Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Reading List: February 2019

book review, elena varvello, reading list, book blogger
This month has been one of my best ever for reading. A week in the beautiful Seychelles definitely helped, reading an entire book in a day has to be one of the best feelings.

Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng

A read picked by my book club, which on appearance was one I wasn't convinced would be discussion worthy, after all, it's a best seller with a quote from Marie Claire on the cover but this book snob was proved wrong... Set in 1970s American, the favourite daughter of a Chinese-American couple goes missing, letting the book explore race, gender dynamics, parenting and identity without these themes taking over. Celeste Ng's writing is beautiful, and elevates what would be a well-trodden plot path (husband doesn't understand the emotional needs of his children, wife feels unsatisfied having given up a medical career to raise children etc.) into a memorable read. I'll definitely be reading Little Fires Everywhere, which I've heard is even better.

Can You Hear Me? Elena Varvello

My first beach read in the Seychelles, this Italian thriller is full of darkness and suspense and probably needs to be read on a sunny beach... Set in a small town in Northern Italy in the late 1970s, 16-year-old Elia is living through the usual teenage boredom, arguments with his parents and his first love, as well as witnessing the decline of his father's mental health and his mother's need to protect both husband and son. From the first line of the book, it is clear that this isn't going to be a happy story, there's no big reveal but more a gradual unpicking of the how and why. The book is a short, anxiety-ridden read but one that drew me in with its taught prose, complex characters and the uneasy feeling that, for Elia, life will never be normal again.

Lullaby, Leila Slimani

You're probably familiar with the cover of this book, a faceless shot of a girl wearing an eggshell blue blouse with a white Peter Pan collar. Yes, I sometimes judge a book by its rather perfect cover. Leila Slimani's voice (or at least the English translation of it) feels so different to anything else I've read.
Titled "The Perfect Nanny" in its native French, Lullaby is a story of race, class and the tensions faced by working parents. Set in Paris in the present day, the book follows a French-Moroccan lawyer's search for a nanny for her two children when she returns to work as a lawyer. The entire book has an unsettling undertone and the tension drips from every page, as the couple and the nanny go about their daily activities and become more and more dependent on one another. The ending comes quite suddenly and I had to flick back through the final chapter to see if I'd missed something when in fact, the lack of answers makes the story all the more horrifying.

Normal People, Sally Rooney

A book I have seen crop up on my Instagram feed many a time, Normal People was recommended by a dear friend and after a couple of slightly creepy books it was a needed change in pace. Normal People follows the story of Marianne and Connell as they transition from their small town life in rural Island to university and beyond. It has echos of David Nicholls' "One Day", only this one if for us millennials. I found the story a little slow at first, finding few parallels to my own life at this time and yet a third of the way though the novel, I was transfixed by the writing, the honestly and the minutiae of everyday details, so perfectly described. The novel drops us in to Marianne and Connell's lives at various points ("three weeks later" or "five months later") and the more I read, the more I could relate to that not-a-kid-but-not-yet-an-adult time of life and nostalgia for my own university days came pouring back.

Born a Crime, Trevor Noah

A book club read, Born a Crime is a non-fiction book by Trevor Noah, host of the Tonight Show. It is a tale of his South African childhood where, with a black mother and white father, his very existence was illegal. Interspersed with the history of apartheid, Trever Noah's childhood is at times very ordinary (acne, questionable fashion choices) and at times unbelievable. His voice shines through the writing and despite tackling a serious theme, the book is hilarious, joyful and uplifting. My only complaint is that I wish it had been longer, and had told the story of the period between his late teens and now, too. The book is also Trevor's mother's story who, if you have read this, surely deserves a book of her own too.

Killing Commendatore, Haruki Muramkami 

I'm making progress with Murakami's latest tome. It's not exactly portable so I've been limited to a few pages each night or half an hour by the pool but I'm enjoying taking a book at a slower pace and really savouring each sentence. I spent a good two years reading all of Murakami's back catalogue and his books are so special to me. I am really enjoying this one so far and will continue to read it at a leisurely pace.

Everything Under, Daisy Johnson 

I'm halfway through Everything Under and it's more than a little chilling. Daisy Johnson is the youngest Booker Prize nominee in history and it's clear from this book that the she has a huge talent. The protagonist, Gretel, grows up on a barge with her mother. Isolated from the outside world, they speak a language of their own until one day, Gretel's mother disappears. Set in a bleak rural landscape, this book contains a hint of myth and mysticism (the inspiration for Johnson is the Oedipus tale) but it's hardly "mystical" - parts have been raw and hard to read. I'm looking forward to finding out how this tale is spun out, I have a feeling it's not going to be pretty...

What have you read this month? Have any of these featured?

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