falling in half-love with three books

I’ve been struggling to write about the books I’ve read recently and it’s made me feel like a complete book blogger failure (despite the fact that there is no one right way to blog about what you love). I think the reason I’ve struggled so much is because I have had wildly mixed feelings about my last few reads. They’ve all had moments in them that have made me go “wow!” and others that have left me knotting my eyebrows together in confusion. Basically, I’ve fallen in half-love with each of them – and half-love feels a whole lot more difficult to explain than head over heels love. But here goes…

rest and be thankful by Emma Glass. Rest and Be Thankful follows the quietly falling apart Laura, a paediatric nurse in London, as her interior and outer worlds slowly collapse shift after shift after shift. It’s a poignant book, packing a huge punch of sadness and strangess and desperation into only 135 pages. The writing is almost psychedelic as it unfurls the kaleidoscope of Laura’s exhausted and breaking mind, which made it both beautiful and infuriating to read.

“We are cotton buds sucking up the sadness of others, we are saturated, we are saviours. We absorb pain, too thick with mess to notice that everything around us is drying up and growing over. We will wake up one day in a wasteland, surrounded by the crumbling bones of those who loved us and waited for us to love them back. We did not forget but we were too busy being useful. We will crumble next to them but it will take forever, we will sit amongst the piles of dust alone.”

Poppy wanted to make sure I got the best possible angle…

jamaica inn by Daphne Du Maurier. Jamaica Inn was my third foray into the literary world of Daphne Du Maurier in the last nine months and was, unfortunately, my least favourite of the three (first place goes to My Cousin Rachel, second goes to Rebecca). It follows the tale of twenty-three year old Mary Yellan as she is sent to live with her reclusive – and, as she will discover later, notorious – Uncle and Aunt at the lonely, foreboding, moor-bound Jamaica Inn after the death of her mother. I half loved, half hated the book. I really resented some of the rambling passages and Mary’s in depth dwellings of doom, but also had to admire Du Maurier’s evocative writing, its rooted sense of place, and Mary’s feistiness. It just didn’t quite chime with me.

“Strange winds blew from nowhere; they crept along the surface of the grass, and the grass shivered; they breathed upon the little pools of rain in the hollowed stones, and the pools rippled. Sometimes the wind shouted and cried, and the cry echoed in the crevices, and moaned, and was lost again. There was a silence on the tors that belonged to another age; an age that is past and vanished as though it had never been, an age when man did not exist, but pagan footsteps trod upon the hills. And their was a stillness in the air, and a stranger, older peace, that was not the peace of God.”

ponti by Sharlene Teo. I have a habit of ordering secondhand books online on an whim and then forgetting that I’ve ordered them, which is a little bit worrying but mostly great – it’s like getting a surprise present from the postman (except for the fact that I technically knew about it and that I payed for it myself. But, oh well). Ponti was one of these “unexpected gifts” courtesy (ahem) of Royal Mail. The book threads across three timelines, following the messy relationships between a bitter mother, a lost daughter, and a bewildered best friend as they blossom and wither and unravel – together, then apart. Sharlene Teo beautifully captures the tortured nature of close female friendship as teenagers and the pain of motherly/daughterly rejection, reverence, and contempt. I connected most to the timeline set in 2003, probably because of the pop culture references that made me feel kinda old (the fact that 2003 is eighteen years ago is still blowing my mind) and brought back a lot of memories. And I really enjoyed getting more of a feel for Singapore, it’s made me want to visit someday. But the writing bothered me – it had a tendency to veer from brilliant to burdened, back to brilliant, back again to burdened, all in the space of a page which meant that it never felt like it fully flowed. The book is littered with similes – some are beautiful, some I really wish had been edited out. Having said that, I will be keeping an eye out to see what Sharlene Teo writes next.

“I’m a bad person because I haven’t let go of how she crumpled me up like a ball of paper my whole life, and now that she’s gone I don’t know how to get the creases out.”

Have you read any books that have left you in half-love? What have you been reading recently? Have you read any of these? If so, what did you think of them?

Reads – The Gallows Pole

The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers is based on the true story of the Cragg Vale Coiners in 1760s Yorkshire. It follows the fates of “King” David Hartley and his gang as they exploit the close-knit and secluded location of the Upper Calder Valley to clip real coins and forge new ones – an activity that got so out of hand it threatened to destabilise the economy and meant death by hanging for anyone found guilty of it.

In my head, it played out like a cross between Poldark and Peaky Blinders, only set in Yorkshire and much more grisly.

Book review of The Gallows Pole
The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers

I had very mixed feelings about it.

I want to say that I love it, but I don’t so I won’t.

I respect it and admire it and marvel at it, though. #awkward

Here are some of my main takeaways…

Sections of the book are written phonetically – from David Hartley’s point of view – and for the first half of the book it kind of drove me up the wall. I’d see the itallics and a little piece of me would shrivel up and die inside. It just felt so painful to read, so slow, so laboured. But, somewhere along the line, I had an upiffanee. It’s not that it became easier to read, it just somehow – unexpectedly and weirdly – became a joy to read. David Hartley is mad and delusional, yet brilliant in his own horrible way. The phonetic writing is the same and the book would lose something without it. So I can forgive Benjamin Myers the fingernails-on-blackboard pain it initially induced in my brain. *pats self on back for moral goodness*

The other thing that was a joy to read, though this time throughout the whole book, was the writing about the landscape. It lives and breathes and sets the page alight. There’s lots of rain, lots of clouds, lots of fields, hills, and mud. Endless skies and knotted trees. Wild wind in your hair and fresh air in your lungs.

The descriptions are intense and vivid.

‘Finally the sky was free of clouds and stars cut through the night like smashed quartz sprinkled and thrown aloft to stick there.’

Well, holy moly is that one lovely sentence. One of many.

‘The night came in like a bruise of purples and blues and then finally gripped so tight that the sky was black and broken by the weight of time impressing upon it.’

(Just a heads up here: the description of the landscape is intense and so too is the description of brutal, sick violence. It hurt to read. If you can’t stand that kind of thing in a book, this absolutely isn’t the one for you.)

Ultimately, there was only one thing that deep-down bothered me about the book.

Maybe this is a totally unfair criticism, but I hated the fact there wasn’t really any character to root for, that there was no-one to give you a sense of hope. I personally found it hard to read a book where I didn’t feel tethered to at least one character’s soul, even in a little, teeny-tiny way. I did enjoy the moral conflict between law and order and the “clip a coin, fuck the crown” spirit – because how exactly do you live freely and fairly when the weight of the law is always stacked against you, when people can pick you up and move you on, lock you up, kick you when you’re already down on a whim? – but I just wish there had been someone in the book that I felt less than 90% negatively about.

Everybody – and I solemnly swear this – is up to no good.

It wore me down.

Like I say, maybe that’s unfair. But it’s how I feel. So there. *sticks out tongue*

It’s a beautiful and bleak, brilliant and frustrating, intriguing and unnerving story. I loved it in a way, and hated it too for making me feel kind of miserable. If I were a star-giver, I’d give it four out of five. Four for its rugged beauty; the fifth being held back because it made me grumpy. (Or perhaps just grumpier.)

So, yeah. Feelings all over the place for this one.

I can see how that’s not really helpful. But it’s how I feel.

So there.

Reads – Lullaby by Leila Slimani

Lullaby by Leila Slimani (translated from French by Sam Taylor) starts and ends with two murders and one attempted suicide. In between, the story tracks the slow unravelling of the bourgeoisie Parisian family and their nanny at the centre of that crime.

It’s not normally a genre I read, and, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have read it if I hadn’t set a goal to read more translated books this year (trying to beat my score of one from last year – looking likely at this point). But I’m so so so glad I did read it.

The book grew more and more claustrophic, more sinister, more claggy against my heart with every page. It pulled me under and dragged my wimpish soul kicking and screaming, strangely hypnotised, to its ugly conclusion. The writing and translation are dream-like and smooth, a lullaby. Just a lullaby that drifts towards a nightmare.

‘Her heart has grown hard. The years have covered it in a thick, cold rind and she can barely hear it beating.’

Obviously, there’s no happy ending or salvation. But the journey. Ugh, the journey. It’s not perfect, but it is really, really, really good.

Lullaby book cover, by Leila Slimani. Instax mini 9 photograph.
Lullaby by Leila Slimani