Book Review: QualityLand by Marc-Uwe Kling

Qualityland by Marc-Uwe Kling

Rating:  ★★★★

If you took the humor of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and mashed it up with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, I think QualityLand is what you would get.

From the moment I started reading I found this almost impossible to put down. I am always a little nervous when reading a translation, because some books I don’t think translate as well no matter how talented the translator. I needn’t have worried with this one. The translator (Jamie Searle Romanelli) did an excellent job. At times I was even surprised that the book was originally written in German, since the setting felt very much like the US.

It takes us a little while to get to the heart of the plot, and I didn’t always feel like all the viewpoints we were given were necessary, but all the view points were so entertaining that I didn’t mind so much. The plot is this, TheShop – The World’s Most Popular Online Retailer – has sent a product to Peter Jobless. Peter Jobless (his surname comes from his father’s occupation at the time of his conception) believes the product was sent in error. He is now on a mission to return it. But TheShop, won’t let him. After all, TheShop does not make mistakes. It’s in his profile. Of course he wants the item.

It sounds ludicrous, but it’s entertaining, and clever to boot. There are so many topics the author managed to comment on, everything from privacy, to evolving technology, to consumerism and politics. And he managed to do it without sounding preachy. That didn’t make the result any less terrifying though.

The characters were a lot of fun. Peter is an average Joe kind of guy with a soft spot for defective machinery. Kiki, a character we meet later in the book, absolutely stole the show once she entered. I adored her. She’s a pull no punches, tell it like it is, kind of girl, with many shades of gray.

The chapters are short and the pace moves pretty quickly. It does a fantastic job of world building without lengthy info dumps. Humor is a subjective thing, so I would recommend checking out Amazon’s Look Inside or Sample feature before purchasing. If you aren’t laughing at the first chapter (maybe even the first page) this might not be the book for you.

Otherwise, a relevant and entertaining satire that I highly recommend!

QualityLand releases in the US on January 7, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or preordered on Amazon.

Book Review: The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

Rating:  ★★★★

I have no idea how to even begin describing this.  The publisher’s described as Orwellian and I suppose it is very Orwellian in tone, but the plot and world building are very different than 1984.

The premise is this: on an unnamed island, things sometimes “disappear”.  If the islanders don’t rid themselves of the things that disappear, the Memory Police may raid their house to take the items away.  Eventually the people forget all about the disappeared-thing (for example, if flowers disappear people stop remembering that flowers ever existed and don’t even know the meaning of the word).  But some people don’t forget.  Those people are eventually discovered by the Memory Police and taken away, never to be seen or heard again.

So we follow an unnamed protagonist as she navigates this surreal landscape and things and people disappear around her.  It’s a meandering sort of story that ultimately feels largely allegorical, but no matter how hard I think about what the story might mean I keep coming up empty handed (aside from the obvious message about memories).

The writing and the translation (done, I believe, by Stephen Snyder) are beautifully done.  It doesn’t seem like anything special at first, and I don’t recall any passages that made me think: ‘I need to save this for my review!’.  But at the same time it kept me consistently engaged despite the slow pacing and plot.  It whisked me away and offered me an escape.  Albeit, to a rather depressing sort of place, but I often had a hard time putting it down and found myself eager to keep going.

The characters will also stick with me for quite awhile.  This is fairly impressive considering the amount of distance placed between them and the reader.  None of them have names.  One is Old Man.  The other is simply R.  Other characters are identified by their professions.  The hatmaker.  The neighbors.  Mother or Father.

The main character is a novelist, and we are given glimpses of her WIP through out.  To be honest, I didn’t feel these parts added much to the overall novel.  The story itself largely mirrors what our protagonist is going through and didn’t reveal much else about the story.

I also will say I wasn’t a fan of the ending.  I can’t really expand on this without spoilers so I’ll avoid discussing it too much, but as I approached the end I remember thinking there weren’t enough pages to wrap up the story and while there is definite closure it was a disappointing sort of closure without much explanation.

The entire novel is ambiguous which is why I think I’m taking less issue with it than the last few ambiguously ended books I’ve read.  Everything is sort of surreal and dreamlike and the reader is just expected to take it at face value.  *shrugs*

For the most part I really enjoyed this and will likely check out other works by this author in the future.  I don’t think it will be a book for everyone and I don’t foresee myself recommending it often – but I think for some readers it could be an enjoyable literary diversion.

Thank you to the publisher for sending me an ARC for review.  The Memory Police can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.