Hello, people of the internet!
This is a review of Under the Pendulum Sun, by Jeannette Ng. If you would like to read the review I wrote for the first half of the book you can find it here.
If you would like a link to where you can buy a copy you can find it here. That’s an affiliate link and if you buy something on the other end then I will get a bit of money from Amazon for sending you to them.
If you want a link to where I am listing all of these book reviews, that is here.
Obviously, as a book review, this will have spoilers for the book. This is also made up of my own opinions and is written directly after finishing the book for the first time. So I might mess things up or misremember. Don’t hate me.
It’s been a while since I last wrote for this part of the website, but I’m sure I’ll remember how to do it soon enough! The world has been a funny old thing for the last few weeks, technically nothing’s changed very much from when I last wrote a review, but I suppose that has been the problem. Nothing’s changed and the world has felt like it was on repeat. Which has made it very easy to forget to do things by certain days because when one day is very much like another it’s hard to feel the urgency of a deadline.
But tonight, or last night, depending on when I finish this review, I came to the end of Under the Pendulum Sun, by Jeannette Ng. And I have a lot of thoughts. Which is not something particularly new and so that in itself is not something to be startled by.
In the world of book recommendations, there are various different types of recommendation you can give. There is the “anyone can read this,” and the “everyone should read this,” which is what a lot of people default to. This isn’t one of those books. This is a difficult book, in writing, in content, in just about everything. And I don’t want to minimise how difficult it may be for some people to read and how it might not be what someone needs to pick up. It’s a very good book. The writing is beautiful, though complicated. It is full of references to things that help to make sense of the story, and yet also just confuse everything more. So I’m not sure if understanding more of them is actually helpful? Maybe coming to the book without any awareness of what Ng is talking about would be a good way to read it, but that is not how I came to read this book and honestly, I think I like it this way.
And I think I am making approximately as much sense as some of the more obtuse characters, so I’ll try and be clearer.
I grew up religious adjacent. I wasn’t religious, my family isn’t, but outside of that bubble I live in a fairly religious environment. And I grew up in an era where fantasy writers really like to scour Abrahamic Religions for ideas to put into their stories. Good Omens, Supernatural, His Dark Materials, lots of Biblical references everywhere you look. So I feel like I noticed most of the references in the book, even if I didn’t understand them or know what they were supposed to mean. This helped to lead me down a lot of avenues in understanding the plot, even if not all of them were the right roads to travel. Some of them were merely ornamental drives planned out by Ng, which was very nice. Is it weird that I enjoyed falling for the traps she laid, even when I was aware I was falling into them? It felt like I was reading the story properly, like when you see a movie and you know that guy’s Chris Evans, but you believe he is also the character at that moment.
I don’t know if I’m making sense here. Aside from anything else this book has taught me to say very little in a lot of words. Or at least it feels like it has? But to my review. I liked it. It is a good book. Well done to everyone involved. There, the clearest way I know how to say it.
The writing in this book and the way that it blends the various different parts of itself is incredible. Really, I cannot praise it high enough, I want to be half the writer Ng is and I hope I get there someday.
One of the things that this book is about is stories. All the different ways stories are told and why they are told and who tells them and why tell them. There’s the religious aspect, all the ideas of making sense of the world, of giving hope to the faithful, everything on that end. Then there’s the fairy tale and Gothic stories side, stories may be to explain the world in a different way, why do children die, why do they act so oddly when they were normal only a little while ago. And then the hundreds of ways that stories are just (just, bad word choice, especially for a writer) there to entertain you and pull you away from the real world for a bit so that you can get a rest from it. And then there’s the way that it really brutally confronts the way that people tell themselves stories to justify the things that they do.
It’s easier to do something terrible when you trick yourself into believing that it’s not a big deal, or the person you are doing it too isn’t a real person, that maybe you aren’t a real person too so it doesn’t matter what you do. This bit is I think the most interesting part of the book. Don’t get me wrong, the writing is fantastic, I love the imagery, and the characters, I even caught the Hamilton Musical reference, which also fed into the themes of stories. But the thing that really got me from this was the way that it laid bare a lot of how what you tell yourself is false, but it is also how you cope.
The world is a scary place, at the moment that is very obvious, and I think I maybe needed to remember that. Sometimes we tell ourselves stories and that is helpful. Other times it is very much not helpful and we need to be reminded to see the world as it actually is and not how we would like it to be.
Anyway, I’m not sure where I was going with all of this but here’s where I am going to try and end it.
This is a very good book. It deserves all the praise and awards it has gotten. It has some of the most beautiful writing I can remember reading and there are images I am going to take with me after I put the book down.
But it’s also a very difficult book?
Partly because there are a lot of references that you probably need to have a vague understanding of to get the most out of it. And it’s not all from the Bible, there’s also a lot from faerie tales and Gothic and Romantic literature that I became very grateful for knowing. That module at uni on Gothic and Romantic Literature really has saved me from having to look up a lot of questions.
It’s also just tricky to read, like in a technical way. I had to look up words fairly often and I have an obnoxiously large vocabulary. Sorry, not sorry, for the humblebrag. So be aware of that.
And then there are the various ways that it is very true to its Biblical, faerie tale, and Gothic roots, as there is a lot of stuff that is not for the faint of heart. Death, which at times is bloody and horrible, incest, varying types of domestic violence. It’s got a lot. So yeah. A very good book, and one that I highly recommend, but not one that I can recommend to everyone. There are definitely people who should not read this book. There are people for who reading this book would be the wrong thing to do. So I think that’s the last thing I’ll say. Look at what you need to do to look after your own mental health before you choose to read this book.
I found it spectacular. I loved Cathy and Mr Benjamin in particular. I am probably going to go and cry over the various Ariel Davenports. See you next time.