Saturday, 23 September 2017

Mini Book Reviews - Part One

I've read quite a few books recently that, although I have some thoughts on them, didn't really resonate with me or impact me enough (positively or negatively!) to be worth writing a full review on them. So instead, I'm going to do a sort of 'wrap up' of some books I finished reading in the last 6 weeks or so. This is going to be part one of two; the second part will be up about a week after this one!

A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity Around the World
I saw this one on Goodreads, because Hannah Witton had added it, so I was intrigued. This was an interesting book, but it wasn't the one I'd expected it to be when I reserved it at the library. I expected it to be more of a narrative history discussing key points with links to the cultural references to homosexuality of different eras, but this was a bit more like a written tour of a museum of artefacts and art that could be interpreted as 'gay'. Some of the older pieces in particular were a bit tenuous, but as they moved towards more modern history it did definitely get quite explicit and undeniable, the most memorable being some Japanese art from the 18th century. It was definitely a great little book and a fantastic insight into the art history side of things, but I think I'll need to keep looking to find a more definitive history!

The Trick is to Keep Breathing - Janice Galloway
I think this was just one of those books that was always floating around in the back of my mind as something to read because of the Scottish connection. I imagine this is something that is true of book lovers of any nationality, but I do always feel a bit of a pull to read books by Scottish writers, and feel a little bit of pride whenever I come across a particularly successful and talented Scottish writer. I got this from the library, but I might invest in my own copy one day, because I think it's the kind of book I'd like to reread. It's described on the back of the Vintage edition as being like Sylvia Plath meets Tristram Shandy, and although I haven't read the latter, I am a fan of Plath and I can understand the comparison. I usually prefer books that have a clear plot as well as strong characterisation, but there does just seem to be something about books like this that really sucks me in. It's a similar experience for me to reading books like Housekeeping and Play it Like it Lays. I can't pinpoint now, despite reading both of those books a few times, what it was "about". But I can remember how it made me feel, and I can still see the images in my mind -- and I love rereading books like that.

Hollow Pike - Juno Dawson
I picked this up at the Edinburgh Book Festival last month, on the day I went to see Juno and CN Lester talk about their books The Gender Games and Trans Like Me. I haven't read the latter yet (although I want to!) but in the bookshop tent, I spotted Hollow Pike on the shelf next to the huge display of The Gender Games, and I decided to pick it up. It was the first of Juno's fiction books that I've read, but I loved it -- and I'm even more impressed by it being her first novel. It's quite enviable to have your first novel not read like a first book. I'm really interested to get into some of her other novels too now, as from what I've read of her work so far, I think I'll really enjoy them.

The Wonder - Emma Donoghue
I kind of love Emma Donoghue. It was quite a good month for reading in August, actually, although things have been a bit patchier more recently - but this was definitely fantastic, and might even be up there in the top ten books for this year. I think Donoghue's novel Room is absolutely incredible, and I adored her collection Kissing the Witch when I read it last year. It took me a little time to really get into The Wonder, but once I did I was obsessed with it. I was mostly reading it on bus journeys, and I kept getting into work and feeling the need to update coworkers about the story and talking about what I thought was happening and how the book would end. Indeed, the ending was brilliantly unexpected (while not feeling so unexpected as to be unbelievable - but I don't want to give anything away) and I even loved it so much that I bought it as a gift for my grandma earlier this month! I want to get around to reading the rest of Donoghue's books in the not too distant future, too, as she's definitely up there as one of my favourite authors.
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Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters // Book Review

Before this, my only experience with Sarah Waters's writing was with her first novel, Tipping the Velvet. I enjoyed it, but I did feel like I would probably prefer some of her later works and to see the development of her writing style. 

I think I picked up The Little Stranger in the Oxfam bookshop, in like-new condition, and I'm fairly sure I must have bought it before I'd actually read Velvet. It wasn't until I was actually reading this novel that I realised that it departed from Waters's usual LGBT themes. However, I was still interested in the plot. The Little Stranger dwells on some interesting themes about the decline of gentry and the changes to society post war, and I was interested to read a ghost story too, as it's not something I've really read before.

I really wanted to like this book more, and a lot of the story was fantastic - but having to read from Faraday's point of view was draining, and really hampered the story at times. As the novel went on I started to resent Faraday, in a way that was definitely intensified by being stuck inside his head. 

There were so many instances where Faraday would say something like "and anyway, I wasn't there when this dramatic thing happened, but let me recount it for you, based on how they recounted what happened to me". It removed any tension or excitement at key plot points, because it was all coming to you third hand. I don't see there being any strong case against telling the story in third person instead, even in parts - I could have seen it working well as a combination of omniscient narrator for the ghost story combined with Faraday's diaries. 

I think I can understand why Waters's focalised everything through Faraday, and I'm fairly confident that Faraday is intended to be disliked by the reader - I just didn't like the impact it took away from the ghost story element of the book. The ending, in particular, was kind of brilliant in its ambiguity and the implicit meaning that we could take from the final words - I just don't think the whole book needed to be told by Faraday to achieve it. 

All in all, I wasn't in love with this book, but I am still keen to go on and read her other novels as I'm sure I'll enjoy them!
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