Read in 2017: June

13.7.17

#32 - WHAT IS NOT YOURS IS NOT YOURS // Helen Oyeyemi
"Helen Oyeyemi's ensemble cast of characters slip from the pages of their own stories only to surface in another. The reader is invited into a world of lost libraries and locked gardens, of marshlands where the drowned dead live and a city where all the clocks have stopped; students hone their skills at puppet school, the Homely Wench Society commits a guerrilla book-swap, and lovers exchange books and roses on St Jordi's Day. It is a collection of towering imagination, marked by baroque beauty and a deep sensuousness."

Short story collections can be hit and miss for me and this one was exactly that.  I adored one or two of the stories and then found that others were far too fantastical to keep up with.  This was an effort to read and although I'm all for beautiful descriptive language I don't think the words should obstruct the story.  I enjoyed the way the characters weaved throughout the stories and loved the first one in particular.  I have the beautiful hardback edition which sits beautifully on my shelf, but sadly overall this wasn't for me.
Rating: ★★
Good if: you like fairy tale inspired writing
 
#33 - A LIFE DISCARDED // Alexander Masters
"In 2001, 148 tattered and mould-covered notebooks were discovered lying among broken bricks in a skip on a building site in Cambridge. Tens of thousands of pages were filled to the edges with urgent handwriting. They were a small part of an intimate, anonymous diary, starting in 1952 and ending half a century later, a few weeks before the books were thrown out. 
Over five years, the award-winning biographer Alexander Masters uncovers the identity and real history of their author, with an astounding final revelation. A Life Discarded is a true, shocking, poignant, often hilarious story of an ordinary life. The author of the diaries, known only as 'I', is the tragicomic patron saint of everyone who feels their life should have been more successful.
Part thrilling detective story, part love story, part social history, A Life Discarded is also an account of two writers' obsessions: of 'I's need to record every second of life and of Masters' pursuit of this mysterious yet universal diarist."

The premise of this one really caught my attention and it's definitely unlike anything I've read before.  It follows Alexander Masters piecing together of an unknown diarist's life; he reveals his discoveries as he makes them so it really feels like you're on a journey with him.  The author of the diaries is fascinating, too.  I enjoyed the easy-going and humorous tone of the book and it sat nicely alongside the diarist's voice as well.  There were points when I felt the author himself was overshadowing the biography but it was still an interesting read.
Rating: ★★
Good if: you like British biographies

#34 - NUTSHELL // Ian McEwan
"To be or not to be? That is the question
Particularly if your life has yet to really begin.
Trudy has betrayed her husband, John. She's still in the marital home – a dilapidated, priceless London townhouse – but John's not here. Instead, she's with his brother, the profoundly banal Claude, and the two of them have a plan and that plan involves murder.
But there is a witness to their plot: the inquisitive, nine-month–old resident of Trudy's womb a Hamlet in miniature who hears and plays a very unusual kind of detective.
Told from a perspective unlike any other, Nutshell is a classic tale of murder and deceit from one of the world’s master storytellers."
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I'd considered buying this book when it was first released and am so glad I found it on a library trip.  A baby in utero narrating a book is a seriously odd premise but it really works.  As the blurb suggests this is a retelling of Hamlet and although I've not read the play before it didn't detract from this book.  In fact, I'm more likely to read the original now to see the similarities.  This is my second Ian McEwan book, I whizzed through it in a day and can't wait to read more of his work!
Rating: ★★
Good if: you like retellings of classics or stories with a twist

#35 - CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS // Sally Rooney
"Frances, Bobbi, Nick and Melissa ask each other endless questions. As their relationships unfold, in person and online, they discuss sex and friendship, art and literature, politics and gender, and, of course, one another. 
Twenty-one-year-old Frances is at the heart of it all, bringing us this tale of a complex menage-a-quatre and her affair with Nick, an older married man. 
You can read Conversations with Friends as a romantic comedy, or you can read it as a feminist text. You can read it as a book about infidelity, about the pleasures and difficulties of intimacy, or about how our minds think about our bodies. However you choose to read it, it is an unforgettable novel about the possibility of love."

The last paragraph of this blurb is what compelled me to pick up this book.  And whilst it was a fascinating look at non-conventional relationships, I can't help but feel like the blurb isn't entirely accurate.  There's much more of a 'story' in this, rather than the conversations I anticipated....I think I envisioned almost diary-like entries or mixed media like emails and online chats.  The latter two of which do feature in here, just not as much as I expected.  It's very of the moment and discusses current affairs in a way which didn't overpower the plotline.  For me, the best bit was the way this book looked at love and the different forms it can take.  I found myself thinking about this even after I'd finished reading and a book which sticks with you can only be a good thing!
Rating: ★
Good if: you like contemporaries with a bit more depth  

#36 - THE GIRL WHO WAS SATURDAY NIGHT // Heather O'Neill
"At birth, Nouschka forms a bond with her twin that can never be broken.  At six, she's the child star daughter of Quebec's most famous musician.  At sixteen, she's a high-school dropout kicking up with her beloved brother.  At nineteen, she's the Beauty Queen of Boulevard Saint-Laurent.  At twenty, she's back in night school. And falling for an ex-convict. And it's all being filmed by a documentary crew."

Having loved O'Neill's The Lonely Hearts Hotel I was excited to read more by her.  Unfortunately this was a dud for me.  The writing, characters and setting were too similar to The Lonely Hearts Hotel so it felt like too much of a good thing.  They're set in differing time periods but it really didn't feel that way.  Instead, it felt almost like a sequel to The Lonely Hearts Hotel only with different character names.  The writing was flowery and beautiful but began to drag throughout the story and I found myself skimming passages to get to the point.  I'm really disappointed with this - I thought I'd found a new favourite author but actually it just feels like the same story being churned out.
Rating: ★
Good if: you haven't read The Lonely Hearts Hotel yet!

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