10. ‘Strungballs’ by Mike Russell

When the publisher of Strungballs emailed to offer me a copy of this surreal sci-fi novella, I hopped over to the website and read this review by the Fantasy Book Review: “This is like nothing I have ever read before… a highly unique, weird and perhaps even mind-altering reading experience.” Well, that did it. I accepted a copy right away!

strungballs mike russellSydney lives in a strange world. The ‘city’ he lives in is one white corridor, with 999 identical rooms, that loops back on itself in a giant circle, so Room 999 sits next to Room 1. This city is protected by a sphere made of something shocking (I won’t spoil what), and all the citizens regularly undergo a surgical procedure that allows them to slot red balls with white strings (‘Strungballs’) into carved-out sockets in their bodies. These Strungballs are fashionable, desirable, and everybody wears them. The story opens with Sydney getting his first.

really liked this dystopian world. It’s delightfully creepy, and Russell portrays it brilliantly through the eyes of a ten-year-old boy who has just ‘come of age’ and is learning more about his city than he ever knew before (although, how on earth did he never look behind those curtains?!). I also really enjoyed how the people behave in this city, because it’s just so strange. One moment in particular sticks with me: Sydney’s mother wants to show his father a picture Sydney drew at school, so she stands by Sydney’s bedroom door, pointing and smiling, for over an hour until he comes home. If that doesn’t make you shudder, I don’t know what will.

This is only a short book, so you don’t get long in this rigid world. Sydney starts hearing rumors about ‘Others’ (ie. people who don’t wear Strungballs), and his encounter with an old man called Albert, who wants to be rid of his Strungballs for good, ignites his curiosity and sets him on a path that could spell the end of the city’s peaceful yet bland existence. And let me tell you, the places this novella goes, I guarantee you will not be able to predict. Sydney’s story dives into the surreal pretty quickly, deep enough to touch the bottom. The novella doesn’t tie up all those loose Strungball strings – instead it tangles you up in so many that (ironically) you end up embracing them.

This book certainly lives up to the review I read. It’s truly weird (well, the publisher is called StrangeBooks!) and the ending is so full of twists and turns, bizarre imagery and philosophical concepts, that I came out the other side thinking What on earth did I just read? But that’s not a bad thing. For all that this story confused and discomfited me, I found it eerily absorbing and damned enjoyable. It’s perfect if you want a healthy dose of the strange.

“I wish I could live without them so that I could search for what it is that I really need.” – Albert

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!

Want to read it? You can buy Strungballs here.

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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