While I’m getting back into the swing of blogging and reviewing again, I thought I’d start with a little update on what I’ve been reading (and want to read) at the start of 2020. Hopefully, by getting some thoughts down, I’ll get some inspiration and motivation for a full review soon!
First up is Bitter, by Francesca Jakobi (2018)
- Summer 1969: As her only son gets married, Gilda contemplates the mistakes of her past
- What (I thought) seemed to be a psychological thriller story becomes a beautifully moving story of loneliness and motherhood. It took me completely by surprise and I loved that
- The structure Jakobi employs in this novel worked so well: alternating chapters between past and present helped to establish Gilda’s character and relationships in a different way. Her move from Germany to an English boarding school, her reluctant (but long standing) friendship with Margo, her strained relationship with her parents and sister, her first husband, and then her son all combine to show her nuances. She is lonely, bored, remorseful, judgmental, intelligent, vulnerable and possessive (among so many other things)
- The shortness of the chapters also helped to make the novel pacy – I struggled to put it down partly because I knew the chapter would only be a few pages (the other part is that the story and characters were so compelling)
- There were aspects I was expecting to be taken further, story strands hinted at or started that didn’t seem to be followed up on, but as mentioned, it didn’t affect my enjoyment
- My copy was gifted to me by the team at Orion (Hachette UK) following a blogger event
- Overall rating: 5 stars
The Five, by Hallie Rubenhold (2019)
- Using the sparse, often partial or unreliable, evidence available, this book offers an examination of the lives of Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Kate, and Mary Jane – the women killed in the late summer and autumn of 1888 by Jack the Ripper
- Weaving details of the physical realities and social conventions in which they existed, Rubenhold also critiques the wider structures and prejudices which not only led them to the situations in which their killer found them, but also shaped the narrative of their character for generations afterwards.
- Rubenhold’s exploration of these women as daughters, sisters, lovers, wives, mothers, friends, and workers, and refusing to give anything but a minimal account of their deaths also serves to counter the ‘tourist’ culture that continues to exist around the killings.
- The structure worked really well, and the style and tone was clear and accessible. At times, it really felt as though I was transported to that time, that I was walking with these women through the roads and neighbourhoods that were familiar to them.
- As I listened to an audiobook, I also want to commend Louise Brealey for bringing this book to life.
- Overall rating: 5 stars
What am I currently reading?
Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo (2019) has been one of my most anticipated reads for some time, and I was so excited when my digital library reservation was made available. Through each of the chapters, Evaristo tells the stories of 12 characters – most of whom are black, British women – whose lives occasionally overlap but whose experiences and motivations could not be more distinct. Evaristo’s prose is beautifully and powerfully poetic, and combined with the complexity and vibrancy of her characters, this Booker Prize winning novel is a fantastic read so far.
What will I read next?
Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders (2017) is another Booker Prize winner that I’ve been meaning to read. Set during the American Civil War, President Lincoln is also dealing with a private grief: his young son, Willie, becomes gravely ill and dies. Using that historical truth as a foundation, the book relates a story of love after death that also uses elements of the supernatural. Willie Lincoln is transported to a kind of purgatory – a transitional state called the bardo in Tibetan tradition – where a tussle begins over his soul.
What have you been reading recently?