Whether Violent or Natural

Whether Violent or Natural | Natasha Calder

There’s nothing I like more than a good apocalyptic, end-of-the-world scenario novel, so I grabbed Whether Violent or Natural, interested in the premise of a world where antibiotics have failed (a plausible scenario).

But oh was I disappointed. I struggled to finish it, irritated by the voice of the narrator, Kit, and uneasy about the relationship between her and Crevan, with its underlying hints of some sort of weirdness between them. (Is it supposed to be some form of consensual sado-masochism? Or a man taking advantage of a vulnerable woman? Later events throw some light on this but in an unsatisfactory way.)

The novel has been praised for its writing style, noted as ‘lyrical’ and ‘strikingly original’. But writing style is something that one connects with in a deeply personal way; what you love I might hate, etc. And here my personal taste took over. I was just plain annoyed by the overblown prose, the lack of clarity, the weirdness (and not in a good way)…. It all struck me as rather self-indulgent.

And I found it annoyingly edited too. For example, in one early scene, Kit opens a door to half a wardrobe and describes the contents. She goes on and on about all the fabrics and colours and I’m thinking, wow, that’s one hell of a tardis of a (half-)wardrobe to fit all that stuff! An editor should surely have reined in that sort of hyperbole. Half a wardrobe and it’s got an entire household trousseau including quilt covers, as well as a huge variety of clothing — including tulle dresses (plural), which anyone could tell you would take up most of the space there already. All that to drop in the comment that the synthetics could be destroyed by a plastic-eating virus. Some might say that’s a neat, literary way to drop in an important piece of information like that (and again, another interesting scenario), but really, gimme a break. It took several pages and a tardis to get there. Needs a good dose of an editor’s red pen.

If you’re a fan of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, you might like Whether Violent or Natural. I am not, and I don’t, for much the same reasons. I’m not a fan of the approach to fiction that positions one novel as ‘LITERARY’ or ‘intelligent’ and another as ‘popular’ or ‘commercial’ fiction, based pretty much solely on the former using what are hardly more than literary gimmicks, such as overblown language or a weird narrative voice. What’s ‘literary’ and ‘intelligent’ for me is a novel (-ist) that builds a world convincingly, suspends my disbelief, nails my attention, stirs my emotions, pushes me to reflect on the human condition and/or gets my heart pounding. I need to connect. None of that is happening here. Kit’s rambling voice does not signal the deep emotional complexity I look for in a good novel, whether literary or commercial.

But tomato/tomayto. Perhaps some readers will like this.

My thanks to the publisher, author and Netgalley for providing an ARC. All my reviews are 100% honest and unbiased, regardless of how I acquire the book.

You might also enjoy: When the lights go out | Carys Bray

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