May 2020 Reading: Ordinary People; Watermarks; You Will Be Safe Here; Love Me To Death; This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin; Saving Lucia; What Doesn’t Kill You; I Wanted You to Know

It has been another fantastic month of reading. I’ve read eight books, which means I am right on track for my target of reading 100 books this year. I think I have decided that between eight and ten books a month is about the right pace for me – any more, and I would feel under pressure!

As an aside, I am so pleased that I have got my reading mojo back. Last year was the first year since having kids that I managed to do any substantial reading (and indeed writing), and this year I can feel my neural pathways being twanged back into life, allowing me to tackle more complex books than I have been able to read for a long time. As some of you may have gathered, I’ve been a stay-at-home mum for the last three years, and while that has taken on a rather-too-literal meaning in the past couple of months, it is a choice (and a privilege) which works extremely well for our family for the moment. However, I know I am not alone in feeling as if my ‘self’ has been subsumed by this role (especially in my son’s first year, when sleep was a mere pipe dream) and it is an extraordinary sensation to feel ‘Ellie’ returning to the fore. Books have always saved me, and they’re doing it yet again.

Anyway, onto this month’s reading!

Ordinary People by Diana Evans (2018)

This was a joyous start to the month: a funny, profound, moving novel in which nothing happens quite as you expect it to. We follow Michael, his partner Melissa, and their friend Damian at a point in their lives when the choices they have made conflict with a rising desire for freedom, for something different from life. Evans slips effortlessly between the three points of view, and I was deeply drawn to all three complex, nuanced characters.

There are underlying themes of important issues such as race and gang violence, but these are a hum and not a shout. The main focus seems to be the sad, poignant way in which relationships can disintegrate over time. As we dive into their consciousnesses, the three protagonists let us in on their innermost fears and desires, and it is a thrilling experience. I was particularly struck with the way in which Evans uses music, most notably, of course, John Legend’s, to create a kind of soundtrack to the novel (indeed, I think there is a playlist that goes along with the book, which I will be investigating). There is also a very interesting final section, which may not work for everyone, but which I thought was brilliant. I don’t have much more to say about this book as I thoroughly enjoyed it – I love writing detailed reviews, but sometimes when I read a book ‘for fun’ (they are all fun, really, but my fellow book bloggers know what I mean!) I like to just be able to say ‘I loved it. The end.’

Watermarks by Lenka Janiurek (2020)

I reviewed this wonderful memoir for a blog tour, organised by @damppebbles. I highly recommend it – you can check out my full review here. Lenka’s story is utterly unique, and the vivid present tense narration plunges you into her world from the opening page.

You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr (2019)

I have written a full review of this astounding novel here. It is a staggering achievement, and a novel that will stay with me for a very long time. This was the first of a couple of books I read this month that stirred a forgotten urge in me to write an essay – fortunately for you, I haven’t done so yet! (I miss studying.)

Love Me to Death by Susan Gee (2020)

I don’t tend to read a lot of thrillers, but I had read Gee’s debut novel, Kiss Her Goodbye, and was struck by the quality of the writing and also the slantwise approach that she takes to the genre. Love Me to Death is even more chilling than her first novel, but it shares the same fascinating angle: what if, instead of focusing on those trying to solve the crime, we delved into the psyche of the shadowy figure at the edges of traditional, procedural thrillers? In both of her books, the killer is revealed very early on, and the focus is not on the ‘who’ but the ‘why’. This appeals to me greatly as a twist on the genre, and it is bolstered by Gee’s crisp, precise prose.

The snowy setting of Love Me to Death adds greatly to the atmosphere of the book. Mr Anderson is creepy, unsettling, and occasionally utterly terrifying. Gee makes a bold and intelligent choice in creating parallels between the criminal and the ‘hero’ of the novel, Jacob, a sympathetic, endearing character whose growing connections with Mr Anderson ramp up the tension to almost unbearable levels. For a book in which the crime seems clear-cut from the start, there are an impressive amount of twists and turns – Gee knows how to hook her readers. I can’t wait to read more from this talented writer. If you are a fan of psychological thrillers, this is definitely one for you. It is published by Aria Fiction and is out now.

This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin by Emma Darwin (2019)

Emma Darwin writes SO well about the act of writing itself. Her book Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction has been invaluable in my attempts to, well, get started in writing historical fiction, and her blog, This Itch of Writing, is packed with insightful advice. This non-fiction book is something of an oddity (in the best possible way) – it is a detailed account of her failure to write a novel about her family. It is a hard book to describe, as it is so resolutely its own creature – part confessional, part writer’s notebook, and also a record of a truly brilliant mind.

It is almost intimidating how exacting Darwin is in terms of her research and her quest for the right story for her novel – there were definitely points where I wanted to tell her to give herself a break! But I sense that is not her style. This is an absolutely fascinating – and generous – insight into a writer’s process, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a glimpse of what is really involved in creating the books that we as readers love so much.

Saving Lucia by Anna Vaught (2020)

If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I am newly converted to the brilliant world of Bluemoose Books, who published the beautiful Leonard and Hungry Paul last year, and who, this year, are exclusively publishing books by women. Saving Lucia is one of the most intellectually exciting books I have read this year, and another one that I would happily spend hours writing an essay about! I have reviewed it in full here – you don’t want to miss this book.

What Doesn’t Kill You by Elitsa Dermendzhiyska and Others (2020)

My third non-fiction read of the month, which is quite a high ratio for me! This collection, published by Unbound, is absolutely stunning – a must-read book for anyone who experienced mental health issues, or who knows anyone who has, which I would imagine pretty much covers all of us. You can read my full review here – I think this book is deeply important, and I hope it is very widely read indeed.

I Wanted You to Know by Laura Pearson (2019)

I wanted you to know that I was going to write a longer review of this book, but that I only finished it last night and I am still reeling. I wanted you to know that it is one of the most affecting, emotional, devastating stories I have read for a long time. I wanted you to know that if you are a mother, or, in fact, if you have or had a mother, or if you didn’t have a mother for whatever reason, this book will make you sob. I wanted you to know that the tears will be worth it, because the message of human kindness and love is so strong in this book that it will heal your broken heart. I wanted you to know that this is the best I can do in terms of a review of this book, because it is too precious and real and raw for my poor attempts at analysis. I wanted you to know that you should read it, and that it will change you.

Laura Pearson is brave and brilliant and this book is so moving. That is all.

If you’ve made it to the end of this post, well done and thank you! I’ve got some wonderful books lined up for June, and would love to hear what you are all reading at the moment. What books have you loved this month? What are you planning to read in June? Sending bookish good vibes to all. Ellie x x x

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