I’m in the middle of three books at the moment, so August’s wrap-up will, in theory, have a whole lot of stuff. But, for now, the three I finished in what was a very busy month:
Stay With Me by Ayòbámi Adébáyò (novel)
This is an excellent debut novel (shortlisted for the Bailey’s this year). It felt light and breezy to read, but still had some real depth in the themes of gender roles and expectations in society, family, and marriage. In 1980s Nigeria, Akin is pressured by his family to take a second wife because he and his wife Yejide have been unable to conceive a child, which he does without informing Yejide first. The novel is narrated mainly by Yejide, but I liked that there are also chapters from Akin and you see his view on the marriage. There wasn’t quite enough differentiation between Yejide and Akin’s voices, though it was always clear who was narrating a chapter within a paragraph or two from what they were saying. The female characters, particularly Yejide, are incredibly well drawn and fully rounded people. Akin’s character felt a little thin but that may because he is more reserved and hiding some of himself away from the other characters. There are lots of twists and turns in this story, but I didn’t find them as unpredictable as other reviews suggest. I think I went into it with my expectations set a little too high, so I didn’t love it as much as I expected to. But it’s a great debut with just a few debut-novel-flaws, and I’d definitely recommend it and am looking forward to whatever Adébáyò comes out with next.
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh (novel)
This is marketed as a thriller but it’s not really. It’s more of an extended character study of self-loathing. Eileen lives in a non-descript town, with and (sort of) caring for her alcoholic father, and works in a bleak juvenile detention facility. She is full of a kind of repressed rage but with both apathy and narcissism. She also wants us to be disgusted by her, the way she is disgusted with herself, by telling us about her poor hygiene and perceived ugly features of her body. The ending didn’t work for me. It needed much more of a punch, and perhaps more of Eileen and Rebecca’s ordinary interactions beforehand. If you like an unreliable narrator in a plot-light, character-heavy novel, then this is definitely for you. If you’re looking for plot, look elsewhere.
Lost in Translation by Ella Francis Sanders (comic, non fiction)
This is an illustrated compendium of words that have no direct translation into English. I love words and illustration and translation, so I should have loved this, but it was a bit disappointing. I liked learning about the words, but the way Sanders has laid it out and the font she uses makes it quite difficult to actually read at times. There’s also no indication of how to say the word. I like a lot of the illustrations, and the book itself is beautifully produced, but none of that’s any good if you can’t actually read it.
Also on the blog this month:
Oddly specific reading recommendations #1: Shoeburyness – books for the vague uncomfortable feeling you get when sitting on a seat that is still warm from somebody else’s bottom
The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney (novel), Creating Freedom by Raoul Martinez (non-fiction), The Phantom Atlas by Edward Brooke-Hitching (non-fiction).