The Idiot (Elif Batuman)

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Read 04/06/2018-16/06/2018

Rating: 5 stars

The Idiot was my last book from the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist. I didn’t manage to finish reading it before the winner was announced. In fact, it’s a book that I took my time over. I liked its style. The way Elif Batuman writes reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut and Haruki Murakami in the surreal episodes that reveal the oddness of human nature. At times I was reminded of Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. It also made me think a little of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, because it’s about a young woman trying to work out what is expected of her and how to behave around others while maintaining her integrity. Continue reading

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Sight

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Read 03/06/2018

Rating: 3 stars

When I first started to read Sight by Jessie Greengrass, I couldn’t quite get into it, so I put it aside for a week, read some nonfiction, a book I’ll return to and review later.

Attempt two went better, in a way. Better because I was drawn in by the confessional tone of her prose. In a way because I felt an immediate connection with the narrator, and a specific circumstance in her life, that didn’t feel entirely positive and yet carried recognition.

The novel is split into three parts. Each part has its own science story that is metaphor for the events happening in the narrator’s life. Each scientist is someone who sees the unseeable, bringing the hidden into view. Continue reading

Random Thoughts: Sleeping in a library

Well, not quite in a library. Almost, though.

My best friend’s husband texted me a couple of months ago to suggest a birthday surprise for his lovely wife. I’ve known Mandy since 1989. We met at a party in our first term at university and shared a house in our final year. Over the twenty six years since graduation, we have been through lots of adventures, but this weekend I think we had our best one yet. Continue reading

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

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Read 19/05/2018-24/05/2018

Rating: 4 stars

This is the kind of book that is right up my alley. I’m thrilled that it’s on the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist. Set in Georgian London, among the members of the city’s merchant class, the blurb promises something akin to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell mixed with The Giant, O’Brien and Slammerkin. The design of the book is in sync with its setting. The cover draws together design elements from the V&A’s textile pattern archive. The frontispiece echoes those of the time. The pages, while not the linen papers used in the 18th century, are thick and smooth, a delight to turn. The typeface is Caslon, named for William Caslon, the English typefounder whose typefaces were celebrated for their clarity. Caslon produced his type from 1720 until his death in 1766.

Imogen Hermes Gowar used to work at the British Museum, which must be fertile ground for literary inspiration. Especially when, like so many people working in museums, you’re over qualified and under utilised in your front of house role. I’m not saying front of house (gallery invigilation in the main) is boring, but standing around waiting for a member of the public to ask you something other than ‘Where are the toilets?’ leaves lots of thinking time. I’m surprised more gallery attendants don’t publish novels.

After When I Hit You, I was in need of something less intense, more escapist, and Gowar’s debut definitely hit the spot. Continue reading

When I Hit You

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Read 13/05/2018-17/05/2018

Rating: 5 stars

Meena Kandasamy’s fictionalised account of her abusive marriage is on the short list for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Knowing what it’s about, in very broad terms, I’ve been reluctant to read it, but a couple of glowing reviews piqued my curiosity.

The book describes four months and eight days of domestic abuse and marital rape. It describes why a woman in that situation might not be able to leave, and might not want to leave. It describes how abused women easily disappear from their social circles because the other people in those circles don’t want to look for reasons why.

I found it eye-opening. It made concrete something that I have only thought about abstractly. I’m thankful that I have never been raped, that the worst things I’ve experienced have been isolated incidents of physical and verbal abuse. I read this book from a relatively safe space. I can’t say whether a woman who has experienced or is experiencing the things Kandasamy describes would find it a help or a source of further distress to read this book. I can say that I found it well balanced and honest. Continue reading

The Trick to Time

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Read 08/05/2018-12/05/2018

Rating: 3 stars

I loved Kit de Waal’s debut novel, My Name is Leon, so when I heard that she had her second book out and it was on the longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, I slung in a library reservation. I had a bit of a wait. Lots of people wanted to read it before me. Were we all justified in our anticipation? Continue reading