Scoop Review of Books

Archive for May, 2013

A shift in perspective

Shift (Volume 2 of the Silo Saga) by Hugh Howey (Random House, $29.99)
Reviewed by Fiona O’Kane

ShiftAfter thoroughly enjoying Hugh Howey’s Wool , I eagerly launched straight into the second book of the Silo Saga: Shift. Although the publishers call it a prequel, technically it’s not: it has a longer timeline, with its events occurring before, during and after the events of Wool.

As a quick recap, the story of Wool follows the inhabitants of a great underground building called a silo. Completely sealed, it was built long ago to protect the people within from the toxic environment above. A carefully managed society has survived in this environment by following strictly enforced rules, and banishment outside is literally a death sentence. As the story unravels, just who is running things, and how, is gradually revealed.

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Pulling the Wool over our eyes

Wool (Part One of the Wool Trilogy) by Hugh Howey (Random House, $29.99)
Reviewed by Fiona O’Kane

WoolThe Wool trilogy is a much-talked-about success story, with debut author Hugh Howey showing the world exactly how to go about writing your first novel. He started out self-publishing on Amazon, drip-feeding the release of the first book in the trilogy in sections to build his audience, and then did the same with the second. After he’d sold 400,000 copies, he got a mainstream publishing deal, whilst – very unusually – also maintaining control of the e-book rights himself. Oh, and then Ridley Scott bought the movie rights.

But does Wool live up to the hype?

Yes, it does.

This well-written book comes from an author who clearly knows his craft. The story is slick and paced well, with characters who leap off the page. At first there is a definite – and deliberate – sense of confusion as to what’s going on, as the characters themselves don’t fully understand the world in which they live. Gradually, more and more layers are revealed, and the story starts to really gather steam.
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What’s the big secret?

The Secret Life of James Cook by Graeme Lay (Fourth Estate, $36.99)
Reviewed by Judith Nathan


Graeme Lay’s novel covers the life of Captain James Cook until July 1771 when he returned to England from his first, three-year voyage to the Pacific. It is an easy and engaging read, soundly based on previous research.

For Cook’ s early life, the author has had a free hand as very little is known about the farm boy from a small inland Yorkshire village who moved to the port of Whitby and later joined the navy. Lay depicts a lad whose education was sponsored by his father’s employer (a recorded fact) who then recommended him as an apprentice to a grocer, partly on the strength of his mathematical abilities. Cook falls in love with the sea (and, unluckily, also with an ambitious servant girl), becoming apprenticed to a ship owner and then, at the advanced age of 26, leaving town to join the navy. Read more »

Earth, Air and Song in Woody Guthrie’s Lost Novel

House of Earth by Woody Guthrie (HarperCollins/infinitum nihil, 2013) Introduction by Douglas Brinkley and Johnny Depp
Reviewed by Mark P. Williams

Woody Guthrie’s novel House of Earth is a fiction out of time which comes to us as a kind of haunting.

Written in the 1940s and lost amongst a collection of papers and letters for many years, House of Earth is a novel of specific time and place which, although speaking in the voices of a wholly different generation, forms an apposite assemblage with our own time and place.

Douglas Brinkley and Johnny Depp’s introduction to House of Earth gives an informed overview of Guthrie’s life, his work as a folk singer, archivist of folk songs and storyteller contextualising House of Earth as Guthrie’s meditation on life in impoverished conditions. They compare the text respectfully to those of John Steinbeck and D.H. Lawrence for its blend of ‘earthiness’, in the linked senses of authenticity and sexual frankness, and broad social vision.
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Paying attention to the actual

Anti Lebanon by Carl Shuker (,
Reviewed by Pip Adam

I feel like I’ve spent a long time waiting and hoping for a novel like Anti Lebanon by award-winning writer Carl Shuker, a New Zealander based in London. Yesterday I was speaking with a friend who is in a position where she can read and write most of the day. “What you realise,” she said, “when you’re engaged so intensely with and by fiction is the possibilities it holds.”

While other artists conjure fractal landscapes from computer algorithms and evoke experience in more and more colour, the writer has what they’ve always had: a story and a choice to make about how to tell that story. A book like Anti Lebanon demonstrates that the novel isn’t finished yet, that we haven’t come to the end of the possibilities of story, that we can keep pushing this funny little form and it will break and re-animate and keep us happy for a lot longer yet. Read more »