Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo (2019)
I don’t think I really need to convince anyone that this is a book worth reading, considering the amount of press and prizes it has received. I had been saving it for a time when I needed a guaranteed sensational read, and I am glad I did, as it was exactly what was required to cheer up these tough times. Evaristo is a writer so brilliant that I don’t even like to try and analyse her work – it speaks for itself, and it is just outstanding. This book, like a lot of her other work, straddles the fluid border between poetry and prose with ease. The lack of punctuation, which might be gimmicky in a lesser writer’s hands, quickly becomes part of the wave that carries the reader through this story of twelve characters, whose lives overlap but are sufficiently distinct to give the book an ‘anthology’ feel. If you haven’t read this yet, you are in for a treat.
The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually by Helen Cullen (2020)
This book is coming out in August, and it is simply beautiful. I wrote a detailed review here. You do not want to miss this exceptional novel. It is an exquisite book that I know I will be rereading, and I am already looking forward to doing so. I have also bought her first novel, The Lost Letters of William Woolf, and will be reading it soon – look out for my review.
We Are Animals by Tim Ewins (2020)
This debut novel is funny, fresh and more than a little bit different. I came across it via Tim Ewins’ hilarious ‘lockdown readings’ on Twitter – if ever an author has earned your 99p for their book, his heroic efforts certainly have. My full review is here – do check it out.
Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession (2019)
A beautiful, gentle book which I have reviewed here. Highly recommended – it is just lovely, and it ends with the best final sentence I have read in a very long time. I can’t think of a more soothing book for these times.
You Will Never Be Forgotten by Mary South (2020)
This is a startlingly original short story collection; in my review here I mention that it reminds me of Black Mirror. South is a rare talent. This is bold, innovative fiction with a strong voice, and I will definitely be looking out for more from this author in the future.
The Book of Shanghai edited by Dai Congrong and Dr Jin Li (2020)
I reviewed this outstanding collection of translated short stories here. Published by Comma Press, it takes the reader on an immersive literary tour of Shanghai and introduces a huge range of memorable characters. It is the first book I have read from Comma Press’s ‘Reading the City’ series, and I am very keen to check out more of them.
(Aside: I was pleased to manage to read two short story collections this month, but I have still read less short fiction than I normally do so far this year, so do hit me up with your suggestions for short story writers/anthologies.)
A Bookshop in Algiers by Kaouther Adimi, translated by Chris Andrews (2020)
I won a proof copy of this book in a giveaway. I was very excited by its premise – the combination of a bookshop and an exotic location sounded absolutely perfect, but unfortunately it wasn’t for me. This is an interesting, well-written book, and I learned a lot about Algiers, but the fractured structure of the book, and in particular the short, time-skimming diary entries from the bookshop’s original owner, left me feeling as if I never quite got inside the story. There is a lot of detail about the ins and outs of being a bookseller/publisher, and I could imagine this appealing to anyone who works in that industry, but personally I just couldn’t find a foothold with this story.
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones (2011)
I have to admit, I didn’t realise at first that this novel was published before An American Marriage and reprinted due to that novel’s enormous success. I was a big fan of An American Marriage, and if anything I loved this book even more. The sensationlism of its premise, and its opening line: “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist,” belies the subtlety with which Jones explores the complex family dynamics at play. The novel is divided into two parts, narrated by James’ two daughters, Dana, his ‘secret’ child, and Chaurisse, his daughter from his ‘conventional’ marriage. The structure works very well: both Dana and Chaurisse are engaging characters, and it was interesting to see both sides.
Dana is a more instantly intriguing character, and I was concerned that I would not enjoy the second half of the narrative, from Chaurisse’s point of view, as much, but in fact it adds a depth and nuance that only enhances the experience of reading this story. Although it is a bold choice to explore James and Laverne’s early relationship through the lens of their daughter’s narrative, it is surprisingly effective, and by the end of the novel, I felt as if I had been fully immersed in these characters’ complex lives. This is the kind of emotionally powerful novel that I really enjoy, and I would definitely recommend it.
The Silence and the Roar by Nihad Sirees, translated by Max Weiss (2013)
This is the first book I have read by Syrian writer Nihad Sirees, but it will certainly not be the last. Syria is a country very close to my heart; my parents lived there when I was at university, and I went back there for my first teaching job after they had left. My affection for the friends I made there has had a real impact on how I perceive the ever-worsening news coming from that country; it pains me so much to see what has happened in Syria over the last decade. And yet, to my shame, I have read very little Syrian literature. This book turned out to be an excellent place to start.
The Silence and The Roar, which was published in Arabic in 2004, is set in an unspecified country, with details left deliberately vague. The unnamed Leader, a dictator whose cult of personality dominates every aspect of his citizens’ lives, is celebrating 20 years of rule. The ‘roar’ of his regime drowns out individualism and thought, and is contrasted with the stubborn, quiet resistance of the narrator, a blacklisted writer. The protagonist’s first person narrative only covers about 24 hours, but during this time we see the struggle he faces to hold onto his principles in the face of the regime. At times, the Orwellian nature of the novel reminded me of Anna Burns’ brilliant novel, Milkman, which I read last month. Like that novel, The Silence and the Roar also features an engaging, sympathetic, humorous protagonist. But it also brought back strong memories of the wallpapered pictures of Assad I saw everywhere in Damascus, even back before anyone could have imagined what he was truly capable of. My personal connection with this novel definitely enhanced the experience of reading it, but I also think that it is a deeply important book that should be widely read.
The Codes of Love by Hannah Persaud (2020)
My final read for April was one that I had been looking forward to, and while it was quite different to what I had imagined, it did not disappoint. My full review of Hannah Persaud’s intelligent and intricate novel is here. Persaud is definitely an author I will be looking out for in the future.
I’ve had another varied and exciting month of reading, which makes me very happy. I have also managed to catch up a bit and am back on track for my target of 100 books this year.
I’d love to know if you’ve read/are planning to read any of the books above, and of course, always, always, always hit me up with your reading recommendations. I have discovered so many fantastic authors since joining the bookish community on Twitter – I feel like I have discovered a not-so-secret treasure map!