3 out of 4 stars
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Every once in a while, I come across a book written so truthfully that I can’t help but be captivated by its emotional honesty, bowled over by the author’s ability to perfectly capture the rawness of human emotion. For me, this was the case with Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. It was the case with Judith Claire Mitchell’s A Reunion of Ghosts.
It was also the case with Megan Voysey’s The Unbearable Machine.
The Unbearable Machine is one of those books where the plot isn’t really the focus of the story, but still—before we go any further, let’s have a quick run-through of the storyline. Our main character, Astrid, is mourning the death of her partner Claire, without whom she feels lost and utterly alone. To cope with her loss, Astrid goes to therapy (a support group called Grieve with Dignity); she stays away from home for a while, going on a trip alone to learn to adapt to life without the love of her life. And, in the process of healing from this setback, she begins to heal from other traumatic events in her past, too. (Heads’ up—this does mean that this book does deal with darker themes like death and sexual assault, so consider yourself forewarned!)
The Unbearable Machine is beautifully written. It’s filled with vivid, haunting imagery and lyrical sentences that flow so seamlessly into each other, the writing more resembles poetry than prose. (Cross E. Lockhart’s writing style with spoken-word poetry—that’s the vibe you get with Voysey’s words.) It was easy to get lost in this book because the writing just flows—that’s something you don’t see too often. Voysey also makes great use of white space to enrich her tone, using double-line spacing to make each sentence that much more impactful. That’s usually analysis I’d save for poems, but that’s just how much Voysey’s writing reads like poetry!
Good writing aside, I also really liked the LGBTQ representation in this book; it’s great to see novels where people from the LGBTQ community have the starring roles. Also, Astrid may be a lesbian, but the story isn’t about coming out or being attracted to people of the same sex—Astrid has an identity and personality outside of her sexuality, which has always been the case in real life and should always be the case in media. LGBTQ characters in mainstream media tend to be written simply as That Queer Character, and have little to no development as actual characters, so The Unbearable Machine is definitely a great example of good representation!
Having said that, no book is perfect, and this one is no exception. My main gripe with this novel is that emotional emphasis is divided between two or three focal points—Claire’s death and a few other spoilers that I won’t share—and each focal point is equally emphasised. While this does pull the reader deeper into the story and allows for greater empathy and immersion, it also has the unfortunate side effect of making the story seem slightly unfocused, i.e. that the story can’t decide on a single main event. This distracts from the story because the events aren’t even the main point of the book; that title belongs to the emotional journey Astrid embarks on. I’d have liked it better if these subplots had been woven into the main core of the story, rather than having each event presented as the be-all and end-all of the plot. Another issue I had was that Voysey uses too many commas; while this was partially because of her writing style, I did find myself thinking that some additional full stops would have made the reading experience even better. I will say that the above-mentioned aren’t major problems, though—I did thoroughly enjoy the book!
Overall, I’d give The Unbearable Machine a solid 3 out of 4 stars because it really held up well for me. It’s definitely a book I’d recommend to anyone with a couple of hours to spare, at any rate—I promise it’ll be a fulfilling read.
The Unbearable Machine
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