musings, Text Post, Uncategorized

An unsuccessful reading month (with a good ending)

To say that May has been a hectic month would be quite the understatement. Between job applications and interviews, relatives being admitted to hospital, and various other dramas, my reading has unfortunately had to take a back seat.

However, I finished This Family of Things by Alison Jameson this morning. It’s due for UK release on June 8th, and I would seriously advise you to buy it. A full review will follow after it has been published, but what I will say is that it’s a wonderful novel. There are some really dark moments, but has joy and heartbreak in equal measure. A highlight of the month was getting half an hour to read it outside St. Paul’s Cathedral.

So now my task is to complete Cloud Atlas, and the audiobook of Three Daughters of Eve, and get ready to celebrate 20 years of Harry Potter magic in June!

In other news, I love that the weather is so gorgeous at the moment so i’ll be able to enjoy reading outside with a view of our flowers.

Have a wonderful evening!

musings

Currently Reading: Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell

Morning, readers! Not sure about you guys, but it is so cold where I am and I’m not liking it. -1° in the middle of April, seriously UK?

Anyway, I really like this book so far, which I’m surprised about considering that the first chapter reminded me a lot of Robinson Crusoe (which I really can’t stand). 

Has anyone else read this? I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

(And yes, I did go for the 3 for 2 deal – The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro and The Stone Gods by Jeannette Winterson were my other choices. I’m a sucker for a book deal, if I’m honest).

Book Review, Text Post

The Glorious Heresies, by Louise McInerney (2015)

The Glorious Heresies. Wow. What a novel! A few days after being so captivated by the story that I read the last 120 pages in 2 hours and I’m still in awe. No wonder it won the Bailey’s Prize last year!

Set in contemporary Cork (Ireland), The Glorious Heresies pivots on the death of a man named Robbie O’Donovan. His demise influences numerous people in the city, whether they knew him directly or not. He is never alive in the novel’s world – he exists only in the memories of others. What this achieves is to show both how brief and fragile life is, and how one life, one death, one moment can have massive, unforeseen consequences. She weaves this wonderful web of interactions – individuals crossing paths often without knowledge of the connections they share or how they have influenced each other’s lives. Community is both real and imagined in this novel: felt keenly through harsh judgments or offers of solace, or understood only briefly at the mention of a name in conversation. It’s a beautiful and remarkable structure.

McInerney’s Ireland is harsh and brutal. So many fundamental aspects of Irish identity are changing or being erased in the twenty-first century landscape of her novel that the characters resort to desperate measures just to stay afloat. This is about people who do not or cannot ‘toe the line’ by conforming to Irish history and identities. Alcoholism, prostitution, drug addiction, rape, murder, child abuse and, perhaps most difficult to accept, the issue of the influence that the Catholic Church has on Irish identity and in Irish politics. There is an underlying anger towards religion itself coursing through the novel, but particularly towards the treatment of unmarried mothers in the Magdalen Laundries throughout the twentieth century. The characters face these traumas, often in the full knowledge of those around them, except no one wishes to confront the terrible truth directly. Neither the individuals nor their relatives, nor the authorities wish to accept the situation, allocate blame or receive the support they really need. People find their own ways of surviving – ways that both connect them with other characters and force them into further isolation. Those “glorious heresies” portrayed in the novel – glorious, because there is often or appears to be, no other option, meaning characters feel no need for shame- show survival of the fittest at its most raw, its most exposed. 

She presents in great detail how characters come to terms with their past, personal and national. This is particularly effective when it overlaps with parent-child relationships, or interactions between older and younger generations. While Maureen Phelan and Tony Cusack are trying to come to terms with their pasts, the younger characters are trying to escape theirs. In the cases of Maureen and Tony’s children, the past they are escaping is the fraught relationships with their parents.

Maureen Phelan is undoubtedly my favourite character. Her caustic humour provides some much needed relief from the often graphic scenes and subject matter that are portrayed – Chapter 10 is ‘laugh out loud’ hilarious. She is flawed, she makes mistakes and rash decisions, but her story and character remain affecting because she is so rarely self-pitying. She also genuinely wants to help people. She’s a perfect example of the ‘wise older woman’ trope from fairytales, except McInerney makes her ‘real’, with this complex past influencing her attitudes and actions. Our knowledge of her mistakes means we take to her advice to other characters much more easily. McInerney also doesn’t signpost that this is her ‘role’ in the story or that she fits the role comfortably – so often, the female characters written for that role are literally cardboard cut-outs of a ‘type’.

McInerney showcases a masterpiece of characterisation with Maureen. The other main characters are beautifully drawn, and often as endearing, but there’s almost an extra dimension to Maureen that makes her truly magical.

In short, I loved pretty much everything about this novel. The first couple of chapters are really great at introducing the main players, and then suddenly drawing them together and revealing the connections. 

Yes, it’s dark and graphic, but it’s also funny and affecting. There are some parts that seem a little slow, but this let you process events, and the underlying tension keeps you turning those pages.

This should definitely be added to your “To Be Read” list!

Book Review, Text Post

Review: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou (1969)

It feels strange calling this a review. Partly because Angelou is recounting her own experiences, but also because her way of telling those stories just swept me away along a rollercoaster of emotions. I guess it’s hard to review something that moves you so deeply. 


However, I will say that it is a must-read. I’ve been meaning to read it for a while, and when I did, it was genuinely so hard to put down that I was nearly late for work a couple of times.

Angelou’s autobiography covers seven volumes; I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings being the first installment. She recounts experiences from her early childhood – living with her paternal grandmother in Arkansas, developing relationships with her (separated) parents who lived in different parts of California, and her education.

Be warned: there are some truly harrowing memories narrated, things that should not happen to anyone, let alone a child. These experiences alone are moving for a reader, but the effect it evidently had on Angelou’s childhood, her interactions with others, her understanding of herself, I found to be heartbreaking.

There’s also something so powerful in ‘witnessing’ aspects of American society at that time through a child’s perspective. To show the realisation in young childhood that she will be treated differently because she’s a girl and because she’s black. It somehow makes the kind of injustices and violence experienced (even today) that much more infuriating because alongside those, Angelou recalls those universal aspects of growing up, like her dreams for the future and her understanding of her sexuality. It brings home how unjust it is that she was taught to limit her own ambitions because ‘society’ wouldn’t let her go to certain places or do certain things. There are many moments in this installment where I was so angered by how she and her family and friends were treated.

Throughout all that though, Angelou weaves in a very distinct humour, like a witty aside about a quirky aspect of her childhood behaviour or a funny event. This not only reflects that life is full of ‘significant’ moments, positive and negative, and they can be recalled with equal intensity, but it makes her ‘voice’ so vivid. It feels like she’s sitting next to you, telling you these things. 

My favourite aspect was definitely the final few chapters. To keep this as brief and spoiler-free as possible, let’s just say, Angelou’s determination is nothing short of inspiring. 

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is one of those books that people talk and talk about, and now I understand why. I’m only sorry that I haven’t read it sooner. 

It’s emotional, moving, empowering, and beautifully written, and I could not recommend it enough that you pick it up and read it.

Book Review, Text Post

Review: Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell (2008)

Non-fiction isn’t really my thing, if that makes sense. It’s not that the non-fiction works that I have read weren’t enjoyable. Simply that my first instinct is to pick up a novel.

So when a friend bought ‘Outliers’ for me, I was initially unsure. The subtitle, ‘The Story of Success’, initially brought to mind those ‘How to be successful’, confidence booster style books. However, my friend had clearly enjoyed it and I trust her recommendations completely so it went to the top of my ‘to be read list’.

Gosh, were my first impressions (based on the title and subtitle) wrong. 

As the introduction, The Roseto Mystery, both explains and demonstrates, Gladwell aims to explore why ‘outliers’ – individuals or communities who stand out from the crowd in a certain time or place (anomalies, if you will) – occur. He takes examples from a variety of times and locations to understand what circumstances enabled remarkable achievements of individuals, companies, or communities. 

The concept really is fascinating. Be it elite hockey players, software pioneers, educational systems, sought-after lawyers, Gladwell shows that alongside the intelligence and dedicated hard work of individuals, outliers often come to exist as a result of some exceptionally random circumstances. Opportunities arise that, once noted and taken, give those people the chance to develop their skills and motivations, and so achieve these extraordinary things. 

Birthdates; cultural histories and legacies of geographical locations; racial and ethnic relations at given moments in time and place; personal, national or global economic events; so many seemingly trivial (and often unknown) things can build up to produce momentous results.

Gladwell’s style of writing I found to be really comprehensible and effective. It’s like he’s sitting next to you, explaining these things in person. He’s a magnificent story-teller. That’s essentially what ‘Outliers’ is: a collection of stories, though these are real events that are being analysed and understood anew. Gladwell details the context and the minutiae of each example so well that it was as though (as happens when I read fiction), I was being pulled into that world. It reminded me how much skill is involved in finding the right tone and approach in writing so tjat the reader remains engaged.

“He is the best kind of writer – the kind who makes you feel like you’re a genius, rather than he’s a genius.” – The Times

This quote used on the blurb is so true. I learned so much from reading this book. Each case study either referred back to previous examples or was supported by others in briefer detail (don’t worry, Gladwell’s writing style ensures that this never feels like an overload of information). ‘Outliers’ has opened my eyes to how society constructs narratives of success. There’s such a tendency to create almost sickeningly sweet rags-to-riches stories that suggest that extraordinary people ‘appear’ out of nowhere. Gladwell doesn’t take anything away from the remarkable achievements, talents or hard work of the people he discusses. What he does is try to give a broader picture, showing how certain circumstances aligned so that those individuals harnessed their talents at the correct historical moment and had the vision to use them in ways that achieved extraordinary things. 

Gladwell encourages us to imagine how different it might be if those opportunities had been given to someone else or had not happened at all. Some case studies show the importance of changing attitudes and making moves away from aspects of cultural legacies. In showing how much can be understood from ‘outlier’ cases, Gladwell argues for broadening those opportunities for as many people as possible. He shows how much greater our world and our achievements might be if more people had the same opportunities as these ‘outlier’ cases to use their personal abilities.

I’m definitely going to add Gladwell’s other works to my ‘to be read’ list now and I’m going to try to read more non-fiction too. 

This book is definitely worth a read. It’s interesting, it’s well structured and written, and there are great ‘personal’ touches too that really enhance the work. Enjoy!

musings, Text Post

Currently reading

I’m currently reading ‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell and it’s so good.


It was recommended by a friend and I was unsure at first (I don’t venture into non-fiction often) but Gladwell is such a great writer and the concept is fascinating. It’s essentially exploring the different circumstances that might benefit (or hinder) an individual’s success, circumstances beyond their innate capabilities.

The way Gladwell frames each ‘case study’ is great, and he shows links between them so clearly. For some reason, I always associate non-fiction with ultra-complex, dense terminology and composition, but I’m flying through this.

There’s a quote from The Times on the blurb that says:
“He is the best kind of writer – the kind who makes you feel like you’re a genius, rather than he’s a genius.” That’s pretty spot on!

 *I love my new bookmark. I went to see The Cursed Child on Sunday and it is marvellous! 

Text Post

Books for Change: Days 6-8

​Day 6: Favourite First Line 

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” – Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier

This is my favourite book of all time* and du Maurier created a fantastic opening for it. It has everything: the intrigue, the suspense, an almost mystical atmosphere.
Who’s the speaker? Where/what is Manderley? Why is the speaker dreaming of going back? Where are they now? 
The entire first chapter is just so beautifully Gothic, with the description of the house and grounds, thebreader moving through the landscape through the narrator’s eyes.

Simply spectacular. *special thanks to @novelobservations who first introduced me to this book, and to du Maurier’s writing. She bought me one of these awesome mugs!

Day 7: Favourite Short Story

The Bloody Chamber, by Angela Carter

I was torn between The Bloody Chamber story from this collection and Monte Verità by Daphne du Maurier.

I went with Carter in the end, because I think her use of underlying themes in traditional fairytales to create new stories is nothing short of spectacular. This collection, and much of Carter’s writing, is divisive to say the least, but personally, I love the imaginative extremes she experiments with. 

I love the tense, Gothic atmosphere and pacing of The Bloody Chamber story (perhaps that’s why I was torn between this and du Maurier). There’s so much skill used in drawing these vivid characters and experiences, and creating that sense of unpredictability. Like the narrator, we are drawn almost compulsively forward, despite the uncertainty and foreboding.
In short, it’s a wonderfully complex and tense story. And that’s without the weaving in of complex ideas Carter manages here.
Day 8: (International Women’s Day) The book that changed my life.

A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara.

This was incredibly difficult because there are so many that have changed the way I see the world, approach life, or simply the books I want to read more of.
However, when I read A Little Life last year, it really moved me emotionally in a way I hadn’t expected. 

Some of the experiences detailed in this novel are dark to say the least, but they’re so ‘human’, so real, and the darker aspects of the characters’ experiences are counterbalanced by uplifting, hopeful moments. It’s a novel about friendship, love, acceptance; about dreams and ambitions, success and failure; about negotiating the transition from youth to adulthood. New York is there in all its complex vibrancy, the opportunities and realities of life in the city explored throughout. The four central characters are wonderfully, vividly drawn: we are frustrated by some of their actions as much as we are in support of them. 

This novel changed my life because it made me consider afresh the world around me, and how small actions can make big differences to another person’s life. It showed once again the importance of compassion, empathy and understanding. The novel celebrates difference and diversity AND the basic essences, like love and friendship and happiness, that connect everyone too. I got so enmeshed in the stories being told that some parts actually made me cry (and that never happens). It was harrowing because it really felt like I knew these people, and I desperately wanted things to change for them. 

I also appreciated how brilliantly constructed it is: moving between the characters and the different ‘moments’ in their lives seamlessly. Even though it’s a long novel, I never felt like it was dragging. It’s truly a work of art, a masterpiece of literary genius.
If I ever doubted that novels written in the twenty first century would be considered ‘classic’ in the way that, as an example, the Brontës are, Yanagihara’s novel put paid to that.