Highlights in the Charts
The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
By Daisy Saunders
*Content contains: sexual assault*
The Witcher has aged like fine wine. The games produced by CD Projekt Red are still brilliantly immersive to this day, and the more recent Netflix series (season 2 forthcoming in December) is just as good. With all this in mind, I decided to take a chance on Sapkowski’s original title to see how much it differed in quality and plot. I wasn’t disappointed.
It’s no surprise the series has been so successful in its various iterations: The Last Wish is the perfect example of material perfectly suited for adaptation. The storyline and writing are blissfully light yet engaging; Sapkowski’s worldbuilding is unique yet simple. There is no waffling or unnecessary detail: Sapkowski is blunt and to the point. The world of The Witcher is succinct, horrible and downright believable.
Geralt, likewise, makes for the perfect protagonist. You would expect his character to be boring considering the background to his profession. Witchers are monster hunters, kidnapped young and then mutated to be emotionless, solitary and brutal. Geralt is made interesting because of this: he understands the world differently to the previous male heroes that have come before him.
On some levels, the book is deeply philosophical, diving into issues of good and evil through comparisons between monsters and men. But what I will say is that this book is debatably misogynistic in its approach to women. The women in this book are subjects, present only for Geralt’s pleasure or the pleasure of other men. They are abuse and torture victims, their corpses found by Geralt as he continues on his adventures.
While this doesn't necessarily hinder and there are still some convincing examples of strong, unique female characters, it is interesting to question what Sapkowski’s intentions were when he created a world so intolerant to the existence of womanhood. Does the world of The Witcher present a more conflicted, bitter representation of the violence women continue to live with today? Or is it simply another text complicated by the subconscious presence of the male gaze?
I’m interested to read the rest of the series and find out for myself.
The Lock In by Phoebe Luckhurst
By Robyn Hewson
The morning after an office party, Ellen wakes up with a hangover from hell and a flooding kitchen to deal with. Panicking and unsure how to fix it, she rounds up her housemates Alexa and Jack (and Alexa’s Hinge date, Ben) and heads to the loft in a last-ditch attempt to stop the flood. But when Ben accidentally breaks the door handle, the group find themselves locked in. Over the course of the morning, Ellen starts to realise she knows Ben from somewhere, and that he might not be who Alexa thinks he is…
Phoebe Luckhurst’s debut is hilarious and relatable in equal measure, exploring the perils of house-shares, dealing with dodgy landlords and nursing hangovers. The narrative shifts between the group’s miserable morning imprisoned in the attic, and flashbacks that give us more of an insight into each of the characters. Though Ellen is carefree and fun-loving and Alexa is mature and career-driven, the unlikely pair have been best friends since university.
Their housemate Jack, who has recently moved in, is an awkward but lovable character. In an attempt to impress his housemates, he begins secretly live tweeting their attic disaster, hilariously disclosing awkward conversations and embarrassing encounters to his growing army of followers.
While the attic scenes provide moments of comedy, the flashbacks are where the novel really comes to life. Luckhurst does a fantastic job of depicting the characters at different stages in their lives, from disastrous encounters on MSN in their teens to dating apps in their twenties. Perfect for fans of Beth O’Leary and Dolly Alderton, this fast-paced comedic debut is the perfect summer read.
You and Me on Vacation by Emily Henry
By Alex Haywood
You and Me on Vacation (or, if you’re American, The People We Meet on Vacation) is the brand-new summer rom-com from Emily Henry, author of Beach Read.
Skint blogger-turned-travel-writer Poppy is lost. She has her dream job, but something isn’t right. After an argument on their holiday in Croatia, nothing has been the same with Alex, her ex-best friend. Alex, the perfectionist do-gooder teacher who she’s only 5% in love with and can most definitely live without, right?
Emily Henry has combined travel, romance and cringey (but not too cringey) comedy in a lucious, slow-burn adventure that will really make you want to go on holiday. What’s not to love? The friends-to-lovers trope is much cherished for a reason. Those sizzling, almost-touches quickly laughed off are plentiful and this book has that agonising will-they-won’t-they element that all great rom-coms do.
Clever, funny and tender, You and Me on Vacation’s narrative shifts between the past and present tenses. The past captures all those summer trips gone by, each set in a different destination, from bougie to backpacking. The present is Alex and Poppy post-friendship. They haven’t spoken for two years after that night in Croatia. Of course, we the readers don’t find out what happened that night until right at the end...
Considering travel is unlikely for most of us this summer, You and Me on Vacation is the ideal, light summer read to itch that sun, sea and sand craving we’re all having.