Yep, running out of time to draw a line under the reviews for the year. Some of these I’ve been meaning to write for eleven months. Lucky it doesn’t actually matter…
Ruth & Pen by Emilie Pine
There was an appealing warmth to this novel, and although it didn’t break new ground, Pine’s approach to a woman’s fertility challenges and to another’s neuro-diversity was fresh. Enjoyed the Dublin setting.
Think Again by Adam Grant
Intelligence is usually seen as the ability to think and learn, but there’s another set of cognitive skills that might matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn. Although some of the material feels stretched to create the book, the key points do provide some useful takeaways, with the guts focused on things such as ‘define your identity in terms of values not opinions’ and to ask ‘what evidence would change your mind?’.
Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart
Yes it’s bleak, yes I felt complete despair for most of the book but it’s an engrossing story, so vividly told. Stuart creates characters who steal your heart – there were moments when I cried for Mungo , some when I cheered and some when I felt very, very scared for him. It’s a big story with lots of action but there’s also quieter, reflective passages and scenes where the dialogue simply shines.
Devotion by Hannah Kent
Devotion sees Kent back to Burial Rites strength – writing brilliantly about landscape, layered with the inner lives of strong and compelling characters. Devotion is a love story but not in the way that you might expect. It celebrates female relationships and the twist, when it comes is shocking but outstandingly executed. I’m feeling a twinge of regret not writing a full review for this book because I marked so many beautiful passages describing the ocean, trees, and the way light falls.
Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen
It’s a little hypercritical of me to think that it’s okay for Douglas Stuart to write the same story over and over but not Franzen (because this is Franzen doing what he does best – middle class angst)? The difference is that I care for Stuart’s characters (Shuggie and Mungo) but not at all for those in Crossroads. In fact, I disliked them and I found it hard to muster any sympathy for the predicaments they found themselves in. On the plus side, there were some genuinely funny scenes, particularly those where Russ, a failed ‘associate’ pastor at a church, was questioning his own moral decisions as the double-standards mounted up around him.
Blueberries by Ellena Savage
Fairly sure I’m in the minority regarding Savage’s collection of essays (other readers thought it was sensational). I found it uneven, in terms of interest and writing style, with some of the essays far more engaging then others (the highlight being Yellow City about the author’s return to Lisbon to discover the outcome of her sexual assault trial, which had taken place years earlier). I was somewhat thrown by the different subtitles for this book – my hard copy version has ‘What kind of body makes a memoir?’, while other versions have ‘Essays concerning understanding’ – does it subconsciously change the lens through which you read?
Nothing to See by Pip Adam
Midway through the novel, I worked out what Adam was doing – and it was very clever and original. The story highlights a range of issues that can isolate people in society – mental health, addiction, being ‘undocumented’ and therefore not able to access support – it’s the perfect depiction of ‘chicken or egg’ – and it’s told in an unflinching but never judgemental way.
The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
Handmaid’s Tale meets Valley of the Dolls in this futuristic take on how ‘bad mothers’ are re-schooled. The concept is interesting but the scenes at the school (where different aspects of parenting are taught) are repetitive and it makes the whole thing seem a bit lazy. Of course, it’s screaming out to be made into a movie and it will probably be more compelling on the screen.
Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au
This delicate, meandering novel examines the relationship between a mother and daughter, as they take a trip to Japan. At a deeper level, the theme of expectations (those realised and those unmet) is revealed. The novel has garnered much praise, and I suspect it’s a book I would have got more from had I read it rather than listened to the audio version. I did enjoy the beautiful descriptions of art, and the vignettes of the daughter’s time at university, but I felt very much like a bystander as opposed to emotionally engaged.