Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

It’s been years – no, decades – since I read any Virginia Woolf. And I’d be hard pushed to say what of hers I’ve read, apart from A Room of One’s Own (and when it’s so long ago, I’m not sure it counts).

Anyway, Mrs. Dalloway was in the reading stack and seemed like a decent starting point for Novella November. Continue reading

Monogamy by Sue Miller – a literary mix tape

I have a backlog of reviews, and Monogamy by Sue Miller is one of them. I enjoyed it for its exploration of all facets of grief – yes, the sadness and sentimental stuff, but also the anger, resentment, selfishness, the physical and social impact, and the questions that won’t be answered. Continue reading

The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka

The things I love about swimming:

  • the immediate sense of relaxation as soon as I dive in
  • watching the tiles on the bottom as I churn through laps – it’s my meditation
  • the ritual – from the order of my laps to the way I roll my towel and bathers post-swim
  • the lingering smell of chlorine or the grit of salt

The specifics: I’m a medium-laner; always a 50-metre pool; always outdoors (all year round).

The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka is a novel in two parts. The first is about an indoor pool and its swimmers. Swimming can be a great leveler, and Otsuka captures this in her descriptions –

We suffer from bad backs, fallen arches, shattered dreams, broken hearts, anxiety, melancholia, anhedonia, the usual aboveground afflictions. Continue reading

One Day I Shall Astonish the World by Nina Stibbe

I’m certain there’s no shortage of books that examine the intricacies of a friendship over decades. Friendships can be tested at various junctures in a person’s life, particularly when people choose partners, become parents, experience successes or failures, or if there is significant financial inequity. The challenge in writing a novel about such events and the impact of these on the friendship, is that the compressed timeline can render events overly dramatic.

Another danger in the friendship story is that it becomes one-sided. Invariably, one friend has all the luck while the other has only misfortune.

Somehow Nina Stibbe sidesteps the pitfalls, and in One Day I Shall Astonish the World she has created an authentic story that captures the see-sawing of Susan and Norma’s friendship over many decades. Continue reading

Less is Lost by Andrew Sean Greer

Less is Lost by Andrew Sean Greer is the follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Less. A sequel is always risky, right (particularly when the ending of the first book was perfection)? Thankfully, Greer gets it right and all of the things I loved about Arthur Less the first time, were there again (especially Arthur’s wonderfully bad German).

In Less, Arthur (a mediocre novelist) traveled around the world to avoid his ex’s wedding. When we meet Arthur in Less is Lost, he is a moderately accomplished novelist in a steady relationship with his partner, Freddy. However, it’s not quite happily-ever-after, and circumstances force Arthur to accept a series of literary gigs that send him  zigzagging across America. Continue reading

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