I read most of this in the first couple of weeks of November and then my reading took a nose dive because I was just too tired in the evenings to do much more than Netflix & bed. I’ve got a few more days in December when I’m doing less PhD reading so I should have more brain space in the evening hopefully. I’m not including PhD reading stuff on here unless I think it might be of wider interest which, given I’ve been doing a methodology reading, isn’t this month!
Fever Dream by Samantha Schweblin, trans. by Megan McDowell (novel, Spanish in translation)
This is purposely disorientating in the beginning, and I had to read the first two pages a couple of times to understand who was talking when. That kind of confusion, which thankfully doesn’t continue, sets up the disorientation of Amanda, the protagonist (sort of), perfectly. But I’m not quite sure what I make of the book. I’ve seen it described as a horror but I’d say it was more just eerie and weird than a horror per se. I think it’s best read in one sitting (it’s pretty short with no chapter breaks), but I wasn’t able to do that so I don’t think I got the full effect. I didn’t feel that need to keep reading, keep going to desperately find out the end, which I think is its intent. I like a lot of the ideas in it though, like the ‘rescue distance’, so I’ll give it another try when I can read it one go. I think I’ll like it more that way.
The White Book by Han Kang, trans. by Deborah Smith (novel, Korean in translation)
Han Kang’s previous novels that have been translated into English have this way of not looking at their central character or message too directly, and she circles around them, showing you different perspectives on them. This novel/non-fiction/poetry/whatever short book does do that, but also feels much more direct and personal than her other work. It’s also more experimental, so probably won’t be for everyone, but I loved it. It’s a fragmented meditation on the colour white, without a clear narrative, but the thread is the death of Kang’s older sister hours after she was born. White is the colour of mourning in South Korea. Kang’s mother had told her that if her sister had lived, she wouldn’t have had more children, so Kang would never have been born, and there’s also a thread of Kang living in her sister’s place, and the complicated emotions her death then brings her. Throughout the book are some black and white photos from an art performance by Kang in which she ‘lent her body’ to her sister and interacted with white things. There are also ties to the violence and memoralising (or lack of) in relation to place, specifically South Korea and Warsaw, where she was living while writing the book. It’s something you could read very quickly, but it’s best read slowly, pausing at the blank white pages. (I’m hoping to read Bluets by Maggie Nelson in December so I’m looking forward to the comparison).
For The Love of God Marie by Jade Sarson (graphic novel – fiction)
I really liked the art style and the way the pages gradually turned from sepia to white as the story moves from the 60s to the 90s. I also really liked the way it explored Marie’s ideas of sexual freedom set against a more restrictive upbringing and that Marie was perfectly able to integrate her Catholic schooling with her sex life. But I found it a little thin. All the characters except Marie (and perhaps William) were quite two-dimensional and lacked any development, which sometimes made them feel tokenistic and a little patronised. Though the intent is “all these different kinds of people are sexual in different ways and that’s totally cool”, the 2-D characters unfortunately makes it more “isn’t Marie so great because she’ll sleep with a disabled guy and doesn’t find his disability an issue”, which is a subtle but important distinction. The pacing was also a little off, and at times the writing was a little hard to read. All this makes me think Sarson was just trying to do too much and squeeze too much in. I did enjoy it and I would recommend it as an enjoyable graphic (in both senses of the word) novel, but it would have been much better if she’d given her characters a bit more room to breathe, maybe included less so she could have given them more, and then it would have been great rather than just okay.
Tin Man by Sarah Winman (novel)
This book is incredibly warm. It’s sad, but there’s also warmth in that sadness, if that makes sense. It’s about love and friendship and loss, and told from two perspectives – the first half by Ellis and the second half by Micheal through a diary. It’s not the book’s fault, but it suffered a little by being so incredibly hyped before I read it – every review I saw were people saying it was one of their absolute favourites of the year. So, my expectations were a little too high in terms of the writing itself, but I did really enjoy it. The two sections are quite different from each other because Ellis and Micheal’s characters are so different, but the warmth carries through, even where the heartbreak and sadness and death appears. It’s quick and easy to read, and definitely one to put on your list.
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie (novel)
This isn’t my usual kind of thing but I’ve found a new book club and this is the December pick. It’s kind of as you’d expect really. Lots of suspicious characters wandering about metaphorically twiddling their mustaches, some red herrings, some very obvious clues to whodunnit. Weirdly, there wasn’t as much actual Poirot in it. The best thing about it was I kept imagining a really overacted and over-dramatic TV movie every time one of the family members spoke. Eh, it was alright; probably won’t be looking to read more.