intense sensations

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Neuromancer (Sprawl, #1)Neuromancer by William Gibson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It being a gloriously sunny spring day, I accepted a friend’s invitation to Kew Gardens. I was flirting outrageously, I suppose. We were in the hothouse when I asked him, ‘If you could sleep with anyone past or present, who would it be?’

‘What about the future?’

I assumed he was going to say something flattering like ‘You, Vanessa. Eternally and only you.’

‘Choose anyone you like,’ I said.

‘Molly from Neuromancer.’

Some quick neural re-programming was required.

‘Don’t tell me you haven’t read it,’ he chided.

‘I’ve read everything. But I have difficulty remembering it all. Is she the one with –‘

‘– the blades. Yes. And mirror shades grafted into her eye sockets. Don’t look so revolted. Aren’t you going to ask me why?’

‘Why?’ I asked.

‘Because she’s cool!’

‘Didn’t she also have a cut-out so she could switch off during sex?’

‘Only bad sex. Besides, it stopped working when she had her reflexes enhanced.’

‘For the motors on those razors. Yes. Don’t you think she might be kind of demanding?’

‘Oh, totally.’ He had a glint in his eyes. He seemed almost exciting in that exotic heat.

‘And you could cope with that?’

‘I’m up for the challenge,’ he said.

‘Have you had some motorized cyber enhancement I don’t know about?

‘Like to find out?’

‘Not if I’m going to be disappointed.’

‘Oh, I don’t think I would disappoint you, Vanessa.’

A mechanical hiss startled us and sprayed warm mist into the thick atmosphere.

‘You know how she paid for those cybernetic enhancements, don’t you?’ I said.

‘Of course. Prostitution. It’s corny, I know…’

‘Very dark.’

‘Is it?’

‘I recall a scene,’ I said, ‘where she woke up with a politician and a dead woman covered in blood.’

‘Well, that was a bit unfortunate.’

‘Then she killed the politician.’

‘I don’t remember that,’ he said. ‘But it’s a surprisingly prevalent fantasy these days.’

We walked through the hothouse exit into the fresh outside air. The light was blinding but I felt a sudden chill.

‘Oh my God! The future is fine as a topic but does it have to be so dystopian?’

‘Actually, I live in hope,’ he said, fixing me with those melting brown eyes.

I pulled down my sunglasses and touched his cheek with a blood red fingernail. ‘Hope is its own reward, they say.’

‘No, that’s virtue.’

‘You should make a virtue of hope, Richard.’

‘That’s not my style.’

‘Then, at least you have Neuromancer. A novel to be read more than once, I think.’


‘We’re agreed on that,’ I said.

In Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote FrankensteinIn Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein by Fiona Sampson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book left me dissatisfied but I’m in a mood to be generous and award it five stars for lucidity, readability and the fact that it provoked me to try and express my feelings about it in this review.

It is not new to go “In Search Of” a towering literary figure. I have at least one other “In Search Of” biography in this very room with me right now. But it is nevertheless exceedingly apt, apt with a poet’s precision, to be In Search of Mary Shelley. And Fiona Sampson is a poet who writes with extraordinary attention to detail, gleaning everything she can from every surviving sentence of Mary Shelley’s novels, journals and letters, and those of her friends, so the book actually lives up to its title. Fiona Sampson is, for sure, a woman in search of Mary Shelley, and she is searching for her very conscientiously in the enduring and compelling words that Mary Shelley wrote.

And I really sympathise with that search. I share it. I have been searching for a while. I am searching more than ever now after finishing this tantalising book.

For Mary Shelley is elusive. She is, still, in a way, anonymous. She hides behind precise and evocative language. She defies even the modern magnifying lens of scholarly scrutiny. Some carping critics are still not entirely decided, as they were undecided at the time, how much of Frankenstein she wrote. Or, indeed, who wrote which entry in the shared journal that she kept with that young firebrand she ran off with.

Fiona Sampson believes, I think, in what she calls evidence-based biography. So she looks hard at the evidence. But then she believes in adding a little bit of conjecture, even fantasy, wild surmise, guesswork, interpretation and opinion.

I like her for that. It’s done tactfully and respectfully. Her opinions are very interesting and plausible. And while I was imbibing them I started to form opinions of my own. You can read many things into some of Mary Shelley’s letters. Her omissions, too, are suggestive. Her motives in many key moments of her life are open to question.

It is not that she is duplicitous. Not at all. She is, I think, courageously open, principled and bold. But she is also very shy, very private, very modest. She shuns the limelight. She draws a veil over many things, even in her private journal.

But she isn’t afraid of anything and she throws herself into a passionate life with the man she loves and does right by him all the time that he is alive and all the long years following his death.

I have the most devoted and indelible respect for Mary Shelley. I have always been fascinated by her, ever since, many years ago, I first opened a book of poems written by Percy Bysshe, which was based on Mary Shelley’s two editions of 1839. (This was Thomas Hutchinson’s Oxford University Press edition of 1919.) She writes captivating vignettes about their life together between those poems. They are like miniature biographical essays, all the more moving for the fact that she was forbidden to write a biography of her husband by her father-in-law, on whom she depended for the education of her son. You can tell she adored her husband and cherishes his memory. But she is also very sensitive, respectful and objective. This is very moving. She honours him by staying true to his intentions, in spite of the obvious pain it must give her, reading back many of those lines.

But it is very hard, actually impossible, to discover what she was really thinking most of the time. Normally you can discover a writer’s true spirit through her works. But I even wonder how much of her novels and stories were as heartfelt and sincere as they might have been had she not felt so bereft, felt so deserted, betrayed even, by her friends and family.

Fiona Sampson’s intense, slim volume, does much to illuminate some of the dark corners of Mary’s life. But it is inviting rather than revelatory. She shines her torch and says, “Look, here is something fascinating … ” but she doesn’t rummage or despoil.

Go and read the letters. Read the journals and novels and biographical notes. What do you make of them?

Who was Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley, really? Was her literary life, “the last stuttering of the revolutionary spark that her mother Mary Wollstonecraft ignited?”

I don’t know. But I am grateful to Fiona Sampson for making me feel much wiser than I was 10 days ago.

Posted on: January 14, 2013

Incisive reviews of some sharp writing 🙂

Follow the Thread

Ryu Murakami, Piercing (1994/2007)
Natsuo Kirino, Out (1997/2004)

Kawashima Masayuki, the protagonist of Ryu Murakami’s Piercing (translated by Ralph McCarthy), stands over his baby daughter’s crib with an ice pick, testing his resolve not to use it. The full darkness beneath Kawashima’s outwardly happy family life is soon revealed, as we learn that he once stabbed a woman with an ice pick, and he’s afraid he’ll do so again to the baby. He convinces himself that the only way to deal with these feelings is to stab a stranger instead. So he checks into a hotel, calls for a prostitute, and waits.

The young woman who arrives is Sanada Chiaki, who has had her own demons to face in life, and is perhaps more than anything just looking to feel once again. What follows, in a chapter taking up fully half of this short novel, is a tense and fascinating…

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phoenix risingThis month I made an astounding discovery. All those WordPress blogs I’d followed throughout the year hadn’t fallen silent. WordPress had simply changed something so the default setting when I followed them was not to send me any updates by email. So those bloggers had been busy all year and I didn’t know. Instead I have been reading the words of just a few old friends.

Well, old friends are important and I don’t feel deprived. But I think this illustrates how hard it is to use social media when you are, at the same time, trying to write.

You might think I’ve not written much this year. When I look back I see I have published only a few short stories. But I’ve been writing constantly and hardly had time to so much as look on Facebook, which has a different layout and a different set of security features whenever I do.

Even without the handicapping hindrances of social media, the fruits of my work may still not appear next year. My two novels are progressing quite slowly and need quite a bit more loving yet. And it seems to me that it’s not very cost-effective to write novels when they are offered at $0.99 or $2.99. I just can’t seem to make the economics of it work for me, after tax and incidental costs are accounted for.

So it is with breathless admiration that I pick up a well-written book by a contemporary writer and immerse myself in its extraordinary depths. How do writers do it? Aren’t they amazing? Much more intimate than the internet, a novel is like a warm hug from someone you thought was a stranger but who turns out to be someone you have known and loved all your life.

So I have been immersing myself in books this Christmas and in the New Year I’ll be sharing some of them with you.

I was going to tease you with some tantalising titles and some links to titillating blogs. But I think I have over-reached myself and I’m going on too long. In fact, I’m desperate to curl up (and stretch out) with a fabulous Italian novel, that ought to make me want to slash my wrists but instead makes me want to listen to Björk and mop the kitchen floor with ripped up pages of Twilight.

Oh, the joys of Literature with a capital L!

This novel and many more will be reviewed on my blog in 2013. See you then, I hope!

And merry Christmas to all of you!

Kiss, kiss!

Vanessa Wu

Posted on: October 14, 2012

I’ve never tried a reblog before. So… let’s press the button and see what excitement ensues…


So… here is my stop on Junying’s wondrous blog tour to celebrate the release of her newest book ‘Land of Hope’.


Land of Hope Blurb

Every year, millions of illegal immigrants cross borders in search of wealth, happiness and a life of ease in the Land of Hope. Some succeed. Others suffer unimaginable hardships.

When Jack Gordon, Inspector in the SCS (Serious Crime Squad) hires Pearl Zhang, a professional Chinese interpreter, they join forces to fight injustice in the corrupt underworld of international crime, human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Pearl is the voice of broken dreams, translating raw, deranged, and colourful tales of those who cannot speak for themselves. As Pearl gets more and more tangled in the lives of strangers, Jack becomes a welcome diversion, complicated by the fact that both are married. Their trans-continental roller-coaster ride derails when Pearl tumbles into the sinister world of her clients, a world full of secrets, lies, and…

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The Quickening MazeThe Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Adam Foulds is a terrific writer. I read an article by him on how to write description and it was so brilliant that I immediately bought this novel.

I’m not going to share the article with you because if you read it you will instantly be able to write brilliant descriptions in your novels and that would give me too much competition while my own career is floundering.

Oh, all right, then. You’ve twisted my arm. You’re right. Novel writing shouldn’t be competitive. We should all help each other to be brilliant.

Adam Foulds on how to write description.

This article shows that Adam Foulds is very good at appreciating other novelists. But how good is he at writing a novel himself?

I have some reservations about that. The descriptive passages in The Quickening Maze are vivid and beautiful. The story unfolds in a series of intense vignettes.

It’s a poignant story, deeply imagined, and rendered in accurate detail.

But I sensed a lot of fear in the way it was written. The author, rather like the character who had to be tied down and given an enema, was afraid to evacuate.

Ironically, this section, when Mr Francombe was given a clyster and “wept with disappointment as an astonishing quantity of shit bloomed from him across the table,” was one of the most fluent, engaging and sustained pieces of narrative in the whole novel. I forgot for a moment that I was reading the work of a poet.

The theme of clenching occurs later. The doctor himself, Matthew Allen, is guilty of it.

“When Matthew Allen had the idea he stood up out of his chair. … His body clenched with excitement, as though gripping the thought inside him so as not to lose it.”

I think the author is also clenching. Come on, Adam! Loosen up! Don’t be afraid of showing us your shit. This approach might improve the erotic passages which, though not bad, are terribly restrained and far from arousing.

Vanessa Wu is the author of Love Has No Limits

Books by Vanessa Wu

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