Published November 3rd 2016 by StrangeBooks (first published October 31st 2016)
Format: PDF/Kindle Edition
Author: Mike Russell
Genre: Fantasy, science-fiction
Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“A naked, white-skinned boy names Sydney lay on his back on a white bed in the centre of a white room.”
Strungballs is an extraordinary novella from Strange Books author Mike Russell. What are Strungballs? Ten-year-old Sydney is about to find out… but first he must have a cube of his flesh removed. Sydney will transgress everything he was taught to believe in when he embarks upon a journey that will reveal the astonishing secrets hidden by the red balls on white strings known only as… Strungballs. Inspiring, liberating, otherworldly, magical, surreal, bizarre, funny, disturbing, unique… all of these words have been used to describe the stories of Mike Russell. Remember: Once a Strungball is inserted it must never be removed.
Before we delve into the bizarre world of Strungballs, I would like to thank StrangeBooks for sending me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Due to a bit of serendipity, I had recently discovered Mike Russell previous to receiving this novella. I’d just bought his other book Strange Medicine off Amazon because I was feeling in the mood for trying out a new area of fiction.
After reading Strungballs I have come to the conclusion that Mike Russell has created his own area of fiction, and he is right to call them strange.
Strange, surreal, odd, but absolutely immersive is how I’d describe his writing style and the narrative that is born from it.
I read this novella in just one day. I began by reading it on the bus to uni, and when I got to uni I sat in the library and read some more. My day was happily punctuated by the thought of being able to steal little moments to read more Strungballs.
It’s as though somebody gave me an addictive substance at the start of the day, and by the end of it I’d consumed the lot and wanted more. That substance can only be fiction done Mike Russell-style.
At first, the book reads like a children’s story, or the beginning of a YA book. There is a clear element of Sydney, our 10 year old protagonist, going through a rite of passage. But it is no ordinary ritual…he must have a chunk of his flesh taken from his literally white body, and have the gap filled by what I imagine to look like a toy from a joke shop – a Strungball.
A Strungball is simply a ball attached to a bit of string. That’s it. But society revolves around it. The more you have, the higher you are in status and good-ness. There are different ‘models’ and posters to advertise the importance of Strungballs.
Never has something so simple as a ball on a bit of string become so unsettling while still managing to make me curious in a way I’ve never experienced before with a book.
The addictiveness came mostly from how bizarre the story was, and also from the fact that I couldn’t tell where the narrative was going. I didn’t know what Sydney was going to do after having his Strungball for the first time, I didn’t know what the time frame for the narrative was going to be…and this just made me read on.
I think there’s a lot of symbolism and deeper meaning in this book, and I’m not quite sure that I understand it all completely. I’m pretty sure Russell is sending out messages about gender, society, family, sex and relationships…but also about what it means to be human. There’s a bit of everything in it, merged together like cubes of flesh to form one big meaningful message.
But because of how surreal the story is, the message sort of gets lost, but that might just be my mind.
The ending is like an hallucination. It’s like one of those weird dreams that you still remember when you wake up and you wonder how on earth your imagination could come up with something so surreal. It’s heavy on the symbolism and you’d be forgiven for not understanding what it all means. Just read it and enjoy every single strange second.
To sum up: Strungballs was like walking into a surrealist art exhibition. You are surrounded by things you don’t quite understand but that are still oddly familiar. You think it can’t get weirder, and then it does. You wonder if it’s art, and decide that it’s blown your mind too much for it not to be art.
Link to the book on Goodreads: Strungballs