It’s not been a vintage month for reading. So it is with some relief that August is here and I can let this month’s books go (figuratively at least, as the charity shop bins are still resolutely shut to donations. I am considering piling my leftovers in the local phone box and inviting people to help themselves.)
On the plus side I did browse in an actual bookshop, not once but twice this month! However, since the shops have to then put the books away for a few days if you’ve touched them, I tried very hard not to browse in the normal way. Those of us who browse by reading the back of the book, and then flicking through the pages at the style, are struggling with this but I was as good as possible. The smell and feel of a bookshop are still the same though, even through a facemask, so thank you for being there still.
And so to July’s reading:
The Country Girls – Edna O’Brien
It took some trouble and the wrong order from a local bookshop to get hold of this book, which has been in those lists of books for feminists to read for YEARS. So after all that, it was perhaps inevitable that it was quite disappointing. I can imagine the fuss when it came out, and I know the reasons it was banned in Ireland, but I found it riven with cliche and rather bothersome. It is entirely possible that O’Brien’s book opened the door to the cliches of poor Irish peasants encountering nuns but I’m not interested in reading about them. Sorry Edna.
The Truants – Kate Weinberg
This debut was billed as a mix of The Secret History and Agatha Christie but sadly it’s neither, let alone both. A campus-set ‘mystery’ but sadly let down by formula. The writing is promising but there needs to be more depth to the characters.
Big Sky – Kate Atkinson
My personal belief that Atkinson has been dialling it in for the last few years was not improved by this, the latest in her Jackson Brodie series. Stick to the earlier books.
Frankissstein – Jeanette Winterson
I usually like Winterson’s books, and I really enjoyed her retelling of Shakespeare’s the Winter’s Tale but I was nervous about this – I found Frankinstein to be a duty read. But interviews with winterson found her speaking with passion and interest about the book, and the themes and it was a reading group choice so I thought I’d give it a go. It is packed with ideas, some of them only a couple of sentences long but if those were explored, they could be a novel in themselves. There were so many ideas, so much speculation that, in my opinion, the characters were pretty reductive. It was all rather shallow.
When the Music Stops – Joe Heap
This was an advance read on Netgalley, about an old woman with dementia who finds herself and her baby grandson on a drifting boat with leakage problems. It is a perilous start, which leads us back into the past which a different chapter bringing us a piece of her past, and characters from her past appearing as ghosts on the boat to help her try and get to safety. I really liked the structure, and the characterisation is great. Bookmark this to get when it’s published in the autumn, and take a moment to enjoy its beautiful cover.
The Easternmost House – Juliet Blaxlands
This is a memoir of sorts, an account of a year living in a house that is perilously close to a cliff that is crumbling into the North Sea. I thought it sounded fascinating and, in another author’s hands, it probably would have been. This reeks of privilege and misanthropy, and speaking as someone who is quite misanthropic herself, it was too much even for me. While I think some of her points about our strange attitudes towards food production are accurate, the way they are phrased and the way she looks at them makes me want to yell at her. There was less about the sea than I wanted to read about, most of the book it seemed unlikely they lived near the sea at all. Really disappointing.
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
This has sat on my shelves for years and with the TV series starting this month, I thought I’d better finally get round to it. I’m not going to finish it. I read enough to cover episode one and more, and it’s just too flowery and dull for me. I don’t hate it, it’s nice enough but for 1,400 pages, I need more than ‘I don’t hate it.’ Someone one Twitter said they really liked very long novels where very little happens but that someone is not me. Sorry Vikram, I’m dnf-ing this one and going back to An Equal Music, which I loved.
There you go. One book this month that I enjoyed. Not a vintage month! However, August has started well and I’m enjoying the books I’m reading right now so fingers crossed this continues.