Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Reading round-up: April

April 2016 books

The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel - Pre-order
I'm glad I get to write about this first, as I really want to draw everyone's attention to it. To be published in August (I will be posting a full-length review closer to the actual publication date), McDaniel's debut is set in the small Ohio town of Breathed during the scorching summer of 1984. A young boy appears from nowhere claiming to be the devil; his presence has an indelible effect on the whole town, and one family in particular. It's just brilliant: beautifully written, with a story and style that actually feel genuinely original, and your heart will break for these characters. It might be my favourite book of 2016 so far. Just to be absolutely clear: I LOVED IT.

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing - Full review / Buy
In a candid memoir, Olivia Laing dissects her own experience of loneliness by way of a study of numerous artists' lives and work. Mashing together personal experience, art history, psychology and sociotechnological commentary, The Lonely City is a brilliant work of creative non-fiction: its biographical and autobiographical elements are equally successful. Laing has a refreshingly balanced perspective on the different ways individuals experience loneliness, and that stops the book from ever preaching to the reader or rehashing cliches. A moving and reassuring read for anyone who's ever felt lonely or isolated.

Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman - Full review / Pre-order
This is being marketed as the first adult novel by a writer who's previously written lots of YA fiction, but it makes more sense if you consider it, too, a book for younger readers. With a thrillerish plot (the mystery of a local boy's suicide) lurking in the background, it concentrates on the toxic bond between two misfit girls, Lacey and Dex. Like a simpler version of Gillian Flynn's Dark Places, it's equal parts teens behaving badly, suspicions of Satansim, and the frustrations of small-town life. Elements of the story are really enjoyable - it's set in the early 90s, and the grungy period detail is great - but I was never convinced by the characters or their behaviour.

A Little Lumpen Novelita by Roberto BolaƱo, translated by Natasha Wimmer - Full review / Buy
Short but powerful, this story of a young woman's descent into a short-lived 'life of crime' is perfectly formed, breathless and wonderfully strange. The narrator, Bianca, is a fascinating creation: she's a classic unreliable narrator, putting up a veneer of passivity, depicting herself as an innocent caught up in events she cannot hope to influence - but is this the truth? And what will happen when she wrests back control? I read the whole book in under an hour, but it has nevertheless left a memorable impression. 

The Children's Home by Charles Lambert - Full review / Buy
I'm not quite sure how to categorise this. Fantasy? Horror? Just... weird? There's a distinctly creepy vibe to Lambert's haunting novella, in which a reclusive, disfigured man finds children inexplicably appearing, seemingly out of thin air, on his estate. If you want everything to be neatly tied up and explained at the end of a story, you'll probably hate this - it remains stubbornly enigmatic - but it provides a stream of indelibly strange scenes, and I found myself happy to roll with its enchanting oddness.

Trencherman by Eben Venter, translated by Luke Stubbs - Full review / Buy
Part retelling of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, part dystopian vision of near-future South Africa; the latest Eben Venter novel to be translated into English is quite unlike anything else. Conrad's narrator Marlow becomes Martin Louw, summoned back to his family's ancestral farm to retrieve his nephew, Koert. His odyssey leads him through a ravaged landscape to the skeleton of his childhood home, now filled with desperate people, presided over by the nightmarish figure of Koert. Dark, dreamlike and often grotesque, Trencherman is tough going at points, but it's the most thought-provoking novel I've read in a while, rich with meaning and symbolism.

300 Days of Sun by Deborah Lawrenson - Full review / Buy
Just thinking about this book makes me feel happy. It's like summer in a bottle, and makes the perfect holiday read, whatever you take that phrase to mean. With Faro, Portugal as its setting, 300 Days of Sun flips back and forth between 2014 and the early 1940s, unravelling a long-running mystery. I must admit my opinion may be biased, as I've been to many of the places depicted in the book, and I loved 'revisiting' Faro through two sets of characters' stories. But honestly, it's so indulgently enjoyable that I'm sure I would have loved it anyway. 

The Girls by Emma Cline - Full review / Pre-order
I'd really been looking forward to this, but it turned out to be another case of hype leading to disappointment - not because it's a bad book, but simply because it didn't tell the story I was hoping to read. Set mainly in the late 1960s, it promises the tale of a girl being sucked into a sinister cult, based on the Manson Family, but what it delivers is more of a coming-of-age story; the cult stuff is really just a backdrop. Fun as a quick read, but it doesn't delve very deep into the potential suggested by its source material.

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1 comment:

  1. We read totally different books. Nice to have your list. You have confirmed my decision to give The Girls a pass. Here is my list: http://keepthewisdom.blogspot.com/2016/05/books-read-in-april.html

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