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I am a Paulette Jiles fan, and I usually enjoy dystopian novels. But I didn't enjoy this one and in fact stopped reading after 100 pages. The novel lacked Jiles's usually crisp prose, and the plot was hard to follow, or at least harder than it should've been. I don't know why Jiles departed from her usual style with this book. She shouldn't have. Novels about crumbling societies aren't required to have crumbling plot lines, either. I look forward to reading her other works.
If that kind of government is what our children and grandchildren have to look forward to, I'm very sorry for them. I know most of American people are spoiled and don't appreciate the freedoms we have, we take a lot for granted, myself included. Somehow I expect worse but hope and pray for a better future for children and grandchildren.
3.0 out of 5 starsIntriguing yet in the end, not so much
Reviewed in the United States on 12 December 2013
To be clear, I'm more the fan of the apocalyptic "end-of-the-world-&-beyond" type of book versus the dystopian story. But the recap of LIGHTHOUSE ISLAND provoked a bit of an interest so I decided to give it a go. While I found the basic plot intriguing to begin with, after a while it began to plod on. Add to that is the characters started to get annoying in their traits and behavior. Towards the end you just want to ask Nadia & James what in the world are they thinking.
The book starts off depressingly as the four-year old Raisa is taken to a busy street by her parents and with her mother pointing out the North Star, abandoned. Taken to an orphanage her name is changed to Nadia Stepan. For an unexplained reason,watching television for a week causes her to go blind which helps her develop a strong imagination and,,when her sight weakly returns, a desire to read. But as she grows up within the foster care system she keeps hearing about a paradise in the north called Lighthouse Island and is driven to try and go there. Along the way she meets James Orotov, a wheelchair bound demolition expert who shows her a way to get there and the means to avoid the authorities who view her as a fugitive. As Nadia struggles on her journey through crisis after crisis she begins to build the character traits and stubbornness that will help her achieve her goal.
What I liked the most of the book was the very vivid portrait the author paints of the landscape and future society. It's a bleak look to say the least but wonderfully described. That and the development of the two main characters, Nadia & James. You know their past and what drives them forward. The problem is that after a while those two characters become less likeable. Their stubbornness to stay true to their goal puts themselves and others in danger, and they do so without a second thought. But what finally disappointed me was the wrap up the author uses to tie everything together in one neat package. The explanation seemed very contrived and honestly was the most unbelievable part about the book. While trying to put a somewhat happy and hopeful end to everything it actually to me made the whole story less interesting.
Overall not a bad book but not one that will drive me to search out other books by the author. Great imagery and character development but a big THUD at the end.
3.0 out of 5 starsA densely written dystopian tale
Reviewed in the United States on 23 December 2013
I am generally a fast reader, but it was impossible to read this novel quickly. The word that most often came to my mind when reading it was "dense", in the sense of every single sentence and paragraph being vital to understanding. Major plot shifts would arrive suddenly in the middle of paragraphs, all written in a dry and understated voice, so you had to stay alert to them at all times.
The basic story---Nadia (among her other names) is an orphan growing up in a future where there is little water and an oppressive government. She longs for a place she's seen on the television (television being everywhere in this world, as a means of control and submission), a lighthouse island. This longing sets her off on a perilous journey to the Pacific Along the way, her fortunes become intertwined with those of James, a man in a wheelchair also longing for freedom. She endures prison and near starvation, and meets many people both good and evil, and the book finally comes to an ending that is hopeful.
I liked this book a lot, but felt upon finishing it that I could have gotten just as much out of it with about a third as much writing. The plot is actually not that thick, and I got the feeling now and then that the author could have used some editing down advice. I was also struck by the lack of emotion, or emotion that is so far under the surface it's hard to find. At one point, nearly everyone Nadia has ever known has presumably come to a terrible end, and at other points, she hears almost unbearable stories about her late parents, but it's hard to process all this when Nadia barely seems to. I was also annoyed a bit by sudden changes of point of view, including one near the very end that was quite thrown in feeling. There were also a few coincidences that among a world that is supposed to be hugely overcrowded just seemed very improbable. I also wondered often why a government that seems so intrusive doesn't seem to put any limit on the amount of children anyone can have---not speaking about a policy like this pro or con, but it would seem odd in a future dry world of hugely limited resources.
Overall, if you like LONG books and detailed dystopias, there is a lot here to like. You will get a lot of reading for your money, and there are a few moments of brilliance. I loved a line talking about how history is full of bureaucracies and that the times in between these are the good times. That's really the take home message of the book---escape bureaucracy. Not a bad message!
In the distant future (but we're not sure when - clocks and calendars have been destroyed), the earth is one big city. There is very little water, and there are no freedoms. *Everything* is regulated and assigned, down to the size of your mattress, how much water you can have, and what job you get. The only thing that does not seem to be regulated is that you can marry whoever you'd like, but there are numerous regulations around that as well. Entertainment/controlling the masses is done through the television, which everyone watches.
Our main character is Nadia Stepan; abandoned by her parents as a child, she is just trying to get along in a world, but can't seem to do what she's supposed to. She dreams of going to Lighthouse Island, and sets out to do just that....
Unfortunately, although I am a big fan of scifi and dystopian and strong female characters, and although the premise is great (I can actually see all that happening in the future), and the writing is, in many places, breathtaking, I really did not enjoy this book. For one, at 392 pages, it was far too long. And it was difficult to read at times... as another reviewer said, it was a "slog". AND Margaret Atwood did this concept far better in
Oryx and Crake
All of the literary references were enchanting at first, but then got overwhelming and annoying. It felt like the author was trying to demonstrate how much "great" literature she's read.
The point of view (POV) mostly focused on Nadia, and after a while, I started to get really annoyed with her. How can *she* be so clever, and everyone else be such dullards? I also didn't believe that so many random strangers would just happen to help her and shelter her and give her food and water... especially when those people had far too much to lose (their lives!) and nothing to gain by helping. The POV does shift at times, which is welcome... but the shift is inconsistent, and the reasons for telling the story from someone else's POV were not clear.
The other main character, James Orotov, is shown some, but the story could have used more from and about him. He's interesting and we don't get to know him very well. As other reviewers have stated, there is a cast of what seems like thousands of minor, supporting characters... Easy to lose track of them. (Of course, this does equal exactly what I think the author was getting at: in a world with so many people, no one really matters.)
Another thing that annoyed me is that the author didn't use quotation marks for dialogue. This really slowed me down, as a reader, and forced me to puzzle out if someone was speaking or not.
In addition to those annoyances, there is way too much deus ex machina... too many coincidences... which I shan't go into as many of them are spoilers. Let's just say that quite a few times I rolled my eyes and thought how improbable some things were.
I also found it interesting that although there's not supposed to be "places" anymore, where they were on today's map came up quite a bit.
2 stars for the overall story; 4 stars for the premise - which will stick with me for a long time to come.
3.0 out of 5 starsPoetic writing, but where's the plot??
Reviewed in the United States on 27 November 2013
On the face of it, this novel should have been a non-stop and suspenseful narrative, as young protagonist Nadia Stepan struggles to survive in a dystopian future (devoid of all sense of location -- no one can even point out which way is north -- and chronological time) and then battles to make her way to a distant, dreamlike utopian destination -- Lighthouse Island.
At first, her odyssey is a quixotic quest, as she almost drifts her way toward what she hopes is the Pacific Northwest. Then a serendipitous (overly so) encounter provides direction and a sense of purpose to the journey, even as the danger to both Nadia and the dystopian world she hopes to leave behind escalate.
The problem? In spite of the intriguing premise and the admittedly eloquent writing, this is a novel that is all about ideas and concepts, and its plot and characters seem to do nothing but serve as a delivery mechanism for those ideas. That means that the alternative universe that Jiles is creating in her imagination (and warning us could be the kind of place we're building for our descendants by our actions today) is less than convincing, however grim and bleak it is. (And it's both; Jiles could given Dickens a run for his money.) The characters simply drift along, blown together and apart by implausible and bizarre coincidences and twists of fate. The conclusion felt so trite that it actively annoyed me.
In short: a book with promise that failed to deliver on it. Sure, the dystopian future that Jiles conjures up is deeply depressing, but it's more depressing still to devote several hours to reading a novel in the hopes that I'll find something to make me more than just a little bit curious about what happens next. Deeply underwhelming. 2.5 stars; rounded up.
3.0 out of 5 starsA frustrating reading experience...
Reviewed in the United States on 27 November 2013
Every once in a while, I read a book that makes me want to shake the author and ask him or her, "Why? Why did you do this to me? You had such a great concept and you RUINED IT!"
was one of those books for me. When I read the description of the book, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I'm a huge fan of dystopian/speculative fiction, and this book seemed like it would be right up my alley. Unfortunately, the more I read, the more disappointed I became.
On paper (no pun intended), this book sounds fantastic. In a future in which the entire world has become an endless city, orphaned Nadia Stepan grows up in a vast, convoluted government system where drinking water is strictly rationed and place and chronological time are nonexistent. She dreams of Lighthouse Island, a utopian vacation spot in the Pacific Northwest with plenty of trees and open spaces -- things that are unheard of in her world. When the opportunity arises to escape her dreary life, she takes it. After a serendipitous encounter with a disgraced cartographer, Nadia begins making her way north to the fabled Lighthouse Island.
has all the makings of being an epic quest of a novel, but unfortunately, it just fails to deliver. What should be an exciting adventure in theory just falls flat in the execution. Paulette Jiles relies much more heavily on concepts and themes than she does on character development, which to me is the real weakness of the novel. The writing strives so much for social commentary that the characters seem merely like pieces on a gameboard; they aren't built out in any real way. For example, in a passage that starts out with Nadia worrying about winter and what the cold will mean for her journey, Jiles feels the need to tell readers that "a desire for personal communication and entertainment devices...had turned humanity into consuming somnambulant narcoleptic zombies" (pages 134-135). Oh, okay. Well, I really wanted to be worried for Nadia, but that blatant commentary is fine too, I guess.
Nadia faces some horrible trials on her journey north, and there are some truly terrifying ideas in this novel (televised executions; families who have no water or food but the most technologically-advanced television available, so that they can watch reality TV at all hours of the day; a government who can falsify charges against a person without a shred of evidence; etc.), but Jiles writes in such a detached manner that I had no emotional response to any of it. I got bogged down in the details and the beaurocracy of it all -- which was probably the point, but again, I wanted to shake Jiles and say, "Okay, okay, I GET IT; now make me FEEL something! Also, please use quotation marks when someone is speaking, because unless you are Cormac McCarthy it's just going to make your readers more confused."
While the concept was imaginative and felt eerily plausible, I just couldn't connect with this book. The introduction of a completely new set of characters near the end was especially frustrating; at that point, I just wanted Nadia's story to be resolved and to finally be finished with the book.
has so much potential, and I wanted to love it; I just didn't.
Nadia, a young woman orphaned at age four, is obsessed with finding her way to Lighthouse Island, a place in the Pacific Northwest that may or may not even exist. Along the way she meets James, a mapmaker and demolition expert, who helps and then later accompanies her on the dangerous journey north.
I enjoy a good dystopian tale and this story had a lot of the elements I like, particularly world building that takes current issues – overpopulation, climate change, government control – and postulates a scary future society. Water is rationed, dates are no longer used, maps have becomes meaningless, people can be arrested or jailed for any reason the government dreams up, especially if they need cheap labor in the work camps, and executions are televised live on reality TV – the more attractive one is, the greater their chance of being the feature presentation.
There was much to like about the premise of this speculative world but unfortunately I had a difficult time getting through it. The pacing was slow and often disjointed and, a big problem for me, a lot of veering off into stream of consciousness and rambling detail. This made it difficult for me to connect with or even care about Nadia. James was a much more interesting character but far less developed. At times I was glued to the book eager to know what would happen next, other times it dragged and I didn’t pick it back up for a few days.
Another problem was the text did not have quotation marks around the dialog. I find this annoying and it slows down my reading and I read slow enough as it is. I don’t like to work this hard to read a book but I was involved enough in it to want to know the ending. And wouldn’t you know it when I got to what I thought should be the end, the plot twisted and we went off in another direction. I was glad to finally finish this one. I would have ended it 75 pages sooner.
I liked it enough to finish it but I thought it could have been much better.