CONVENIENCE 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.)
THE 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.
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.
MAGPIE MURDERS by Anthony Horowitz
date read: November 25, 2018
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!
ASYMMETRY 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.