Cover Image: Demi-Gods


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Demi-what? Honestly, this is what I wanted to call my post. 

I read this book in a day. I really wanted to see what was so amazing, so new, so fresh about it... And I miserably failed.

This story brings up a lot of inferences and references to pop culture and literature, from Lolita to Revenge and Gossip Girl. 

Disfunctional families breed peculiar children. Ever-absent father and constantly drunk mother and disabled and incapable step-father raise five children between them on liquid diet and hazy drug-induced parties. Children are left to their own devices very early on. If mum ever cooks, she 'scrambles one egg for herself'. If mum ever pays attention to her girls it is only to compare them to slut or share her drink.

What a joyful summer. 

Girls grow up too quickly. No, not mature, but grow up. They have to look after themselves and after their little brother. They have to find their own way in life and fulfil their purposes. It is to marry, of course. Do they succeed?

Everything is warped and askew in this family, in this summer house and in this book. Sex is 'something to get over with'. Love is not spoken of and not even thought of. Relationships and connectedness are non-existent.

Main character, Willa is coming of age in a very peculiar way filled with dead rabbits, camparis, clothepegs and wicked games with her step-brother Patrick. 

This book will make you cringe, gasp and shake your head. The story is taking, enveloping and disgusting, in places. The ending is a bit muffled and rushed on. The prophecy is not fulfilled. The result is disappointing. 

The aftertaste is very sour and sickly sweet, just like that first summer of 1950.

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I won’t argue, there were parts of Eliza Robertson’s debut novel, Demi-Gods, that bordered on gratuitous. It’s important to mention that because some readers will abandon the book after they encounter a particular scene in the first chapter. Not me. I was hooked from page one, intrigued by the complex relationships and charmed by Robertson’s writing.

It’s 1950 and the lives of nine-year-old Willa and twelve-year-old Joan are transformed when their mother, a cocktail-swilling divorcee, invites her new lover and his two sons, Kenneth and Patrick, to stay at the family’s summer-house on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. The attraction between Joan and Kenneth is immediate and as they pair off, Willa is left in the company of the sly and unnerving Patrick. Patrick both intrigues and repulses Willa and the story focuses on the complex power dynamic that unfolds between them during the six times they meet in the following decades.

In the intervals between, we didn’t exist. He didn’t exist to me. I didn’t exist to him.

The story is told as short episodes. Robertson maintains the tension with subtle shifts in family alliances. Although the characters appear to be set on a particular trajectory, the power shifts give their relationships depth and complexity.

For the first time, I felt glad that Joan wasn’t there. They loved her so effortlessly, boys.

Every now and then Mom surfaced to say something sweet or mean to us. More often, she directed her comment to Joan, and more often, it was mean. She said things like, “I once saw a skirt just like that, on a whore in Vancouver.”

Robertson’s writing is superb, filled with both lush descriptions –

Sun filled the leaves – the arbutus trunks plump with it, a warm gauze of light thickening the air between their boughs and the boughs of the fir trees. There is a pigment where green becomes gold, I think. You see it in apples. And the gaps between branches.

and intricate detail, from the smell of a seaside town, ‘…waffle cones, boat bilge, the musk of warm ropes’, to bits that reveal so much more – “…leaning against the kitchen counter – the ease of his stance undermined by how his fingers clamped the coffee cup.’

Robertson introduces a number of themes in Demi-Gods but power and control dominate. Although Patrick and Willa’s meetings follow a pattern, the dynamic shifts over time. Despite the façade of control, Patrick is ultimately an uncertain teen, testing his strength in an adult world. Equally, Willa, who at first appears compliant, has a tenacity and self-assurance that emerges as the story progresses – “People often lied to me, and I pretended not to notice.” The climax is dark and surprising.

I began 2017 with Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth – this book had similarities, notably the slow build and the exploration of the layered and conditional loyalties unique to families. The descriptions of family relationships reminded me of The Forrests by Emily Perkins and the menacing undertone brought to mind Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen. I can’t wait to read what Robertson writes next.

4/5 This is a book that will divide readers. I was riveted.

I received my copy of Demi-Gods from the publisher, Bloomsbury Publishing, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

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Willa's father has left his family and her mother has a new boyfriend. When Eugene visits the family house on a British Columbia island he brings his two sons with him. Willa is attracted to Patrick but their adolescent friendship is tinged with cruelty that over the years develops into something more sinister.

This is a book which will polarize readers. I found it irritating, too much poetic description and avoidance of plot development. However I can see it appealing to many readers.

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I was excited about reading this novel from the moment I saw it. The blurb really grabbed me and I couldn't wait to see how Robertson would bring all these different ideas and themes together. Young Adult and teenage years are rife with potential complications, issues and questions, and I don't think I'm ever going to get tired of reading about it. Thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

There is something about Demi-Gods that made in "unputdownable" for me. (I know that isn't a word, but let's just roll with it for now!) I was intrigued by the story, by where Robertson would lead us next, what we would discover about the characters as well as ourselves. So I was in deep, in a way. However, there was also something about Demi-Gods that let me sort of drift at the surface. As the reader, you're very much observing these characters. You aren't as immersed in them as in other novels, yet still very engaged with them. The novel is very descriptive and Robertson dedicates a lot of time to observations. You see Willa, Joan, Kenneth and Patrick go through life, make their choices, make their mistakes, and there is something that feels inevitable about it all. Although Demi-Gods is a short read, it doesn't feel like it. It is also quite a weird and upsetting novel, but this shouldn't stop anyone from reading it. Rather, it is definitely

A big part of the novel is dedicated to the continuous meeting of Willa and Patrick and how their relationship develops over the course of these meetings. As the blurb describes it, their meetings are 'increasingly charged with sexuality and degradation'. Set in the '50s, Robertson shows how aware she is of the strict gender rules that existed and shows her various female characters struggling with these. Willa's encounters with Patrick are a rush, both for her and the reader, a situation in which neither knows exactly what is happening. Yet once they are over, and the reality of what has happened sinks in, there is always the sense of unease, of something not quite right. Analysing the power balance, or rather imbalance, between them is fascinating and it makes Demi-Gods a topical and interesting read. In that sense it is definitely reminiscent of Emma Cline's The Girls, in that both novels look at what happens to girls left alone, girls struggling for some kind of power.

This is Eliza Robertson's debut novel and I'm always wowed by the skill and deftness with which many new authors craft their novels. Demi-Gods sometimes reads like a confessional, as if Willa is unburdening herself to the reader, trying to finally come to term with everything that happened. Robertson weaves the narrative very carefully, using both "real time" and frequent and chronological flashbacks to show what happened. If not welded together properly, this shifting back and forth can be off-putting and confusing. Thankfully it worked really well in Demi-Gods. The writing style might take some time to get used to, as dialogue isn't clearly marked separately from descriptions, but it works very well. The novel very much attempts to capture a feeling or a sense of something, rather than tell a complex story. Demi-Gods has a relatively straightforward plot, yet Robertson explores the slightly uncomfortable yet fascinating time of teen life with aplomb.

I really enjoyed reading Demi-Gods. Eliza Robertson dives head first into what it's like to be a teenager, but also deftly analyses gender and power. I definitely can't wait for Eliza Robertson's future novels! I'd recommend this to anyone who enjoys Young Adult novels.

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Summertime in the early 1950s. Willa and her older sister Joan would like to have a relaxing time at their summer home together with their mom. But the mother has a new lover, Eugene, and to the girls‘ surprise, Eugene has invited his two sons to spend the summer with them. Kenneth and Patrick are slightly older than the girls immediately attract their attention. No, they definitely are not like brothers and sisters, Joan and Kenneth quickly fall for each other. For Willa and Patrick things are not that easy. Over the next years, they regularly meet and between Willa and Patrick a strange connection is formed. On the one hand, the boy can arouse feelings in her, but on the other, what he is doing to her repels her and she senses that his behaviour is far from being normal and acceptable. But what is there she can to about it? It will take years until she can free herself.

“Demi-God” – according to the Merriam-Webster definition, it is a mythological being with more power than a mortal but less than a god or a person so outstanding as to seem to approach the divine. For all female members of the family, the male counterparts are somehow demi-gods, at least in so far as they cannot refrain from their attraction. The mother is charmed by Eugene, Joan falls for Kenneth and also Willa has a special liking for Patrick. It is not quite clear what makes those three that outstanding, but their appeal is obvious. They can exert power over the women in different ways, but it is only Patrick how openly abuses this.

Before coming to this, what I liked especially about the novel was the atmosphere. You can sense immediately that Eliza Robertson is great at creating certain moods and you actually can feel this carefree time of being young during summer holidays when the days seem endless, when the sun is shining and when there are no worries and fears. I also appreciated her characters, first of all the mother who is neither completely stereotypical but nevertheless clearly represents a certain kind of woman of her time. In the focus of the novel are the girls and their relationship. It is not always easy to be sisters, at times they can confide in each other, at others they can’t. Yet, there is something like unconditional love between them, if one needs the other, she can surely count on her.

In this nice and loving ambiance now enters the evil that can be found in human beings. To name it openly, the novel is about sexual abuse, about menacing and exerting power over a weaker person. Willa is first too young, then unsure of how to react and how to qualify what happens to her. It is not the all bad and awful situation – this is what makes the novel especially impressive. It only happens at single instances, partly, she isn’t even sure if she did actually refuse it or even contributed to it happening. This makes it even more awful, because the girl is left alone with her feelings and worries. She plays normal and hides what has happened. It does not take much to imagine that there might be millions of girls out there suffering from the same abuse and feeling helpless and powerless.

Thus, the novel takes up a very serious topic and hopefully some readers might recognize that what Willa is going through is far from acceptable and can find a way of seeking help if they are in need.

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I am afraid that I really didn't like this. I actually gave up before the end, which is something I never do with a book. I didn't like the prose style, I didn't like the characters, I didn't buy any of the action or dialogue.

A couple of moments from the book have stayed with me, so it's not a 1 star review, but I won't read any more of it.

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This wasn't for me - didn't like the writing style and the story felt like something that has been done many time before.

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This was... bizarre. I was riveted but it was also entirely disturbed, and I'm still not sure how I exactly feel about it.

This chronicles the life of Willa. The summer of 1950 sees her burgeoning with a new understanding of the world and a new perspective of her body. She constantly compares herself to her long-legged older sister and finds herself imitating her sexual yet unstable mother. No longer secure in her own body and unsure of her place in her eclectic family, Willa's childhood fleets by her as the summer sun sets, and a more conservative and adult insight to life takes its place.

Enter step-brother, Patrick. Willa finds herself growing alarming intrigued by the darkness she senses within him, and is sucked into an an obsessive and all-absorbing relationship, that spans the next decade of her life.

This is a dark and troubling read. The ensuing relationship was of a highly sexual and degrading nature that became increasingly hard to read. With every one of Willa and Patrick's encounters swelling with emotion, this was also a captivating read I struggled to separate myself from.

Due to the nature of the plot, this became a story full of unguessable curves. I had no idea what dark path the novel was going to lead me down and, so, was constantly unprepared for the emotion that ensued with each plot facet that was unveiled. Growing ever more darker and with the suspense heightening as the pages turned, there was nothing left than for this novel to implode upon itself, with the reader's emotions caught directly in the firing line.

This is a stark and unabashed insight to the heart of an intense and disturbing relationship. It both highlighted the prevalent gender inequality of the period and the unacceptable situation that Willa, and many other women, found themselves unable to escape from. Despite the utter despair I felt, whilst reading this, the important historical insights highlighted made this a deeply moving and powerful message on gender, sexuality, mental health, family dynamics, and power struggles.

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An atmospheric coming of age story inside an unconventional family, and centred around three female characters at different life stages - the young Willa, her sister Joan and their inattentive mother.

As Patrick enters Willa's life, she finds him disquieting but is ultimately attracted to him. Her sexual desires stronger than her fearfulness, she's drawn into a complex relationship leading to odd happenings and sad consequences.

Even as the story takes darker turns, the writing stays delicate and lyrical. Willa’s fondness for her rural British Columbia surroundings are beautifully put.

Sadly, despite the accurately observed slow rhythm of puberty, I felt the story jumped to the characters adulthood a little bit abruptly. I nevertheless loved this book and found it hard to put down.

Eliza Robertson is a fresh new voice I will be reading again.

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An oddly opaque book that is strong on atmosphere and location but which could be more incisive about the story it's trying to tell. There seems to be something about female adolescence, sexuality and power-play that feeds the strange complicity between Willa and Patrick and the disturbing games they play, intermittently, across an 11-year period, but it never quite comes into focus clearly.

Some of the writing is jarringly self-conscious in a horribly 'creative writing class' way: 'their bodies hard and tan like peanuts', 'his privates jangled with mine', more jangling, this time of hips as a couple dance, 'sudsy bacon', whatever that is.

Lots of potential here but this still feels unfinished.

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Goodreads tells me that if I loved The Girls by Emma Cline, then Demi-Gods is a read I’ll enjoy. I did very much like The Girls, and can see why that comparison was made, but for me, they were very different books. Yes, they both had young, female narrators telling their coming-of-age stories and a hazy summer setting, but where The Girls was ultimately plot driven, Demi-Gods takes a far more lyrical road.

The aforementioned narrator is Willa. 9 years-old when we first meet her and in her 60s by the end. The story begins when her mother starts a new relationship with Eugene and his two sons are brought into the mix. Roy and Patrick cause both Willa and her sister Joan’s lives to take a new, interesting and exciting turn.

Patrick and Willa develop an intense, disjointed, disturbing and addictive relationship that is a compelling thread. As well as this relationship, the novel explores Willa’s relationships with her mother and sister, and how she comes to terms with her place in all of this,

‘People applied different words to Joan than they applied to me. They described her as a ‘heartbreaker.’ My mother’s friends call me ‘sly.’

Despite this assessment, Willa is anything but, she is a character you like spending time with, but has just enough edge to her that she keeps you guessing about what she’ll do next.

Often the prose had quite a haunting quality that really captivated me and every so often there were sexual or darker elements thrown into the mix to add friction and tension. Nothing is over-explained, things are revealed gradually and there is an overall easy, languid feel to the novel that is enjoyable, but just at the right moments it throws you a curveball to keep things interesting.

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I found this book very difficult to engage with. While it is undoubtably skilfully written, I just didn't like the characters and could not see where the book was headed beyond a series of (quite unpleasant) incidents between the central protagonist and the son of her mother's new boyfriend.

The writing is clever and interesting, especially the sense of being on the brink of adulthood but having so much to learn. The 1950s summer setting is also appealing and well-evoked.

Just not one for me!

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Lucy Banks's review Aug 18, 2017 · edit
really liked it

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Sexually charged, mildly disturbing... a lethargic, eerie examination of teen life.

Occasionally, you come across a book that's more about capturing a 'feeling' rather than telling a story. >Demi-Gods is definitely a novel of that ilk; quite captivating,, emotive, but ultimately, there's not much of a plot.

The story follows Willa and her older sister Joan, initially at the cusp of puberty; and their mother, Eugene (the mother's boyfriend) and his two sons. Willa is fairly feisty and intelligent throughout (the 'bookish' one, unlike her sister, who is the beauty), and forms a relationship of sorts with Patrick, whose behaviour is sinister at best. The nature of their relationship is both beautifully captured, and somewhat distasteful to read - without ruining anything, it's highly unhealthy, and there were a few scenes that were almost borderline abusive.

As the book progresses, so too does Willa get older, though the book felt a little rushed at the end - with the sudden leap from childhood to adulthood, without much in the middle. It would have been good to have this fleshed out a little, as I still didn't feel I 'knew' Willa by the end of the book, though perhaps this was exactly the kind of elusiveness that the author was trying to capture.

Overall though, a good read. Real stand-out points are the author's ability to set the scene (British Columbia) and encapsulate the vibe of laid-back 1950s / 60s summers.

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I stared this but could not finish it. Did not like the storyline.

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Demi-Gods is a novel set in the 1950s and 60s about growing up, power, and a strange and twisted bond between two people. Willa’s mother's new boyfriend moves in with them, bringing his two sons along to visit. Whilst her sister pairs off with the older one, Willa is left with the attention of the younger son, Patrick, who invents nasty games and asserts his power. Over subsequent years, Willa only sees Patrick a few times, but each time their unnerving dynamic continues, until on a sailing trip Willa tries to tip the scales in her direction and things get out of hand.

The narrative of the novel is told in vivid chunks, with a focus on immediate detail and atmosphere rather than exposition or backstory. This perhaps adds to the strange tension that runs throughout the book due to the effects of Patrick’s presence in Willa’s life, significant enough to form the basis for the narrative. Their relationship is the kind likely to intrigue some readers and creep out others, with quite uncomfortable sexual power play being its backbone. Despite all of this unnerving atmosphere, the novel is fairly slow and even dramatic events unfold at a weird pace. The novel is stylistic, but not quite in a way that adds to the reading experience.

Demi-Gods is a look at a girl growing up in the 1950s in Canada and the US through the lens of a messed up power dynamic between her and someone who is almost her stepbrother for a time. This summary will probably sell the book or put you off, depending on personal preference. It doesn’t quite have enough of a spark of interest or stylistic power to overcome the creepy relationship at its heart, but it does evoke a particular sense of environment and a weird tension throughout.

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