This isn’t really how I wanted to start my 2017 reading year, but here I am, rolling together two months of reading. So far this year, I’ve read six books meaning I’m already two behind my Goodreads challenge which is causing me more angst than I really care to admit. However, I’ve read a real mixed bag of books, from novels about Russia to novels about sex robots.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2016, Viking)
At half past six on the twenty-first of June in 1922, when Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov was escorted through the gates of the Kremlin onto Red Square, it was glorious and cool.
I really enjoyed Amor Towles’ debut novel, Rules of Civility, so was excited to pick up his newest release. This novel follows Count Alexander, who is condemned to house arrest in the Metopol hotel in Moscow, essentially for being a lazy aristocrat. Taken away from his preferred suite, Count Alexander must find a new routine within the familiar four walls of the hotel. Towles is just incredible at creating a really true sense of place when it comes to the Metropol, the hotel itself almost feels like a character in itself. Similarly, all the characters in the novel are excellently drawn, even characters that appear for just a few pages feel like real, rounded people. This is a novel that touches on great issues, the changing political landscape of Russia and what the means for the characters living through this; and the more human, the challenges of fatherhood, romance and having a challenging boss. I really recommend this.
Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff (2015, Windmill)
A thick drizzle from the sky, like a curtain’s sudden sweeping.
I was a little, or a lot, nervous going into Fates & Furies. It was a novel that garnered huge amounts of hype upon its release, including being named as Barack Obama’s favourite book of the year. It’s the story of Lotto and Mathilde, an attractive & artistic couple, and explores their relationship, firstly from the perspective of Lotto and then from Mathilde. Whilst the writing is occasionally a little over-wrought, once I allowed myself to really get into it, I found myself really enjoying this novel, especially the second half. It’s difficult to really talk about this without giving away too much of the plot, but I really liked what it said about the consequences of placing other people on pedestals, and the reasons we keep secrets from the people we love.
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell (2000, Abacus)
For Hush Puppies, the classic American brushed-suede shoes with the lighweight crepe sole, the Tipping Point came somewhere between late 1994 and early 1995.
The idea of there existing a ‘tipping point’ that heralds change is an interesting one. I first came across it when writing my dissertation, where some academics argue that having a certain amount of female politicians in government can lead to more ‘female friendly’ laws being passed. Malcolm Gladwell uses this book to argue that you need several types of people who different skills and influences, for ideas or items to find their ‘tipping point’, be this shoes or the American Revolution. I didn’t enjoy this as much as Gladwell’s other works that I’ve read; usually anecdotes from them stay with me for ages, but I struggle to really remember many of the examples from this one.
The Unseen World by Liz Moore (2016, Windmill)
First, it was late August and David was hosting one of his dinners.
The Unseen World is a novel that was really making the rounds on the YouTube sphere, and people were raving about this novel, which meant that it obviously found its way on to my Amazon wishlist before Christmas. It’s the story of Ada, who is bought up by her father who gives her a wide-ranging home schooling experiencing; her father, David, is a highly-regarded computer scientist in the 1980s. However, when Ada turns 12, he begins to forget things, and Ada has to begin to find her way in her new life. It’s a novel that explores everything from science to identity and sexuality, and is just a really lovely read. There are parts of this novel when your heart is really pulled; Moore is great at depicting the painfulness of teenager-hood, especially as Ada is also dealing with losing her father. Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily say this is my favourite read me away, it’s a really interesting, intelligent read.
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood (2015, Bloomsbury)
Sleeping in the car is cramped. Being a cramped third-hand Honda, it’s not a palace to begin with.
Having been bought a new Margaret Atwood novel for Christmas, it felt about time to check her previous release of my to-read list. The Heart Goes Last takes place after the economic collapse of the east of America, and follows Stan and Charmaine, who when the novel opens are having to live in their car after losing their home. When Charmaine sees an advert for a unique new life, where they’ll get a home and jobs on the proviso that they rotate into a prison every month, her and Stan sign-up almost instantly. This is a really interesting concept, and Atwood is really good at crafting the strange new world that Stan and Charmaine find themselves in, and alongside this, exploring very human feelings. However, I did feel that this just went a tiny bit too wild towards the end, and although aspects of this were the sort of thing that’s unlikely to leave me in a hurry (realistic sex robots anyone), this is probably not Atwood’s best.
The Girl from Venice by Martin Cruz Smith (2016, Simon & Schuster)
Without a moon, small islands disappeared and Venice sank into the dark.
I got this book for Christmas, and it’s one that I probably wouldn’t have picked up otherwise. Set in the dying days of the Second World War, it follows a young fisherman named Cenzo, who discovers the body of a young woman in the lagoon in Venice. She turns out to be alive, and named Giulia, the daughter of a wealthy Jewish family, and apparently still top of the Nazi search-list. Cenzo makes the decision to try and save her, and thus gets himself tangled in the dramas of the final days of Mussolini and the Third Reich. It was really interesting to read about Italy during this time period, aside from knowing bits about political treaties involving Mussolini the experience of Italians during the war was not one I knew much about. The constant double-crossing which people do during the last days of war to ensure that they are on the ‘right’ side was also really interestingly described. I did find that the characters tended to be a little flat and the plot felt fairly convienet. However, if you’re visiting Venice and want a fun holiday read; this would be great.
That’s what I’ve read lately; here’s hoping March is a better reading month!