May turned out to be a reading-tastic month. I finished seven books, all very distinct, but with a single theme – they were captivating. Result! Isn’t it such a pleasure to be reading a book which you cannot put down, or which stays with you when you are not reading.
This is a long post, but I wanted to give you a good flavour of everything I have been reading. Here are the books I read in ‘real book’ format. I also finished one audio book (The Goldfinch) , and one Kindle book (The Girl on the Train).
The Post-Birthday World (Lionel Shriver): Interesting; frustrating; insightful
If you are familiar with Shriver’s work, you will know that, with any of her books, you are in for a wince-inducing read. I wrote about her novel So Much For That here. The Post-Birthday World is no different in its offered tale of difficult relationships and life choices. The narrative is given an additional edge through Shriver’s use of an alternative reality format. The story is reminiscent of the film Sliding Doors in that we see the position of the main character fork down two possible roads. It is an effective device and Shriver draws out clever links between the two lives. I must admit that I found the first 180 pages or so rather laborious. I could not seem to connect with the characters in any way. But I am so glad I persevered, because the book suddenly seemed to take off and completely grab me, so that I could hardly tear myself away. Overall, this is another great Shriver product.
Read this if you love: an incisive, forensic examination of life’s obstacles.
What a brilliant read this is. Gilbert is witty, light and whimsical about a very serious topic: the value of living a creative life. She works delightfully through a range of arguments as to why we should all strive to follow our creative passions (whatever form they may take) and why this will help us live our best lives. Open up any page, and you will find a useful quote or interesting reference. And at the end, you are left with a buzz – what can I do next!
Read this if you love: to be whisked along on a journey of wisdom, imagination and stimulus.
Ethan Frome (Edith Wharton): Breathtaking; compelling; harrowing
Oh my goodness, what a stunning read this is. I could hardly catch my breath as I savoured every moment of this short novel. Wharton’s writing is incredible – precise, concise and yet still explosive. The ‘blurb’ on the back of my copy (Oxford World’s Classics) describes the story as a ‘powerful and engrossing drama’ and so it is. I cannot recommend this highly enough.
Read this if you love: books where every word plays its part in creating atmosphere, suspense and momentum.
Picture yourself as a disgraced Edwardian gentleman in London – what might you do for the sake of yourself and your family? In this case, the gentleman in question opts for a new life as a farmer in the newly-colonised Canadian prairies. Based on a true story, this novel takes the reader through an incredible journey of struggle, loss and love. An unexpectedly brilliant read.
Read this if you love: thoughtful, moving writing about the human condition.
‘Icelandic Noir’ has become very popular in recent times, perhaps on the back of, or at least in tandem with, the rise of ‘Nordic Noir’. What am I talking about? The genre of crime stories and thrillers based in Scandinavian and other northern countries. Stieg Larsson’s multi-million selling Millenium Trilogy was arguably one of the main generators of interest in stories set in the snowy, bleak but beautiful north. A whole new swathe of writers and translated writing suddenly flooded the English-speaking market. Jónasson’s book is no Millenium, but it captures attention nonetheless with an agreeable story and an unusual Icelandic environment.
Read this if you love: books where the location is as much a character as it is a setting.
I have long resisted picking up this bestseller. Despite thousands of positive reviews, there seemed also to be a large number of dissatisfied readers. In the end, I decided to make up my own mind. In many ways, I was a bit cross with myself for succumbing to what seemed like a lot of hype around a middling-quality novel. But I reminded myself that it is good to read widely and sometimes you need something light to set against more in-depth works. I found this story to be more touching than I expected, as a result mainly of the deterioration and suffering of the main character. Hawkins handles the backstory of her breakdown and its consequences pretty well. The narrative bowls along, and once you get in to it, you want to know what happens. Despite this being a light read, I found myself thinking about its themes after I had finished the book.
Read this if you love: a light, fast-moving story.
In unabridged audio format, the reading of this book runs to 32.5 hours. That feels pretty epic and it has taken me a long time to get through this one, largely because I had not given it proper time and attention. But this is no reflection on the quality of the story or Tartt’s writing. This is an expansive tale, centering around the young life of Theo and those whom he encounters. The Goldfinch of the title is a tiny painting, a masterpiece, which serves as a Faustian thread running throughout all the various strands of the story. David Pittu’s narration is excellent and, like all the best audio performances, enhances the listening experience.
Read this if you love: detailed explorations of individual lives and the impact of choices and relationships.
And so to the next batch of reading. This tower of books is my reading goal for June.
At the end of the month, Hub and I are going on a short-ish break to various parts of Scotland. So it seemed only fitting to start reading Waverly and another story woven around the history of Scotland which I have had on my shelf for ages – And The Land Lay Still. I have already started The Dream Lovers, Last and First Men, Meditations, Rising Strong and In The Light of What We Know. I look forward to updating you on what this bundle is like in a few weeks. 🙂