Saturday, 25 January 2020

Book #04

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years.

2020 marks the tenth year of me reviewing every single book I read. It’s become something familiar and routine - read book, sit down, type up thoughts, post, select next book, repeat. I don’t find it difficult to report my thoughts my feelings, and I’m pretty capable of putting these together succinctly and efficiently. Until, of course, a book like Girl, Woman, Other arrests me with its power and renders me utterly incapable of describing how it made me feel. It’s a frustrating feeling, but also one which reinforces my confidence in majesty of the book.

As 2019’s winner of the Booker prize, it would be completely superfluous for me to say this book is a triumph, but it is. A masterpiece. A sensation. And fuck it, yeah, a tour de force.

a tour de force, he says, although I would never use such a cliche, you understand

Evaristo writes of twelve women, each of them black (although some unaware), each of them British, and each of them incredibly engrossing, inspiring, and educating. We dig deeply into their lives, their strengths, and their failures, alongside the ways in which the colour of their skin manifests itself as an obstacle to be overcome. There’s a lot to learn and retain, particularly if you’re a white woman, like me, sitting reading in your white privilege bubble.

Evaristo has a unique style; irrevocably captivating in its simplicity, yet clutching your heart in its fingers. It’s profound, and it’s stark, elegant yet raw. The unstoppable force of her text brings joy, sorrow, hope, grief, hatred, love, and most of all, the strength of friendship and coming together.

The greatest of devices here is that each of these women are interlinked, directly or otherwise, throughout the pages. They all brush shoulders with, unknowingly influence, or flicker in and out of each other in a really realistic and gorgeous way. I can’t begin to describe the feeling when you suddenly realise someone being described has been mentioned before, and piecing this together is one of the most satisfying parts of this book.

I wish I had more (or better) words to describe the warmth I feel for this book and the women within it. All I can do now is urge you to read it (and to those of you who read my reviews and know me personally - I will be urging you to read it when I see you), and hope you’ll be blown off your feet as I’ve been.

Bernardine, thank you. I have never read anything from a Booker prize winner quite like this, and it was so so deserved.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Book #03

Solving Cadence Moore by Gregory Sterner

Ten years ago, famous young singer Cadence Moore disappeared without a trace on a remote highway in western Pennsylvania. To this day her fate remains unknown. Was she kidnapped or murdered? Or did she simply run away in search of a new life, leaving behind the abuse and heartbreak that haunted her?

Charlie Marx, host of the popular conspiracy radio show Underground Broadcast, is obsessed with Cadence. Desperate to find her after deceiving his boss to save his job, he launches an investigation of his own, digging deep into the missing woman's past and uncovering her darkest secrets. Working feverishly for weeks, he claims to have solved the mystery and promises to reveal Cadence's fate at the end of a groundbreaking podcast series and live radio special.
But is it all a lie? As years of twisted details slowly unravel, Charlie races to solve the biggest mystery of the decade. If he succeeds, it will mean closure for Cadence. If he fails, his entire world will come crashing down live on air--and the truth may be lost forever.

I bloody love a podcast, and I particularly love a true crime podcast. This story fascinated me, particularly as I noticed some similarities to real cases I’ve heard of.

Charlie Marx is a radio host who is releasing a series of podcasts culminating in a live radio special. These offerings will explore the mystery of Cadence Moore, a young woman who went missing more than a decade ago. Marx claims he has solved this crime and listeners can tune in to the radio special finale to find out exactly what happened to this woman many years ago.

I’d just like to begin by saying if someone actually did this, I’d gobble it up. As mentioned above, I’m a true crime fanatic, and have a few unsolved mysteries under my podcast listening belt. If someone claimed to have solved one of these and released something similar to Charlie Marx, I would be living.

Both Sterner’s writing style and choice of format are excellent - we are narrated to mostly via Marx’s podcasts, as he explains the story of Cadence, and his journey in discovering the truth. I did find the pace to be quite inconsistent; when Sterner drives the plot, he really can drive it, an example of which is the story of Cadence, and the last night she was seen. This was all-consuming, a podcast on paper, and I inhaled every word. In contrast, Sterner then chooses to include superfluous details of conversations and situations Charlie Marx becomes embroiled in, which I felt either had little relevance, or could have been shortened considerably.

This truly was enthralling, just with a bit of drag to it in certain areas. Sterner’s talent is clear, and I enjoyed his plot and characters; I’d just have liked it to be snappier, with a bit more drive. 

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Book #02

Matilda by Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley's dark story of a bereaved man's disturbing passion for his daughter was suppressed by her own father, and not published for over a century.

Matilda’s mother dies shortly after giving birth to her, and her father flees in grief, leaving her to be raised by a cold aunt. Upon his return sixteen years later, and after an initially joyful reunion, Matilda’s father confesses he is in love with her. Holy Gothic Drama.

This sounds insane for nineteenth century literature, and was in fact so insane that Shelley’s father prohibited the book from being published at the time. That said, the plot is less shocking in action as it is in emotion. Much of the prose is devoted to the father’s strange behaviour as he comes to terms with his sinful feelings, and subsequently focuses on Matilda’s mental state having heard his confession. Very little happens; Shelley is examining the idea of sin being committed through only feelings rather than action.

Her narrative is beautiful and wonderfully written, as we would expect from Shelley, but despite the gorgeous way it’s weaved together, the story itself is pretty dull. Confessions, dark thoughts, death, and a hell of a lot of angst. 

I felt disappointed when I finished the story, but on reflection, there’s a lot to process and consider. For example, how her father’s feelings obliterated both of them, not only him, and how Matilda’s prolonged grief suggested concerning undertones of his unnatural love being reciprocated.

This is a strange one which will probably stick with me for some time. 

Friday, 10 January 2020

Book #01

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Zachary Ezra Rawlins discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues -- a bee, a key, and a sword -- that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library, hidden far below the surface of the earth.

After becoming desperately in love with The Night Circus in 2013, I was fizzing with excitement to read this. I can’t honestly say what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this.

Morgenstern plunges us into her subterranean world using the much-loved style and language debuted in her first novel. Everything is dreamy, beautiful, and worded to perfection. Setting, dialogue, clothes, character; everything just has this dazzling, other-worldly feel to it, her prose peppered with symbols and metaphors, her characters fogged in mystery and intrigue. Cats, keys, bees, crowns, wine, honey, swords, books. I was very much on board.

This is no easy fantasy, and what follows feels like a drug-induced dream of parallel universes, magic, and fate. Time is subjective, space is an illusion, and it’s incredibly difficult to become lost in The Starless Sea

There is no real plot to speak of. You initially think there is, but there isn’t, and I can’t decide whether Morgenstern meant for this to happen. Should stories have a beginning, a change, adaptation, and an end? I don’t think they necessarily do. Did this have a particular thread for me to follow, something for me to aspire to? No. Did I enjoy it, did I engage? Yes, very much so. Do I still remain utterly confused? Yes.

I needed much much more from Morgenstern’s characters here; I felt she sacrificed their stories and motivations in favour of her lyricism and profound dialogue. Who are these people? What do they love, loathe, dream of? How can two guys fall in love without ever really finding out who the other really is? What happened to the university librarian as I really think she was quite hot? And Zachary’s fortune telling mama was woefully underused.

Sometimes I will read a book and become incapable of putting my thoughts down about it. I loved it, but I couldn’t follow it; I was engaged, but puzzled. I wanted to be swept away in a starless sea of excitement, but instead I feel as though I’ve been swept unceremoniously from bed whilst having the strangest dream of my life. I wanted to write an excellent review, but I’m honestly just baffled, so I will stop here.