I Who Have Never Known Men

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Read 13/09/2019-20/09/2019

Rating 5 stars

Jacqueline Harpman’s I Who Have Never Known Men is filed under Sci-Fi at my local library. I’m not entirely sure why. There’s a vague hint that the characters, who are incarcerated in an underground bunker for the first part of the novel, are no longer on Earth. It felt more dystopian than Sci-Fi to me, more akin to The Handmaid’s Tale, futuristic and speculative.

The novel was first published in French in 1995. An English translation followed in 1997. Vintage has reissued Ros Schwartz’s translation this year with an excellent introduction to the novel by Sophie Mackintosh. She, too, suggests that it’s a Sci-Fi work, but also relates it to Herland. Mackintosh’s intro draws out the key strands of the story and makes a case for the significance of Harpman’s book far better than I can. We are agreed that it’s a masterpiece. Continue reading

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Crimson

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Read 10/09/2019-12/09/2019

Rating 4 stars

Niviaq Korneliussen’s Crimson is a novel about a group of friends in their twenties. It’s set in Greenland and it explores themes of love, anger and betrayal against a backdrop of sexual liberty, gender politics, self discovery and the effects of child abuse.

Continue reading

Claudine at School

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Read 26/08/2019-02/09/2019

Rating 3 stars

I’ve wanted to read Colette’s Claudine books since my birthday trip to Paris four years ago. I intended to buy the omnibus from Shakespeare and Co but they’d sold out. Since then, the books have been on my library wishlist. I saw the Colette biopic earlier this year and read a short story by her in Wayward Girls last month and this spurred me on to borrow the first in the series.

In Claudine at School, we meet our heroine as she turns 15. Continue reading

How the Light Gets In

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Read 22/08/2019-26/08/2019

Rating 5 stars

Read for the 20 Books of Summer readathon.

How to describe How The Light Gets In. The prosaic description is that it’s a collection of short stories. It’s not, though. Not entirely. These are ultra short stories, fragments in many cases, brief glimpses into the lives of people on the edge of the prosaic. I found some of the stories breathtaking, literally. At times, I found myself holding my breath with the emotion of being dropped into a situation and then realising the enormity of that situation to the person experiencing it. Continue reading

A Lost Lady

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Read 18/08/2019-21/08/2019

Rating 4 stars

Read for the 20 Books of Summer readathon

Do you ever have trouble deciding which book to read next, or whether to read an author’s works in the order they wrote them? I’ve been having a mini quandary with two novellas by Willa Cather that I bought secondhand from Beckside Books in Penrith on a recent holiday. I put both of them onto my 20 Books of Summer list, thinking that I would make a decision when I got to them. Continue reading

Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs

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Read 02/08/2019-08/08/2019

Rating 5 stars

Read for both the 20 Books of Summer readathon and Women in Translation Month.

Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs is Lina Wolff’s debut novel. Translated from the Swedish by Frank Perry, it’s a tale set in Spain that follows the narrator’s teenage encounter with a short story writer whose mission is to reveal the disparity between the binary genders of male and female and how meaningless the word love can be.

The women in this novel are strong, independent, resilient and resourceful. They take no shit from the men who drift in and out of their lives. None of them is entirely likeable but all of them are compelling as characters. I was instantly gripped by the world Wolff has created and wanted to do nothing but read this book and hang everything else I was supposed to be using my time for. Continue reading