Thursday, April 2, 2015

What I Read: February 2015

  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson: Maybe you have to love ghost stories and the uncanny? I don't, really, and I suspect that this slim novel was destined to struggle under the weight of my expectations. The internet loves it and it has been hailed a lot recently as a rediscovered, classic piece of women's writing. It vaguely reminded me of The Turn of the Screw but is so long since I read that James that I couldn't say whether it is a testament to the quality or just how rarely I read within this kind of sub-genre. Creepy and cloying; a fairy tale gone awry.
  • So Much Pretty - Cara Hoffman: I spent the first 80% of this book appreciating the setting and general politics but not necessarily engaging with the plot. Most of the story is set in crappy, run-down, rural New York state and there is a lot of interesting wealth/class stuff, the corporatisation of American agriculture, big pharma, small town vs. big city, misogyny, rape culture... A lot of issues that I want to read about, particularly in fiction, but I kept getting distracted by the temporal/character shifts and losing momentum. I didn't give this the reading it deserved, I was super busy and reading in small chunks, and I'm not much inclined towards crime. BUT, man, the final 20% is baller. It is explosive and shocking and awesome - I could have read it on loop. The book leads up to it but you still aren't sure the author is going to go there and then she does. Very strong ending.
  • The Wild Marquis - Miranda Neville: Oh man, this was garbage! Background: I read a lot of Mills & Boon in my youth and I love Georgette Heyer with my whole heart. I have a great deal of fondness for the regency romance even if it isn't a big part of my literary diet any more. This was recommended on Tumblr by someone whose taste I trusted and it is £1.99 on Kindle so I picked it up. Mistake. The words 'quivering womb' were used. I rest my case.
  • Clariel - Garth Nix: The Old Kingdom trilogy remain some of my favourite children's/YA books ever. I re-read them within the last two or three years and they totally stand up. They're fantastic, wonderful characters and brilliant world building. So obviously I was super excited to discover that Nix was writing a prequel even though I'm not sure there has ever been a good prequel (?? Is that true? The best a speedy Google can come up with is The Hobbit, no thanks, and Wide Sargasso Sea, which is great but totally doesn't count). And Clariel isn't a disaster... I didn't dislike it - the Old Kingdom remains a fun place to play, Nix is a good writer, he sticks with an interesting heroine and he clearly has things on his mind. But it's kind of a bummer? It's not obvious why he chose to write Clariel's story unless he's planning a larger story arc and although I understand the decision to avoid a neat, shiny redemption narrative it does make the book rather sad and strange. I don't know, we'll see, I guess.
  • On Writing - Stephen King: Well, Stephen King is man with opinions. I don't read his fiction so I suppose it is predictable that I might not always agree with his writing maxims but there is a lot of sensible advice in his (very readable) 'Memoir of the Craft'. Learn the basics, work hard, write more. Agreed! And I find there is something very companionable about reading a writer writing about writing. Also, about a third of the book is autobiography and it's really good fun, zippy and endearing. I will continue to pass on most of his books and read all of his interviews.
  • More Than This - Patrick Ness: This is such a weird book. I am a big Patrick Ness fan - I think Chaos Walking is up there with The Old Kingdom among the greatest children's/YA series/trilogies ever (N.B. I feel like there should be a permanent asterisk on the blog about His Dark Materials which is obviously THE GREATEST CHILDREN'S/YA TRILOGY EVER, incomparably and forever, on its own special, magical level). It's hard to do justice to just how weird More Than This really is, the blurb writers certainly haven't managed, but it's a very big-ideas, interesting trip. I just want to watch a thirteen year old read it. Even when I don't love them I think Ness's children's/YA books do everything that genre should in terms of challenging the reader, blowing apart their conceptions and generally fucking around in strange, un-normal places.

1 comment:

  1. On Writing is currently in my to-read stack... and I took off We Have Always Lived in the Castle because I got feedback very similar to yours - womp womp