Tuesday, 4 August 2015
Reading round-up: July
Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand - 8/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
Extremely enjoyable ghost story about a folk band recording their second album in a spooky country manor. While what ensues is fairly predictable, it's perfectly pitched and works very well indeed. If you're into ghostly tales, get this on your radar.
Armada by Ernest Cline - 6/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
This second novel from Cline, author of Ready Player One, has had lots of bad reviews: I thought it was pretty enjoyable, if not quite as good as Cline's debut. The story follows a video-game-obsessed teenager who's recruited to fight an alien invasion. It's naturally a bit silly, but fun; a film version is already in the works, and it's easy to see how it will translate to the screen.
Bradstreet Gate by Robin Kirman - 6/10. Full review / Buy the book
To nobody's surprise, this story about a campus murder is being touted as similar to The Secret History; what the blurb doesn't tell you is that it follows its three main characters for years after that, and is more a study of their post-university lives than a mystery. The style is what I'd call elegant but emotionless - it kept me interested, but it's difficult to connect with the somewhat coldly written characters.
The Ecliptic by Benjamin Wood - 10/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
A beautiful, completely engrossing novel about inspiration and the creation of art, this has jumped straight to the top of my list of 2015 favourites. Elspeth Conroy is a long-term resident at Portmantle, an island retreat for artists; the first part of the book shows her forming a relationship with a new member of the community, while the second tells us how she became a painter, and what happened to lead her to Portmantle. The third and fourth parts of the book then draw all the strands of these stories together in brilliant, surprising, entirely unexpected ways. Thoroughly recommended to everyone.
The Reckoning by Edith Wharton - 8/10. Buy the book
Two perfectly formed, heartbreaking short stories from Wharton. In 'Mrs Manstey's View', an ageing woman is driven to extreme measures to preserve one of her only pleasures: the garden view she enjoys from her room. 'The Reckoning' exposes the machinations at the heart of a relationship, as a wife comes to regret an agreement made with her husband years ago.
The Blue by Lucy Clarke - 8/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
If you've read Clarke's books before, this is more of the same (in a good way). If you haven't, think a cross between travelogue, thriller and relationship drama. Best friends Lana and Kitty join the nomadic crew of The Blue, a yacht sailing around the Philippines, but they're inevitably plagued by secrets and jealousy; the narrative alternates between 'then' and 'now', the latter clearly set after some sort of terrible incident and/or betrayal. An easy, gripping read, this is the perfect beach book.
Where the Trains Turn by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen - 6/10. Full review / Read the story at Tor.com
A long short story, or short novella, about a family haunted by sentient trains, which is about as daft as it sounds, but saved by a great sense of atmosphere and some unusual characterisation. In contrast to the cosy book-loving themes found in Jääskeläinen's best-known work, The Rabbit Back Literature Society, the protagonist here is a fanatically rational woman who loathes fiction. Focusing on such a character works surprisingly well and results in a strong ending.
Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen - 10/10. Buy the ebook
This book is kind of awful. It's also a legit masterpiece. Like, an I don't know if I'll ever read anything like this again in my life, once in a generation kind of masterpiece. I gave up the first time I tried to read it, but something made me go back, and thank god for that instinct. Sometimes when I think about it I want to collapse/die, but I mean that in a good way if you can believe it. This is all I am going to write about it; if you want a summary that makes sense, there are actual reviews here and here to start with.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang - 9/10. Review to come / Buy the ebook
Translated from Korean, this is the kind of story that's hard to define; a sort of character study, I suppose, of the titular vegetarian (though the diet she chooses to follow is actually vegan), the inscrutable Yeong-hye. The book is made up of three parts, each observing Yeong-hye from the point of view of a different person - her husband, her brother-in-law, her sister - as she is tortured by gruesome dreams, gradually becomes anorexic and suffers delusions. It's hard to put into words what makes this so compelling, but it's a truly spellbinding story which flows beautifully.
Another good month: Book of Numbers, The Ecliptic and The Vegetarian will be on my best-of-2015 list for sure. And as promised last time, I've definitely managed to post more this month!
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