Reading Diary May/June 2019

I used to regularly read literary fiction, often reading books that had won prizes or were lauded by The Literary Review. My success rate wasn’t great. I DNFed The Line of Beauty and The Corrections. I was baffled as to the fuss over The Life of Pi and Captain Correlli’s Mandolin. The end of Atonement ended me. Then it dawned on me that these books are often written by – and to impress – literary types. They sometimes mess around with the form, can be snobby and tend to favour a depressing ending. It felt like they were more concerned with showing off than providing people (like me) with a good read. So I more or less gave up on them and retreated into genre fiction. I’m trying not to rule them out  anymore and gradually dipping my toe back in does make me appreciate the quality of their writing.

 

Daughter of the Forest (Sevenwaters Trilogy Book One) by Juliet Marillier

“We draw our strength from the great oaks of the forest. As they take their nourishment from the soil, and from the rains that feed the soil, so we find our courage in the pattern of living things around us. They stand through storm and tempest. They grow and renew themselves. Like a grove of young oaks, we remain strong.”

daughter of the forest

When I told my friend about Daughter of the Forest she said she immediately knew it was my kind of book. The funny thing is that as I read it I kept thinking of Liz Moore of Papillon Perfumes to the point where I had to tell her about it. This was because the story is set 10th Century Ireland when many people still revered the nature spirits and honoured their festivals. The descritpions of the forest are lush and there re many references to flora and fauna. basically if Dryad were a book, it would Daugher of the Froest. As to the plot, it releved about young Sorcha who has a deep mystic connection to the forest. When her six brothers are cursed by a wicked stepmother the Fair Folk tell her what she must do to free them. This sets on her path that is more arduous than she could possible imainge but she is also finds kindess along the way. My only issue was it dragged a little towards the end of its 500+ pages and this put me off going straight on to Book Two in the trilogy but hopefully I’ll come to back it.  4/5 (Contains scenes of serious sexual assault.)

 

The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt

“Some of us are fated to live in a box from which there is only temporary release. We of the damned-up spirits, of the thwarted feelings, of the blocked hearts, and the pent-up thoughts, we who long to blast out, flood forth in a torrent of rage or joy or even madness, but there is nowhere for us to go, nowhere in the world because no one will have us as we are, and there is nothing to do except to embrace the secret pleasures of our sublimations…”

A couple of reading Diaries ago there was a lot of enthusiasm in the comments fo the nvels of Siri Hustvedt. I looked at her back catalogue and while not the highest rated, this was the one that appealed to me. It’s about a poet in her mid-fities who has an episode of psychosis after her husband puts there marriage on pause to pursue a relationship with a co-worker. We meet Mia after she’s left the hospital and retreated to her small home town for the summer. Here she takes on a summer poetry class for adolesecent girls at the local school and visits her mother daily at her retirement complex.  We follow the interactions between her mother’s friends “The Swans” and the group of girls who indulge in the all too familiar prepubescent pastime of singling out the most ‘different’ for subtle and not-so-subtle ridicule. It’s a study in female relationships (and to a lesser extent, relationships between men and women) but it’s also about the varied ways women are constrained. Hustvedt is clearly a fiercely intelligent woman and though I’m not keen on narrators who drop in phrases in a foreign languages and talk directly to the reader, it was an accessible literary read overall. The small town setting and limited time span kept it intimate. I warmed to Mia immediately and eventually managed to get in sync with the slow pace and just enjoy it for what it was.  3/5

the summer without men.jpg

 

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

“When something was strange, everyone thought they had the right to come stomping in all over your life to figure out why. I found that arrogant and infuriating, not to mention a pain in the neck. Sometimes I even wanted to hit them with a shovel to shut them up, like I did that time in elementary school. But I recalled how upset my sister had been when I’d casually mentioned this to her before and kept my mouth shut.”

There has been quite a buzz around this book with some even calling it the Japanese Eleanor Oliphant. Keiko like Eleanor, is socially inept but to a much greater degree. She has so little empathy, she appears to be sociopathic. At school she learns the best way to get by in life is to keep quiet. From there she gets a job at a convenience store and finds her true north. The store provides reassuring predictably and a role to perform. In fact she mimics the other employees in voice and dress to appear like ‘a normal person’. Keiko stays at the store for 18 years at which point she feels the pressure from those around her to make some kind of change in her life. Unlike Eleanor, there is no trauma beneath it all to make sense of her strangeness and allow the reader to empathise with her, but that’s kind of the point. No one is comfortable with her living an unconventional life even though she is perfectly content with it. A quick, quirky and engaging read. 4/5

convenience

 

Villette by Charlotte Bronte

“The negation of severe suffering was the nearest approach to happiness I expected to know. Besides, I seemed to hold two lives – the life of thought, and that of reality.”

villette

Jane Eyre is one of my favourite classics and so it makes me sad that Millenials often dislike it because they focus on the ‘problematic’ relationship with Mr Rochester rather than Jane’s incredible strength of character. When looking to get back into reading classics, I chose this much lesser known work which was Charlotte’s final novel. There are echoes of Jane Eyre with Lucy Snowe being a friendless introvert who is trying to survive in the world after a history of tragedy. Jane Eyre isn’t especially likeable but Miss Snowe is hard to warm to. I grew to understand and empathise with her however. She is the way she is as the result of her past and her circumstances. She is fearful that the rug could be pulled from under her at any point and is constantly steeling herself for disappointment. It’s a bleak book but that was Charlotte’s experience of life and I feel a kind of kinship with her. It isn’t an easy read, not least because I don’t speak French and there is untranslated dialogue throughout. 3/5

 

Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

“Your parents warn you about the monsters you might encounter in dark alleyways, but they never warn you about the monsters you might find in your own mind, the ones that taunt and trouble you, and make you question yourself to your very core.”

Bryony Gordon is a journalist who wrote a best-selling memoir The Wrong Knickers about her wild twenties . What she never mentioned in that book and what she explores here, is her longstanding mental health issues.  She battles an eating disorder, depression and OCD – not the ‘tidy sock drawer’ type of OCD but the kind which makes her believe she is a serial killing paedophile.  While it’s hard going through the world feeling you are not enough, it’s equally hard feeling you’re too much: too loud, too open, too greedy, too sexual, too much. Her story is sometimes heart-breaking but often hilarious. She can appreciate the absurdity and selfishness of her younger self and acknowledges that she was often simultaneously having a great time as a columnist for The Telegraph. 3/5

 

Mad-Girl-by-Bryony-Gordon_[3494]_568

 

How has your reading been this last month or two?

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22 Comments

Filed under Book Review

22 responses to “Reading Diary May/June 2019

  1. What a great reading list! I particularly like the sound of Daughters of the Forest.

    I’ve not read much lately, but recently picked up ‘Phosphorus- a biography of the devil’s element’ to reread – which is popular science & historically interesting.
    xx Tina G

    Like

    • Hey Tina,

      Liz loved Daughter of the Forest and is carrying on with the trilogy. It has a wonderful atmosphere to it.

      Your geology book sounds like a good one! I love that we all have these diverse interests.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have to say I loved Atonement and The Corrections – all Ian McEwan pretty much, though not all Jonanthan F, to be fair. Not so much Captain Corelli but can thoroughly recommend The Magus, also set on a Greek island. Possibly my favourite book – that or A Passage to India. Also recommend The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

    I have read Villette, but don’t remember much about it. Really like the sound of that Siri Husvedt one! Thanks for the heads up.

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    • Hi V,
      I adored Atonement until that rotten ending. I can’t really judge The Corrections because I didn’t get very far in.
      I’ve added The Magus by John Fowles to my reading list, thanks! I have a strong feeling that The Secret History isn’t for me but if I get a good deal on it, I’ll give it a go.
      I do think you’d enjoy The Summer Without Men and you’d understand the bits in French/German at least!

      Like

  3. Wow! You’ve definitely run the gamut this season Tara. Talk about breadth!
    I read Villette years ago and didn’t really get it. Maybe I should revisit as a grown up?
    Portia xx

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  4. This feels like lemming a perfume top ten! Perfect day for the list as it will be a short work day in account of the Independence Day holiday tomorrow and I am working from home today and don’t have to deal with the train commute.

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  5. Hamamelis

    Daughter of the Forest sounds right up my alley, thank you for posting your booklists. I haven’t read much lately, too busy, I tried the Glass Woman but too bleak, poverty and repressing women during the middle ages on Iceland. I am enjoying 2 weeks holiday in Spain and read Kate Atkinson’s Big Sky, for Jackson Brodie fans. I’m one of them and enjoyed it very much. Started on Anne Tyler’s Clock Dance, my husband picked it for me on the airport. It’s lovely, comforting and perceptive sometimes. My husband is reading Circe and loving it! How was Amsterdam?

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  6. Hi Hamamelis,
    I didn’t know about the Jackson Brodie series, that’s interesting I didn’t like Life After Life as much as others, sadly.
    Yay for your husband loving Circe!
    I fell head over heels for Amsterdam, thanks for asking. It is so cool, cultured and pretty plus the food was great. I never usually go back to places but already have a loose plan to go back there next year. It’s so near too.
    Enjoy the rest of your holiday. I hope it’s not too hot.

    Like

    • Hamamelis

      Great to read how you enjoyed Amsterdam! It’s indeed a lovely city, and there are quite a few other cities that are worth a visit: the Hague, Utrecht, Zwolle (close to where I live), Groningen, Leeuwarden and Maastricht.
      I enjoyed the Jackson Brodie series more than her other work, including Transcription which was sort of ok. I also really enjoyed the Jackson Brodie TV series.

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      • Ah, you live in a great part of the world. I’m looking forward to seeing more of it.
        No idea how I missed the Jackson Brodie books and TV series. Need to look them up.

        Like

    • Hamamelis

      Forgot: Did I recommend the Words in my Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd? You may really enjoy it having been in Amsterdam.

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  7. I love your book reviews, there is always sth to add to my TBR pile. Which lately only grows. 😁
    This time it’s Daughter of the Forest, I like the sound of that.

    Like

  8. That’s lovely to hear, Ines! Oh I know about that ever-growing TBR 🙂
    Daughter of the Forest is full of Celtic folklore and I loved the male ‘love interest’.

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  9. Hayley

    Hi Tara
    I love the reading posts and all the comments and have added a few to my good reads, daughter of the forest sounds fab.
    I finished Circe and this also made me think of Papillons Dryad so much I messaged her like a fan girl 🤦🏻‍♀️
    I don’t like to read anything too upsetting so I’ve been enjoying the provincial lady diaries there’s a few different ones, nice light but witty reading. I also enjoy Joanne Harris books and read the sequel to Chocolate. I love any books with fab scented, foodie, sensory descriptions.
    Nearly finished the grace keepers I got from the library and enjoying this too.
    Ps the secret history is amazing it took me 20 years to get round to reading it so good, I couldn’t put it down…there’s nothing horrible wise in it

    Like

    • Hi Hayley
      Really good to hear you got Gracekeepers from the library and are enjoying it. It’s pretty out there.
      Glad I’m not the only one messaging Liz! It shows how evocative her perfumes are.
      I will read The Secret History if I can get it cheap. I’m just concerned the characters are very unlikeable.
      Hope you like Daughter of the Forest. It’s a little overlong but very immersive and descriptive.

      Like

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