The Flood, Ian Rankin
This book was given to me by friend who was offloading books. I’m always shocked at the pristine condition people’s old books are in. This was also the book that taught me that if a book is not something I’m not dying to read and is not on my Kindle, it is likely to languish on my bookshelf out of the sheer inconvenience of reading it in its physical form.
However, I pushed myself, and well. This is Rankin’s debut novel so apparently it’s not a classic representation of his work. A detailed portrait of a Scottish town in decline, it was interesting but not amazing. The sensitivity with which the poverty and the superstition – and the branding of a woman as a witch – are handled was well done.
An Education: A Memoir, Tara Westover
OMG, what a life. Westover grew up among hard-core Mormon parents, with a bat-shit crazy dad, an enabler mom, and a violent brother among other (nicer) siblings. The kids are homeschooled in the school of hard knocks and a couple of them, the author included, turn out to be brilliant in spite of, or because of her parents would say, the lack of schooling. What struck me though was although Westover’s childhood was non-traditional to say the least, and there is stuff she went through that is outright wrong, there is still affection for her parents so that one can understand the power of these families which cannot entirely be explained away by brainwashing. When her father is not being cray cray, he is affectionate and possibly a good dad. Her mother in a quiet way is supportive, until Westover makes a far-reaching choice, and then she’s not. This is a coming of age novel in the most eye-popping sense.
Disgraced, Ayaz Akhtar
This is a play that completely captures the zeitgeist of our time – the post 9/11 stigmatisation of Muslims, the prejudice underlying even the most liberal communities, the tribalism inherent in us all.
It struck me while reading this: How did Muslims become the hated ones? When did it become so pervasive?
The Immortalist, Chloe Benjamin
This is the story of four Jewish siblings in New York, who receive a prophecy that will change the course of their lives. It traverses the domains of both magic and science and the idea of magic and art as two sides of the same coin, San Fransisco in the heydey of gay pride and the coming of the AIDs outbreak, and family bonds. The only part that strikes me as off was when Klara met this Indian man – from Dharavi no less, and he had somehow come to US through a cousin who had got into an American university, and this struck me as unlikely. Hard to describe what it’s about exactly, but it’s well worth reading.
Turbo Twenty-three, Janet Evanovich
Entertaining as ever. Also, the Ranger/Morelli thing is never going to get resolved, and while that is silly, it is also satisfying because what would life be without both of them.
The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood
After my brief encounter with Penelope in Madeline Miller’s Circe, I wanted more of her. This is an interesting take on the myth, from Penelope’s point of view. I still feel like I want more of her.
A Share in Death, Deborah Crombie
This is the first in the Duncan Kincaid detective series. On the positive side, it’s one of those Agatha Christie type stories, a group of people in a confined space (a time share), one gets murdered and a detective just happens to be on the scene. The problem was that I didn’t quite take to the detective. Two things turned me off: 1) his calling Gemma, a single mother with a young son, to do unofficial work for him 2) his description of a 15-year-old girl as someone he wished he could put across his knee and spank. I mean, ew. I’m also a bit confused about the time period we are in, it all seems a bit throwback in sensibility – people have mobile phones but not smart phones, but they still seem to behave exactly like people in Christie’s novels.
You Will Know Me, Megan Abbott
This is my second Megan Abbott – another thriller set in the intensity of a young female setting – and I have entered fan territory. Both books I’ve read so far not only deal with teen girls but athletic teen girls. The first one cheerleading, this one gymnastics, both smashing the stereotype of girls being frivolous. These girls are tough, hard-core, driven, obsessed with their bodies in the pursuit of sport, not men. The actual mystery part is not as amazing as the way Abbott conjured up the sweaty, sinister, coven-like atmosphere of school sports.
I read these books riveted like a junkie, convinced I will need to read another right after, but then I realise it’s too much and I need a break to recover from the fever of reading.
Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn
I read this after Flynn’s more famous Gone Girl, and was in fact reluctant to start it because I wasn’t sure I wanted to go down another Gone Girl type of traumatic cliffhanging. I loved this one though. I get the problems with it – another Flynn novel with damaged women at its core – and unlike Gone Girl, the kahaani mein twist was not as … twisty … but I think I liked Camille, I liked the way it ended, I recognised the over-the-topness of the Southern creepiness she evokes and yet I think it falls on the right side of parody. I could probably re-read this thing.
One quibble – too much description of houses. We get it, everyone has a mansion.
Flynn has been criticised as a misogynist for repeatedly portraying women with an evil streak, she counters that this is a feminist act – showing that women need not always be good girls (thing is, is there really a shortage of the Black Widow/dangerous woman thing?)
I dunno, I’m undecided. I think Gillian should keep doing her thing though, she is excellent at her creepy vamps. Your thoughts? Should Flynn switch to male villains?
That said, I take issue with Flynn’s statements on chick lit. Read my takedown here
How to Change your Mind, Michael Pollan
I really did change my mind. Wasn’t sure what it was about when I picked it up, and then realised it’s a book about LSD. Within a chapter, I had changed my mind about LSD, which I had considered a “hard drug” as opposed to magic mushrooms, when it turns out they’re in the same category. Apparently, I was harbouring under the ‘natural is better’ fallacy that I generally roll my eyes at.
Who would have thought I could actually sit through reading descriptions of people’s trips, when I find it quite boring when people try to tell me their dreams (mainly because I pretty much always remember my dreams and so I am never amazed at the weirdness of a dream the way some people seem to be).
Obviously, I found the neuroscience of it the most interesting. Not only how the chemical works on the brain but how it challenges the idea of the self itself, therefore touching on how the self/consciousness is constituted.
It is very long though.
The Female Persuasion, Meg Wolitzer
This book deals with the becoming of a feminist. Greer (whose name immediately brings to mind Germaine Greer) encounters Faith Frank, the archetypal white second-wave feminist, and is drawn to her basically like a groupie. Greer’s trajectory is basically in this second-wave feminism, though even in the novel’s time frame, we are already in the third wave. She feels more drawn to the more edgy, confrontational feminism of her contemporaries, but cannot shake off the allure of Greer, and also I think the idea that she is not edgy or confrontational enough herself.
In this, I identify with Greer, which is why this novel resonated with me, even though I was impatient with Greer and also the feminist revelation of the novel was not really the revelation to me that it might be to someone unfamiliar with the women’s movement.
As others have said, ironically, Greer’s boyfriend Cory’s journey is much more compelling. I also liked Greer’s friend Zee’s story.
I like that Greer in the end wrote a book that she herself felt might not go far enough and yet, she has made peace that she can only do the best that she can do, and maybe that’s okay. Hmmm I think I’m talking to myself here.
The Wedding Date, Jasmine Guillory
This chick lit/romance novel registered in my consciousness when feminist Roxanne Gay tweeted about it. Read about it on my chick lit blog
Brat Farrar, Josephine Tey
Speaking of throwback novels, this one is actually written in 1949 and yet is so beautifully written that it remains gripping, in spite of or because of its Downton Abbey aura. Again, the mystery is not that mysterious and, in fact, given that one can guess the identity of the criminal, what one would want to know is how and why exactly the crime happened and that this is not explained is quite a flaw. Nevertheless, it is beautifully written that I would want more of this author.
That said, I am incapable of encountered British upper class crap, such as boarding school and sons inheriting and blonde, fine-boned Ashby genes and a lineage of uncles that died in India (so colonialists basically).
Also, the title is basically the name of the person, and is not something that would inspire one to the pick up the novel.