my favourite reads of 2020

Well, what a year. There’s so, so much I want to say about it, but also nothing left I have the heart or energy to say. All I know is that I’m really, really tired and I’m looking forward to sunnier times ahead.

Reading – as always – has kept me sane this year.

These are five of my highlights.

The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey.

the mermaid of black conch by Monique Roffey. Normally, I can’t pick a definitive book favourite – but this is the year of normal going out the window and I can safely say I have a favourite read from the passed twelve months. I thought that The Mermaid of Black Conch was beautiful and strange and utterly bewitching.

(you can find my original review here.)

one hundred years of solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. This book is the definition of weird and wonderful. It’s a force of nature and, at first, I wasn’t sure that I could survive its unrelenting madness – but its madness is magical and sparkling and brilliant and it was unputdownable once I was in the zone.

(you can find my original review here.)

piranesi by Susanna Clarke. This short tale about a peculiar young man living all alone in a sinister, labyrinthine house left me haunted, in the way that only a good book can.

(you can find my original review here.)

the salt path by Raynor Winn. This book follows the emotional and geographical ups and downs of the author and her husband’s trek along the South West Coast Path after they are made homeless. It’s a raw account of hitting rock bottom and rebuilding a life from what’s left. And, if you’re anything like me, it’ll give you seriously ithcy feet as you read it…

mudlarking by Lara Maiklem. I got lost in the sludgy Thames mud from the safety of my sofa with this delightful and treasure-filled book. Maiklem shines a light on the secretive world of mudlarks and on the hidden histories of London found within the objects they unearth. It was quirky and unendingly interesting.

Here’s to a happy and healthy new year!

Right Book, Right Time

Some books* are like roses – they need just the right conditions to grow on you, and you need to catch them at just the right time otherwise you’ll just see a mess of bleak branches and threatening thorns rather than a wonderland of beauty and colour.

*maybe all books are really – but I think this a whole other (and probably very long) blog post.

I recently finished One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez, and it felt like a rose-book to me.

OneHundredYearsOfSolitude
one hundred years of solitude

‘… experience had taught her that the history of the family was a machine with unavoidable repetitions, a turning wheel that would have gone on spinning into eternity were it not for the progressive and irremediable wearing of the axle.’

There’s so much I could say about One Hundred Years of Solitude, but not much I can add to the already extensive debate surrounding it. It’s a mindbogglingly successful book that has had a massive cultural impact, that helped to spark the fires of magical realism as a genre, and that has baffled/bewitched millions of readers around the world for over fifty years.

Personally, I ended up loving it – despite a lot of intitial confusion/frustration/bewilderment and thinking that there was no way I would be able to muddle through to the end.

It turns out the conditions and times were right, though, for this rose-book to grow on me.

‘It rained for four years, eleven months, and two days.’

I have a few take aways from it for anyone thinking of giving this epic and surreal family saga a try…

  • it’s a whirlwind. Wars are begun and ended in a single sentence. Characters suddenly ascend to heaven whilst hanging out the laundry. Flowers rain from the sky and have to be shovelled off the streets. The book is a tornado of weird emotions, disturbing relationships, mini dramas, mega dramas, magical happenings, and dizzyingly complicated politics.
  • there are A LOT of characters with the same name. Get used to seeing Aureliano and Arcadio written on the page and good luck trying to distinguish between those characters based on the names alone. I could only differentiate between them by their behaviour and the characters around them, and even then I slipped up.
  • the imagery is insanely good. The book is a kaleidoscope of magic and wonder – I had to keep taking little moments just to absorb all the incredible mind pictures Márquez was painting on the page.
  • reading it feels a lot like fighting your way through a tangle of roots. But – after a while, hopefully, if you still like it and want to stick with it – those roots unfurl into a jungle of lush green leaves and colourful flowers. It’s still chaotic and wild, but it’s an interesting and hypnotic world to be in all the same.
  • it needs devotion. It’s not a book you can dip in and out of – it’s too mad for that.
  • it’s uncomfortable. There are creepy, icky relationships and creepy, outdated attitudes and neither of those things makes for a comfortable reading experience.
  • it will make you appreciate how normal your family is. If you’re beginning to find lockdown family life a bit tedious and samey, just be thankful you’re not in lockdown with the Buenidas.
  • it’s funny. There’s a lot of absurd humour to sink your teeth into.
  • it’s really, really weird. This is just worth reiterating.
  • it’s captivating. Despite everything – and there’s a lot of everything, I know – the story has a gravitational pull that’s hard to resist. It’s wacky and strange and disorientating, but magical in its bizarreness.

‘… both continued living on their own, cleaning their respective rooms while the cobwebs fell like snow on the rose bushes, carpeted the beams, cushioned the walls. It was around that time that Fernanda got the impression that the house was filling up with elves.’

To be honest, I’m really not sure that I would have grown to love One Hundred Years of Solitude if I hadn’t had a couple of days free to lounge around in the sunshine and get completely lost in it. I can easily see how in different circumstances I would have slammed it shut and vowed never to open it again.

A holiday week in lockdown had some unexpected reading benefits, at least.

Right book, right time.