Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Reading round-up: January

January 2016 books

Keep You Close by Lucie Whitehouse - Full review / Pre-order
Like Before We Met, Lucie Whitehouse's fourth novel is ostensibly a thriller, but it's a big improvement on its predecessor, so don't let that put you off. Our protagonist is Rowan; when her old friend, Marianne, dies in a supposed accident, she starts her own investigation and (of course) soon uncovers a web of secrets and lies. This is an enjoyable, compelling mystery that makes fantastic use of its setting, Oxford, and there's a good twist too. 

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan - Full review / Buy
This beautifully written and effective fantasy follows two characters, circus performer North and gracekeeper Callanish, as they meet and fall in love. Their story takes place in a drowned world, in which those with homes on dry land - 'landlockers' - are the privileged few, while 'damplings' spend their lives at sea. It's an ethereal, magical tale and makes for perfect escapism. Those who enjoyed Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus will probably appreciate this too.

You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman - Full review / Buy
Without a doubt my favourite book of the month, and likely to be one of my favourites of the entire year. That said, it's pretty difficult to describe You Too..., which seems to be different things to different people: a dark comedy, a vicious satire, a horror story; an offbeat commentary on consumer culture, on body image, on relationships. With an unnamed narrator and secondary characters only known as B and C, it brings together seemingly unrelated elements - a macabre supermarket chain, a spate of disappearances, a series of animated adverts for an entirely synthetic food - via a sinister, cult-like organisation, the Church of the Conjoined Eater. It's deeply surreal but frequently insightful; it doesn't try to push some predictable message on the reader, but it's not just weirdness for weirdness' sake, either. A future cult classic. 

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh - Review TK / Buy
Deeply grim and unpleasant in a good - in fact, great - way, this is a masterful character study that really gets under the skin of its title character. Eileen is filled with self-loathing and plagued by disturbing thoughts; trapped in the backwater of 'X-ville' in the mid-1960s, living with her alcoholic father, she dreams of escape. That fantasy starts to seem more plausible when she meets (and becomes obsessed with) the glamorous Rebecca. The story loses its way a little towards the end as a rather convoluted and unlikely denouement takes over, but nevertheless, it's a fascinating read, and Eileen a memorable addition to the pantheon of deliciously awful female characters. If not for the brilliance of Alexandra Kleeman's novel, this would've been the best book I read in January, and I suspect it will also make it onto my best-of-2016 list. 

The Palace of Dreams by Ismail Kadare, translated by Barbara Bray - Full review / Buy
This novel imagines a society, based on the Ottoman Empire, in which citizens' dreams are recorded and analysed for signs of divine prophecy. Attempting to navigate this world is naive hero Mark-Alem, whose status as a member of the influential Quprili family earns him a job at the cavernous Palace of Dreams itself. It's an intriguing idea, but marred by an uneven style which I think is probably a result of the book having been translated twice - the English version is translated from the French version rather than the original Albanian.

Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys - Full review / Buy
Equally depressing and beautiful, Good Morning, Midnight is a quick, lucid read illustrating the life of a young woman in Paris as her thoughts move between the present and her recent past. It's an exquisite portrait of loneliness that's very simply written, yet often feels profound in a quite startling way.

CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders - Buy
A collection of bizarre stories, set in a near-future America which appears to have become one big dilapidated theme park; by turns funny, disturbing and moving. Saunders' characters are invariably weird, eccentric, even occasionally horrifying, yet they end up feeling more human than the majority of fictional characters. It's also satisfying to find I can now detect Saunders' influence in the work of so many other writers I admire. 

The Man Who Drew Cats by Michael Marshall Smith - Buy
Just a short story, but an atmospheric, powerful one. The first-person POV of a small-town observer is used brilliantly to tell the tale of a mysterious newcomer who has a penchant for painting oddly realistic animals. The creepiness is kept to a minimum, which makes the climax all the more effective.

The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano, translated by Mark Polizzotti - Buy
In this brief novel (I read it in one go), a writer wanders Paris in search of the truth about a woman he loved long ago. It's a mystery of sorts, but also a dreamy stream-of-consciousness that's at its strongest when ruminating on the power of memory, allowing the narrator to slip from past to present until the lines between altered memories and reality become blurred. This is the first book I've read by Modiano - it won't be the last.

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1 comment:

  1. Great list! What a reading month you had. I have been so curious about You Too... I read your review and now I know I must read it!