“five days of fog” is right, because nothing in this book stands out in any way, shape, or form
This is easily the most vanilla, forgettable book I’ve read all year. Reader, if you’re looking for something eerie and atmospheric, you will not find it here. That this novel is set during the Great Smog–the titular five days of fog that came over London in 1952–seems to promise a story that is exactly that–eerie and atmospheric–but in actuality the whole five days of fog concept turns out to be nothing more than a gimmick. The fog is a bit of a hindrance to the characters, sure; it slows them down and gets in their way, but at the end of the day the fog itself is all flash and no substance. For a book that’s titled after the fog, you’d expect it to paint a more vivid image of that fog, and not just present it as a one-dimensional cardboard prop.
Aside from the atmosphere (or lack thereof), there’s not much else to say about this book because it is so deeply boring in terms of character, plot, and writing. Five Days of Fog is so aggressively boring that its characters felt like they were bored by their own existence in the novel. I didn’t ever think a book about a FEMALE GANG OF CRIMINALS could ever be boring, but here we are. Needless to say, Five Days of Fog was a huge disappointment, especially given that I absolutely loved Anna Freeman’s first novel, The Fair Fight.
I feel like every good thing I have to say about this book comes with a caveat.
First, Lana Bastašić can write. Her similes are just impeccable; they pack a punch–this is a good thing, but also a bad thing, because I feel like Bastašić’s descriptive writing is almost exclusively reliant on similes. If Bastašić wants to describe something, it’s always “X is like Y” or “X does Y as though it’s Z.” And that’s pretty much the extent of what you get in terms of formal variety in this book. As much as I loved the similes, they started to get old very quickly, especially when you start to notice three or four consecutive ones on the same page.
Second, I thought the character exploration in Catch the Rabbit was fascinating. Being inside Sara’s head was unsettling, especially as she’s the kind of character who fixates on everything where her friend Lejla is concerned. And “friend” is a very fraught term in this novel; Sara and Lejla’s relationship is far from clear-cut or uncomplicated. And to a certain extent, I liked that; I liked that you couldn’t ever really put a finger on what was happening between Sara and Lejla, on the kind of friendship that they had, or indeed if what existed between them could even be called a “friendship.”
What I didn’t like, though–and here’s that caveat–is that all this character exploration skewed a bit melodramatic. At a certain point, every moment in Catch the Rabbit started to feel like a Moment, and it grated on me. I don’t mind symbolism–what is fiction about if not things symbolizing other things–but when everything in your novel is Symbolic–when every event becomes imbued with monumental importance–the narrative ends up feeling incredibly bloated and frankly, exhausting. I love symbolic moments and all, and they suit given that Sara, the narrator, is writing this story down retrospectively, and so is liable to embellish and give meaning to events that might not have otherwise meant a lot, but Bastašić just took it too far. It got to a point where I couldn’t parse out what these characters were actually feeling beyond the overwhelming cloud of Literary Significance that crowded every single moment.
I don’t even know how to begin reviewing this book, but let me start with this: The King of Infinite Space is my favourite book of the year, and, I’m quite certain, a new all time favourite book.
The King of Infinite Space is, first and foremost, a book that is STEEPED in love. It’s a novel that pretty much immediately won me over because it just has so much heart, and you can feel it radiating on every page. We follow three main characters, each inspired by a character from Hamlet: Ben (Hamlet), Horatio (this one is obvious), and Lia (Ophelia)–and I ADORED them all. More and more, I find myself craving books that are just about people trying to be good, to themselves and to others, and The King of Infinite Space is exactly that kind of book. Its characters feel keenly, love wholeheartedly, and they are so good–not flawless, but always trying to be decent, to be good to those they care about, even if they also inevitably hurt them. And something about characters who are just good gets to me, and god, this book GOT TO ME. I could cry just thinking about it (I might already be).
Also: Lynday Faye’s writing is just gorgeous, brimming with personality and pitch-perfect dialogue. She absolutely sticks the landing with the big moments, but she also has such a deft hand with the little moments. Even scenes that aren’t that important in the grand scheme of the novel manage to be moving, because there are always little lines that just stop you in your tracks, moments where the characters’ vulnerabilities peek out, when they feel so much more starkly human. And more than just affecting, Faye’s prose is also experimental, which I loved. This is front and center in Ben’s chapters, where paragraphs break off into verse lines in different fonts and font sizes. In a different author’s hands it might’ve come off as tacky, maybe, but in Faye’s it just amplifies Ben’s emotions that much more, as though prose isn’t enough to convey the sheer depth of his feelings.
As for plot, there is, of course, the Shakespearean element: this is primarily a Hamlet retelling, but it also includes other Shakespeare-inspired elements and characters. But more than just repeating the Hamlet plot with a bit of variation, Faye takes its themes and ideas and breathes new life into them. Hamlet’s obsession with death and existence becomes Ben’s fascination with–and graduate degree in–the philosophy of physics. Hamlet’s soliloquies become musings on time and supernovas and entropy, and beautiful musings at that. And Ben’s interest in science is not just some flimsy quirk of his; it fundamentally informs the way he thinks about and approaches the world. And it’s also why he’s one of the most compelling and captivating characters I’ve read about all year.
More than anything, though, The King of Infinite Space is a love story through and through; love that, as Newton would have it, cannot be created or destroyed, but love that only changes forms, because it is “everywhere and everywhen,” in Ben’s words; these characters will always care about each other, their love for each other runs that deep.
Anyway, I fucking adored this book, and I can’t wait to reread it over and over again.