mini reviews #4: horror classics and other fiction

Time for the next installment!  See all my previous mini reviews here, and add me on Goodreads to see all my reviews as soon as I post them.

36605525CONVENIENCE STORE WOMAN by Sayaka Murata
originally published in Japanese, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori
★★★★☆
date read: October 28, 2018
Grove Press, 2018

Sayaka Murata has a lot to say about the role of the individual in society and contrived societal expectations, and she says it all in under 200 pages with poignancy and humor. Our protagonist Keiko is considered an irregularity by her family and friends, as she doesn’t aspire to anything in life other than to continue working for the convenience store that has employed her for 18 years. Keiko takes solace in the routine and regularity of her job, and embraces the ways in which her identity is shaped by the corporate world. This is a charming and offbeat and quietly sad meditation on the cost of acceptance, the illusion of normalcy, and the pressures we all feel to conform. (I understand the comparison to Eleanor Oliphant, though I found Convenience Store Woman sharper and more convincing.)

 

897171THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE by Shirley Jackson
★★★★☆
date read: November 4, 2018
Penguin Classics, 2006
originally published in 1959

I’d been told time and again that this was going to be one of the most terrifying haunted house stories I was ever going to read, so I think my mixed reaction comes more from mismanaged expectations than anything. This story was not remotely scary. (But also, I’m just never really scared by horror in the way I’d like to be.) But I did find this to be a positively harrowing and unexpected psychological thriller which deftly explores isolation, sanity, and repression, through the eyes of a fascinating unreliable narrator. And the conclusion was positively haunting and breathtaking. I just wish I’d had a better idea of what I was signing up for – I doubt I would have been so impatient with the lengthy exposition had I known what a character study this was going to be. I’m almost definitely going to want to revisit this one at some point.

 

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FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley
★★★★★
date read: November 15, 2018
Harper Perennial, 2018
originally published 1818

Not so surprisingly, I got a lot more out of this at 26 than I did at 15.

 

 

 

32075854MAGPIE MURDERS by Anthony Horowitz
★★★★☆
date read: November 25, 2018
Harper, 2016

Magpie Murders was a fun, unexpected, and delightfully meta love letter to classic whodunnits and of course to the queen of mystery, Agatha Christie. You get two novels for the price of one with this one, and each is twisty, clever, and engaging – not equally so, I actually thought the novel within the novel offered more intrigue and less predictability. Though watching literary-agent-turned-amateur-detective Susan investigate the mysterious death of her top selling author was fantastically entertaining. A must-read for all mystery fans!

 

35297339ASYMMETRY by Lisa Halliday
★★☆☆☆
date read: December 13, 2018
Simon & Schuster, 2018

Nope, not for me I’m afraid. Asymmetry is more of an experiment than a novel, and an experiment that didn’t warrant half as much tedium as what I found myself subjected to. I ‘got it’ but I didn’t find the payoff rewarding at all. There’s a good argument to be made that the first two sections were badly written on purpose (once you figure out from the third section the thread that connects the two disparate stories) but if poorly executed structural innovation is all it takes for a book to be lauded as a masterpiece these days I think we need to raise that bar just a little bit higher.

Have you guys read any of these, and what did you think?  Feel free to comment if you’d like to discuss anything in more detail.

23 thoughts on “mini reviews #4: horror classics and other fiction

    • Yes! I can’t remember the last time I was so invested in a protagonist getting what she wanted. I’ll be really curious to hear your thoughts on Asymmetry, it just really rubbed me the wrong way but I know plenty of people who adored it.

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  1. I have Asymmetry on my TBR. It sounded so interesting based on the blurb, but I’ve heard almost only negative things about it. So at least my expectations are low. I haven’t read Eleanor Oliphant and I’ve no interest in it so far (sometimes the hypes wears me down), but Convenience Store Woman sounds very interesting. I’ll add it to my TBR!

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    • Asymmetry is such a polarizing one, I know people who loved it and people who hated it but I’m not sure I know anyone who had a neutral reaction to it… which is interesting as it’s not a particularly incendiary book, it’s actually rather inoffensive, I just found it very grating for whatever reason. I’ll be interested to hear what you think. I totally support skipping Eleanor Oliphant and reading Convenience Store Woman instead!

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  2. Spot on review of Convenience Store Woman! I’m still thinking about that funny little book, especially when I’m trying to discern whether I’m making decisions based on what I want or what I think it is “normal” to want.

    And I put Asymmetry back on my TBR after Obama listed it as one of his favorites of 2018, but I’m going in with some apprehension based on your thoughts and my general wariness of critics going crazy for a book that has such transparent ties to the publishing world and the literary gossip mill.

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    • The more I think about Convenience Store Woman the more I love it, I should probably change my rating to 5 stars to be honest. It’s rare that a novel can get me to reflect on my own behavior but that’s exactly the reaction I had to it.

      I would be SO interested to hear your thoughts on Asymmetry, a few of my Goodreads friends have taken umbrage at my negative rating and it’s clearly one of those books that inspires strong reactions (which is kind of ironic given that I found it so dull and middling). I find the critical acclaim so frustrating when the narrative around this book and Halliday’s relationship with Roth is clearly what’s driving sales more than the actual content. The whole thing is just so self-congratulatory and you’re right, utterly transparent. Also, between this and Fates and Furies I think I need to accept that Obama and I don’t have a whole lot of common ground with fiction 😦

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    • Yes! I really want to read it again at some point, now that I know what to expect from it. I was kind of impatient with the first half of it and I’m sure there’s a lot of brilliance I missed.

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