really nice way to give something back to the authors who have written books we like. Especially since the reviews on Amazon are used as a way of choosing which books get more ad space, we can help out!
I’ll see you all next week with the other half of the book, from Chapter 22 to the end!