book review: A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

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A GIRL IS A HALF-FORMED THING by Eimear McBride
★★★★★
Coffee House Press, 2014

Having already read Eimear McBride’s sophomore novel, The Lesser Bohemians, I thought I was prepared for A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing. And indeed, I was prepared for McBride’s signature and singular prose style, a terse, choppy sort of stream of consciousness that mimics the incompleteness of thought. It’s a difficult style to warm up to: I’ve heard that listening to this book on audio can help, but personally I tried that and as I’m not an auditory learner at all, I found it much more comprehensible in print. So I think it does depend on your personal preferences, but once you settle into the rhythm of her words, it’s not as daunting as you might expect.

“Him anxious. Not at all like. But I am happy. Satisfied that I’ve done wrong and now and now. What now? Calm sliding down into my boat and pushing out to sin. He’s on the shoreline getting small.”

What I was not prepared for was how utterly gutting this book ended up being. This has to be one of the most intense, visceral, excruciating things I have read in my life – second only to A Little Life, perhaps? Just, don’t pick this up lightly. Trigger warnings for everything. Seriously, everything.

But it’s not just brutal; it’s good. Form, style, and content all dovetail here for one of the most perceptive examinations of the psychological toll of sexual assault that I have ever read. But more than that, this book is a raw and unfiltered look at sex, isolation, terminal illness, and sibling bonds, and though it’s relentlessly internal in its construction, a commentary on growing up as a young woman in Ireland beautifully underscores the entire thing. The protagonist remains nameless, something that I often find gimmicky and unnecessary, but here it works perfectly as a constant reminder of the narrator’s fractured sense of identity as she finds herself defined by the horrifying things that happen to her and around her as a young girl. This is a hard book to recommend as it’s so impenetrable at a glance, and so harrowing once you do get into it, but I think this is a book that is going to stay with me for a long time.


You can pick up a copy of A Girl is a Half-formed Thing here on Book Depository.

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wrap up: July 2019

  1. Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler ★★★★☆ | review
  2. Permission by Saskia Vogel ★★☆☆☆ | review | buddy read with Matthew Sciarappa
  3. Walk Through Walls by Marina Abramović ★★★★★ | review
  4. Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah ★★★☆☆ | review | buddy read with Matthew Sciarappa
  5. Rough Magic by Lara Prior-Palmer ★★★★☆ | review
  6. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, audiobook narrated by Colin Farrell ★★★☆☆ | review to come, maybe
  7. Lock Every Door by Riley Sager ★★★★☆ | review
  8. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk ★★★★★ | review to come mid-August for BookBrowse
  9. A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride ★★★★★ | review | buddy read with Callum, Hannah, Naty, Sarah, and Emily

Favorite: A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride
Honorable mention: Walk Through Walls by Marina Abramović
Least favorite: Permission by Saskia Vogel

JULY TOTAL: 9
YEARLY TOTAL: 72

Other posts from this month:

Life updates:

Another relatively uneventful month for me, though I did have to go up to Montreal for a few days to attend a press check for work.  If you’ve read Severance by Ling Ma, you’ll know what that entailed; it’s basically just overseeing the printing process for our books.  Kind of boring, kind of interesting, depending on your perspective.

I also finally got to meet an online friend who I’ve known for a couple of years, Claire Andrews, who I’d never met irl despite the fact that we live an hour away from each other.  So, I hung out with her for a day the other week and that was nice!  She also took me to a bookstore that I’d been meaning to visit for years, so that was another win.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Finally, I started a ko-fi page earlier this month, so if you ever feel the strong desire to support my blog by means of a hot beverage, there it is!  I want to stress that this isn’t something I view as an expectation – Jen Campbell refers to her Patreon account as a ‘tip jar’ for creators, and I like that comparison.  The very, very minimal monetary compensation I receive from this blogging endeavor is so helpful and so appreciated, but I’m happy just to be here chatting about books with you all.

Currently reading: The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story edited by Anne Enright, The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang, and Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb.  I was hoping to finish all of these before #WITmonth, but it was not in the cards.  I may finish the Kuang later today, but that’s a bit optimistic.  I’ll definitely finish it by the end of the week though.  The other two I may put aside for the rest of the month… who knows!  Enjoying them all, there just aren’t enough hours in the day and I really want to focus on women in translation for the next couple of weeks.

What was the best book you read in July?  Comment and let me know!

P.S. Follow me!  @ Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram | Letterboxd | Ko-fi

The Literary Fiction Book Tag

This tag was created by Jasmine over at Jasmine’s Reads on booktube.  I was NOT tagged for this by Claire from Claire Reads Books but we have since decided to advocate in favor of booktube/book blogging cross-pollination so I am doing this tag as a self-proclaimed ambassador of booktuber/book blogger relations.  Also I like literary fiction, as you may have noticed.

1. How do you define literary fiction?

Claire had a really good answer for this so I highly recommend watching her video, but I’ll try to come up with something.

I basically think of literary fiction as fiction that’s particularly concerned with style, structure, and quality of prose. That’s not to say that literary fiction has ‘good writing’ and genre fiction doesn’t (because first of all, ‘good writing’ is way too subjective to be a real standard, and second of all, that statement would be blatantly untrue), but in genre fiction, I see the prose more as a vehicle to move the story forward, and in literary fiction, I think the writing and stylistic choices dovetail more with the author’s thematic intentions. I also think an interest in social commentary is a common feature.

2. Name a literary fiction novel with a brilliant character study

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Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

Since Claire already talked about The Idiot by Elif Batuman (my go-to answer for any question like this) I will instead go with Conversations With Friends.  What I think Sally Rooney does so well is balance characters’ inner lives and interpersonal lives, and while I think she did that splendidly with Connell and Marianne in Normal People, I think it’s Conversations With Friends where her prowess at characterization is most prominent.  Each of the characters in this book are frustrating, complex, contradictory, and layered, none more-so than the protagonist, Frances, one of the most vivid characters I’ve ever encountered.

3. Name a literary fiction novel that has experimental or unique writing

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A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

I just finished reading this the other day so it’s the one that’s on my mind the most at the moment (and Jasmine also used this in her tag), but it’s honestly the perfect answer.  Eimear McBride has a striking prose style that can probably best be categorized as stream of consciousness, but it’s not the kind of rambling Joycean stream of consciousness that a lot of us think of when we heard the term.  Instead, sentences are abrupt, terse – thoughts begin and then cut themselves off and trip over one another.  It takes some getting used to, but once you warm up to the style McBride’s skill is undeniable.  She writes with similar prose in her sophomore novel, The Lesser Bohemians, which I actually read first, though I do consider A Girl if a Half-formed Thing superior in just about every way.

“I love the. Something of all it. Feeling ruined. Fucking. Off. I’m ready. Ready ready. To be this other other. To fill out the corners of this person who doesn’t sit in the photos on the mantel next to you.”

– Eimear McBride, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

4. Name a literary fiction novel with an interesting structure

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How to be Both by Ali Smith

It’s an obvious answer, but I’m going with it.  How to be Both is noteworthy for the fact that it’s a novel comprised of two different halves: one story is about a girl, George, living in contemporary London, and the other is about a painter, Francescho, in Renaissance Italy.  50% of the editions printed begin with George’s half, the other 50% begin with Francescho’s.  But rather than being two disparate short stories connected in a single binding, How to be Both is very much a novel, one whose meaning shifts ever so slightly depending on which section you get first.  It sounds like a gimmick, but it’s done brilliantly.

5. Name a literary fiction novel that explores social themes

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Milkman by Anna Burns

Set in 1970s Belfast, Milkman is a novel about the Troubles, which captures the atmosphere of social unrest with unerring precision.  Anna Burns perfectly brings to life this community characterized by paranoia and terror and distrust, and ties into that a searing commentary on what it’s like to live under surveillance as a young woman.  It’s both a universal portrait of femininity in times of crisis, and distinctly Northern Irish in its portrayal of the Troubles, tackling social themes on both micro and macro levels.

6. Name a literary fiction novel that explores the human condition

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Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I could actually use this book as an answer to every single one of these questions, but I have to put it here, because I have never read another book that offers more of an unapologetic examination of what it means to be human.  It’s hard to talk about this novel’s plot as there’s a twist partway through that reframes the entire narrative and I think it’s best to go into it not knowing what that twist is, but, this is my favorite book, so I don’t know how to give praise much higher than that.

7. Name a brilliant literary-hybrid genre novel

I’m going to name a couple:

Literary thriller: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
Literary sci-fi: Kindred by Octavia Butler
Literary historical fiction: Human Acts by Han Kang
Literary erotica: The Pisces by Melissa Broder

Drive Your Plow: technically a murder mystery about a woman living in the Polish wilderness whose neighbors keep mysteriously dying, but it’s literary for the attention paid to the slightly offbeat prose style, and the fact that the narrative is less concerned with the murders themselves than their social implications.

Kindred: sci-fi because it’s about time travel, literary because the time travel is just a vehicle used to explore social themes of Civil War era slavery in the US.

Human Acts: about the Gwangju Uprising in 1980 Korea; literary for the prose style and unconventional format.

The Pisces: a woman has sex with a merman — but it’s literary for its highly intelligent commentary on love, loss, loneliness, desire, mental health, and femininity.

8. What genre do you wish was mixed with literary fiction more?

Given how much I adored The Pisces, I could definitely go for some more literary romance/erotica.  But honestly, I read across all genres, so seeing ‘literary’ attached to anything is a big selling point for me.

In an effort to further my booktube/book blog cross-pollination agenda, I will be tagging a bunch of people.  But feel free to skip it, obviously, and feel free to do it if I didn’t tag you!

Tagging:

Callum | Hannah | Sarah | Naty | EmilyLou
Karissa | Elise | Laura Frey | Laura Tisdall

Booker 2019 Longlist Reaction

It’s here, pals – the Man Booker 2019 longlist has been announced!

The full list from the Booker website, with links to Book Depository:

So, let’s go through this:

Already read: My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite and Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli.

The two Women’s Prize titles.  I’ll start with the one whose inclusion befuddles me the least: I predicted that Lost Children Archive would make the cut and it comes as zero surprise.  I had a mixed experience with it (review here), but I do think it’s a very accomplished book and I completely understand the love that others have for it.  My Sister, The Serial Killer… is actually the book that I liked more, of these two, but looking at some notable snubs (Ocean Vuong! Jan Carson! Colson Whitehead!) I can’t say that I understand why it made this list, other than that it appears to be the literary prize darling of the moment.  Make no mistake, I think it’s a good book.  But, good enough for the Booker, and better than On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous?!  Hm.

Will definitely not read: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann.

I’m one of those heathens who actually hated The Handmaid’s Tale, and I also hate sequels/prequels/spin-offs of things that were originally imagined as standalones (I loved The Hunger Games in college but I have no interest in the new book; I still haven’t read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, etc), so nothing about The Testaments appeals to me.  I’ll admit that I’m curious about Ducks, Newburyport, but not curious enough to read 1000 pages of like, four sentences or whatever it is, especially over a number of other books I’ve been wanting to read recently.  Of these two I’m more likely to read Ducks, Newburyport eventually, but certainly not by October.

Will definitely read: Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry, Lanny by Max Porter, Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson.

Night Boat to Tangier sounds so up my alley it’s not even funny (it’s the only Irish book on this list, and I’ve heard it compared to In Bruges, which is my favorite film – say no more), UK booktube has been raving about Lanny for months and I’m not convinced that I’ll love it but I’m curious enough to give it a try, and I’ve been wanting to read Jeanette Winterson for ages, and I love Frankenstein so this seems like a good place to start.

And… the rest.

Of these I think I’m most likely to read The Man Who Saw Everything.  I’m kind of curious about Girl, Woman, Other, but it’s a bit long so I’ll wait to hear some more assessments of it before making my decision.  Apparently An Orchestra of Minorities has something to do with the Odyssey, so I should probably be excited about it, but I’ve heard a few too many lukewarm things.  But, maybe.  Sci-fi/dystopia isn’t my thing, so The Wall isn’t at the top of my list, but who knows.  I didn’t even know there was a new Salman Rushdie, which makes me feel like I’ve been living on another planet, but at a glance I can’t say I’m terribly interested by it.  I think the Elif Shafak sounds kind of terrible (I’m really, really not into ‘in the moments before they die’ stories), but I could probably be convinced to read it if I read enough rave reviews.

So, overall?

Needless to say, I will not be reading this entire longlist, which I’m actually really happy about.  I’ve already publicly pledged my allegiance to Women in Translation Month, and I’m really looking forward to my TBR.  I was so nervous that I was going to see a list of 13 titles that sounded super enticing to me, so I’m selfishly pleased that that’s not the case.  (Also, apologies if you follow me specifically for my Booker coverage – but for my own sanity, I can’t do this every year.)

But once I take a step back from my selfish happiness over not loving this list, I must confess to being disappointed.  This is certainly a list of literary heavy hitters, which makes a radical departure from the 2018 list which was filled with debuts and genre fiction, but honestly, I found myself much more inspired and intrigued by the freshness of last year’s list.  This list is… about what I was expecting.  There’s nothing egregiously awful about it at a glance, but there’s nothing that really excites me, either.

Also, moment of silence for The Fire Starters, hands down the best piece of fiction I’ve read so far in 2019.  I guess the Booker couldn’t do Troubles Lit two years in a row?

What are your thoughts on the Booker longlist?  Which titles are you most and least excited to see her?  What are you planning on reading?  What do you think was snubbed?  Let’s talk in the comments!

book review: Rough Magic by Lara Prior-Palmer

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ROUGH MAGIC: RIDING THE WORLD’S LONELIEST HORSE RACE by Lara Prior-Palmer
★★★★☆
Catapult, 2019

 

Rough Magic is a coming of age story, an interrogation of naked ambition, and a self-conscious meditation on English colonialism, all wrapped up in a thrilling tale of a 19-year-old girl entering and winning the most difficult horse race in the world. Lara Prior-Palmer’s underdog story couldn’t have been any more pitch-perfect if it were scripted: she entered the Mongol Derby on a complete whim, underestimated its difficulty, was dismissed by the other competitors early on, but still rallied to become the first woman to win the race and the youngest person ever to finish. But it’s far from the conventional sports memoir, as winning is never really the point, or even the goal, for Lara, whose motivation for entering the race is hazy even to herself.

This book’s greatest strength is something that often irritates me in memoirs: that Lara doesn’t have much distance from the experience she’s writing about (she won the race in 2013, her memoir was published in 2019). Had she waited 15 or 20 years to tell this story, it could have been more polished, more articulate, but that sophistication would have come at the detriment of its charm, its passion, its frenetic energy. Perhaps the most successful thing about this book is that due to her lack of emotional distance from it, Lara doesn’t place her own character development front and center; instead she takes us through the race step by agonizing step, showing us rather than telling us about the physical and psychological toll it was taking. This entire memoir cleverly circles the question ‘is naked ambition in and of itself a virtue or a vice?’ (a character trait she sees reflected in her main competitor, Devan) – and the few moments where Lara zeroes in on it have the emotional punch they’ve earned.

“Our pace slowed. I began imagining Clare and Kirsten catching us. Nothing is swift as thought—I felt it jumping through me. But riding in a big group just wasn’t efficient. It was a simple thought, and when it came, I knew the race had me.”

And then, shortly after:

“What if I wanted to win for myself, without wanting to beat Devan or please Charles or any other audience? It’s a lonely thought; I wish I were strong enough for it.”

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Photo credit: Richard Dunwoody

All that said, this book isn’t the easiest to settle into; Lara Prior-Palmer’s prose is almost a perfect reflection of her flighty, restless nature – she jumps from one thought to another with no preamble, she constructs an elaborate metaphor unnecessarily and follows it a bit too long. But there were also lines that I adored, that I found especially resonant (more than enough to compensate for the more awkward passages), like:

“I’m just so used to swallowing myself as I speak that I can’t help seeing self-assuredness as indulgent.”

So while I don’t think this was a perfect book (not that anything is a perfect book), I do think it was a really special one that I enjoyed reading immensely, that filled me with anxiety and excitement in equal measure. Lara Prior-Palmer is a fascinating, sympathetic, strong and vulnerable person who doesn’t spare herself for a second on the page, making this story as personal as it is informative about the Mongol Derby. I’d highly recommend Rough Magic if you like horses, coming of age stories, underdogs, memoirs about young women, or any combination of the above.


You can pick up a copy of Rough Magic here on Book Depository.

Book of the Month TBR

I’ve been subscribed to Book of the Month since… the end of 2016, I think? and I’ve been slowly breaking up with them for the past year or so.  Even though I skip most months I have yet to pull the trigger and cancel my subscription, but I think it’s going to happen very soon.  I’ve become increasingly frustrated with them over the years: their selection is appealing to me less and less (I feel like there was a lot more literary fiction when I joined than there is now), subscription price has gone up, the physical quality of their books has gone down, and they now charge you for the month if you forget to click ‘skip’ which is frankly ridiculous and a really insidious way to hold subscribers hostage for longer than they’re interested.

But I do still have a fondness for BOTM; it’s the only book subscription service I’ve ever used, and I enjoy the simplicity of it (I like watching unboxings but all the swag in OwlCrate and whatnot stresses me out; if I could have a subscription that did literary fiction and tea, maybe with the occasional mug, I would be very happy).  And waking up on the first of every month and looking at the selection will never not give me a thrill (except now they announce it randomly like two and a half days beforehand so there’s always a bit of a panic when I realize the list has been up for a few days and I’ve been wasting time by not selecting anything, but I digress).

I realize that most posts that specifically talk about a service tend to be more positive than this, so I realize this hasn’t been the best opening for BOTM-enthusiasts, but I just wanted to be honest about my experiences, which have ultimately been mixed over the years.  I’d love to hear from you if you also subscribe to BOTM, whether you have the same frustrations that I do or whether you’re still happy with what they provide.

I’ve purchased 28 books through Book of the Month over the years, and of those, I’ve read 19.  That leaves 9 that are still on my TBR.  I wanted to take a look at those now to hopefully inspire myself to pick these up sooner rather than later.

Going chronologically from publication date, with summaries from Goodreads in italics and my own thoughts below:

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Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Jason Dessen is walking home through the chilly Chicago streets one night, looking forward to a quiet evening in front of the fireplace with his wife, Daniela, and their son, Charlie—when his reality shatters.

It starts with a man in a mask kidnapping him at gunpoint, for reasons Jason can’t begin to fathom—what would anyone want with an ordinary physics professor?—and grows even more terrifying from there, as Jason’s abductor injects him with some unknown drug and watches while he loses consciousness.

When Jason awakes, he’s in a lab, strapped to a gurney—and a man he’s never seen before is cheerily telling him “welcome back!”

Jason soon learns that in this world he’s woken up to, his house is not his house. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born.

And someone is hunting him.

This is a textbook case of ‘the hype made me do it’.  Science fiction really isn’t my thing, but I feel like I’ve heard nothing but good things about this book, enough that I ended up adding this as an extra to one of my boxes a while back.  I still haven’t gotten around to picking it up (obviously), but I do still have FOMO about this one and want to pick it up before the end of the year.

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As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner

In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters–Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa–a chance at a better life.

But just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. As the pandemic claims more than twelve thousand victims in their adopted city, they find their lives left with a world that looks nothing like the one they knew. But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope. Amidst the tragedy and challenges, they learn what they cannot live without–and what they are willing to do about it.

I actually remember vividly that none of the selections appealed to me the month I chose this, but I had just been in the mood to buy a book.  So, here we are.  Of this entire list, this is the one that I’m most likely to unhaul without reading it, but the completionist in me shudders at the thought.  We’ll see.  If you loved this, convince me to read it!

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Still Lives by Maria Hummel

Kim Lord is an avant-garde figure, feminist icon, and agent provocateur in the L.A. art scene. Her groundbreaking new exhibition Still Lives is comprised of self-portraits depicting herself as famous, murdered women—the Black Dahlia, Chandra Levy, Nicole Brown Simpson, among many others—and the works are as compelling as they are disturbing, implicating a culture that is too accustomed to violence against women.

As the city’s richest art patrons pour into the Rocque Museum’s opening night, all the staff, including editor Maggie Richter, hope the event will be enough to save the historic institution’s flailing finances. Except Kim Lord never shows up to her own gala. Fear mounts as the hours and days drag on and Lord remains missing. Suspicion falls on the up-and-coming gallerist Greg Shaw Ferguson, who happens to be Maggie’s ex. A rogue’s gallery of eccentric art world figures could also have motive for the act, and as Maggie gets drawn into her own investigation of Lord’s disappearance, she’ll come to suspect all of those closest to her.

I have heard… almost nothing positive about this book, but the combination of feminism and art history in its blurb convinced me that it was something I was going to love.  I don’t remain quite as convinced at this point, but I do want to read this as Hummel is a local (Vermont) author.

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Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

Willa Knox has always prided herself on being the embodiment of responsibility for her family. Which is why it’s so unnerving that she’s arrived at middle age with nothing to show for her hard work and dedication but a stack of unpaid bills and an inherited brick home in Vineland, New Jersey, that is literally falling apart. The magazine where she worked has folded, and the college where her husband had tenure has closed. The dilapidated house is also home to her ailing and cantankerous Greek father-in-law and her two grown children: her stubborn, free-spirited daughter, Tig, and her dutiful debt-ridden, ivy educated son, Zeke, who has arrived with his unplanned baby in the wake of a life-shattering development.

In an act of desperation, Willa begins to investigate the history of her home, hoping that the local historical preservation society might take an interest and provide funding for its direly needed repairs. Through her research into Vineland’s past and its creation as a Utopian community, she discovers a kindred spirit from the 1880s, Thatcher Greenwood.

A science teacher with a lifelong passion for honest investigation, Thatcher finds himself under siege in his community for telling the truth: his employer forbids him to speak of the exciting new theory recently published by Charles Darwin. Thatcher’s friendships with a brilliant woman scientist and a renegade newspaper editor draw him into a vendetta with the town’s most powerful men. At home, his new wife and status-conscious mother-in-law bristle at the risk of scandal, and dismiss his financial worries and the news that their elegant house is structurally unsound.

It would be a stretch to say that I’m a massive Kingsolver fan since I’ve only ever read The Poisonwood Bible, but I did really love that.  I actually only picked this up because I was convinced that it was going to be a strong contender for the Women’s Prize longlist: obviously that did not happen.  Unsheltered has been polarizing, but I remain curious about it.

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The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.

Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.

Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations—a search for the truth that threatens to consume him….

I have a rule that I don’t read thrillers written by men (I find that poorly written female protagonists and using sexual assault as a plot point both occur much less frequently in female-authored thrillers; yes, I’m aware this is a generalization, sue me), but I’m breaking that rule twice in this list.  Further down it’s a favorite author who I discovered before I implemented my female-author-only thriller rule, and here’s in because this book sounds absolutely marvelous.  It’s a loose retelling of Euripides’ Alcestis, a play and a story that I adore, so I am very curious to see how Michaelides has interpreted it here.

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The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

When 11-year-old Ren’s master dies, he makes one last request of his Chinese houseboy: that Ren find his severed finger, lost years ago in an accident, and reunite it with his body. Ren has 49 days, or else his master’s soul will roam the earth, unable to rest in peace.

Ji Lin always wanted to be a doctor, but as a girl in 1930s Malaysia, apprentice dressmaker is a more suitable occupation. Secretly, though, Ji Lin also moonlights as a dancehall girl to help pay off her beloved mother’s Mahjong debts. One night, Ji Lin’s dance partner leaves her with a gruesome souvenir: a severed finger. Convinced the finger is bad luck, Ji Lin enlists the help of her erstwhile stepbrother to return it to its rightful owner.

As the 49 days tick down, and a prowling tiger wreaks havoc on the town, Ji Lin and Ren’s lives intertwine in ways they could never have imagined. Propulsive and lushly written, The Night Tiger explores colonialism and independence, ancient superstition and modern ambition, sibling rivalry and first love. Braided through with Chinese folklore and a tantalizing mystery, this novel is a page-turner of the highest order.

Historical fiction set in East Asia is one of my favorite things to read, and I don’t think I’ve read anything set in Malaysia before.  The magical realism element… makes me a bit nervous, but I ultimately decided to bite the bullet and give this one a try, since I just find the premise so intriguing.

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The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer

In 1940, Varian Fry—a Harvard-educated American journalist—traveled to Marseille carrying three thousand dollars and a list of imperiled artists and writers he hoped to rescue within a few weeks. Instead, he ended up staying in France for thirteen months, working under the veil of a legitimate relief organization to procure false documents, amass emergency funds, and set up an underground railroad that led over the Pyrenees, into Spain, and finally to Lisbon, where the refugees embarked for safer ports. Among his many clients were Hannah Arendt, Franz Werfel, André Breton, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, and Marc Chagall.

My biggest interest outside of the bookish world is art history, so I was never going to be able to resist this premise.  World War II fatigue aside, I think this sounds incredible, and I’ve heard some really amazing things about it.  I’m a bit intimidated by the length, but I shouldn’t be!

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Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

Based on years of immersive reporting, and told with astonishing frankness and immediacy, Three Women is a groundbreaking portrait of erotic longing in today’s America, exposing the fragility, complexity, and inequality of female desire with unprecedented depth and emotional power. It is both a feat of journalism and a triumph of storytelling, brimming with nuance and empathy, that introduces us to three unforgettable women—and one remarkable writer—whose experiences remind us that we are not alone.

I barely know what this is about but I think I’ve been told to read it four times this week alone.  Alright, I give in!

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Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents, all of whom are rich or famous or both. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen’s new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan’s most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Recently heartbroken and just plain broke, Jules is taken in by the splendor of her surroundings and accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.

As she gets to know the residents and staff of the Bartholomew, Jules finds herself drawn to fellow apartment sitter Ingrid, who comfortingly, disturbingly reminds her of the sister she lost eight years ago. When Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her, Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story . . . until the next day, when Ingrid disappears.

Searching for the truth about Ingrid’s disappearance, Jules digs deeper into the Bartholomew’s dark past and into the secrets kept within its walls. Her discovery that Ingrid is not the first apartment sitter to go missing at the Bartholomew pits Jules against the clock as she races to unmask a killer, expose the building’s hidden past, and escape the Bartholomew before her temporary status becomes permanent.

I haven’t even read the summary that I just copied and pasted here but in my opinion Riley Sager is one of the best thriller writers working today.  Final Girls is arguably my favorite-ever thriller, and though I wasn’t quite as enamored with The Last Time I Lied overall, I couldn’t put it down and I thought the final twist was all kinds of brilliant.  So regardless of what this newest offering is actually about, I cannot wait to dive into it.


So, that’s that!  Have you read any of these books, and if so, which would you recommend that I pick up straight away?  If you haven’t, are you interested in any?  And have you ever subscribed to Book of the Month, and what are your thoughts on their subscription service?  Do you have other [adult lit] book subscription services you’d recommend?  Let me know all your thoughts!

Women in Translation Month 2019 TBR

In case you’re unfamiliar with Women in Translation Month, or #WITmonth, this Twitter account is a good place to start.  But it’s pretty self explanatory: in the month of August, should you feel inclined, you can challenge yourself to read books by women (or nonbinary folk) which were initially written in a language other than English.  These can either be books written or translated by a woman, or both, and you can read one or ten or twenty or however many you like.  I wrote a little recommendations post last year that you can check out, and this year I thought I’d share my TBR with you guys.

I can already tell you this TBR is overly ambitious, but I want to give myself a lot of options, so here we are.  Linking all of these to Book Depository in case you’d like to pick up any for yourself.

 

I’ve been going a little NYRB classics crazy in my recent hauls, and I’ve been saving all of these for this month.

White Walls by Tatyana Tolstaya, translated from the Russian by Jamey Gambell and Antonina W. Bouis

This is a short story collection that I’ve had on my TBR for about a year (I THINK this was recommended to me by Ren but correct me if I’m wrong?!) but I only picked up a copy recently.  The amount of Russian lit I’ve read is painfully lacking (I actually think the only translated Russian book I’ve ever read is War and Peace) so I’m looking forward to expanding my repertoire a little bit.

The Door by Magda Szabo, translated from the Hungarian by Lex Rix

I put this on my latest 5 star reads prediction list without knowing much about it; sometimes you’ve just gotta go off a vibe.  Plus, introduction by Ali Smith!  Yes please.

Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang, translated from the Chinese by Karen S. Kingsbury and Eileen Chang, &
Little Reunions by Eileen Chang, translated from the Chinese by Weizhen Pan and Martin Merz

I’ve never read Eileen Chang before but I know Claire loves her and that’s good enough for me!  I’m almost certain I’ll start with Love in a Fallen City, but I picked up Little Reunions recently so I wanted to include it as an option here in case I’m up for both.

Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin, translated from the Chinese by Bonnie Huie

I feel like this is a bit of a modern cult classic that I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about.  I think it has to do with queer students in Taiwan; that’s all I need to know, really.

 

Valerie (or The Faculty of Dreams in the UK) by Sara Stridsberg, translated from the Swedish by Deborah Bragan-Turner

This is the only ARC I’ve got on this list.  I didn’t read any of the Man Booker International longlist this year (though I will be picking up Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk in a couple of days, which I’m not including in this post as I have to finish it before August), but The Faculty of Dreams, or now Valerie in the US, is the one whose premise excited me the most off that list.  And I have heard nothing but good things.

Purge by Sofi Oksanen, translated from the Finnish by Lola Rogers

This was another one of my 5 star read predictions; and again, I know next to nothing about it.  That’s my favorite way to go into books, as I’m sure you can tell by now.

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder

Ogawa’s collection Revenge was as close to perfection as I think I’ve ever read in a short story collection.  So I’m interested in seeing how her writing works for me in a longer format.

Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays by Christa Wolf, translated from the German by Jan van Heurk

This has been on my TBR for literally years.  Hannah has given it the coveted title of her favorite book, I adored Wolf’s Medea, I put this on my 2019 Backlist TBR (which I am kind of failing at – or at least, I’m behind by 2.5 books at this point).  Anyway, all things considered, I just need to read this immediately.  I mean, it’s a novel about Cassandra.  And then four essays.  There is nothing that could go wrong here.


I am almost certainly not going to finish, or even start, all of these books.  And I might end up reading a couple of other non-WIT things (I know I’m going to be seduced by the Booker longlist, but after my frustrating experience with the Women’s Prize this year I’m going to try to resist, so I can save some of my literary prize stamina for next year’s WP).  But this is a selection of titles that I am very, very excited about at this point.  We’ve got Russian, Hungarian, Chinese, Swedish, Finnish, Japanese, and German language books on this list and that’s a variety that excites me very much indeed.

What’s your favorite book by a woman in translation?  Are you planning on taking part in #WITmonth, and what are you looking forward to reading?  And have you read any of these books?  Come chat with me in the comments!  And if you’ve done your own TBR or recommendations posts for #WITmonth, feel free to link them here so I can check them out.