What I’ve been reading: June

What with a whole week off work and beautiful sunny weekends, June has been a busy month of reading for me. This month I’ve been lucky enough to have read six books, all of which totally drew me in, in their own very different ways; needless to say, I’ve been even more of a bookworm this month than ever before.

Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee

Like most other people, I loved To Kill a Mockingbird, so naturally this one’s been on my list for a while. It tells the story of Scout, now known as Jean Louise, 20 years on from To Kill a Mockingbird, as she navigates a quagmire of sexism and racism in the Deep South circa 1950.  I wasn’t disappointed. Harper Lee makes navigating some incredibly difficult issues easy with her narrative style and the emotions of Jean Louise resonated with me throughout the novel. My number one favourite thing about this novel though is simply the sass of the female characters; I’m always one for a strong female lead.

Claire of the Sea Light – Edwidge Danticat

I came across Edwidge Danticat at uni when I read The Dewbreaker and that novel has stuck in my mind since then. So, when I was on one of my regular book shop trips this one stood out. Like The Dewbreaker, Claire of the Sea Light tells the story of a small Haitian community and pieces together the puzzle pieces of each individual’s life to make a whole. This novel is framed by the story of a young girl, Claire Limyè Lanmè, who is raised by her poor fisherman father who cannot afford to give her the life and the opportunities he wishes for her. On her seventh birthday, Claire Limyè Lanmè is told she is to live with Madame Gaëlle, a richer woman, while her father goes in search of a better life. This sparks a collection of separate but very much interconnected stories about the lives of those involved in her life, and about their loves, losses, missed opportunities and corruptions.

The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton

Set in New York around the turn of the 20th century, The House of Mirth is a scathing insight into the dangers of the trappings of American high society. Focusing on the somewhat likeable, somewhat epitome of spoilt brat, Lily Bart, The House of Mirth shines a light on the extraordinarily difficult positions women found themselves in without money, a husband or a responsible grown up to guide them. There’s plenty to think about with this novel when it comes to social critique and gender issues, so definitely worth a read if you’re a fan of pulling apart the minutiae of societies.

The Pearl – John Steinbeck

Of course, I couldn’t get through so many books without adding a little bit of Steinbeck into the mix. I was happily surprised with The Pearl as I expected it to be more along the lines of the other Steinbeck novels I’ve read (although they’re still my favourite). The Pearl is a Mexican folk tale about the corruption great wealth can bring, so it’s right along the lines of some of Steinbeck’s top themes. The difference is in the location and characters, which adds a nice twist on the usual Steinbeck formula.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers

Having started this once and never making it past the first chapter, I’m so glad I picked this one up again. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is all about a group of lonely people telling their deepest hopes and fears to a deaf mute and in the process grafting their own identities and ideas onto him. I love the way this novel simultaneously tells the very separate stories of five completely different main characters but never loses the depth of any one of them. It perfectly sums up the anxieties of the moment, including poverty, loneliness, the need for unity and a number of political issues and reminds the reader of the fragmented and isolating experience of World War II, when this novel was written.

The Turn of the Screw – Henry James    

I’m such a wimp, so I figured a Victorian ghost story would be a gentle way into the genre. Oh how wrong I was. It took me a while to get into The Turn of the Screw, just because it’s been a while since I’ve read any literature of the period, but once I was into it, I couldn’t stop. Henry James, as most of the critics of this novel have already said, is a master of suspense and I actually jumped out of my skin more than once just reading the words on the page. If the ghost story itself wasn’t enough, there’s the added psychological question; is the narrator actually just insane? Add into the mix the unresolved frame narrative, and you’ve got yourself a story which may or may not be ‘true’.