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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

Sunyi Dean is an impressive writer. She constructs worlds within worlds that still bear remarkably unsettling connections with that of the world we inhabit. The first of her published novels, The Book Eaters is a wonderful exploration of fantasy and horror - with a really interesting premise! Her quirkiness comes through in spades and the reader navigates this mystical and fantasy world.

In the Yorkshire Moors (and you just know anything set in the Yorkshire Moors is going to have a fairly dark and ominous outcome) there lives a family - who are part of a wider group of families - known as ‘book eaters’. This family quite literally indulges in eating books, savouring the words and the phrases, feeling the knowledge grow within them with each new publication. Each genre has its own taste, its own experience. Certainly the concept of young book eaters being forced to consume the pages of the dictionary with its inky metallic taste definitely brought a smile.

But this is not the only consumption that occurs. There is a dark and fantastical side to the world that they inhabit. There are also the mind eaters - those who remove all trace of recognition from unsuspecting victims, feasting on their thoughts, likes, dislikes, and general cognition. Early in the book there is the story of a victim of a brain attack: a young vicar, whose alive but mostly lifeless body is taken to the local homeless shelter to spend his days lacking any kind of mental function.

Questions are raised throughout the novel, as in who are monsters? Is it those who seek to uncover the truth - journalists for example get a rough time of things when they investigate - or is it those who ultimately complete the deeds of the novel.

Devon, the main character of the novel, must navigate a rather torturous tightrope throughout the novel, consistently watching her step and attempting to keep things balanced and in a state of control. This is not always possible!

In the end, the story is less about the monstrous acts that occur, nor the book eating premise itself. Rather, it is about the strength of a mother put into impossibly difficult circumstances and quite literally has to make the best of a bad situation, What does it mean to be a mother, how far is it ok to go - for the sake of those in your family, those that you love?

It is a dense story, sometimes seeming like it folds over itself like a piece of origami. Readers need to keep vigilant throughout for fear of losing the threads of the plots and sub plots; however, with tenacity and an open mind, the true value of the text can be extracted. One that is memorable, and demonstrates the skill and ability of Sunyi Dean.

Reviewer: Chris Reed

Harper Voyager


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