Book review: Kallocain by Karin Boye

Kallocain by Karin Boye
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBDGoodreads
Publication Date: 1940
Source: Purchased

This is a novel of the future, profoundly sinister in its vision of a drab terror. Ironic and detached, the author shows us the totalitarian World-state through the eyes of a product of that state, scientist Leo Kall. Kall has invented a drug, kallocain, which denies the privacy of thought and is the final step towards the transmutation of the individual human being into a “happy, healthy cell in the state organism.” For, says Leo, “from thoughts and feelings, words and actions are born. How then could these thoughts and feelings belong to the individual? Doesn’t the whole fellow-soldier belong to the state? To whom should his thoughts and feelings belong then, if not to the state?”

As the first-person record of Leo Kall, scientist, fellow-soldier too late disillusioned to undo his previous actions, Kallocain achieves a chilling power and veracity that place it among the finest novels to emerge from the strife-torn Europe of the twentieth century.

I’m just going to put this out there: I wasn’t the most responsible student. It should be pretty clear that I love to read, and it will probably come as no surprise that sometimes I took two or three lit classes in a semester. The problem was that I would end up with reading assignments of 600 or more pages each night, and I’d have to pick and choose which ones I was going to do. (I may love to read, but 600 pages every night is a little much for even the most voracious reader.) The classes with pop quizzes and upcoming exams or papers always won. My Scandinavian literature in translation course, while I loved it, was usually on the back burner because the professor didn’t believe in quizzing us on what we were reading. So some books, like this lovely Kallocain, fell to the back of my bookcase and were never thought of again.

Kallocain was originally assigned to me in the spring of 2011. I finally read it in December of 2014. I don’t know what I expected. I have only a very vague recollection of the professor explaining it in class. Maybe I was imagining something like the boring, formulaic dystopias of today. But that’s not what this is.

This is a wonderful story of a scientist, Leo Kall, who develops a truth serum (Kallocain) while working in one of the Worldstate’s chemistry laboratories. Leo is excited about his discovery and knows that it will greatly benefit the Worldstate by alleviating some of the pressure on the legal system. After all, now suspected criminals will just be given a dose of Kallocain and confess all their crimes!

When Kallocain moves into human testing, Leo finds that many of his fellow-soldiers harbor negative feelings toward the Worldstate. He knows that the individual is of no importance aside from what he can offer the Worldstate, and that so many people feel otherwise is baffling to him. Thank goodness for Kallocain, he thinks, because now these thought criminals can be prosecuted. But soon, Leo begins fearing the consequences of his drug. What if Kallocain were to be misused? What might Leo himself reveal if he were forced to undergo an injection? Has he made a great mistake?

Written over seventy years ago, Kallocain was surprisingly ahead of its time. In such a short book (just around 200 pages), it’s difficult to delve into specifics without spoiling the plot. Let me just say that the book is extremely well-written and still relevant to today’s society.

If you enjoyed 1984 or We, you will likely enjoy Kallocain.

Giveaway alert!

Earlier this year, I read Best Kind of Broken by Chelsea Fine.  As the first book in the Finding Fate series, it explores the relationship of childhood friends Pixie and Levi, who were torn apart after a terrible accident.  It’s a sweet (though angsty) romance that I really enjoyed.  If it sounds like something you’d like, Goodreads First Reads has 15 copies available, ending January 12.

Click here for your chance to win!

Goodreads | Amazon

So, Ruthless People sounds pretty good, right? 4.14 average on Goodreads out of over 3000 ratings. A combo love story/crime novel focusing on an arranged marriage between warring mafia families. By the way, the bride and groom aren’t allowed to meet until three days before the wedding.

I enjoyed the beginning of the book. Melody struck me as a very strong woman who wouldn’t give up on her dreams just because of some stupid marriage contract. And Liam, although headstrong and egotistical, would obviously do anything for his family, even if it meant throwing away his happiness. Even the first meeting between Melody and Liam was pretty great. Liam is instantly attracted to her, and Melody shoots him for getting a little too friendly.

Soon after, though, I started wondering whether this book had just been thrown together at the last moment. Did an editor even look at it? If McAvoy didn’t want to pay a professional editor, surely she could have sought the help of her friends, family, or even her readers. (I’ve read books where the author actually requested that the readers email any mistakes they find so that the book could be corrected.) Anyway, I would have forgiven most of the mistakes in an uncorrected proof, but it was too much for a finished copy, especially one that an author expects people to pay for.

The writing is, in a word, awful. McAvoy regularly leaves words out or uses the incorrect words. (Don’t even get me started on the commas.) Again, this is something that could be easily remedied with a fresh set of eyes looking for mistakes. It was almost comical how many mistakes I found in this book. Almost, because at the end, it really started detracting from the story.

“It wasn’t even really your chest. It was much closer to your shoulder-blade. The worse you needed was stitches, you big baby.”
“I’m sure this will help the families who lost love ones and those injured, overwhelmingly so.”
“We’ve already missed three masses. A forth one and people might think I killed you.”
I wanted to rip the smiled from his lips.
I wanted to watch him rain fire and brimstone on the fool, but I wasn’t sure what they knew our how much they were after.

She overuses words, particularly “however” and “hissed.” I have never read a book where people hiss as much as they do here, and nobody I’ve ever met says “however” with this frequency. There are 40 mentions of characters hissing and 114 howevers over a mere 328 pages. That means that somebody hisses an average of every eight pages, and we can’t go more than three pages without someone saying “however.”

“Liam, we need to focus,” she hissed as I ran my fingers against her neck.
“You’re lying,” I hissed, shooting him through his other ankle.
“You’re wasting words,” I hissed. “How is he?”
We didn’t cheat on our wives, and we didn’t do any of the smack or drugs we sold. Those two things alone were things the mafia world was known for.However, it was also the first thing that brought them down.
None of them cared about the charity. They only cared about upstaging each other in who had more money to give, just to prove how rich they are. None of them could hold a candle to any wife of a Callahan. However, they all wanted to come in second place.
The Valero were coming at us with everything they had. We expected as much. However, with the cops now watching us more than ever, our actions were limited.

When reading Ruthless People, I felt like it would have been much better if McAvoy had stuck to crime with a side of romance, or romance with a side of crime, rather than trying to shove murders and explosions and declarations of love down the reader’s throat at the same time. With a little less going on, and a little more attention to detail, this book could have been so much better. 

Overall, I didn’t love or hate this book. I really just didn’t connect with it, or with any of the characters. It wasn’t the violence, or the sex, or the language that got to me. I can handle all of that. I just didn’t understand Melody and Liam’s motivation. There’s no rhyme or reason to what they do. They kill indiscriminately, often just because they can. Liam kills someone for walking into the restroom at the wrong time. Melody seems to shoot, stab, or otherwise attack anyone who annoys her. Without a reason behind their actions, it just becomes monotonous and boring.

“Is this jealously? Are you mad that this woman is on the same level as you are?”

A knife flew at my face giving me only a second to react. I moved out of the way before it embedded itself in the door.

No one is on the same level as me.”

Yes, that was Melody throwing a knife at her husband for merely suggesting that someone could have the same capacity for insanity as she does. (Also, please note the use of “jealously” instead of “jealousy.”)

I’ve given a lot of negatives about this book, but I will say that it’s a very original plot and it has a lot of potential. With a little (or maybe a lot) of polishing, this could easily be a four-star read for me. All in all, my rating is 2.5 stars, rounded up.

Final rating: ★

Four different worlds. Four different Londons. Blood magicians, a feisty thief, and body snatching royalty – just a few of the things you’ll get in A Darker Shade of Magic, the newest book by Victoria Schwab.

The publisher has requested that I wait until two weeks before the release date to post my review, so it will be available on February 10.  I don’t want to say too much, but this was definitely a four-star read for me.

Goodreads | Amazon

Brooke Ellstein: middle school math teacher, head of the “Support Our Troops” pen pal program, daughter of New York’s future governor (if the election goes well)… overnight internet celebrity?

Let’s back up.

As a New Jersey native, Shane Develen didn’t qualify for New York’s “Support Our Troops” pen pal program. But rather than leave him hanging, Brooke Ellstein began corresponding with him outside of the program. What started out as lighthearted letters turned into an unstoppable attraction on both sides. The one time that Brooke and Shane meet in person, she gives him a photo of her in lingerie, making him promise that he’ll never show it to anyone else. All’s well until she wakes up one morning to find the photo all over Facebook, with her students commenting on it and alleging inappropriate behavior. Was Shane involved? Did he break his promise? How will Brooke ever get herself out of this situation?

This book is a very sweet, very cheesy, very quick read. I think I spent, in total, maybe three hours on it. Unlike a lot of new adult novels, the conflicts are fairly realistic. (No murderous fathers, no crazy stalkers, no mob connections.) The characters are described as more or less normal – no weird names, strange identifying features, or unrealistic jobs. This book would have been really easy to love (see what I did there) if the timeline had been better.

Oh, it’s so cute! you think at the end. And then you realize… Brooke and Shane have been together for all of maybe three or four weeks? Granted, a lot happens in that time, but still. Weeks.

I accepted the connection between Shane and Brooke. It was clear that they had feelings for each other. I just wish that we’d gotten to see more of their letters to each other before they met in person. It would have made the rest of the book seem less rushed.

I also wish there’d been a touch less angst. (After all, I do automatically subtract a star if I can’t handle the angst.) From the beginning, Shane thought he wasn’t good enough for Brooke, and Brooke didn’t want to subject Shane to the politics of her life. There were constant miscommunications, both accidental and deliberate. And, honestly, I couldn’t understand why Brooke put up with half of what she did from the Develen family.

Overall, Loving You Is Easy was fine. I wouldn’t turn down another book from the author, but I won’t go searching one out, either.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy!

Final rating: