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Old 9th Aug 2007, 14:38   #1
Colyngbourne
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Default Melvyn Burgess

There are some very good reasons why Melvyn Burgess’ books ought to come with Parental Advisory stickers: they’re a stand-out in the YA landscape for touching on 18 certificate material and blowing the more discreet or edgy teen fare out of the water. Junk told the story of kids bunking from home to live in a squat, and getting hooked on heroin, with all the expected attendant misery and trouble; Lady: My Life as a Bitch was the tale of a girl metamorphosed into a female dog, exploring teenage pack-dom and hormonal sex obsession via the means of a stray female dog on heat. Doing It was the controversial account of sex-obsessed teen boys, one of whom is having an affair with his teacher, describing their wants and needs and feelings in the most explicit terms.

In amongst these eternal themes of teendom, across seven years Burgess wrote his two-book saga – Bloodtide and Bloodsong – based on the Icelandic Volsunga saga which tells of Sigmund, his son Sigurd (Siegfired), Brunhilde, the dragon Fafnir and the interferences of Odin amongst the doings of men. Some of the modern ‘issues’ of under-age sex and drugs are left behind and in their place, Burgess puts blood-feuds, revenge, power-lust, incest, genetic modification and apocalypse: a far more vibrant and heady mix and utterly compulsive (if not a little queasy-making).

Sigmund and co. are translated to a post-apocalyptic London, infested with poverty and disease and its gang-wars walled in both literally and also by a fifty-mile exclusion zone in which live the Half-Breeds, predominantly mutant human-pig, human-dog and human-monkey creatures that savage anything that comes in their path but who we discover have more humanity to them than is initially presented. Science is at work in both books, creating Womb Tanks which can grow adult clones within months or rebuild wrecked bodies, and whole living cities that live underground, but gods also walk this earth, one-eyed Odin fixing the sword of destiny from where only its true owner can draw it, as well as mystical daughters of Loki who can shape-shift. It is the darkest sci-fi films and magazines, and fantasy sagas, all rolled together with the force of the strongest epic poetry. And the blood-loss is unstinting and frequently grotesque (did I say how much I loved these books?) – Sigmund’s brothers are eaten alive by an insane porcine hybrid, his sister Signy’s hamstrings are sliced by her new husband so that her legs wither and she cannot escape the marriage bed of the warlord to whom her father sacrificed her in a vain attempt at a peace treaty.

Bloodtide is a more straggling read than its sequel, which is more focussed on the tighter storyline of Sigurd killing the dragon and forsaking his beloved Brunhilde. When I was young I never got over the confusion of trying to understand the Nordic myths and legends, and the complicated variations on names that arise, so along with Wynne Jones' Eight Days of Luke (for younger readers) and Patricia Elliott's inferior Ice Boy, this drew me into a mythological landscape I have avoided until now, and which was all the more fascinating for its futuristic slant.



Edit: this is the kind of YA book that interests me - they are a rarity - where it demands an older readership than 13 yrs; it's also the kind of YA stuff that I attempt to write.
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Last edited by Colyngbourne; 22nd Oct 2008 at 14:47. Reason: A 'y' in Melvyn
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Old 12th Mar 2008, 14:18   #2
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Default Re: Melvin Burgess: Bloodtide & Bloodsong

Courtesy of BiNS, I came to a copy of Lady: My Life as a Bitch, one of the more notorious Burgess titles, and lo! it was not quite as I had imagined (but it was not quite as good as it could have been either). Sandra is living the ultimate life of teen irresponsibility - imagine your average parental nightmare - and thinking nothing of it until suddenly she is transformed into a dog by a wayward tramp, whose curses "canify" all those who invite his wrath. Pretty soon she is experiencing a new kind of life and irresponsibility - cat-fights, furious mating with the two male 'canified' dogs she has teamed up with and exploring the world of the senses far more than she managed to do as a tanked up teen girl on drugs. There are plenty of regrets though, as she realises the value of her family members and discarded friends and seeks a way to communicate with them. In many respects the story ends as we might expect and yet it disappoints on that score: irresponsibility wins; the effort and sacrifices of living a human life are spurned and I suspect the reader is supposed to applaud Sandra/Lady's bid for canine freedom, uncaring and uncared for.

The detail of teen lives and the dialogue is as perceptive as ever, as in Junk, and Doing It, but I wondered at the moral of the story: there seemed to be no way back for Lady and a joyous disdain for human values and responsibilities: something teens can obviously pass through, but usually en route to mature years. And so - something I would rarely do - I would hesitate before recommending this to a teen reader.

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Old 12th Mar 2008, 14:57   #3
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Default Re: Melvin Burgess

Nice review Col. I've been meaning to get around to Burgess for some time now. I read Lady: My Life as a Bitch a couple of years ago and thought it very good indeed. I have a copy of Junk and Bloodtide on my TBR shelf and will get to them eventually.

What I like about Burgess is his utterly realistic view of teenagers. He doesn't flinch from taboo subjects like sex and drugs. I remember Doing It caused a huge controversy when it first came out.

The then children's laureate, Anne Fine, was not impressed:

http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/s...923907,00.html
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Old 12th Mar 2008, 15:09   #4
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Default Re: Melvin Burgess

Yes, Anne Fine's response was hugely headlined all round the UK children's lit world. I think, regarding Doing It, it is something I would be very unhappy at handing to a teen. I don't doubt the realism of the peer-to-peer discussions of sex and relationships (let alone the drugs and alcohol angle) but for them to be offered as appropriate reading material for teens (which these days basically means 12-14's, as much as the older teens), is where I, like Fine, would have difficulty. My oldest son has read Junk and Bloodsong/Bloodtide loved them but I will not be putting Lady or Doing It in his path, or that of the other children (girls among them).

Which is odd in some ways because I am not the censoring kind for teen lit (we have threads about that elsewhere) but Doing It is graphic in a way which makes it quite dubious as entertaining reading: it's not necessarily informative - many teens will have heard conversations like the ones in the books and had doubts/experiences that are reflected in the book's subjects, but I do doubt the wisdom of them in a book for this age-group, to be found on shelves next to the average dragons+wizards fantasy on the YA shelves.

Bloodtide/Bloodsong is a different matter altogether: bloody fabulous in both senses of both words!
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Old 12th Mar 2008, 15:59   #5
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Default Re: Melvin Burgess

Quote:
Originally Posted by Colyngbourne View Post
Bloodtide/Bloodsong is a different matter altogether: bloody fabulous in both senses of both words!
I must say, if I'd not just spent a stinking pile of cash on Conan Doyle this morning I'd probably be sniffing these out on the basis of your first post. Ones to add to my shopping basket, I think.
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Old 13th Mar 2008, 9:57   #6
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Default Re: Melvin Burgess

I spotted Junk in the charity shop and contemplated buying it for my son but I thought my husband would freak so I left it on the shelf.
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Old 13th Mar 2008, 10:10   #7
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Default Re: Melvin Burgess

It's pretty explicit about drug-taking but the characters find that they are mostly wanting to break free from the habits that are life-ruiners. I think it depends on the reader: my older son read it aged 12, I think, but I don't think my younger son, now 12, would appreciate it very much.
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Old 13th Sep 2009, 15:55   #8
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Default Re: Melvyn Burgess

Melvin Burgess has been constructing a story via Twitter which has just come to its gruesome conclusion.

http://twitter.com/MelvinBurgess

Totally creepy as hell.
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