Sunday, 23 October 2016

Occupied by Joss Sheldon

Occupied by Joss Sheldon
Self published in 2015. Audiobook edition narrated by Jack Wynters published in 2016.

One of my Top Ten Books of 2016.

Where to buy this book:
Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
Buy from independent booksellers via Alibris
Buy the audiobook from Audible via
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository

How I got this book:
Audible audiobook gifted to me by the author

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

'Some people live under occupation.
Some people occupy themselves.
No one is free.

Step into a world which is both magically fictitious and shockingly real. Walk side-by-side with a refugee, native, occupier and economic migrant. And watch on as the world around you transforms from a halcyon past into a dystopian future.
Inspired by the occupations of Palestine, Kurdistan and Tibet, and by the corporate occupation of the west, Occupied is a haunting glance into a society which is a little too familiar for comfort. It truly is a unique piece of literary fiction.

I don't recall being as excited about an indie author book as I am about Occupied since I read Alison Habens' The True Picture two years ago! In my opinion Occupied is that good and I am so grateful to Joss Sheldon for gifting me an audio copy of his book. Describing the swift and total change of a country from peaceful rural idyll to greedy dystopian metropolis within the lifetimes of our four protagonists, Occupied cleverly depicts all aspects of their homes, work and families. I loved the circular storytelling and language which allows readers to observe linked experiences. Other than Tamsin, Ellie, Aaron and Charlie, the characters are caricatures almost in the style of fairytale creations. Family members are named for their relationships to our 'heroes' - Mama Tamsin, Uncle Charlie, etc - and others are named for physical characteristics - the owlish settler, the hump-backed priest - which made it it easy for me as a listener to meet and revisit many people without confusing them.

Occupied illustrates refugee and migrant experiences with shocking clarity, but balances that with thoughtful understanding of many points of view. We also hear from Ellie whose town is overrun with refugees and Aaron who is just as much a refugee, but identifies as a settler and is therefore privileged. The book is ostensibly set in Palestine, but I was also reminded of other recent reads of mine set in apartheid South Africa, British Empire India and segregated Alabama. Sheldon's themes of unjustified blame and enmity based on something as arbitrary as religion or cultural background are a depressingly familiar part of humanity and I liked how he showed that, in the end, everyone was just as screwed, regardless of from where they had started!

Sheldon writes of extreme violence, war and persecution, torture and brutal neglect. Big businesses and cultural leaders are warped and re-presented to show their true colours, but there is wonderfully dry humour scattered across the horror too and glimpses of positive sides to humanity. It's certainly not all doom and gloom. Renamed corporations are fun and spotting nods to other novels is satisfying. Occupied is not a book to be entered lightly, but it is one that is very difficult to put aside once started and I will certainly be offering it as a suggestion to anyone asking for recommendations, probably for months to come. I loved relating the skewed world of the book to our own world and experienced a few uncomfortable moments as I recognised aspects of myself. I think Occupied will turn out to be my book of the month and I wouldn't be surprised if it is my book of the year too.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Joss Sheldon / Contemporary fiction / Books from England

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