Lately I have been remiss about blogging. And it’s not that I haven’t been reading; quite the opposite. And it’s not that the standard of the books was poor; rarely have I read so many good books in my life. It’s just that somehow I didn’t get around to dissecting them, and writing about them. To quote the overquoted Lennon -“Life is what happens…” blah, blah, you know the rest.
To be honest, I was just going to skip this last couple of months and then start again, afresh. But, after a conversation with my mum (ironic as she never reads my blog anyway) I realised that I had read so many good books recently that I couldn’t skip blogging entirely. Equally, I couldn’t blog about them all separately. So below, find a summary. I know, I know, it’s a little bit like cheating, but it’s the best that I could do, given the circumstances.
In no particular order, books I loved:
A Tale for the Time Being (Ruth Ozeki), is a strange, strange book. It moves between a child in Japan and a lady in Canada, and talks more about science (and uses more Japanese) than just about any novel I would willingly read. It also has literally hundreds of footnotes, explaining the intricacies of Japanese life, expressions and philosophies. I spent the first few chapters utterly confused and ready to give up. And then… it sucked me in. I started caring about this confused child, and this woman’s relationship. I spent time truly wondering what would happen to them. And I spent most of the rest of the book enthralled by its magic. I think where I went wrong at the start is that this is really a novel to read in one go, you have to inhabit their world. So lie back, relax and lose a rainy Sunday.
I know that A M Homes divides opinion, but ever since loving May we be Forgiven (and hey, The Women’s Prize judges agreed with me) I have been flying through her back catalogue. Most recently I finished Jack, her first work. This follows a teenage boy as his family disintegrates, and then rebuilds itself in a different form. I love the pace of Homes’ work – even when not much ‘action’ happens, a lot happens – and was totally engaged right from the start. I could picture Jack’s world and loved every minute of it.
The Affairs of Others (Amy Grace Lloyd) is not a happy novel. Set in an apartment building, owned by a young widower it mostly follows her life, and those of a few others in the building. Everyone seems to be suffering from their own heartbreaks. But this novel is also beautifully written – it seems to glide from chapter to chapter, page to page. Although not terribly redemptive, if you are in the mood for a little wallowing, it’s a delightful read.
On the other hand, The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul (Deborah Rodriguez) is delightful. Not that bad things don’t happen in this novel, just that the setting – an international coffee shop in the heart of Kabul – is so warm and welcoming that the bad things just seem, well, less bad. The novel tells the story of the coffee shop and a changing Afghanistan through its workers and their friends. A relativity light read, but an informative one, nevertheless. I enjoyed it so much that I read The Kabul Beauty School by the same author immediately afterward. This is the autobiographical story of her setting up a beauty school in Kabul, and the life she built and the women she made her friends. This is far more dramatic than Rodriguez’s fiction (as even the covers can tell you), and at times quite harrowing, but also a wonderful warm read. I would probably recommend reading the two in the opposite order to me though, as reading about Rodriguez’s own life first would have informed how I read her fiction.
I admit it, I had (until now) never read a book by Jhumpa Lahiri. I didn’t have a reason for this, I just never got around to it, somehow. But The Lowland was a great place to start. Following a man (and later his family’s) life from India to America, this novel keeps a gentle, slow pace. Even the more shocking moments seem to happen in slow motion, so they almost don’t come as surprises at all. There is something about this novel that is almost quietly redemptive. It doesn’t shout about it, but it leaves you feeling strangely good about the world.
We have discussed my love of pink books before. And The Engagements (J. Courtney Sullivan) isn’t quite a pink book. But it’s pretty close. Following a number of relationships over the years (and indeed, one of the members of the De Beers advertising agency), it looks at the role of engagement in relationships. The only thing that stops it from being pink is that very few of these stories are ultimately entirely happy ones, but otherwise it is a light, and pretty easy read.
I am a sucker for Zadie Smith. And she just brought out a (very) short story: The Embassy of Cambodia. I lapped it up in one sitting and can still picture perfectly the setting and the characters, despite its paltry length (I just checked… it’s 80 pages).
A few books didn’t light my fire that much over these last few months:
I was so prepared to love The Goldfinch. I think Donna Tartt is wonderful and had heard only good things about her latest novel. But it just seems to drag and drag. I am not sure most novelists can sustain an exciting 748 pages, but I would have thought Tartt could. It’s not that this novel was horrible. At times I was utterly engrossed. But at times there seemed to be chapter after chapter about unhappy teenage boys, which just wore me out, then the end seemed rushed. I know this will upset a lot of people and many of you will disagree with me. For this I apologise.
Another disappointment was The Man of my Dreams (Curtis Sittenfeld). A few years ago I remembered reading and adoring An American Wife, so was very excited when Sittenfeld’s books were recently released on Kindle. However, this book was just utterly unmemorable. The protagonist was moaney and uninteresting and the story didn’t seem to go anywhere. I finished it, but wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else.
I was pretty hopeful about The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. Sadly, I often enjoy books which are billed as ‘coming of age novels’. But within two chapters I found the protagonists of this novel so irritating I had to stop reading. So I did. Not so interesting now eh? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist)