The Just City

I’ve absolutely adored some of what Jo Walton has written, but after the disappointment of MY REAL CHILDREN, I approached THE JUST CITY with trepidation. And while it had originality and humour, and much of its middle section was ambitious and absorbing, I found the denouement – and its implications about the central conflict of the story – a huge letdown. I thought there were immensely interesting conflicts being layered through the key characters – the three viewpoint characters as well as the incipient antagonists, Kebes and Ikaros – but those did not ultimately mature, and in fact Kebes was transformed, unjustly and wastefully into a kind of bathetic caricature of male possessiveness and destructive vengefulness. (Like Gale Hawthorne in THE HUNGER GAMES with all unsympathetic characteristics dialled up to eleven.) There seemed to be so much promise for the carefully laid booby traps for the city (the slave children, the workers, the Noble Lie) to unfold organically and ensnare it in its own logic; but instead it all detonated on the single trigger of Sokrates’ revelations, which arose as abruptly as some gloating villain monologue, and indeed relied on Athene unaccountably (after several hundred pages of barely-there development) assuming that kind of inscrutably villainous role.

I can, however, wholeheartedly recommend Balli Kaur Jaswal’s SUGARBREAD, which I had the very greatly privilege of reading as an advance review copy, and of blurbing. (Thusly: “SUGARBREAD is a warm and wry portrait of childhood, in all its intensity and its confusions, and a deeply satisfying exploration of prejudice, conscience, loyalty and reconciliation.”)

A generous Inheritance

Yesterday I finished reading Inheritance by Balli Kaur Jaswal, a rich portrait of familial rivalry, alienation and loyalty. Amrit’s story in particular deftly captures the painful irony of so many children – so many girls and women – who become vehicles for ‘family reputation’: made to stand for so much, while being seen as so little. Her most ordinary movements held to senseless standards, scrutinised with a pettiness that sharpens into cruelty; but the real expanses of her inner experience negated, her need for help ignored.

The book itself shines its generous light into the worlds of its characters with deceptive ease, its passages gliding by frictionlessly but leaving telling details in their wake. I particularly enjoyed Gurdev carrying round the weight of his envy and his aspirations in over-priced pots of paint; and Amrit drinking water in small, deliberate sips under her family’s hostile gaze. A rewarding read: go get yourself a copy.