I realise this post should probably be called “What I’ve been reading: May, and a little bit of June”, but that just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Since I went on holiday in May, I actually managed to get a fair amount of reading done (three books in a week, don’t all clap at once) so this is going to be a meatier post than usual.
Ladder of Years – Anne Tyler
Since I’ve recently discovered the wonderful world of Muriel Spark, my mum suggested I try some Anne Tyler.
I am hooked.
As we all know, my favourite books are the ones where everything happens and nothing happens. The ones that look right into the utterly mundane elements of life that mean so, so much. To me, they’re the most real books of all, and therefore the most interesting.
Without giving everything away, Ladder of Years is all about a woman who’s pretty much fed up with her life and bored of doing everything for a husband and children who ignore and undermine her. So she does what anyone would do. She runs off from a family holiday and starts a new life. Standard. In her new life, she reinvents herself, whilst staying fundamentally exactly the same. She’s one of those complex characters who’s motivations are at once relatable and inscrutable.
I do just want to highlight, without spoiling it, that the story’s fab, but the ending’s lame. You’ll know what I mean when you get there.
Vox – Christina Dalcher
Vox was a veer away from my usual, but it’s been stalking me on my commute so I figured I’d give it a go.
Described as a retelling of The Handmaid’s Tale, Vox envisions a dystopian world where women’s voices are stifled and women and girls are limited to uttering just 100 words a day, are barred from any kind of career and are taught to be the ideal wife and mother.
Whilst the story was pretty far fetched and, in my opinion, kind of an afterthought, it’s obvious that Dalcher is making an important point about the way our society is headed.
I was reading this right when certain southern states decided to pass their anti-abortion laws, thereby taking us back a step or twenty, so the issues raised were all the more poignant to me.
The protagonist in Vox is a doctor of neurolinguistics (or something science-y like that) and she’s pretty legit. Her dismissal, based on her gender, followed by her temporary reinstatement for a government project suggests the dangers of stifling women’s potential, confining them to house and home.
Basically, boys need us, because we’re strong and smart and just as great at what we do.
Vox is definitely worth a read if you’re passionate about feminism, but probably not so much if you’re a stickler for good storytelling.
Transcription – Kate Atkinson
I have loved Kate Atkinson ever since I read Behind the Scenes at the Museum for my English A-Level (it almost traumatised me, but not quite).
I think Kate Atkinson tells some of the best stories and her chronologies and characters are always a bit different.
Transcription is one of her World War II novels and tells the story of a typist-turned-spy during the 40’s and 50’s.
It’s interesting because it explores the relationships between past, present and future and how, in people and places, our memories never truly leave us.
If Cats Disappeared From the World – Genki Kawamura
This was the one I read last, but it’s also the best of this month and a half’s books. And I chose it based on its cover (shock horror!)
I wasn’t really sure what to expect with this, but I surprised myself.
It’s another novel that’s kind of about the human condition and what we’ve made the world.
The story goes something like this: the narrator, who remains unnamed, is diagnosed with a brain tumour and given a matter of months to live; then the devil turns up and says that he can give the narrator one day of life for every thing he makes disappear from the world; the narrator makes a bunch of stuff disappear and considers the difference he’s making to the world and other people in it; the devil makes the narrator’s cat talk before choosing him as the next thing to disappear. It’s here that the narrator draws the line as he realises what really matters in the world. It’s worth noting that the cats are the only characters that are named in the novel.
Whilst I’m a dog person at heart, I love that this is a novel that observes the things that really matter in a modern world that’s filled with stuff that’s just isolating us from everything around us.