What I’ve been reading: July

By some miracle, I have rediscovered my ability to stay awake on the train in the morning for longer than five minutes and have found myself at a loss for things to do. As it turns out, these waking moments on the way to work are the perfect opportunity to engage in some light reading about multiple homicide, sexual violence, homophobia and what can only be described as a 1980s Pride and Prejudice. It’s been an interesting month…

Last Exit To Brooklyn – Hubert Selby Jr.

Having picked this up thinking it would be a slightly dark but readable insight into human life, I soon discovered that this is absolutely not a book that is meant to be read on the train. Whilst I’m not easily shocked and consider myself pretty open minded, I can totally see why Last Exit To Brooklyn was banned when it first hit shelves. It’s not just about sex – it’s more about the intertwining of sex, sexuality, masculinity and violence. And I am not joking when I say that subtlety does not exist in this novel. Of course, the American literature student in me appreciated this searing view of the world as it appears through the eyes of the author. I’m all for novels exploring the complex cocktail of gender, sexuality, violence and society. And anything written from a fly-on-the-wall, voyeuristic perspective is always a valuable and insightful reading experience. Except when you’re on a packed train on the way to work in Mayfair…

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

I seem to go from one slightly psychopathic novel to the next, so the only surprising thing here is that I haven’t read In Cold Blood sooner than now. But I can honestly say that I agree with everyone else who says that this really is Capote’s masterpiece. Somehow, he manages to extract the Clutter murders into a work of fiction using language alone, all whilst keeping the narrative frighteningly real and true to life. The horror of the crime is second only to the horror of realising that you can relate to the two murderers who are the subjects of Capote’s journalistic novel. His portrayal of them is so poetic, it’s possible to forget that these are real killers convicted for a real crime, but the minute attention to the most human characteristics and mannerisms keep the novel well and truly rooted in reality.

Hotel du Lac – Anita Brookner

After all the excitement of the first two novels, I can more accurately describe this novel as Hotel du Lack. This was honestly a massive snooze-fest of wanton women sent abroad to redeem herself in the eyes of society, only to realise in sweeping generalisations that all men and all women are the same and unhappy, whilst realising that she herself is unsatisfied with her own life. To me, this honestly read like a more up to date version of Pride and Prejudice and I was actually a little bit horrified to see that it was written as recently as the 1980s. I don’t know if it was meant to be satirical or critical or what, but to me, it just felt lacklustre, predictable and slow. But definitely suitable for the train.