As well as being out and about, I’ve also been reading a bunch of stuff. Whilst most of these reads were okay – there were a couple that I read towards the end of the month that I really recommend.
It’s Not Me, It’s You by Mhairi McFarlane (2014, Harper)
Delia lives in Newcastle, where she works in a fairly dull job at the council and where she is convinced she has found happiness with her boyfriend of ten years, Paul. However, when she decides to bite the bullet and propose to him, rather than a joyful celebration, she discovers that he has been sleeping with someone else. The novel then propels Delia to London to discover herself. This was a cute read, Delia was a fun protagonist to spend time with, even though she made choices at times that I found quite frustrating. I enjoyed the way McFarlane drew Newcastle and London – and I also really liked Delia’s relationship with her friend Emma. There’s a fair few tropes in here – main character who is not conventionally attractive but who catches the eye of an improbably attractive man, two people who hate each but fall in love etc. However, if you want a quick beachside read – this is quite a nice one to read.
The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law & How it is Broken (2018, Pan Books)
I’ve followed The Secret Barrister on Twitter for ages, and have found their insights into the justice and legal system really valuable – even when it challenges what I think. So I was happy to get around to reading their book, exploring the various ways in which the UK legal system is failing. I found a lot of this really eye-opening, the amount of power that magistrate courts – made up entirely of unqualified volunteers usually from a specific set of the population – felt really uncomfortable, the impact of bail on poor members of society and how media narratives around perpetrators of crime have enabled cuts to the system to go unchallenged. The book is really interesting, at times challenging but it is very dense, you can tell that the author is used to having time to play with a lot of words, which means it is not always the most readable book in the world. The book really came alive when SB used stories to illustrate their points, and I wish they had really been the centre of the novel – as opposed to stats – as I felt they were really the key examples of why change is needed.
We are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby (2017, Vintage)
I was drawn to this by the annoyed looking kitten on the front cover, and then flicked to Irby’s application for The Bacherlorette which made me laugh out loud in Foyles. This is an essay collection which covers a wide range of topics. There’s essays about sexuality and falling in love, which made me feel really gooey. There’s essays about moving through the world as a disabled black woman and a brilliant series about owning a super grouchy, angry cat. The essays that really stood out to me were those on Irby’s younger years growing up in poverty and the difficult legacy that that experience left on her as an adult. It probably says too much about my reading choices, and the types of people whose essay collections get popular, that this is the first time I’ve been confronted with this type of narrative – and I’m grateful to Irby for sharing it with readers. Whilst there were times when Irby’s writing style didn’t really gel with me, I enjoyed this (and Irby is also a great follow on Instagram for book recommendations).
Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss (2017, Harper Perennial)
I liked The History of Love and Great House by Krauss very much, so I was excited to finally pick up Forest Dark. However, I think I found this novel more something I admired as opposed to really enjoyed. It features two twin narratives – one follows Jules Epstein, an ageing rich former-legal partner who has begun to give away all his possessions, and the other follows Nicole, a writer who is feeling estranged from her husband and is struggling with writer’s block. They both find themselves in Tel Aviv, where they are sidetracked by mysterious individuals – one a rabbi, the other a retired professor – who want them to support their causes. The writing of place in this is so good, Tel Aviv and the surrounding area feel like a character in themselves. I also really liked the passages where we were in the heads of Jules and Nicole themselves, exploring their reflections on their lives and their current situation. However, a lot of the writing around Kafka and religion went right over my head and whilst it was beautiful and interesting I found it alienated me from much of the novel.
My Year of Rest & Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (Vintage, 2018)
This novel is the story of a super-privileged, beautiful young woman who is renting a fancy flat paid for by her inheritance in the Year 2000, who decides that she would just like to sleep for a year. This description, unsurprisingly, sounds off-putting – but the novel is much more than that. It’s a painful, unsettling exploration of grief that the protagonist is in denial that she could possibly be feeling after the deaths of her distant parents – one from cancer, the other by suicide. She tracks down a shady doctor who agrees to prescribe her a number of drugs which she takes to force herself to sleep. She is exhausted by her only friend Reva – who is her antithesis, as she feels everything very deeply and tries too hard to climb her career ladder, stay skinny and fall in love – whereas our protagonist just wants to check out of everything. There are moments of dark humour, but the reading experience is generally one of unease (far from rest and relaxation) and ends with a punch to the gut. However, Moshfegh feels like an author whose work I definitely want to read more of.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2017, Washington Square Press)
It’s been impossible to exist on the internet and not see people raving about Jenkins Reid’s novels both of which are sitting on my shelf, and I cannot wait to read Daisy Jones after this experience. This novel is structured around an interview with movie star Evelyn Hugo, who was a huge star during the 1950s, 60s and 70s but has become a recluse in her later years. She selects Monique to interview her, a junior journalist who is reeling from the failure of her marriage. The main story of Hugo’s life is fascinating and I was completely hooked from the first few pages. Hugo’s story is told through her seven marriages, but is really about her climbing through the ranks of Hollywood and had me almost wanting to Google these films and actresses as they were just so brilliantly bought to life by Jenkins Reid. There are also great love stories that are threaded through this, both of friendship and love, which I just adored. There were aspects of the story that I saw coming, but I was just not bothered by that as I was so in the story. If you’re looking for a bit of escapist fiction I’d really recommend this, and I’ll be onto Daisy Jones very soon.