I started this blog in 2013 to share my reflections on reading, writing and psychology, along with my journey to become a published novelist. I soon graduated to about twenty book reviews a month and a weekly 99-word story. Ten years later, I've transferred my writing / publication updates to my new website but will continue here with occasional reviews and flash fiction pieces, and maybe the odd personal post.
August is women in translation month, a time when readers prioritise books by women in translation – yes, it does what it says on the tin! – and I share the qualifying books I’ve read over the last twelve months. This year’s dozen represents nine languages (two up from last year) – Bosnian, Catalan, Danish, French, German, Hungarian, Icelandic, Portuguese, Spanish – and six publishers (Bloomsbury, Charco Press, Europa editions x3, Maclehose Press x 2, Peirene Press x 3, Quercus).
Here I share one new review, summaries and links to reviews I’ve published over the last twelve months, plus mentions of three I didn’t get round to reviewing.
Two novels about a difficult patch in a long marriage, complicated by difficult relationships with the couples’ offspring. The first is the best book I’ve read so far this year. The second, by a more famous author, doesn’t come anywhere near.
Two translated novels, both with a contemporary and historical element, which address the female struggle for autonomy and self-expression in a misogynistic and racist world.
Let me tell you about these two novels about women’s lives in terrain under occupation by external powers. The first is a historical novel about the struggle for personal and political freedom in 20th-century Greece. The second is a futuristic dystopia about how, in the climate crisis, the wealthy lay claim to the coolest lands.
6 positive social changes in my lifetime: trans visibility; deinstitutionalisation; reproductive rights and more
I think there is a deep-seated fear and resentment of female power even in situations where we don’t have much of it, so I make no apologies for grouping these novels that touch on the theme from vastly different angles. The first is a historical novel about misogyny manifest in a fantasy of witchcraft. In the second, three half-sisters are haunted by the harm done when they tried to claim their power in adolescence. In the third, a seemingly powerless and self-loathing woman takes a tortured journey through her city and her mistakes. The final novel contemplates the relative power of the singer with a rock band versus the homemaker wife who stands by her man.
I’ve recently read two very different novels in which traumatised mothers suffer a second blow in being distanced from both their children, albeit the separation is for very good reasons. The first is a translation set against the backdrop of the Rwandan genocide. The tragedy in the second is less widespread, restricted to one particular family, but nevertheless extremely painful for those concerned. Read on to discover how these books are about so much more.
My final two reviews of 2022 are tenuously linked by being set in closed communities in which unempathic people hold vulnerable creatures in their power. I refer to creatures less because the staff of the nightmare care home in the first novel don’t seem to regard their charges as human and more because the inmates of the second – where the compassion of the lowliest employee almost compensates for the attitude of her senior colleagues – are dolphins.
Two novels about the shit that can happen when you’re Black and gender nonconforming that also acknowledge the joy of living true to oneself.
These two recent reads are about challenging women’s traditional roles as homemakers in the mid twentieth century. The first focuses on the barriers facing a woman seeking a career in science in early 1960s America. The second follows the fortunes of three sisters and their mother as the times change in 1970s France.
I was unsure how – or whether – I’d connect these two recent reads until I was pondering my response to this week’s flash fiction challenge. Although very different stories, both address how difficult it can be to find an escape route from repeating patterns of self-destructive behaviour. In the first, a woman approaching middle age faces up to her tendency to fall into abusive relationships. In the second, a young man admitted to a psychiatric ward wonders if his own future is written on the faces of his fellow patients, stuck in a cycle of relapse and remission. The wheels keep turning – will they manage to jump off?
Here are two novels in which issues of female disempowerment are explored within a murder narrative. The first is a modern classic, translated from Arabic, set in a culture where women have no custody over their own bodies. The second is a contemporary Irish crime novel, set in a society where men have learnt ways of controlling their partners without leaving a physical mark.
I’ve linked these two very different novels via the theme of compromised freedom, partly because that’s how I feel myself right now. In the first, an elderly widow frees herself from pity by casting a stranger as her grandson but fears being found out. In the second, women are magically freed from misogyny at a cost of losing the men and boys they love.
Allow me to introduce two novels about the marginalisation of women’s experience: the first set in sixteenth century Strasbourg where the church rules hearts and minds; the second in contemporary a South Africa grappling with its colonial past. Both include a scene of arson, but that is not the worst of the violence.
These two novels depict a character’s reflections on their life following the sudden death of their spouse. Both the male writer in the first novel and the female teacher in the second are mourning not only the loss of a partner but of the promise of their original romance.
Two novels about women whose identities stem from the supernatural: the first, a vampire who moves to London to work in a gallery; the second, a traditional healer in rural Mexico and the journalist who wants to write her story.
Two fabulous fiction books about ordinary people in historically significant times. The first is a family saga set in China, Taiwan and America across six decades of the twentieth century. The second is a snapshot of Swiss history on a single day in 1959 when the male half of the populace denied their mothers, sisters and wives the right to vote.
Here are two books featuring different kinds of caring: the first a translated memoir about a healthcare professional who looks after people’s minds along with their feet; the second a novel about an actor who opens his home to his struggling father and to his childhood friend.
Do you remember that song about the sisters, devoted to each other … unless a man should come between them? Here are two versions of the novelisation of that story. In the first, set primarily in the Philippines, the two daughters of a former dissident compete for the affections of a powerful man. In the second, a YA dystopian novel, thirty teenagers who’ve been raised together, and think of each other as sisters, also hope to be chosen a high-status man. In both cases, their position is bleak, but the culture and politics of the society they inhabit render the alternative bleaker still.
Two translated novels – the first from Hebrew, the second from French – about young people invited to apply for grants to support their ambitions, which lead them into damaging situations. The first is about a tour guide to the Nazi death camps; the second about a teenage dancer groomed for abuse (with a section from the point of view of her school boyfriend, who feels burdened by his Jewish heritage). They question whether the legacy of such cruelty is to forgive, forget or become monsters ourselves. Difficult subjects, but both an easy and worthwhile read.
These very different novels are both about young men detained in strange settings: the first a psychiatric ward; the second a labyrinth. Steven, in the first, is a reluctant captive who needs to learn the value of where he’s landed in order to leave. Piranesi, in the second, seems perfectly adapted to his environment, but he needs to discover the dark side to become his full self.
I was going to call this post hopes dashed, but that would be too sensational for these two lovely novels about women getting on with it after disappointment, not because they’re heroic survivors but because they’re ordinary flawed human beings. In the first, an untenured academic carries on as normal despite a drawn-out miscarriage; in the second, an aspiring artist continues painting despite a lack of talent and community support. Both stories unfold in elegant understated prose with touches of humour.
I’m struck by the similarities between these two novels, despite being of different genres and set six centuries apart. Both are about men who take pride in their knowledge and intellect yet are blind to the biases that limit their understanding, particularly in relation to women and to physical health. The first is about a nuclear physicist dosing himself with radiation, the second about a young monk’s encounter with the Black Death.
entertaining fiction about identity, mental health and social justice
Anne Goodwin's books on Goodreads
Sugar and Snails
ratings: 52 (avg rating 4.21)
ratings: 60 (avg rating 3.17)
ratings: 9 (avg rating 4.56)
GUD: Greatest Uncommon Denominator, Issue 4
ratings: 9 (avg rating 4.44)
The Best of Fiction on the Web
ratings: 3 (avg rating 4.67)
Annecdotal is where real life brushes up against the fictional.
Annecdotist is the blogging persona of Anne Goodwin:
slug-slayer, tramper of moors,
author of three fiction books.
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I don't post to a schedule, but average around ten reviews a month (see here for an alphabetical list),
some linked to a weekly flash fiction, plus posts on my WIPs and published books.
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