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?

between the world and me, rebecca, the salt path, & my sister the serial killer

These are a few of my reading highlights from the last few weeks…

BTWAMbook_edited

between the world and me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This is a raw, heartfelt, and compelling letter by the author to his son on the subject of race in America. Not only does it lay bare the sustained experiences of racism most black Americans face in their lives, it also unpicks the idea of the American dream itself. It’s a beautifully written, brutally honest, and insightful book.

‘You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable… The people who must believe they are white can never be your measuring stick. I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.’

RebeccaBook

rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I ordered a copy of Rebecca from the library just before lockdown, and finally got my hands on a copy earlier this month (yay for libraries re-opening!). I found it just as twisted and gothic and haunting and suspenseful as My Cousin Rachel – although I did find it infuriating to have such an aloof main character (she’s never even named) despite appreciating that this detachment was a deliberate (and, granted, effective) narrative tool. It’s a classic for a reason, so I won’t bore you with more of my analysis – basically, if you read it it’ll mess with your mind and keep you on your emotional toes.

‘He would never love me because of Rebecca. She was in the house still… she was in that room in the west wing, she was in the library, in the morning-room, in the gallery above the hall… and in the garden, and in the woods, and down in the stone cottage. Her footsteps sounded in the corridors, her scent lingered on the stairs.’

the salt path by Raynor Winn. Weirdly, I started The Salt Path last year but returned it to my TBR pile for another try when I didn’t get into it as much as I’d expected to. And I’m so glad I saved it for future reading, because when I picked it up again last month I clicked with it instantly. The book follows Raynor and her husband, Moth, on the physical and emotional ups and downs as they walk the South West Coast Path in England after they’re made homeless and as Moth struggles with the effects of a debilitating illness. It’s a raw account of hitting life’s rock bottom and rebuilding from what’s left. Be careful, though – it’ll make you want to go for a really, really, really long walk.

TheSaltPath

my sister, the serial killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. Every now and again, I read a book that I just want to press into the hands of every passer-by I see and shout dramatically: “read it, I beg of you, please, you shall have no regrets!”. My Sister, the Serial Killer is one of those books. I’d seen it all over instagram and the book blogosphere for aaages, but was nervous a book about a serial killing sister would be too macabre for me. Turns out, I was totally wrong. I loved it. The story itself is simple but addictive, the characters are lovable if a bit morally adrift, and the tone is incredibly witty despite the dark subject matter. Read it, I beg of you, please, you shall have no regrets.

‘Ayoola summons me with these words – Korede, I killed him. I had hoped I would never hear those words again.’

MSTSKbook

• Have you read any of these? • What did you make of them? • What have you been reading recently? •

bitesized book thoughts

So, the real world is still being weird and scary and stressful. But, have no fear! If you’re looking for some papery, fictional worlds to distract you, I have a couple of books you might want to consider for your reading list (although most of them aren’t set in worlds that are actually any nicer than this one)…

a different drummer by william melvin kelley

a different drummer by William Melvin Kelley. This is a powerful and unique, and utterly unputdownable, book that explores racism in a (fictional) Southern state in 1950s America. In it, we follow a handful of the white townsfolk of Sutton as they grapple with the meaning behind an exodus of all the town’s, and wider state’s, black citizens. It’s inevitably painful and hard to read but it’s also so, so good. The writing is beautiful, the pacing is perfect, and the characters – the good, the bad, the ugly – come alive on the page. I would highly, highly recommend this one for your TBR list! (I first heard about A Different Drummer via Books, Baking & Blogging – Anne’s review is excellent and well worth a read.)

my cousin rachel by Daphne Du Maurier. Oof, I had so many feelings about this one. It’s incredibly tense and unsettling and uncomfortable, it plays so many mind games, it leaves so many questions unanswered, and it throws up so many issues. I found it painfully infuriating and painfully intoxicating all at the same time. Philip Ashley lives a comfortable and sheltered life in Cornwall under the guardianship of his wealthy cousin, Ambrose. When Ambrose leaves for Italy one winter and marries a mysterious woman during his stay, Philip is mortified. Mortification turns to devastation and suspicion when Ambrose dies suddenly after suggesting his new wife, Rachel, is poisoning him. And when Rachel turns up in Cornwall, Philip’s suspicion descends into twisted obsession. Despite loving me a story full of twisted obsession, I was hesitant to start My Cousin Rachel, ummed and ahhed over it for ages, because I was worried it might be a bit dowdy, a bit stale, a bit old fashioned – and although it’s a book that’s certainly of its time (beware some very offensive language), it was anything but stale or dowdy. I could not stop turning the pages. It’s safe to say my first foray into Du Maurier’s gothic world was a success.

my cousin rachel by daphne du maurier

machines like me by Ian McEwan. Ah god, this was a funny one. I liked it… aaand I also hated it a little bit. It follows Charlie, a self-employed financial speculator in an alternate history version of eighties London, as he adapts to life with an AI robot called Adam. The plot itself doesn’t feel very eventful or gripping – the focus of the story stays firmly on the moral can of worms that living with an artificially intelligent, and possibly conscious, machine opens up. It’s peppered with loads of wry humour which I loved, and the questions it raises are undoubtedly interesting, but it just didn’t hit the book spot for me – perhaps ironically, it was full of clever, intriguing brains but lacked a beating heart.

machines like me by ian mcewan

tales from moominvalley by Tove Jansson. *sighs dreamily* This collection of short Moomin stories is just perfect – each one is life-affirming, heart-warming, surreal, thoughtful, and delightful in its own way. Travel with Snufkin, discover a tiny golden dragon, build a fun fair with a Hemulen, overcome worries with an anxious Fillyjonk – explore the weird wonders of Moominland in all their whimsical glory. Moomin books always make the best comfort reading!

• What have you been reading recently? • Have you read any of these? • What are your thoughts on them? •

Reads – The Mermaid of Black Conch

*looks to the heavens for help*

I’ve been trying for a whole week to think how I can review The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey in a way that will do it justice.

But I don’t think I can.

Put simply, this book is utterly, utterly beautiful.

‘The flat dark sea broke open. The mermaid rose up and out of the water, her hair flying like a nest of cables, her arms flung backwards in the jump, her body glistening with scales and her tail flailing, huge and muscular, like that of a creature from the deepest part of the ocean.’

The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey.

The Caribbean, 1976. David Baptiste, a fisherman, is out in his boat one morning – not fishing, but smoking, singing, and playing his guitar. His music lures an ancient mermaid – the legendary Aycayia, a young woman cursed to live as a mermaid centuries before. Over time, David and Aycayia form a tentative bond. He, a hopeful performer; she, an intrigued spectator. But the arrival of two American fishermen in the town spells trouble for the star-crossed pair, and the effects of those troubles ripple through the whole community.

‘David was strumming his guitar and singing to himself when she first raised her barnacled, seaweed-clotted head from the flat, grey sea…’

This is the sort of book that’ll leave you bereft when you finish it – it’ll leave your emotions all at sea, your heart achy, and your soul spellbound. It’s the sort of book that’ll make you look at your TBR pile and sigh forlornly, knowing your reader’s heart is spoken for. It’s the sort of story that’ll sink down into your skin and weld itself to your bones; the sort of story that’ll leave you listening for cackles of laughter in the wind and have you double checking for silvery scales on your legs.

‘What had happened?… Had she done her time in exile?… Men had pulled her from the sea, where she’d been safe but lonely. Now she was contending with another life, one with reggae music, peacocks, cake and people who wore clothes.’

People who wear clothes, cake, peacocks, and reggae music – plus love, trust, curses, pride, jealousy, and a mermaid.

Together, they make one magical book.

read it all away

I think it’s fair to say most of us have a bit more spare time on our hands at the moment thanks to life under lockdown.

And if, like me, you want to bury your head in the book-sand to make all the world scariness and heart loneliness go away, I have a few – eclectic and pretty random – recommendations that have all swept me away from my little corner of the world at some point in the last few years.

mudlarking by Lara Maiklem. This book is utterly de. light. ful. And wonderful in the truest sense of the word. Lara Maiklem shines a light onto the mysterious world of mudlarks on the Thames. It’s full of unexpected treasures, pearls of obscure history, and interesting insights into London life through the ages. Perfect for anyone who was brought up on a diet of Channel 4’s Time Team. Get lost in the mud from the safety of your sofa.

the lesser bohemians by Eimar McBride. This certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it. It’s a messy and mesmerising (and pretty x-rated) ride through nineties London, following eighteen-year-old Eily as she navigates life as a drama school – plus, ahem, a school-of-life – student. I’ve never read anything like it before and doubt I’ll read anything quite like it ever again. If you can get into the strange rhythm of the writing (the first twenty pages will honestly feel like gibberish, but it clicks into place I promise), you’ll be rewarded with a story that’ll torture but ultimately spellbind your heart.

‘Girl I’ve been, woman I’ll be.’

TheLesserBohemians

moondust: in search of the men who fell to earth by Andrew Smith. Delve into the lives of the men behind the moonlandings as they recall their experiences before, during, and after their time in space. The book is filled with fascinating stories that don’t traditionally make the space race narrative. It’ll take you out of this lockdown world.

the invisible child by Tove Jansson. Tbh, anything by Tove Jansson will do the trick in tricky life times, but this little book of two short stories will capture your heart and soul hook, line, and absolute sinker. Moomin stories are always the answer, whatever the problem. Moomin up your life!

The Invisible Child and The Fir Tree by Tove Jansson, special Oxfam edition. Moomin short stories.

the great gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Okay people, this book. *waves hands in reverie towards the heavens* It’s glitzy, glamorous, and glorious. Obsession, pride, greed, delusion, selfishness, and jealousy twist together against a background of jazz age opulence and the effect is painfully intoxicating.

a fortune-teller told me by Tiziano Terzani. Would you live a year of your life bound by the reading of a fortune-teller? In 1993, Terzani did just that after being warned a decade before that he should avoid all air travel in that year. This intriguing book chronicles his earthbound adventures over those twelve months throughout south-east Asia and beyond, as he continued in his role as a journalist for Der Spiegel. It might make your feet itchy to get travelling again – #sorry – but it’ll also make you savour a slower pace of life too.

‘Every place is a goldmine. You have only to give yourself time, sit in a teahouse watching passers-by, stand in a corner of the market, go for a haircut. You pick up a thread – a word, a meeting, a friend of a friend of someone you have just met – and soon the most insipid, most insignificant place becomes a mirror of the world, a window on life, a theatre of humanity.’

a fortune teller told me by Tiziano Terzani

me by Elton John. This is an outrageously good memoir that’s choc-a-bloc full of amazing and jaw dropping stories, featuring names both big and small. It’s loud, bold, and colourful. The perfect antidote to low-key lockdown life.

‘Where would I be now? Who would I be now? You can send yourself crazy wondering. But it all happened, and here I am. There’s really no point in asking what if? The only question worth asking is: what’s next?’

the bear and the nightingale by Katherine Arden. Be transported to the fairytale wilds of medieval Russia in this first installment of the Winternight Trilogy. You’ll be so enchanted by the beautiful make believe world Arden has created, you’ll forget all about missing the real one.

when breath becomes air by Paul Kalanathi. Written in the last years of Kalanathi’s life after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, this is the kind of book that will make you sad – but in the best way possible, I swear. Most importantly, it will make you cherish life in all its weirdness and wonderfulness. Be prepared to cry, though.

jonathan strange & mr. norrell by Susanna Clarke. Basically, it’s regency-era England made magical for one thousand and six pages. And if that’s a sentence that floats your boat, you should definitely read it.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke book review.

the power of now by Eckhart Tolle. We might all be looking forward to the end of lockdown – and boy oh boy do I know I am *cries* – but there’s something to be said for making the most of the here and now, no matter what the here and now happens to be. I don’t agree with everything Tolle says, but the book’s basic premise makes so much sense. All we ever really have any control over is what we do with (or how we respond to) things now. Right now. Not ten minutes ago or in ten minutes time. Noooooow.

the hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Take a magical and mystical and really rather delightful tour through the world of Middle Earth with a grumpy hobbit, a mischievous wizard, and a band of merry dwarves. It’s less intense than the Lord of the Rings series, but still has plenty of fantastical things for you to get your bookish teeth into. The ultimate lockdown read, in other words.

If you have any recommendations for lockdown reading, let me know!