Prep, Curtis Sittenfeld

Is there any Curtis Sittenfeld book I don’t like? The best boarding school novel I’ve read since Malory Towers

Shrill, Lindy West

This is a series of essays type memoir by the outspoken feminist writer who I first encountered on Jezebel . I didn’t expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. I thought I’d read it in fits and starts, but I read it through.

West talks about fat shaming, rape jokes in comedy, online trolls, romance. I loved this line: “feminism is just the long, slow realisation that the stuff you love hates you” and this: “privilege means that those of us who need it the least often get the most help.”

There were parts that were downright funny, like the note from her landlord about complaints “about creaking and vocalisations late at night (3am) and there were parts that were powerful, like her letter to Dan Savage on his war on fat.

Bel Canto, Anne Patchett

This book is like a jewel. You do not need to love opera to read it. There are terrorists but it is not sad except a little.

Ms Pym Disposes, Josephine Tey

I liked the first novel by this writer, so I tried another. The thing that irked me about the first novel also irked me in this one – the prejudices of the English. There is a Brazilian girl “affectionately” called “Nut Tart” (because of her skin colour and her attitude to men), Scot and Irish people are marked as different and a South African girl had “a flat primitive face”.

However, this book had something that drew me, it’s set among a community of women, a boarding school, but not just any – a vocational school that trains women to be physical education teachers. The youth of the girls and their worship of their teachers is emphasised.

The lead character, Ms Pym, is single by choice and has little interest in mending that state. The principal of the school, Henrietta, is unlike Ms Pym one of those unattractive women destined to be single as a result, but who found her niche and flourished.

What struck me was how prejudice and liking the popular ones plays a role in British justice. Still, the end could have gone either way and the way it did was interesting.

Persuasion, Jane Austen

Objectively, her best novel, though Pride and Prejudice remains my favourite. With Sense and Sensibility and Emma, there were points at which I felt the novel was going on too long. The final couplings were also clear from the beginning. This was not not the case with this novel. I also liked how it was about an older woman and how Austen  tried something different in making Anne the loner and runt of her family.

The Uncoupling, Meg Wolitizer

Wolitzer does feminist novels par excellence, and each one is different. This one is almost a parable, taking its premise from the Greek play Lysistrata, in which the women of Athens go on a sex strike to stop the men from engaging in war. In a suburban town in New Jersey where the local high school is staging the play, the women suddenly go “off sex”. This is a novel about relationships, sexual and otherwise, between adult and teen romantic partners and between parents and children. Apart from this, I liked the way the relationship with tech – again both adult and teen – is woven into the story.

Wallflower at the Orgy, Nora Ephron

The title of the book refers to a line in the introduction – “Because working as a journalist is exactly like being a wallfloewr at the orgy. I always seem to find myself at a perfectly wonderful event where everybody else is having a marvelous time, laughing merrily, eating, drinking, having sex in the back room, and I am standing on the side taking notes on it all” – which I realised could be the credo of my life, though Ephron did not remain a wallflower. I read this book of essays at a time when I had been trying not to be  wallflower and got crushed. It reminded me of my place.

Hot tip: all the essays are enjoyable, but skip the Mike Nichols one.

Life after life, Kate Atkinson

The novel is premised on a twist of Nietzsche’s amor fati dictum: what if you had to live your life again innumerable times in exactly the same way? Would you embrace it? Instead, the epigraph proposes through a character in the novel: “what if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right?”

The central character Ursula has this chance. The novel tweaks crucial moments – the moment of death – in her life to explore other possible endings.

Apart from the experimental plot trajectory, there is a sheer delight of upper-class English country life, with characters that one wants to see more of.

The Pursuit of Love, Nancy Mitford

I fell into this craving more of the English aristocratic country life that Atkinson detailed, not expecting much more except that Nancy Mitford had been an author I had wanted to read for a while. I experienced that very specific pleasure of thinking you’ll like an author and it turning out so.

It’s hard to say what happens exactly in terms of plot, but the whole thing hinges on the tone that you either love or hate.