Last January, I decided that this was the year I’d reread some of my all-time favourite books. I thought one per month would be reasonable; I actually read ten, although I’m awarding myself double points for the single non-fiction book. By sheer chance, they divided equally into five I found well worth revisiting and five that didn’t thrill me so much second time around. Read on to see which was which.
About the author and blogger ...
Anne Goodwin writes entertaining fiction about identity, mental health and social justice. She has published three novels and a short story collection with Inspired Quill. Her debut, Sugar and Snails, was shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize. Her new novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, is rooted in her work as a clinical psychologist in a long-stay psychiatric hospital.
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.
These two unconventional novels address the difficulties of reconciliation to individual and societal involvement in the exploitation and annihilation of other communities and ethnic groups. Neither tells a straightforward story, but I struggled most with the structure and style of the first. This is a pity, as I’d like to have learned more about the persecution and murder of Guyana’s indigenous people. I found the second, about the legacy of the Holocaust for contemporary Germans, an easier read.
I'll continue posting longer reviews of books gifted to me by the author or publisher, but I'll probably keep this up for books I've bought myself. It should work for me, but will it work for you? Let me know in the comments what you think.
Read on for reviews of six contemporary novels, one classic novel, a short story collection and two non-fiction books, all read over the last three months.
The human mind has a wonderful capacity to protect us from unbearable memories, but there’s always a cost. As the narrators of these two novels discover when circumstances compel them to spend time with the mothers from whom they’ve grown apart. Read on to see which takes your fancy; I can heartily recommend reading both.
I’m sharing my reflections on two books I read recently, which I enjoyed despite not being my usual reads. I bought them because they relate to my interest in mental health issues, but there must have been more than that. Both are based on true stories - the second is actually creative non-fiction - about the author’s friendship with someone who has a psychiatric diagnosis and has been subjected to a care system that is often uncaring. Like my latest novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, they celebrate marginalised lives.
Let me tell you about these four novels featuring older women looking back at their lives, and forward, some with dread, to what’s left of it. The first is a translated novel set in Belarus. The second and fourth are set in care homes around the middle of the twentieth century. The third is a contemporary novel set in a London hospital with flashbacks to a glittery Alexandria. All illustrate the vulnerability of old age, but also the strength and spirit of the central characters.
Three short reviews of novels on the theme of love and loss: the first, set in Canada, about a woman whose husband disappears and turns up a year later with a new identity; the second, set in France, is about a man who yearns to be reunited with the lover from his youth before he loses himself to dementia; the third, a translated novel set in Spain, is about the tender relationship that develops between two brutalised people.
These two recent reads about a subject close to my heart: finding the meaning within supposed madness and unOthering those deemed severely mentally ill. The first is a classic, an antidote to the mad woman in the attic in Jane Eyre; the second, which deserves to become a classic, published this year. I have no hesitation in recommending them both.
Allow me to introduce two recent reads featuring a teenage girl’s sexual awakening with a physically attractive but morally suspect young man, arousing the envy of her less confident suitor. Both novels also emphasise her passion for the place in which she lives: in the first, a derelict asylum in southern England; in the second, the family farm in rural France.
Let’s consider two novels published this month which direct the reader’s gaze towards the characters’ inner lives, mentally and physically. The first, set in Australia during the recent rampaging bushfires, focuses on the characters’ wandering minds as they watch a play. The second, set in the Americas, looks in on the body and outwards to the stars.
These two recent rereads focus on older characters who have been diminished by their culture’s punitive attitudes to their sexuality. In the first, a contemporary Londoner has hidden his love for his closest friend on account of the Caribbean community’s homophobia. In the second, a woman has been ostracised in twentieth-century Ireland because of the misogyny and genophobia among the powerful Catholic clergy. Yet a degree of redemption is offered to the characters, albeit late in life.
These two novels are about women over forty for whom life has lost its sparkle, partly due to marital infidelity and an empty nest. The first is a nuanced portrayal of contemporary middle age, set in Paris; the second is a shallow glimpse at widowhood and fear of ageing, set in the 1980s on England’s south coast.
I’m sharing my reflections on these recent reads about the aftermath of a family tragedy, the first set in 1970s rural England and the second in contemporary Alabama. Both are by women writers whose previous novels I’ve loved and I’m delighted to say they didn’t disappoint.
Here we have two highly successful mid-twentieth century novels with hospital settings. The first is a comedy of manners only partly set on a medical ward for older women in a London hospital; the second is an exuberant but ultimately devastating portrayal of an Oregon State medical hospital. What’s it like to read/reread them during pandemic six decades after they first hit the shelves?
What’s the impact of inequality and injustice on friendship? These two London-set novels might go some way to helping us understand. In the first, two women unite to claim a degree of personhood and agency within the culture of misogyny in the court of James I; in the second, a young Black man struggles to maintain a loving relationship within a contemporary climate of institutional racism.
I’m sharing my reflections on two novels, published a few years ago about retired schoolteachers who are forced to reappraise aspects of their pasts. Julia Garnet, a former history teacher in South London, has her epiphany in Venice; former maths teacher, Olive Kitteridge, stays in her home town in Maine. Both women have hidden their vulnerabilities beneath a steely shell. Both demonstrate it’s never too late to learn.
Two novels that have sat on my bookshelves for a while, the first waiting to be read, and the second loved and waiting to be re-read. Written by acclaimed female novelists – the first British and the second, Canadian, now deceased – read on to see what this unacclaimed female novelist, also the author of a fictional biography, thought.
Large gatherings at country houses are common enough in fiction, but these two recent reads, both involving family secrets, couldn’t be more different. It’s not so much that the first is set in England and the second in Japan, but one’s crime and the other literary translation. But even within those genres, they’re oddballs. In a good way? Read on for my thoughts!
Only one of these three recent reads is classed as a horror novel and, although not my usual genre, it turned out to be my favourite of the three. But we don’t need to evoke the supernatural to scare ourselves: there are real-life horrors in each of these stories. In the first, a translation, war has killed many and put the survivors’ lives on hold. In the second, set in rural Cumbria, the spooky happenings are extra disturbing for a man with unprocessed memories of violence from childhood, as well as his helplessness in the face of his wife’s agonising three-day labour. The third is a 1960s classic set in a horrific – but typical of its time – psychiatric hospital where the regime seems designed to make a bad situation worse.
Two recent reads set in medieval Europe, where reluctant heroines must confront obstacles both spiritual and tangible to take a chance on happiness with the man they love. The first is set in Britain and the second, two centuries later, in France. Both include St Margaret as a minor character, but I was rooting for the maids on a mission, hoping they’d save their loved ones, and themselves.
Adoption aftermaths: Helen and the Grandbees, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? & Red Dust Road
I suspect I’m drawn to adoption narratives because of the way they can make concrete a vague sense of loss and yearning some of us feel as a result of early maternal neglect. It’s one of the themes of my forthcoming novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, and its follow-up, 100 Candles, my current WIP. In fact, I read/reread the two memoirs reviewed in this post as research for the latter. The other book is a debut novel offered to me by the publisher.
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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