Time for a catch up on my summer reading programme.
I started in July by lodging a wishlist at my local library, and I have been reading my way through them as they become available. Unfortunately, several have been “short loans” of only 2 weeks, due to other readers requesting them. While 2 weeks is not an unreasonable amount of time to read a novel, it has been a problem when several have become available at once!
So what have I been reading?
First up: The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt. I wanted to read this from the moment it was published. Set in Victorian / Edwardian England, it focuses on the interactions of several arty disfunctional families, each representing a different group of that period. I read Victorian Lit. at University so have a background knowledge of the Morris / Ruskin etceteras and was looking forward to being on familiar territory. But this was my problem – I was deluged by so much historical context, and each family was presented so much as a “type”, that I lost all sense of the characters as people. 249 pages in and I was ready to give up the fight. I just didn’t care any more, with 366 pages to go. (I counted – a bad sign!) I recommend it if you require instant deep immersion in the era – and I foresee its appearance in the “background reading” list for Very Serious literature students. It is a very clever novel, but I require some humanity in my fiction, sorry.
Next: The Blue Hour, a portrait of Jean Rhys by Lillian Pizzichini. Another nostalgic read, as I studied Jean Rhys in the final year of my degree. My stumbling block with this one was the author’s florid style. After encountering the phrase “the caprice of fecundity”, referring to the difficulty of growing vegetables in the Caribbean, I could not take much more. I did try! But the author’s confused stance on Jean Rhys’s mental instability and “loose” sex life finished me off. Was she “a prostitute"? I don’t know – I wasn’t there. But neither was the author, with her at times fawning but often patronising tone and ridiculous turns of phrase. It could not be termed “a biography” – there were no references, footnotes or sources, and in the end I felt I was reading a salacious tabloid expose. No thanks. I would much rather read one of Jean Rhys’s poignant novels.
The third volume I collected did not even survive the initial flick-through. “Blonde Roots” by Bernardine Evaristo. Slavery turned on its head with the white folks as underdogs. Some reviews suggest it is “funny”, but I just found it sickening. Maybe I didn’t give it a chance, but exploitation does not entertain me, no matter who is on top.
So what a relief to come across a winner after weeks of half-hearted reading! I enjoyed “The Night Watch” and “Affinity” by Sarah Waters and if anything, I loved “The Little Stranger” even more! It’s on the Booker list, so all the keen readers of Aberdeenshire have queued it and I had to drop everything (no knitting!) to finish it before Saturday. It is a novel which benefits from intensive reading , as you are drawn into the atmosphere of post-war England and the increasingly sinister goings-on at Hundreds Hall. It is intelligent but easy to read. I will recommend it to my teenaged daughter and my mother alike. And to you!