The King of Infinite Space by Lyndsay Faye

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.

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One Hundred Shadows

So then what happens?
The parents of the boy Mujae probably get into
Or inevitably, you could say.
How is it inevitable to get into debt?
Is it possible to live otherwise?

A chilling story told in spare, incisive writing, One Hundred Shadows is the kind of novel that begs to be deciphered but that is not itself easy to decipher; a compact story that comes with an undertow of darkness, one that Jungeun draws out in her measured and skillfully controlled way. I love novels like this, novels that feel discombobulating and slightly off-kilter. They initially read as weird, but then their weirdness unsettles you, asks you to try to put your finger on what’s so unsettling to begin with. I just know I’ll be mulling over this potent little book for the next few weeks, trying to unravel the world that Hwang Jungeun has so deftly created here.

Addendum: I initially gave this novel 4 stars, but then I just couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I bumped it up to 5 stars. Hwang Jungeun’s writing is just haunting in the best way possible.

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Popisho by Leone Ross

Popisho is an extraordinary novel, and one of the most singular stories I’ve read in a long time.

It’s hard to know where to begin with Popisho because it is a novel that is so utterly brimming with life. And if it’s a novel defined by its vitality, then its characters are its lifeblood. There is no shortage of complex, empathetic, and human characters here. There are younger characters and older ones, brothers and sisters, parents and children, lovers and exes. They all come with their own personal histories and narrative voices, and you get to watch them develop beautifully over the course of the novel. Part of why Ross’s characters work so well, I think, is because this novel is so polyphonic. Ross is able to masterfully embody the voices of her characters, whether they are major or minor, and even if they are just mentioned in passing and never heard from again. Her voices have real verve, a kind of energy and buoyancy that I so rarely encounter in the novels I read.

One of the most remarkable things about Popisho is also how vivid it is. Popisho as a setting is almost technicolour in its vividness. I distinctly remember reading one scene in this book and having to pause for a second because I was just so taken aback by how evocative the writing was, how palpable it made this world feel. Reading about the world of Popisho isn’t reading about it so much as it is about being in it.

Frankly, I could go on and on about this novel: its humour, its empathy, its poignancy. It’s just that good.

Thanks so much to Faber for providing me with an e-ARC of this in exchange for an honest review!

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