Lost Boys | Sunshine State | UnAmerican Activities
Reviews of Lost Boys
'At the heart of James Miller's first novel is the shocking theme of missing children: images of abandoned, abused, ghostly children soak the settings, invading the characters' dreams, their waking visions, filling up the book's streets, its corridors, its schools and barricaded homes.
This imagery has a global width and depth. Miller disturbingly juxtaposes the desperate plight of homeless children in the Middle East with the trapped, closeted, joyless lives of public schoolboys in a warped version of contemporary Britain.
The novel is a mélange of many different genres, blending sci-fi, horror and thrillerish elements. But for all its textual complexity, in essence it is two distinct narratives: a rites-of-passage story about a bullied public schoolboy who disappears; and his father's desperate search for his son and some sort of meaning in our postmodern world.
The father's story kicks off the novel in dramatic fashion. Arthur Dashwood, an oil executive, is kidnapped in Baghdad and traumatised by the experience. Miller's camera-like prose then focuses on Arthur's son, Timothy, who is being bullied at his miserable public school. Finding no real comfort from his distressed father and his neurotic mother, the over-protected Timothy seeks release by playing violent interactive computer games, imagining that he is fighting in the Middle East. His pain is exacerbated when a boy goes missing at his school: he is questioned by the police and subtly blamed by the pupils for the boy's disappearance - until he too goes missing.
Switching to the perspective of the father, we find him listening to tapes of people being interviewed about the disappearance by a private detective, as Miller draws the reader into a nightmarish, surreal world. This is a novel that makes the reader think about what we are doing to boys in this society. A powerful, entertaining and disturbing read.'
'The disappearance of a child is the worst nightmare for any parent, prompting the direst forebodings. James Miller draws upon these fears for his debut novel, to create an allegory for the terminal state of Western civilisation as a whole... His dream-like fable works well and he delivers a strikingly imaginative and tightly written story with wider resonances. Its bold appropriation of global politics places it within the everyday debate which questions the extent to which the desire to control resources and maintain hegemony drives foreign policy in the northern hemisphere.'
'James Miller has already been declared one of "London's rising stars", and the central vision of his first novel, Lost Boys, is wonderfully striking. As a pitch for the long-awaited Big Novel on the psychosocial deformations of Iraq and the war on terror, it knocks the imaginative spots off Saturday. You will stay haunted for days by the image of a London in which prepubescent, middle-class young Wasps start to disappear of their own free will to join a mysterious, global and murderous anti-western insurgency.'
'You certainly couldn’t ask for a more topical novel than James Miller's electrifying debut. It trawls the culture for our biggest fears and preoccupations – missing children, teen gangs, Iraq, the widening gap between rich and poor, ultra-violent computer games – and blends them into a speculative fable pitched somewhere between JG Ballard and John Buchan, to whose schoolboy orientalism it pays ironic homage."
'James Miller's ambitious and unusual first novel draws on two powerful modern fears: terrorism and child abduction.'
'Imagine Peter Pan from the perspective of Wendy's parents. Now, imagine that what is happening to your children is not participation in a fanciful attempt to stem the quick evaporation of innocence but the rallying of an army of disaffected youth. This is what James Miller is portraying in his Ballardian dystopia of the near future: JM Barrie's fable with a terrifying new sociological context. Scores of young boys are disappearing in an apparent revolt against Western civilisation, and when it happens to the son of a wealthy London businessman, Arthur Dashwood is forced to confront his complicity in the creation of the culture of fear and consumerism that his child seeks to escape. Sleek and shocking, this is highly intelligent cultural criticism.'
'James Miller's promising debut is... hugely imaginative.'
'A tense and thoughtful fantasy novel'
'Just when it seems as if male debut novelists are going to write angst fests about fear of commitment forever, along comes a writer like James Miller who makes reading seem essential again. Set among London's wealthy middle class, his novel sees Arthur Dashwood hunting for his missing son, in an imaginative, punchy and terrifying take on Peter Pan.'
The London Paper
"This is a genre-defying debut. It casts a spell."
'Zeitgeist fiction that isn't pretentious'
'This is a novel about Western complicity in its own malaise, and also about the deracinated, joyless life of the English teenager... Miller's prose is elegant and assured.'
'With distinct echoes of Ballard and Golding, and direct nods to Peter Pan, Miller offers a bleak vision of recognisable affluent Londoners whose sons are mysteriously disappearing... Miller is excellent in his depiction of the Dashwood's strained relationship and Arthur's emotional distress as well as in evoking the uncomfortable mixture of material pride and urban paranoia that haunts the book's supposedly successful adults... Lots of interesting ideas are thrown up as the affluent west collides with the hushed up brutality of the third world... Lost Boys certainly keeps the pages turning.'
'A tautly-written and engrossing contemporary fable'.
Evening Herald, Ireland
'James Miller's ferociously clever first novel combines elements of science fiction, fantasy, children's literature and political thriller'
London Review of Books - Recommended Titles
'This interesting novel has a surprising ending. This seems to be Miller's first novel – brilliant!'
'Less Peter Pan than Lord of the Flies; it's a complex book which mixes together many voices and genres, including elements of Ballardian fantasy, and comments obliquely on the media's treatment of missing children, the encroaching surveillance society and the Iraq War.'
'Miller has produced a complex and beautifully written novel, one that embraces a world of influences and makes them its own, from the lost boys of Barrie through Burroughs wild boys, the dystopian mindset of Ballard and, at a stretch, the unique appreciation of the wonder of childhood that is the hallmark of much of Bradbury's oeuvre. There are overlapping texts here, disparate effects that should not work well together but do so marvellously well thanks to Miller's skill and assured grip of the material... Lost Boys is a rich, vibrant and important work from a writer who will be one to watch in the near future.'
"Fantastically enjoyable, Miller's union of speculative fiction, mysticism and classical allusion weaves a wonderful mystery in which the characters are the book’s real riches... The result is a standout apocalyptic story that is an eerie response to 'Western Imperialism'. Lost Boys is a potent, disconcerting and engaging read."
The Independent Weekly (Australia)
"Miller has ambition, confidence and talent in spades... Miller is willing to take the risks and ask the awkward questions about the moral mire that we are in."
"The pace is exhaustingly gripping. The different narrative voices are finely nuanced. The characterisation of parents and children is acute. The grimness of the environment is relentlessly apocalyptic. And when the headlong rush to total despair momentarily abates, Miller captures relief quite exquisitely."
Times Literary Supplement
Reviews of Sunshine State
"James Miller's debut novel, Lost Boys, was a story about youths running away to join a global insurrection with mystic anti-Western overtones. This time he presents us with another disturbing near-future, in which the US is torn apart between the forces of the militant Christian right and mounting climate-change disaster... Sunshine State is a novel of compelling imagination... a literary thriller which simmers with energy, powering a bristling narrative."
"A beautifully written, haunting vision of what could happen - quite soon".
The Literary Review
"Miller takes you on an exhilarating ride that combines Bourne-style action and John Le Carré-ish intrigue with a JG Ballard-inspired nightmare vision of the future."
"America is dying. Burnt out, ravaged by hurricanes and drought, to the US government this isn't the effects of global warming but the end of days. As religious fervour turns the country into a theocracy, only Florida stands alone, a no-mans land of vice and violence where anarchy rules but fundamental American values are protected. Amid this new civil war is a British secret agent, plucked from cosy domesticity for one final mission: tracking down a former colleague who had been assumed dead, a war hero turned extremist. Reading like a Boy's Own 'Handmaid's Tale', Sunshine State is a sharp toxic look at America's role in the world and the problems that ensue when jingoism replaces tolerance and reason. The parallels with the Iraq war are clear, a subject James Miller explored in his acclaimed debut, Lost Boys. Brash and inventive, the scenario may be extreme but the message resonates."
"...fast paced, exciting and terrifying in equal measures... Sunshine State is a vital and disturbing novel for our times."
"Sunshine State is a great read; it's intelligently written, it's set not far into the future so non-science fiction lovers will enjoy the action and the themes give you a disconcerting feeling that what it's talking about could really happen."
The Straits Times
"Miller presents a similarly lurid vision of environmental degradation. The opening is straight Ian Fleming-meets-JG?Ballard. Our hero, a British special forces soldier, is picked up by his controller in Kensington Gardens to be given his next mission, but the park has been transfigured by rising temperatures, the fountains dried up and overgrown with brown weeds, “the world warping and bending into unrecognisable shapes.”
Within a couple of pages, though, we are back with Conrad, or at least Apocalypse Now. The hero’s mission is to track down and “talk to” his former comrade and brother-in-law, a master of guerrilla warfare and terrorism, believed dead but now re-emerged in Florida. The heart of this particular darkness is the ruined city of Miami, from where the rogue soldier announces himself to the world with mystical, dream-like radio broadcasts."
The Financial Times
Reviews of UnAmerican Activities
"So, a dirty great Big Mac of a book. UnAmerican Activities is a guilty pleasure, as well as a finely crafted collection of short stories in disguise. Best washed down with a double bourbon and crucifix to hand, the tales here linger long and potently in the imagination. The book’s publisher, tiny indie Dodo Ink, has fast established an enviable reputation for adventurous and transgressive fiction that is supremely well-written... these new stories by James Miller are a fine addition to its list."
"Miller's collection is a triumph of fucked up fiction. It's crude, unstable, and buoyant with underlying messages that you can opt in or out of at your pleasure."
"UnAmerican Activities should be winning awards for its unapologetic approach. Its tightly woven and varying plots that are masterfully executed with Miller's exquisite prose that at times reminded me of the great Hunter S Thompson... UnAmerican Activities is bold, daring and downright brilliant. I can't wait to see what Miller comes up with next."
"UnAmerican Activities is a little masterpiece"
"As a work of literature it is impressive in its lightly presented depth. A subversive, deliciously indecorous, gratifying read."
Never Imitate blog
"UnAmerican Activities breaks enough genre conventions and rings enough lit crit bells that I would hope it appeals to a discerning readership as well. It deserves to be widely read. Every story is tightly plotted, the prose is controlled and well-paced, while the publishers – Dodo Ink – have presented the work beautifully. I would highly recommend reading it."
Manchester Review of Books
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