Sunday, 6 July 2014

In which I read through May and June

I slacked off writing these up last month, but this is what I've read over the last eight weeks or so, in one bumper edition.

15. Title: Life After Life
Author: Kate Atkinson
Recommended by: everyone on the planet and bought from Amazon
Read: 30 April - 6 May
Score: 5/10

Much like a sticker announcing a book has been selected by the Richard and Judy Bookclub is an excellent indicator to avoid it, I refuse to read anything that wins the Costa Prize ever, ever again. There was so much hype about this book, and so many accolades poured on it that I assumed it was a sure-fire brilliant read. Essentially Sliding Doors set in the war, it tells the story of Ursula, how she's born and how she dies, over and over again. It could have been brilliant (the film, I adore). It wasn't - mostly, I think, due to the writing which is clunky, and the story and characters are occasionally overly reliant on hindsight, which never fails to get on my tits. I'm in a minority of, at last count, three people who really didn't like this book. Maths suggests you may, but I can't in a clear conscience recommend it.

16. Title: Dept. of Speculation
Author: Jenny Offill
Recommended by: @photogirluk and the lovely Megan at TIME who gave me her copy.
Read: 6 - 8 May
Score: 9/10

This little book contains so much love and grief and insight and originality that it's hard to know quite how to describe it. Essentially the story of a marriage, but written like no other book you've read. Gorgeous, heartbreaking and brilliant. Read it.

17. Title: The Woman Upstairs
Author: Claire Messud
Recommended by: The New York Times last year and bought from Amazon.
Read: 8 - 11 May
Score: 7.5/10

God, this is an angry, angry book. If you liked Zoe Heller's Notes on a Scandal, this is one for you. Nora is a primary school teacher with an aging father and an unfulfilled desire to be an artist, and her life is upturned by the family of a new student. There are some very valid issues raised in the book - how society treats single women, why it's generally women who have to choose between the role of care-giver and career to name just two - but the sense of anger throughout is so overwhelming that the aftertaste is hugely unsettling. Worth a read.

18. Title: Goodbye to All That
Author: Robert Graves
Recommended by: chosen as the book for May's London Book Club and bought second-hand from Amazon
Read: 11 - 20 May
Score: 8/10

This wasn't a universally popular LBC choice, but I loved it. It's one of the classic war texts, and being so familiar with the books and the films these days, it's fascinating to imagine the effect that the visceral descriptions of trench life that this book must have had when it was published. Graves is a deeply flawed human being, but that doesn't take away from the telling of the utterly dehumanising experiences that he witnessed as a young man, who remains the voice of a lost generation.

19. Title: Easter Parade
Author: Richard Yates
Recommended by: @flamingnora and bought from Amazon
Read: 22 - 30 May
Score: 8/10

Gosh, this is a bleak, bleak book. It focuses on the relationship between two sisters and their tragic lives. The writing is so pure and elegant that the tragedy shines through all the clearer. If you liked Revolutionary Road, this is one for you.

20. Title: Tampa
Author: Alissa Nutting
Recommended by: The New York Times and bought from WH Smith at London Kings Cross
Read: 1 - 10 June
Score: 8/10

Well this was an eye opener. The NYT claimed this book about a young, hot teacher seducing her teenage pupils was one of their 'books to read' a while ago, that it was clever and funny and controversial and a must-read. I would say it's definitely shocking, and maybe funny once you get into it, but if you are going to read it, don't do it on the tube. It's not as clever and biting as Lolita but it definitely has shock value.

21. Title: Wolf Hall
Author: Hilary Mantel
Recommended by: just about everyone and bought from Foyles at Waterloo
Read: 12 - 28 June
Score: 9/10

Despite studying Cromwell for A-level history and having a long-lasting fascination with both the Tudors and Mantel's writing (Beyond Black is a dark and creepy marvel), I've been putting off Wolf Hall for years, mainly because of the size. But, having got through The Luminaries and having a three hour train journey to the West Country to get through for work, I picked this up at the station and got stuck in. And I'm so glad I did. It's gorgeously crafted epic that will leave you wanting ever more detail and intrigue about the court of the tyrant and those who served him. Bring Up the Bodies is next on the list.


Clothes In Books said...

Nice selection there - I agree about Wolf Hall, the Messud, and the Robert Graves. I'm in the other camp on Atkinson, but hey, we all have different views. My problem with the Messud was this: I did not 'recognize' the main character as being remotely like any real person I have ever met. Which is fine, for one kind of story - but I didn't see it as having so much to say about the whole world.

Blonde said...

I am well aware I am about the only person on the planet who doesn't like the Atkinson! I don't know why - it just didn't gel for me.

I don't think I've ever met a Nora, as you say you haven't, but it's all too easy to imagine how people would become that way. Have you read the Heller? There are a lot of similarities - including that unsettling tone.

Sophie said...

Where Richard Yates is concerned, there's no doubting he's a fantastic writer but having read Revolutionary Road I don't think I'll be visiting another of his books. To read of such huge human sadness really effected me (surely the sign of great writing) andI didn't read for a few weeks after. I still get a funny feeling thinking about that book now, some 12 years later.

Cas said...

You're not alone with regard Life After Life. We're not fans either.

Jo Crisp said...

I disliked Life after Life too, after a while,I just wasn't bothered about her. It reminded me of the Time Traveller's Wife, which I HATED.
Do go and see Wolf Hall at the theatre, it's really good and Bring up the Bodies even better.
I love your reading recommendations and congrats on the engagement - looking forward to lots of wedding posts!

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