I’m determined to review everything I’ve read, even if it means a measly few words…
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain
Generally speaking, I like Tremain’s light touch. I particularly like the fact that she can give ‘soap opera’ elements to a story and get away with it (on account of her very good writing). Unfortunately, something was slightly amiss in The Gustav Sonata and as a result, her interesting exploration of shame (examined through the role of Switzerland in the protection of Jewish people before WWII, and then subsequently the role of banks in returning valuable property to Jewish families after the War) got a little lost in the poorly-defined and confused relationships between some of the characters.
On the plus-side, this story prompted me to do some more reading about Switzerland during WWII (I guess there’s a ‘neutral’ spectrum…).
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
There’s a huge cast of characters in Evaristo’s Booker prize winner and she wrangles them all into order; gives them delicious back stories; creates enough action to move the book forward; and then weaves their stories together into a masterful conclusion. It’s certainly an impressive book.
Themes of feminism, identity, and the meaning of being foreign at ‘home’ are explored from many angles (and brought to mind a mash-up of Elizabeth Strout, Zadie Smith and Meg Wolitzer). The drawback of interlinked (or short) stories, is that inevitably the reader considers which parts they ‘liked the best’. In this case, there were some characters that I really enjoyed and one or two that I didn’t care for at all. Perhaps it’s unfair to dwell on this unevenness given that my overall impression was that the warmth in Evaristo’s writing made this book easy to read and enjoyable.
Busy As F*ck by Karen Nimmo
Nimmo does a great job of identifying the current ‘busy’ lifestyle most people claim is theirs, and some of her opening remarks made me laugh (for example, I don’t want my eulogy to include ‘Kate was really busy’). However, the book was light-on for strategies that could be easily put in place to alleviate being busy – telling people to be kinder to themselves is far easier said than done, and rejecting certain roles (e.g. the ‘people pleaser’) is difficult if we have been in them for decades.
Rebranding what we already know.