Highlights in the Charts
Metronome by Tom Watson
Review by Jenna Tomlinson
“The morning of parole, the sea is calm. Grey. Almost entirely still. Boat weather.” This stoic sentence says a lot about Watson’s debut novel Metronome. The calm, patient yet anticipant backdrop leaves the reader knowing there’s more behind the words, but also leaves them unsure which words exactly they may be. This is what Watson excels at. Throughout the novel, Watson alludes to an anticipated event, always hinting at something potentially sinister lurking underneath. This potential, these pregnant silences hanging in the air throughout are also what pushes the reader through the book; spurring them on to look deeper and learn more.
I loved this book so much that I devoured it in one sitting, eager to understand the characters and their lives. Watson’s story follows Aina and Whitney, a couple exiled to a deserted and desolate island they know as “the croft.” Here, they must depend on each other, their own survival skills and the wares of an almost barren landscape. Linked by their secret crime and shared history, the two fall into a monotonous routine, ticking along as a dull metronome, punctuated only by a strange clock. Programmed to their thumbprints, it dispenses mandatory mysterious pills at given times during the day; both tethering them to their exile and protecting them from the toxic spores released by the melting permafrost around them. Marooned for twelve years, we join the couple as their parole is imminent, but as they approach this milestone, Aina begins to question whether everything is as it seems and whether Whitney knows more about their situation than he is letting on.
Over the course of the novel, we watch as the two grapple with their strange situation, its treacherous conditions, the dissipating memories of their previous lives, a growing mistrust and their differing views on how to move forward. The story of how they came to be at the croft unfolds in fractured memories, showing not only their fragile relationship but also their increasingly fragile mental states. The pace of the novel quickens as we delve deeper into their story and this unfurling is mirrored in their mental state as their behaviour becomes more frenzied. The setting, a ravaged and empty space, is claustrophobic despite only homing Aina and Whitney; a feeling that is mirrored for the reader as they encroach on the couple’s confinement.
Equal parts unnerving and atmospheric, Metronome is a dystopian debut that is a great read for fans of such authors as Atwood, Dalcher and Ramos.
White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht
Review by Halimah Haque
White Chrysanthemum is told from the perspective of two sisters: Hanna and her younger sister Emi. While Hanna’s account explores the hardships of comfort women during the Japanese occupation of Korea, before the country’s partition in 1943, Emi’s story delves into the consequences of war and the detrimental effect it has on her family, especially after her sister’s abduction over sixty years later.
I absolutely adored this book! Everything about it was perfect: the rich history of the haenyeo (female divers in Jeju Island, South Korea), the pain of the comfort women and the warmth, acceptance and strength of familial relationships all made this a tale to remember. It was heartbreakingly beautiful. Every single character, protagonists and antagonists, were extremely well written; each receiving the perfect, wholesome ending that they deserved. Bracht truly has a gift.
However, what I found truly interesting was the relationship Hanna and Emi had with the sea: the oneness they felt with the waves and how they longed to be beneath the water whenever they were on land. It made me realise the gift that nature is and wholeheartedly respect the hanyeo – their beliefs, morals and way of life.
In her notes at the end of the novel, Bracht says: “Of those tens of thousands of women and girls enslaved by the Japanese military, only forty-four South Korean survivors are still alive (at the writing of this book) to tell the world what happened during their captivity; how they survived and how they returned home. We will never know what happened to the other women and girls who perished before getting the chance to let the world know what they suffered.” Although a work of fiction, through this novel Bracht has given these women a voice. The women in this book are much more than fictional characters: they represent the people in the past whose stories need to be told and heard in order to keep their memory alive.
If you haven’t read White Chrysanthemum already, you definitely need to! You won’t regret it. But I have to warn you, this book is in no way a light read: heavy with sexual and physical abuse, it reveals the immense torture young girls experienced as comfort women – revealing the hidden part of World War Two that many of us remain oblivious to.