Review: 'The Beauty', Aliya Whiteley

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

The Beauty // Aliya Whiteley
• Published August 1st 2014 by Unsung Stories

Somewhere away from the cities and towns, a group of men and boys gather around the fire each night to listen to their stories in the Valley of the Rocks. For when the women are all gone the rest of your life is all there is for everyone. The men are waiting to pass into the night.

The story shall be told to preserve the past. History has gone back to its aural roots and the power of words is strong. Meet Nate, the storyteller, and the new secrets he brings back from the woods. William rules the group with youth and strength, but how long can that last? And what about Uncle Ted, who spends so much time out in the woods?

Hear the tales, watch a myth be formed. For what can man hope to achieve in a world without women? When the past is only grief how long should you hold on to it? What secrets can the forest offer to change it all?

Discover the Beauty.

Why did I read this book? Because the blurb promised me a world without women. Not "a world without women except for one who for some reason didn't die", but "a world without women, full stop". And let me tell you, to feminist me, this sounded incredibly intriguing.

So I gave it a shot.

This book, let me tell you, is a powerhouse. The story follows Nate, the resident storyteller in a small community of men who have chosen to live their last days in a quiet, isolated settlement - they call it Valley of the Rocks. The women are gone, dead and buried, but their memory lives on in Nate's stories, and the collective consciousness they shape in a world where history is but the spoken word.

This delicate balance doesn't last, though, and when a strange breed of mushroom starts popping up around the cemetery (look at that cover!), the small community is in for the ultimate takedown on their identity.

I won't spoil you with details, because I believe this is one book that should truly be savoured in all its twists and turns - but what Aliya Whiteley has achieved here is nothing short of incredible. Probably the most exquisitely orchestrated deconstruction of gender roles I have ever read in my life.

The book is beautifully written, the prose haunting but subtle. The pacing left a little to be desired at first (it's a small book, and I felt it took some time to reach its point of no return), but the second half was so daring, so... I can't even find a word to describe it, so impossibly strange yet easy to accept, considering the setting, that I just can't blame the beginning for lulling me into a sense of pseudo-normalcy.

Halfway through, I was telling like-minded friends "this is the weirdest thing I've ever read". But as soon as I was finished, I was telling those same like-minded friends "you HAVE to read this". Long story short, I was completely floored by this book, and I cannot recommend it enough.

Four stars, might bump it up to five if it stays in the back of my mind long enough. It probably will.

NOTE: This book was provided by the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

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