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Reading ‘Our Lady of the Streets’ in Mogadishu

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The book: Our Lady of the Streets, Tom Pollock

The place: Mogadishu

2014 is bringing three trilogies that I love to a conclusion – the first was Hannu Rajaniemi’s Jean le Flambeur series; the third is Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy (the third book of which, The Magician’s Land, came out in hardcover in the UK three days ago, but is not yet in ebook form, meaning that I shall have to actually wait until I am in the UK to get my hands on it; my life is terribly hard) – and the second is this. I bought the first book of the trilogy, The City’s Son, on a whim just before taking an overnight flight from New York to London, and read it in pretty much a single sitting; the second book, The Glass Republic, came out in August last year, and I read it while besieged by unrest in downtown Cairo – and then the third one appeared on my Kindle a day or two ago. As if by magic.

I spent a significant amount of my childhood (and, if I’m honest, a not insignificant amount of my adulthood) keeping an eye out for some sort of gateway into an alternate version of reality – you know, just in case – and so I’ve read a number of books set in some form of alternate London: Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, China Mieville’s Un Lun Dun. It seems to be a city particularly prone to being reimagined in this way, but probably I’m just more aware of books set in an alternate London because I’m more aware of London, full-stop. (There’s also Ekaterina Sedia’s Secret History of Moscow, and Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s books about an alternate Barcelona – but I can’t think of any examples for, say, Paris, or any large North American cities.) I loved Neverwhere and liked Un Lun Dun, but Pollock’s alternate London is definitely my favourite, and the one closest to my own understanding of the city: filthy and dangerous and vulgar and gritty and utterly unmistakeable. Pollock’s books are, technically, young adult books, but there’s no lack of complexity as a result of that (take that, Slate) – Pollock treats his young readers (and his adult ones) as if they’re as capable of nuance and subtlety as his teenage characters. And perhaps my favourite thing about the books: two young, female protagonists, who are as tough and capable as any man, and whose friendship is at the very centre of the story – more important than either of their romantic entanglements, or even their families. This foregrounding of female friendships is much too rare, even among female writers; it’s very impressive coming from a male writer. Tom Pollock, I salute you.

(There’s a lot more that I could say about these books, but that’d risk entering spoiler territory. Read them for yourselves.)

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Written by Jess

August 8, 2014 at 9:15 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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