BSFA Shortlist Review: The Race by Nina Allan

theraceThe Race by Nina Allan

Setting: Begins in an imaginary near-future decaying resort town in England, transformed by frakking and toxic marshland, and later provides glimpses of re-imagined continents.

Format: Four intertextually linked novelettes, too dissimilar to give the reader a strong grasp of the textual reality.

Summary: A family trains smartdogs for racing, and the daughter has a special connection with them… A writer grapples with her traumatic upbringing… A journalist copes with love and heritage… A girl is confined and trained for her communicative abilities with animals…

They are all tied together loosely. The intent is consistent, but elusive.

Synopsis quote: Get real. This book is the anti-synopsis.

Flavor quote:

…that fishy smell and the slippery texture, sour and salty and not quite natural. Those frankfurters seemed to sum up my life, really. It was not a good time. [Loc.104]

How it feels: Not dark, but heavy, melancholy, uncomfortably intimate. Evocative, dreamlike, wispy. Conveys the limited affect of the traumatized. Hard to read.

Reading advice: Watch a good comedy with easy laughs after each reading.

Further reading advice: Trigger warning, SF debacles be damned.

Typical reader criticism: This isn’t really a novel!

My response: But it’s not really a collection, either. It’s not just a few stories tied together by a common theme. Its essence is ether, hard to grasp, but it’s there, and it cannot be perceived without a complete reading, maybe two.

Why it’s special: Nothing so real has ever felt so surreal. Forget graffiti-writing slug-monsters; read this for a text dripping with mood and tone, without the use of a thousand descriptors. I still can’t figure out how she did it.

Why it’s really special: A prime example of SF doing something different. Will inspire endless coffeehouse conversations about its meaning and significance. Speculative fiction that invites speculation.

My interpretation: How abouts you go read it and then we’ll talk about it over a coffee?

A better review: Jesse always says it better than me.

Parallel reading experience: I read this on the treadmill.

Should you read this? You mean you haven’t read it yet? I’ve been talking about this for months!

*************************************************************************************************************

This review is part of a review series on the 2014 British Science Fiction Association Best Novel Shortlist. The winner will be announced at the BSFA ceremony at Eastercon on Sunday, April 5.

Previous BSFA Shortlist Review: Europe in Autumn by David Hutchinson

Next BSFA Shortlist Review: Cuckoo Song by Francis Hardinge

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24 thoughts on “BSFA Shortlist Review: The Race by Nina Allan

  1. And your talking about it for months is the reason I am so interested. Add to that your words about why its special. I really wish my damn local English-language book store were better stocked. This is the kind of thing I want to stumble upone.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. thebookgator says:

    Love the “anti-synopsis!” Can’t wait for your Frances Hardinge.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. […] BSFA Shortlist Reviews: Europe in Autumn by David Hutchinson The Race by Nina […]

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  4. Jesse says:

    You are too kind! I would point would-be readers even further toward Dan Hartland’s review of The Race on Strange Horizons. He is one of the tip-top reviewers covering genre today, and his review does the best job I’ve seen yet covering why it is a novel, not a collection.

    http://www.strangehorizons.com/reviews/2014/08/the_race_by_nin.shtml

    Like

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      I do love that review, too, after you pointed it out to me on your blog. And months later, my “compass” is still spinning. My theories about this novel change with the wind. It is a novel to go on the re-read list.

      Like

  5. “[T]hat fishy smell and the slippery texture, sour and salty and not quite natural.” That’s like me after reading one of your posts! Amirite? …Anybody?

    Sounds weird. Sans slug monster, though, it can’t really be weird.

    Like

  6. fromcouchtomoon says:

    That’s the second time you’ve called me salty this year. It makes me feel like a pirate.

    It is surreal, but not your preferred Weird.

    Like

  7. […] Horizons Book Review SF Crowsnest Book Review Couch to the Moon Book Review Upcoming4.me Book […]

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  8. […] BSFA Shortlist Reviews: Europe in Autumn by David Hutchinson The Race by Nina Allan Cuckoo Song by Francis Hardinge The Moon King by Neil […]

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  9. […] BFSA Shortlist Reviews: Europe in Autumn by David Hutchinson The Race by Nina Allan Cuckoo Song by Francis Hardinge The Moon King by Neil Williamson Lagoon by Nnedi […]

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  10. […] BSFA Shortlist Reviews: Europe in Autumn by David Hutchinson The Race by Nina Allan Cuckoo Song by Francis Hardinge The Moon King by Neil Williamson Lagoon by Nnedi […]

    Like

  11. […] BSFA Shortlist Reviews: Europe in Autumn by David Hutchinson The Race by Nina Allan Cuckoo Song by Francis Hardinge The Moon King by Neil Williamson Lagoon by Nnedi […]

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  12. sjhigbee says:

    I regularly visit your site, so I’m not quite sure HOW I’ve managed to MISS this string of entertaining and informative reviews on the BSFA shortlist… Unless they popped up in another dimsension. This one has seriously pinged my interest, though:)) Thank you!

    Like

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      I would like to blog in another dimension, but it would probably require a different type of keyboard. At least.

      Oh yes, you must read The Race. It was shortlisted twice and ignored twice. I’m afraid it will disappear into obscurity if we stop talking about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. […] hearing this from me, but, for recent fiction, people who have not yet read Wolves by Simon Ings, The Race by Nina Allan, and Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson are missing out. The ongoing politics of SF […]

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  14. […] on other 2015 award shortlists. I’m sad that Nina Allan’s surreal and exploratory The Race was almost completely ignored by awards this year. I’m sad that Nnedi Okorafor’s more […]

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  15. […] is doing something interesting that hearkens to a younger-feeling version of its 2014 peer, Nina Allan’s The Race, another intratextually-linked novel that I loved. As for the symbolism, damn me for […]

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  16. […] fiction after being blown away by her 2014 award shortlist darling, the diaphanous and anhedonic The Race, I was thrilled to see another release from her so soon. The Harlequin is a grim and somber […]

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  17. […] I reviewed the first release here. […]

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  18. I HAVE RETURNED FINALLY HAVING READ THE THING. Oh god it was so good.

    Two thoughts I had while reading this review:

    “Four intertextually linked novelettes, too dissimilar to give the reader a strong grasp of the textual reality.” I found it interesting that you described it this was because I had a very strong, if not *concrete* grasp of the world, perhaps because it so strongly inhabits the way I perceive the actual world–as hundreds, thousands, millions of worlds, all wrapped around each other and next to each other and because of individual perception, often never once actually looking like they belong to the same place at all.

    “Typical reader criticism: This isn’t really a novel!” WOT. People actually said that? Oh just fucking kill me now. No wait, then I would miss all the good books like this. Still. That comment is frustrating. They can go bang heads with Will Self while he chants “the novel is dead”.

    Actually and oops now I am on to a third thought, I think that my sense of The Race capturing exactly that feeling of the world I described in my first comment is why I found it so stunning. And on top of it page-turning (with the exception of about 20 pages of the cross-sea journey). Really the kind of book that gives you so much depth to explore, and that would reward multiple rereadings. Totally in love.

    So now the ever important question. You were the one to recommend to me that I read this one of Allan’s works first. Which do you recommend I read second????

    Like

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