By Nayisha Patel and Natalia Alvarez
Not to be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This week’s column covers a review of Cleopatra and Frankenstein by Coco Mellors and The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid.
Cleopatra and Frankenstein by Coco Mellors
In the first chapter of Mellors’ debut book, Cleopatra and Frankenstein, twenty-year-old British girl Cleo and forty-something New Yorker Frank meet. What appears to be a Rohmerian moment on the surface grabs and whisks you off on the ride of your life. The conversation is flawlessly honest, the scenery brilliantly described, the character plots and backstories gorgeous, the inside jokes and anecdotes hilarious, and the honesty so compelling. Yes – honesty serves as the book’s main component.
Through her curiosity and willingness to wait for the conflicting psyches of different people to interact and develop, Mellors accomplishes in her debut what most writers fail to do over their entire careers. The omniscient third-person narrative serves as a conduit for various voices, and as the foundation for masterful storytelling. Rarely, if ever, have I read a book with characters and a writing style as distinctive and radical as Cleopatra and Frankenstein’s – I couldn’t put it down for days. Although we all know these folks, we don't know anything about their lives or motivations. When all that is left is tension, you savour each page and refer to it for comfort. Mellors reveals these characters and their deeds with such gloriously unhinged and committed brevity.
The different perspectives throughout are in no way detrimental to the plot; in some cases, I actually wanted to hear more from the other perspectives to see how they grew, even though they detracted from the primary love story. My feelings regarding Cleo’s character are conflicted; while I rooted for her, there was something about the sad artist cliché and how she acted that bothered me.
I still get emotional when I think back on the book’s last scenes, conversation and conclusion. I had forgotten the impact that language can have on a reader, and Mellors’ writing has encouraged me to be as incisive and authentic as I can with the people that inhabit my stories.
The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid
For most people, life is a constant struggle of coming to terms with our own selves and growing comfortable in our skins. We are constantly changing from one year to the next, redefining what it means to be us. This is felt most heavily by those who have historically been deemed as ‘less than’ or ‘other’ by society, solely because of the colour of their skin.
This is a notion that Mohsin Hamid deconstructs in his fifth novel, The Last White Man, published in August of this year by Riverhead. Hamid’s captivating new novel begs the question: what would happen in our society if white people started waking up with dark skin? As we hear from our protagonist Anders and others close to him, we are introduced to a world rapidly approaching sameness and what (however fictional) that might look like.
Anders wakes one morning to find his white skin has suddenly turned dark overnight. He looks like a completely different person and, understandably, he starts to panic. He relaxes slightly after he hears from his on-and-off girlfriend that what has happened to him is also happening to others all over the world. Still, Anders is one of the first in his town to “change” and the difference in the ways he is treated by the townspeople who used to welcome him is striking. For the first time in his life, he questions the way he is perceived. He is angry with the very notion that others might think him capable of wrongdoings simply because he looks a certain way. After all, inside he is the same. We see the transformation of the people in Anders’ town as more and more find themselves changed until, as the title states, we get to the last white man and then, inevitably, there are none.
This novel tackles heavy topics and portrays characters who are sometimes unlikeable, but this is to be expected with such a story. I’m recommending this book because I found it to be a very interesting read. The idea that you could wake up one day a different race made me think about my identity as well as my own thoughts on racism. I think many will find this novel both fascinating and informative, and I hope they will enjoy it as I did.