Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller

Things that are truly innocent don’t need to be labelled as such.

I haven’t read a real page-turner for ages. My reading tends to be immersive in a different way – getting lost in lovely sentences, pausing to consider what I’ve read. Zoë Heller’s Notes on a Scandal (also titled What Was She Thinking?) changed the routine. I raced through it, keen to see what happened to the (quite frankly) horrible characters. Continue reading

Young Women by Jessica Moor

I vividly recall the first time I became aware of the #MeToo movement. An acquaintance revealed something startling and frightening from their past on social media, accompanied by the tag #MeToo. It didn’t take me long to discover what #MeToo meant, and over the following days and months, I had numerous discussions with friends about the movement.

The thing was (is) that every single woman I spoke to, had something to contribute to #MeToo. Every single one. We had all had incidents at parties, work, on public transport, or walking down the street, where we felt unsafe, threatened, scared. But there was another element to these discussions – how do we reconcile the behaviours that we ‘dismissed’ in the eighties and nineties against current expectations – things that did not ‘traumatise’ me as a teen, might be reportable now. Was that me, and my processing of events, or was that social conditioning? Or both?

Young Women by Jessica Moor is the #MeToo novel for Millennials. There are a bunch of novels that explore the themes that Moor tackles, but this is one of the best I’ve read. Continue reading

Still Life by Sarah Winman

Still Life by Sarah Winman is an undeniably pretty story, predominantly set in Florence, and focused around themes of art, love and luck.

The book has had tonnes of reviews, so I won’t recount the plot – all you need to know is that the story stretches from post-WWII to the seventies, and tracks the interwoven lives of a number of characters (including a blue and yellow Macaw named Claude).

Winman plays with perspective – simply in terms of individual characters; nuanced if you take the idea of the title and think about how we all see a fixed object in a different way, our history and experiences giving context; and lastly at a meta-level, with her riff on Forster’s A Room with a View. Continue reading

Wintering by Katherine May

The subtitle of Katherine May’s memoir-meets-nature-writing, Wintering, is ‘The power of rest and retreat in difficult times’. The subtitle might suggest a how-to guide for coping with pandemics but that’s not the case.

Instead, May’s gentle book examines the cues that flora and fauna take from the weather; and the human response to the cold, including winter recreation (saunas and rolling in snow); and rituals and customs.

Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives that they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Continue reading

The Echo Chamber by John Boyne

I enjoy live comedy. The very best comedians are masters of the narrative – introducing a theme early, meandering around related topics, only to loop back to the initial idea for that final punchline. Done well, it’s immensely satisfying.

The Echo Chamber by John Boyne is like a 420-page comedy skit. The broad themes are political correctness and social media, and from there Boyne weaves a deliciously sharp satire that had me laughing out loud – and all those threads came to a neat ending with a brilliant final line. Continue reading