I have never enjoyed a Man Booker prize-winning novel. Never.
Winesburg Ohio - Sherwood Anderson
I’ve been reading a lot recently (the kind of all consuming reading that means evenings spent on the sofa, under a blanket, with freezing arms from holding the books up). But I haven’t really had the energy to write about it, or do much else besides read.
It didn’t help that Winesburg Ohio was such an effort either. My boyfriend said I had to read it because it’s the best thing he’d read each year. Short tales about misfits in a town on the edge of everything, it left me feeling horribly sad. The stories too bleak (if perfectly wrought), the people too lonely, too lost to make me take anything from it except the fear of existing in the same suspended state as them.
There was no escapism in it. Perhaps it was too worthy, or perhaps I just prefer a ‘proper’ story.
The Patrick Melrose novels - Edward St Aubyn
I finished this set of five wonderfully written novels a few weeks ago. But I’ve had to leave a gap before writing about them because I’ve spent a considerable amount of time trying to crawl back out of protagonist Patrick Melrose’s (aka St Aubyn’s) mind, disturbed and beautifully wrought as it is.
The prose is stunning, particularly in Never Mind, which conjures up the heat of summer gardens and the haze of rotting figs so vividly it could have been your own childhood, except for the blank darkness that descends after a moment - one of many - of total, brutal cruelty.
The further four books see Patrick trying to come to terms with that summer and its repercussions, and it’s such an onslaught of grief, pain, anger and guilt, that, however perfectly written, sometimes you just want to put the books down and run.
How To Build A Girl - Caitlin Moran
I never know about Caitlin Moran. Sometimes I reckon she’s the most spectacular Twitterer and journo out there, the next I’m like SHUT UP WITH YOUR NONSENSE.
It’s a tricky one. Either way, she’s excellent at getting a response (and yes, I am TRES jealous of her career. Sigh.).
With this, her new basically autobiographical novel about a teenaged music journalist swigging gin and kissing inappropriate boys in the early 90s, I ranged wildly from angry to bored to sniggering and reading snippets out about giant penises to my boyfriend for laughs.
Silly, honest, daring and hilarious, being 17 was not exactly like that for me, but it plucks on all the strings that made being a teenager swing from the worst thing, to the most blazing experience, ever.
Read it on holiday, not the bus, unless you want to snort hysterically over the person next to you.
Stoner. 😐— Grace Dent (@gracedent)August 13, 2014
That was part of my ‘emoji book review’ series.— Grace Dent (@gracedent)August 13, 2014
I have to admit, the new Penguin Modern Classics cover for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a little disturbing. It’s not going to “ruin my childhood” though.
The Luminaries - Eleanor Catton
This is apparently a year in which I find myself leaping from giant book to giant book. Life After Life to The Goldfinch to The Luminaries. It’s like being back at university when one particular English module resulted in me having to read Tom Jones, Middlemarch and Anna Karenina - in consecutive(!) weeks.
It’s been wonderful but kind of gruelling. The Luminaries - a tangled tale of a quiet gold rush town in New Zealand, embroiled in a sprawling crime concerning murder, opium and gold lined dresses - has been a bit of struggle for me (always the case with Man Booker novels - there’s just something about them I can’t bear. Too worthy perhaps?)
Impressive, carefully crafted and increasing in pace (thank goodness) in the last third. I finished it but still feel caught up in it, like I can’t quite detach myself and move on. It’s unnerving having each character tugging at you mercilessly. Read it if you want true immersion, but not if you want a novel to fall in love with.
Am hoping the Edward St Aubyn novels will distract me.