November was a strange month for reading and I had long swathes where I just didn’t seem to read much at all. I still have three books I’ve started and am taking a while to get through. But what did I finish this month? Here you go:
The Light Keeper’s Daughters – Jean E Prendziwol
A family saga, I guess, with duel stories from the past and the present running in tandem. A teenage girl tries to impress her boyfriend by spray painting grafitti on the fence to an old people’s home and, after getting caught and sent to clean it up, gets talking to a blind inmate who tells her the story of her life and what it was like to grow up in a remote lighthouse in Canada during the Second World War. I picked this up on a whim and enjoyed it as a light read.
Dear Life – Rachel Clarke
I really enjoyed this but when I tell you it’s a memoir and general rumination on life by a palliative care doctor whose father is diagnosed with terminal cancer, you may wonder if enjoyed is quite the right word. However, there is lots to cover with a careful consideration of what is important in life and in death, and how we treat pain and loss in this country. Clarke is an honest writer, clear and up front about how she learned from her mistakes, and how she can help make people’s deaths better, for them and their families if she can. Also her dad sounded like a lovely man.
What a Carve Up! – Jonathan Coe
This was a re-read, mainly because I bought to ticket to stream the adaptation of the book from The Barn Theatre, Lawrence Batley Theatre and New Wolsey Theatre (starring among others, Derek Jacobi, Stephen Fry, ) which was terrific. A murder mystery, biting satire on modern politics and homage to the black and white British farce of the same name, Coe’s novel is as relevant now as it ever was.
The Minaturist – Jesse Burton
Another of the books that has sat on the shelf for years, I finally picked this up to read and was immediately engrossed. Though I’m still not entirely sure of the relevance of the miniaturist herself to the plot, the rest of the story was excellent, with strong characterisation and tense situations. If asked, I usually say I don’t like historical fiction but really, this year I’ve read and loved this, the Mantel trilogy and Hamnet so I really need to have a word with myself.
The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver
This was one of the last on the list of books to read that have sat on the shelf for years and I really thought I would enjoy it. I usually like her books, and it featured Frida Kahlo. However, I struggled a lot with it. I may have enjoyed it a lot more had it started about 150 pages later than it did but the protagonist’s back story was dull and by the time anything more interesting had happened, I’d lost the will to read on.
Virginia Woolf in Manhattan – Maggie Gee
This is an odd book. It’s based on the excellent premise that Virginia Woolf comes back to life in the 21st century and lands in Manhattan to meet another writer Angela Lamb, who is about to give a speech at an international Woolf conference in Istanbul. There is much to enjoy here – each chapter is divided into bits where Angela and Virginia narrate so their opposing sides to each story and nit picking with the other are quite amusing. And Virginia, once she adjusts to the modern world – mobile phones, washing regularly etc – is good fun, enjoying life and travel and hotels very much. Angela Lamb is less enjoyable as a character and there’s an odd side plot with her daughter who runs away from school. It all felt like a bonkers jumble of a book that could have been a little shorter, but was quite fun anyway.
The Ungrateful Refugee – Dina Nayeri
This is a memoir mixed with reportage, covering Nayeri’s family escape from Iran where her mother was facing persecution for Christian beliefs, and their journey through the Middle East to Italy and Oklahoma and beyond. Nayeri mixes it with stories of other refugees and their journeys. The whole book is shot through with anger at the systems making it incredibly difficult, and how these have really only got worse in recent history, and about the human cost of refugee journeys. It’s also a strong reminder that not all the countries they escaped from were totally awful – the story about her and her brother being taken for ‘treats’ in Oklahoma and finding that treat meant a bright blue slushie, where the children remember the food they used to love in Iran, was both funny and a poignant reminder that we have a lot to learn about others.
Dogger’s Christmas – Shirley Hughes
A new Shirley Hughes book is always cause for joy and a sequel to Dogger, one of our absolute favourites of all time, had to be bought immediately. It is essentially the same story: Dogger gets lost, Dave is sad, Dogger gets found, hooray! But it’s still lovely.
Where Snow Angels Go – Maggie O’Farrell
O’Farrell’s first book for children and there is so much to love in it, and so many threads that you can find from her grown up writing, especially her last two books, I Am I Am I Am and Hamnet. This is a beautifully written, gorgeously illustrated book about a little girl who finds that her snow angel is real and exists to protect her. Buy it immediately for everyone you know.