Chris Priestly’s Anything That Isn’t This is one of the strangest, weirdest, bleakest books I’ve ever read and I absolutely loved it. I’m aware that I may be in the minority or at least on one side, as I’ve noticed from reading some reviews that at least half of readers either didn’t like this book or thought it was merely average. Whatever their reasons, I don’t agree with them. This is my kind of book. It’s quirky, strange, wonderfully grim and still, at the end of it all, hopeful.
The book is about Frank, who lives in this boring old town that suffers (although much of the people just go on with life in complete denial) from the overbearing presence of The Grey, which is basically the awful government in power in this alternative reality world. Frank lives at home with his parents and The Student, one of the many workers in this Grey world that are there to observe and record the behaviours and actions of the families. The Grey dictates many things, including the destruction of books through cutting out the last 25 pages of every book so as to ruin the reading experience, the entertainment the populace are allowed to enjoy, the celebrations of war-time heroes and the fact that the only thing anyone could possibly do to earn a living is work at The Ministry doing tireless, repetitive and “important” jobs.
I found all of this, the way The Grey shadows everything and the way the whole political system works and adds to the setting of the novel, extremely interesting. I can see how other readers might’ve found it all a bit confusing and ambiguous, but that’s only because there’s very little spoon feeding of explanations or information. You have to read into the story to figure out what exactly is going on, and by the end of the novel, you’ll get it. I like that Priestly didn’t spend a chapter explaining the world or the history in that boring HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TO UNDERSTAND, DUMMY kind of way. Instead, he just takes you straight into Frank’s world as it is and you have to work a little harder to get it. And that’s what makes it a really good story and a really good piece of writing.
Frank himself is pretty gloomy and annoyed at the world. So, yeah, it’s a bit of a glum novel. But, to me, it’s glum in a way that is true to the setting and the characters and the general feeling of the story. Not once did I think something like ‘Oh, Frank, get over it’ because I thought he had every reason to moan and groan. And in saying that, the novel as a whole is not a gloom fest. I found Priestly’s writing style so good that I was constantly amazed by the way he told the story and the way he made me laugh, often even during the gloomy parts.
I like Frank and I also like a few of the other characters, even some that I didn’t really expect to like. I wholeheartedly dislike one female character in particular for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who reads this book. Gosh, she was awful.
I really like the story and I really like how it all turns out for Frank. The plot is kind of hard to explain in a way that doesn’t give away what happens, but expect romance, heartbreak, violence and mystery alongside the theme that constructs the whole novel, the desire for something more.
Of course, I can’t say that is is a perfect novel. There were some things that felt rushed or too slow going in the story for me, but that’s a minor negative to this novel. I think it’s pretty brilliant and that it’s certainly a novel I won’t forget about any time soon.