Monday, 9 March 2015

Alif The Unseen - G. Willow Wilson

I've had this book on my to read list for aaaaages and I have finally got around to reading it. I have to say, this was a really good book. I enjoyed it so much that I actually tried to recommend it to someone in my dream last night. 

My main reason for wanting to read this was because the GoodReads summary mentions The Thousand And One Nights. I love books about books. I like reading things that explore the importance of language and story telling and I feel like A Thousand And One Nights really epitomises this. It is literally at its core the story of a woman who uses language and stories to save herself which is an idea that I just love. I think one of the reasons why I have always been drawn to myths and ancient texts is because I love the way in which humans use stories to relate to the world around us and I like exploring the relationship between words and power. Speaking for myself, I have definitely constructed my personality out of the stories that I have consumed. Whether it is books, TV shows, movies, or whatever. The person that I am today is a result of all of the stories that I loved and all of the stories that I hated and my reactions to them. I might not write stories of my own, but I have definitely been shaped by the words of so many writers. I also think I find Scheherazade such an interesting character because I am endlessly fascinated by the figure of the storyteller throughout literature. Narrators have a power that is not always obvious but that can be very dangerous. I have yet to read a version of The Thousand And One Nights that is not aimed at children, but I fully intend to do so someday.

That being said, this book is not about A Thousand And One Nights. Sorry. I just took the excuse to ramble about something I find interesting. Deal with it. What it is about however, is A Thousand And One Days. I'll be honest, I am mildly confused as to whether this is a thing that exists in real life. I didn't think it was and there aren't a lot of google results for it but there is a kindle book so I think it might be? Someone let me know if you have this knowledge. A Thousand And One Days is the secret book of the djinn and has a very important role in the narrative. Part of this role relates to the idea of stories as relaters of information. Which makes my initial ramble seem slightly less out of place. Except this time, rather than being used to explore the ways in which humans interpret their world (although, it this is still a theme) it is used to explore ideas of information transfer. Specifically in relation to computer programming and religion.

You wouldn't automatically think that the language of computer programming is a good way to explore questions of religion and spirituality but it works very well and generates some really interesting ideas. In fact, one of the things I enjoyed most about this book was the way it combined lots of different topics. It takes computer hacking, programming, religion, djinn, philosophy, politics, and so much more, puts it all into a great big melting pot to create this really enjoyable story. I know that Wilson also writes for comics and I felt like this really came across in her narrative. Even when discussing abstract ideas her imagery is very engaging.

One of my favourite book series is His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, and this book was very reminiscent of that. I think Wilson is probably very aware of this as the series is mentioned within the narrative and two of the characters discuss the books. On the subject of characters, there were a lot of great ones in this! Alif wasn't necessarily the most likeable character at the start of the novel but I enjoyed watching him grow as it went on. There was a really interesting cast of characters throughout as well. This book also has one of my new favourite lines: "I'm thinking that you are all good things in one place". Not going to lie, that's gone up there in my list of romantic lines with "I'm rooting for you", "as you wish", "I'm your density", and "I'll cross the sky for you". Whilst this book deals with a lot of complex and philosophical ideas, it is also a lot of fun and suitably geeky! 

If I have on criticism of this text, it is in relation to the female characters. I actually really liked Dina, I thought she was great. However, she does seem to change character quite abruptly. The Dina at the beginning of the book and the Dina at the end of the book seem like very different people, and I feel like the transition could have been done better. I also feel like the same thing happened with Intisar. She seemed like quite a complex figure throughout the majority of the text, but by her final appearance she seems to have become quite spoilt and much more of a flat character. I think it's definitely reasonable to say that these changes in character reflect Alif's growing maturity and clearer understanding of their true natures, but I would like to have seen a bit more development along the way.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it has definitely stuck in my mind. I would really recommend you read this, if only so that I have someone to talk to about it!

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