In a recent review post, I described a novel as an undemanding read, and when, I did so a second time, I was challenged to define what I meant. Pondering this on a morning walk, it struck me that it’s easier to identify what such a book isn’t than what it is, which feels rather negative or damning with faint praise. Which wasn’t my intention, at least consciously. But don’t you also find that some books – and particularly novels – are just okay, without there being anything special about them? And is that in itself okay?
I’m rounding off my reading year with reviews of American novels about women in their mid-20s who are estranged from everything, even themselves. While the first owns two properties and the second cleans other people’s houses for a living, they are equally desperately homeless inside. While the first namedrops designer labels, and the second cleaning products, both bring a light touch to the tragedy of feeling invisible and being insecurely attached.
Welcome to the penultimate instalment of my favourite reads of the year with reminders of five wonderful novels I reviewed in September, October and November. This is a short post because I know some people are busy, having ignored my advice on saying No to Christmas!
I’ve awarded eighteen books 5-star ratings so far this year, so I’m sharing them in instalments. These five are from my reviews between May and August.
When the bots at Goodreads urged me to tidy my virtual bookshelves, 2018 still had another twenty days left to run. Plenty of time to edge closer to last year’s pinnacle of 150 books. But since I’ve already passed 2017’s 5-star total of 12 books, I’ve decided to share my favourite books of the year in four parts. This instalment covers my reading from January to April this year. Perhaps you’ll choose one of these five to help you say No to Christmas!
I might have mentioned before that I’m something of a traditionalist in my reading. Print suits me better than ebooks and, while I’ve enjoyed novels narrated on the radio, I don’t think I’ve ever chosen an audiobook in preference to text. Regarding the content, while I relish originality, novelty for its own sake can be a turnoff. Post-modernism gives me the shivers. So I was surprised to read three novels in as many months with footnotes. Is this a new trend?
I failed last month to meet my modest target of at least 50% of my reviews being of books by women. Speculating on the possible reasons, I noticed a preponderance of male authors among the novels in translation coming my way. If I were better orientated to time, you’d be forgiven for suspecting my lousy support of female authors was no accident, providing the perfect teaser for today’s post for women in translation month, revisiting the qualifying novels I’ve reviewed since August last year.
Too few novels recreate the reality of the working environment, so hurrah for another two about women at work. From a contemporary Japanese supermarket to a library in a late 50s English country town, these depict women who take their work identity very seriously indeed. But the arrival of a man, alongside their own passion for the work, brings complications. Can Keiko and Sylvia hold onto their jobs?
3. Yet, much as I’m drawn to the dark side, I don’t want my reading to be totally bleak. There are ways of writing about trauma that allow for a sliver of light.
While these two points still hold for me as a reader, I’m not sure I can identify exactly where the balance lies for me between dark and light, either in relation to what I want from a novel or in how to find it.
I couldn’t resist pairing these recently published, unconventionally structured, debut novels about relationships: their intriguing one-word titles are almost interchangeable, with Alice in Asymmetry magnetically drawn to (and later repulsed by) her much older lover and the mother-daughter relationship explored in Magnetism inherently asymmetrical. My reading experience of both was mixed, strongly engaging with the second halves significantly more than the first. See what you think.
Two novels featuring women, scarred by life, who have kept themselves slightly aloof. Of the two, Eleanor Oliphant is the most damaged, but small acts of kindness, along with a crush on a self-centred musician, might bring her out of her shell. Upstate is perhaps more realistic in confronting the difficulty of change, even though, when we first meet Vanessa Querry she’s no longer lonely as she’s fallen in love. Eleanor gets the better therapist; but is either of these women completely fine?
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 two novels.
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