The Beauty tells the story of Nate, a young storyteller with the gift of weaving words that can change the past, the present and the future. In an apocalyptic world with no women, the men exist without comfort or hope and it’s only Nate’s stories that can fill the void. This makes his stories both powerful and valuable. But when he discovers a new type of mushroom growing in the graveyard one day, everything in the world will be changed by the things he names The Beauty.
What I loved about this book was the rich exquisiteness of its storytelling language that gave everything life. It’s full of a vibrant kind of imagery that makes me want to shape my mouth around each word as though it’s being born between my lips and fed to my imagination at the same time.
“I swim on to the end of the tale, where it becomes the open mouth of the world into which all such stories pour and intermingle. I let it trickle away through my fingers with the words – and so it goes on.”
“I felt the disturbance my words caused like the ripples on the surface of a pond after the falling of a stone.”
The story explores and questions the role of the storyteller and the power of language – stories in particular – to shape our cultures and communities and govern our collective morality and actions. It doesn’t try to provide easy answers.
Something I really enjoyed about The Beauty was the ease with which the world itself was created. Without lengthy exposition or dire flashback, Aliya Whiteley has created a real and rounded natural environment for her characters with a very believable basis – despite the bizarre nature of its premise.
In this world, the delicate equilibrium of a utopian existence is constantly being sought by each of the characters in their own way. Often we are given glimpses of occasions in the past, present and possible future when this idealised harmony is briefly achieved in various ways, but it will always outrun itself to provoke new tensions and more extreme reactions.
Implicit in this story is the questioning and breaking down of the binary opposition of traditional gender roles and a probing exploration of gender neutrality or androgyny. Again, Whiteley’s use of language here is both rich and subtle, demanding that we examine our unconscious use of gendered pronouns while also describing the ecstasy and fear of transition and uncertainty.
My only criticism of this book is that I felt it could have been twice as long! Some of the actions and ideas seemed to be arrived at and then gone again too briefly. I would have liked them to have been given more space and time to unfold: to really take root and blossom in my mind before moving on apace. Characters’ motives and emotional responses might have been mined more deeply in certain places.
I also felt that a longer novel would allow for some of the deeper complexities and more subtle nuances of the problems of language, naming and storytelling to be explored more fully. I’m sure this is an area that we can expect Whiteley’s future work to develop on with ever greater finesse.
The Beauty has already been nominated for three awards. And there’s more to come from Aliya Whiteley on Unsung this year. Whiteley is a writer with great talent and potential: I’m looking forward to reading more.
About the publisher:
Unsung Stories is a small publisher of genre fiction based in London, with a passion for the bits in between:
‘We love the fuzzy bits between genres: hard, soft, gooey and fuzzy sci-fi, high, low, top, middle and bottom fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, steampunk, cyberpunk, space opera, weird, dark, comedy, satire, bizarro and anything else that falls somewhere between any or all of those.’
Review by Sally-Shakti Willow: Research Assistant for The Contemporary Small Press