April was a really good month in the way of books for me, mainly because of the sheer amount of book talks I went to. Afua Hirsch (author of Brit(ish)) at Waterstones, Tim Marshall (author of Prisoners of Geography and the new book Divided) and Laura Bates (of Everyday Sexism fame, and the author of the new release, Misogynation). I cannot recommend looking into these talks enough – they’re usually exceptionally cheap, only a few pounds, and that often includes wine and/or money off the book. If you live in London, there are so many book talks going on, you have no need to visit a bar/cinema/any kind of evening establishment ever again.
Meg Wolitzer is back in business – she’s a literary heavyweight and this new release is long-awaited. The novel traces the life of Greer, a shy college student who meets Faith, a renowned feminist at the head of the women’s movement. They begin working together and Faith introduces Greer into a whole new world that ultimately leads her away from the life she had always envisaged for herself with her high school boyfriend Cory. Written from the perspectives of all three characters, the book explores feminism, growing up and the conflict between the intersecting strands of our lives.
This was the first Meg Wolitzer book I’d read (don’t ask me why, I’m still wondering where I’ve been for the last 10 years), and I did enjoy the balance of narrative and social commentary. Her writing style is informed yet approachable, and this is a great purchase ahead of the summer months of lounging around on the grass. Necessary.
After having been unable to put Wendy Cope’s collection of poetry, Anecdotal Evidence, down last month, I knew I had to hunt out a new slice of poetry to tide me over this April. Richard Scott’s debut collection caught my eye, and it didn’t disappoint. A portrait of gay shame and romantic love, Scott explores childhood and the roots of sexuality. It’s a confronting read – it is brash and graphic, particularly in the scenes of sexual encounters.
Scott’s writing is visceral and cathartic – the imagery is heady and takes over the reader’s senses. Something really different for Faber to be releasing, it’s an enveloping read, and well worth your time.
Deborah Levy has made the Man Booker shortlist twice before with Hot Milk and Swimming Home. Her recent release is the second in her trilogy of ‘living autobiographies’ about writing, focusing on the woman as a writer. Her accolades seem completely justified the minute you start reading her recent release, The Cost of Living. It is a short read and packed full of sensual description – following the landmarks of life, it is a memoir of writing and womanhood and reads more like a consideration and contemplation than following an action-led narrative.
Levy focuses on the domestic ‘non-events’ with real beauty and thought, and creates narratives out of these ruminations. It’s a feminist text without being overtly led by feminism, a difficult balance to negotiate. Read it in dribs and drabs – it would be all too easy to devour in one sitting, but I think part of the pleasure of reading it comes with a slowed pace.
Clementine Wamariya stole headlines in 2006, when she and her sister were reunited with their family after having fled the Rwandan massacre twelve years prior. Her story is unbelievable – she, aged six, and her sister, aged 15, fled the massacre through African countries to reach the United States, where they were granted asylum. The Girl Who Smiled Beads is the story of this incredible escape, and how Clementine rediscovered her identity years later. It examines the idealism of being reunited with one’s family on national television, and the relationships that have to be reformed after such a grand Hollywood gesture.
It is a timely novel, as we consider the role of asylum seekers all over the world, and the stories they each carry with them.
This is one of those books every man and his dog seems to be aware of. That might have something to do with the recent announcement that Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington are adapting it for a TV series, which will inevitably prove just as popular as Witherspoon’s last book adaptation for screen, Big Little Lies.
Celeste Ng’s novel was met with critical acclaim across the board, making all the ‘best fiction’ lists and becoming an international bookseller. Set in a placid suburb in Cleveland, Elena Richardson lives a comfortable life until Mia Warren arrives, a single mother and artist that defies the structure of the neighbourhood. The Richardson children become drawn to them, until a local dispute envelops the town and everyone becomes wildly suspicious of one another.
It is a gripping story, and you really are hooked from the first chapter. Ng has a fabulously dynamic writing style, and succeeds in making the story much bigger than the town she is writing about.
Written from several perspectives, this novel is based around the relationships of protagonist Martin Gilmour. Martin is an outsider who won a scholarship to private school as a child, where he met the popular, enigmatic and wealthy Ben. The two become friends over the years, and Martin is welcomed into Ben’s elusive world of wealth. All the while, though, Martin has held a major secret of Ben’s, which is what has tied them together for the rest of their lives. It all comes to a head at Ben’s 40th birthday.
Elizabeth Day is a journalist, who has worked with all the major broadsheet newspapers, and this book reflects her intelligent, insightful writing style. A fast, fun read, it is a great alternative to a trashy holiday book. Definitely one worth popping in your bag on your summer holidays.
Elif Batuman’s latest release has taken the literary world by storm, shortlisted for the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The Idiot is Batuman’s second book, following her memoir The Possessed: Adventures with Russian People and the People Who Read Them, released in 2011. She is a staff writer for the New Yorker, having written for many other esteemed literary publications. It is a simple story, and one many readers will empathise with: Selin is a new student at Harvard, and the story follows her attempts to deal with the complexities of becoming an adult and adapting to a whole new life.
A story that is both critically acclaimed and easy to read is sometimes difficult to come by, and Elif Batuman has achieved this balance perfectly. A refreshingly well-written, insightful and uncomplicated book.