I got a good bit of reading in this month and tried to limit book buying, a mostly unsuccessful enterprise. A week’s holiday gave me a little bit more time to read though the times when I took 6 or 7 books away for a week and got through them are in the past.
All My Mothers – Joanna Glen
This is Joanna Glen’s second book, her first being the enjoyable The Other Half of Augusta Hope. This had similar themes, a character racked with a feeling of displacement and of trying to find where she belonged. It’s a meandering book, which nevertheless manages to cover quite a stretch of time, and is full of characters with issues rather than being wholly plotty. Just the kind of thing I like. The story is of Eva, who suspects her mother is not her birth mother, who has strange pictures and memories of being a small child in Spain and not knowing why. It is her quest to find her mother, her place, and to fit in but it’s also a series of tiny connections between people and some lush settings. I enjoyed it.
How Much of These Hills is Gold – C Pam Zhang
Oh this was different. I’d picked it up on a whim as I grew up on westerns and this is a modern western interpretation. How Much of These Hills tells the story of two sisters whose parents came to the US from China to work and make it rich in the gold rush. When the book opens, they are sneaking away from the camp they’ve lived in with the body of their father in their trunk and the schoolteacher’s stolen horse their only means of transport. The book then tells us how they got there, and what happened next to them – sometimes very rough, always very tender and sympathetic. A really good read.
The Feast – Margaret Kennedy
I also enjoyed this – a reissue of a book from the 1950s. It opens with the story of a clifftop hotel in Cornwall having crashed down into the sea with a landslide, taking several guests with it. The book then tells us who was staying at the hotel at the time and their stories. It is a morality tale in many ways, but it’s so delightfully bitchy along the way and such a dark sense of humour throughout that I didn’t mind.
Shuggie Bain – Douglas Stuart
My reading group’s choice this month and a very tough read. At times I thought I wasn’t going to finish it because it was so bleak and unflinching. Shuggie Bain is the youngest son of Agnes, a Glaswegian alcoholic mother of three children. This book is the story of Shuggie’s childhood and his mother’s addiction. It’s unflinching and raw but I finished it struck by how skilfully Stuart had told the love in the story, how well it was represented and how you as the reader could feel the strength of it. As a debut novel, the quality and assurance of the writing is astonishing and it’s a worthy winner of all the prizes and acclaim that it has won. Brace yourself, but do consider going in.
The Muse – Jessie Burton
This was a holiday read, and just the ticket. Perhaps a silly storyline in itself but engrossing enough and an interesting perspective on two different women. It’s not as good as The Miniaturist but I enjoyed it anyway.
More Than a Woman – Caitlin Moran
This is the sequel, 10 years on, to How to be a Woman, which I read as part of a union gender equality course and bawled over because I was freshly back to work after maternity leave and still very hormonal. Parts of this had me crying with laughter, parts were just shouting ‘yes, exactly this’ and the parts where she talks about her daughter’s illness and teenage struggles with an eating disorder were upsetting and terrifying to me, with a daughter on the cusp of teendom and already asking me if I think she’s fat. I don’t always agree with Moran, but this is a fun handbook for white middle class feminist types and it doesn’t stray out of its lane.
Eight Detectives – Alex Pavesi
Disappointing. There was much hype about this but in short, it was a series of crime short stories, often lesser quality Christie knock offs, and some flannel in between about crime story theory. It was not a satisfying whole.
Something to Live For – Richard Roper
I feel there should be better genre descriptions for books like this – eminently readable books that talk about serious issues, in this case male loneliness and emotional incapacity. It feels dismissive to call it a light read, though it was easy to read and parts were funny. Anyway, I enjoyed this too. It’s the story of Andrew, a miniature train enthusiast who works for the Council investigating public health funerals, trying to find a next of kin for people who die alone. Andrew, in his job interview, told a lie in a moment of panic and because he didn’t want to look daft, and invented a wife and two children for himself. Years later in his job, this lie is starting to cause him problems. As someone who once tried to do a day’s work shadowing with the public health funeral team, I had a lot of sympathy for this and it’s well handled, making a serious point while also creating an entertaining read.
I Love the Bones of You – Christopher Eccleston
I don’t often read celeb biogs but this was recommended (can’t remember who by) as a story of Eccleston and his father. Chris’s dad was a typical working class Northerner, who had a breakdown of sorts himself but was capable of great feeling and support for his sons. While the relationship and comparisons between the two men were interesting, the most fascinating part of the book was where he details his own breakdown and struggles with body image and eating disorders. It’s rare to hear about this and he is frank about the symptoms and his own needs. Some of the book I did feel was a bit ‘chip on the shoulder’ and he did detail too much the names of the actors he didn’t get on with, which I found unnecessary but otherwise, this was a refreshing read.
Moments of Pleasure
I’ve been on holiday. So this month’s moment of pleasure was a week in Northumberland, which felt like a proper break of a holiday, a real stretch of time for mind and soul. Good if chilly weather, ice cream, long beaches, castles and rest. Plus a visit to Barter Books.
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