The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton
I have been meaning to read this for years. I even picked it up once from the library, in the days when I read books the old fashioned way, and then decided it was too heavy to lug around in my bag. This is exactly an example of an advantage of reading on the Kindle.
When I started the book, though, I realised it was set in the 19th C, and increasingly I’ve been feeling what is the point of plodding through stuff from that era, when it’s so much easier and more enjoyable to read contemporary literature. But it turns out this so well written it pulls you in.
It’s set in the (colonial) founding era of New Zealand and there’s a mystery and even a bit of a ghost story at the heart of it. Also, for those of you into astrology, it’s plotted along an astrological character so different characters and events are tied to a star sign but that part of it was beyond me.
One thing that strikes me about books from that period is if there’s a ship, there’s going to be a plotline involving Canton and the opium trade.
There are a number of online threads dedicated to puzzling out bit and pieces of the book. And it has stayed with me since, so clearly was worth the effort.
Brooklyn, Colm Toibin
This is a charming story about a young Irish woman who moves to England due to the lack of opportunities in her home town and how she makes a life there. Something about Eilis reminded me about V who claims he doesn’t feel quite and home in Hong Kong. And then I wrote that there’s something of me in… but I didn’t complete the sentence in my notes, and I can’t remember this insight.
If life gives you Lululemons, Lauren Weisberger
I haven’t really loved any of Weisberger’s novels after The Devil Wears Prada. This is supposed to be a sequel of sorts featuring Emily, Miranda Priestly’s original assistant before Andrea came in.
I didn’t hate this, but I didn’t love it either.
Bonjour Tristesse, Francoise Sagan
Picked this up to cohere with my French phase. It’s about a young woman’s coming of age over a summer spent at a seaside town with her father and his girlfriend. Wasn’t bad but wasn’t amazing either.
From the Memoirs of a Non-enemy Combatant, Alex Gilvarry
Weirdly, I chose this because it’s partly set in the fashion industry in New York and that’s the space my head was in at that time.
The fashion stuff gets the chick lit tone right, but then the novel takes a darker turn, as the protagonist is shipped off to Guantanamo Bay. It’s brilliantly done – the gradual shift from the flippancy of high fashion to its antithesis.
When I hear of these things, I wonder what the point of being alive is. If such things exist in America and any of us can get embroiled in them, then we are just a sliver away from hell.
The chill I felt at the continuing existence of Guantanamo persisted for a long time – even when I read Curtis Sittenfeld’s fictional account of Hillary Clinton’s life and she listed her achievements, and closing Guantanamo wasn’t among them.
This, then, is art. To put yoke such dissonant worlds together so we can feel true horror.
The Ten-Year Nap, Meg Wolitzer
Is there a Wolitzer novel I don’t like? Why isn’t she more celebrated? I’ve read my way through her oevre and loved every one but one.
It’s a masterclass in how to write a feminist novel without being polemic
Wolitzer takes a feminist concern and weaves people – real people that you would care about – around it in a nuanced way, showing how feminist concerns intersect wuth life.
In this one, the problem is – what does a stay at home mum do when her child turns 10?
How to answer the question “what do you do?” in s city like New York where worth – identity itself – is measured by one’s professional occupation is a perennial irritation, but one that begins to come from the inside once the child no longer needs the mother as much as she hitherto did.
This is also a book about friendship between women and infidelity between friends (that in this case runs parallel to marital infidelity)
It starts with one woman and then moves outward to encompass her bestie, the group of mothers she lunches with and then tangents of occasionally into their mothers, or famous women – Nadia Comenici, Magritte’s wife (whose name horribly escapes me) who have touched their lives in some way.
The whole thing is so skillfully women together without being a polemic.
Small Island, Andrea Levy
Windrush has been on the edges of my consciousness since I follow the Guardian on Facebook, but I never completely understood what it is about.
The novel turns on a number of parallels – two small islands (Jamaica and Britain), two women, and a strange connection (or two) between them. It is about the clash of black and white in Britain.
One thing that struck me was the contrast between British racism and American racism, seen to be much worse. Also, how people in the colonies in some ways see themselves as connected to the “mother country”, which in fact has no time for them and disdains them.
No Going Back, Sheena Kamal
The third installation of the Nora Watts series. It was okay because of Nora and her dog Whisper. But the quest went on too long.
It also seemed silly – she was in over her head and in the end what she should have done from the beginning happened
Also it seems like Kamal got pushback for her portrayal of East Asians and so she addresses this (unconvincingly) in a conversation with a journo – what? I’m only saying it as it is.
Rodham, Curtis Sittenfeld
This is Sittenfeld’s “what if” take on Hillary Clinton’s life, the “what if” being what if Hillary didn’t marry Bill.
In the early stages of the book, it seemed like the narrative came straight out of Hillary’s biography, which didn’t seem to be the case with An American Wife, but then again, was there ever a Laura Bush biography?
Reading the early part of the book is also strange because you’re rooting for them to stay together and you’re imagining it because that’s what happened in real life, even though the premise of the book is that they don’t. This is going to stick in my head as how Bill and Hillary were as young people.
There’s also a reversal of how I would have imagined their relationship to be – Bill is the needy one.
There are many extremely clever turns in the book – Trump is effaced, or rather he is substituted by Bill, the sexual predator who did not get his comeuppance.
Could it be possible that all Hillary was missing in her presidential run was Trump in her corner?
The linguist diagnosis of why audiences judge her was particularly poignant: “You’re female. In all seriousness, the important thing to understand is that eople believe they’re making specific observations about you, but they’re just unaccustomed to hearing the voice of a woman running for president.”
“But whenever you’re on TV, imagine you have a huge tattoo across your face. You’re discussing healthcare, and people can hardly listen because they’re so busy thinking, Why did she get that tattoo? That’s how unfamiliar voters are with a woman running for president.”
Ultimately, the novel is an American feminist fairy tale, in which the dream of a woman in the most powerful position in the world is realised.
The Infatuations, Javier Marias
A weird book because it’s mostly in someone’s head (woman who watches a couple who frequents the same cafe she does and then gets involved in their lives when tragedy strikes), which shouldn’t be a problem with me, but I guess, while there was some suspense in the beginning, it didn’t completely hold.