book review: If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

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IF I HAD YOUR FACE by Frances Cha
★★★★☆
Ballantine, April 21, 2020

 

If I Had Your Face is a searing debut that follows five young women living in the fringes of South Korean society, each struggling to make a living for themselves.  Few books that claim to tackle misogyny are as successfully unrelenting as this one is; it’s a bleak read, but also a beautiful one. This seems to be pitched as a book about the Korean beauty industry, which it is and it isn’t; plastic surgery and makeup mostly litter the background of a couple of the narratives, as Cha focuses instead on the women who are actively harmed by cruel and unrealistic beauty standards.

This book’s main asset has to be the characters: it’s also been a while since I’ve read anything with characters this convincing.  Of the five protagonists, four of them alternate first person point-of-view chapters, and each of their voices is so distinctive I never had trouble remembering whose head I was inhabiting, which tends to be a common pitfall of similarly structured fiction.

Narratively, this falls a bit short; it wraps up rather quickly and at the point where it ends, you feel like it could keep going for at least another 150 pages.  One of the characters’ arcs felt unfinished to me.  And a few of the book’s key events feel rushed, even before the end.  But despite that, my impression of this book is largely favorable.  I don’t think I’ll forget this in a hurry, and I can’t wait for whatever Frances Cha does next.

Thank you to Netgalley and Ballantine for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.


You can pre-order a copy of If I Had Your Face here on Book Depository.

Anticipated 2020 Releases

It’s that time of year again!

This is one of my favorite posts to write, and I loved periodically checking back in on my 2019 list throughout the year.  I ended up reading 9/16 of those books (so far) which is actually a higher ratio than I was expecting, but also goes to show that this isn’t a strict TBR, just a list of upcoming releases that excite me at this very moment.  I also have a lot more this year than I did last year, and I’m sure I’m still missing plenty.

Summaries (italicized) are from Goodreads; publication dates are for the U.S. unless otherwise indicated.

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Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey
January 7, 2020
Knopf

“Miranda Popkey’s first novel is about desire, disgust, motherhood, loneliness, art, pain, feminism, anger, envy, guilt–written in language that sizzles with intelligence and eroticism. The novel is composed almost exclusively of conversations between women–the stories they tell each other, and the stories they tell themselves, about shame and love, infidelity and self-sabotage–and careens through twenty years in the life of an unnamed narrator hungry for experience and bent on upending her life. Edgy, wry, shot through with rage and despair, Topics of Conversation introduces an audacious and immensely gifted new novelist.”

I added this to my TBR the minute I saw it compared to Sally Rooney – which, to be fair, I know those comparisons are a dime a dozen, but it seems like there could actually be something to this one.  Stay tuned.

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Long Bright River by Liz Moore
January 7, 2020
Riverhead

“In a Philadelphia neighborhood rocked by the opioid crisis, two once-inseparable sisters find themselves at odds. One, Kacey, lives on the streets in the vise of addiction. The other, Mickey, walks those same blocks on her police beat. They don’t speak anymore, but Mickey never stops worrying about her sibling.

Then Kacey disappears, suddenly, at the same time that a mysterious string of murders begins in Mickey’s district, and Mickey becomes dangerously obsessed with finding the culprit–and her sister–before it’s too late.”

I’ve never read Liz Moore but a lot of my friends speak highly of her writing, and setting a thriller against the backdrop of the opioid crisis is a premise that really intrigues me.

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The Teacher by Michael Ben-Naftali
translated by Daniella Zamir
January 21, 2020
Open Letter Books

“No one knew the story of Elsa Weiss. She was a respected English teacher at a Tel Aviv high school, but she remained aloof and never tried to befriend her students. No one ever encountered her outside of school hours. She was a riddle, and yet the students sensed that they were all she had. When Elsa killed herself by jumping off the roof of her apartment building, she remained as unknown as she had been during her life. Thirty years later, the narrator of the novel, one of her students, decides to solve the riddle of Elsa Weiss. Expertly dovetailing explosive historical material with flights of imagination, the novel explores the impact of survivor’s guilt and traces the footprints of a Holocaust survivor who did her utmost to leave no trace.”

I just adore this premise – ever since I read that summary I could not wait to get my hands on this book.

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Abigail by Magda Szabó
translated by Len Rix
January 21, 2020
NYRB Press

Abigail, the story of a headstrong teenager growing up during World War II, is the most beloved of Magda Szabó’s books in her native Hungary. Gina is the only child of a general, a widower who has long been happy to spoil his bright and willful daughter. Gina is devastated when the general tells her that he must go away on a mission and that he will be sending her to boarding school in the country. She is even more aghast at the grim religious institution to which she soon finds herself consigned. She fights with her fellow students, she rebels against her teachers, finds herself completely ostracized, and runs away. Caught and brought back, there is nothing for Gina to do except entrust her fate to the legendary Abigail, as the classical statue of a woman with an urn that stands on the school’s grounds has come to be called. If you’re in trouble, it’s said, leave a message with Abigail and help will be on the way. And for Gina, who is in much deeper trouble than she could possibly suspect, a life-changing adventure is only beginning.”

I first encountered Magda Szabó when I finally read The Door earlier this year, which I thought was brilliant, so I’m eager to read more of her work.  This seems like a good place to start.

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Pine by Francine Toon
January 23, 2020
Doubleday

“They are driving home from the search party when they see her. The trees are coarse and tall in the winter light, standing like men. Lauren and her father Niall live alone in the Highlands, in a small village surrounded by pine forest. When a woman stumbles out onto the road one Halloween night, Niall drives her back to their house in his pickup. In the morning, she’s gone. In a community where daughters rebel, men quietly rage, and drinking is a means of forgetting, mysteries like these are not out of the ordinary. The trapper found hanging with the dead animals for two weeks. Locked doors and stone circles. The disappearance of Lauren’s mother a decade ago. Lauren looks for answers in her tarot cards, hoping she might one day be able to read her father’s turbulent mind. Neighbours know more than they let on, but when local teenager Ann-Marie goes missing it’s no longer clear who she can trust. In spare, haunting prose, Francine Toon creates an unshakeable atmosphere of desolation and dread. In a place that feels like the end of the world, she unites the gloom of the modern gothic with the pulse of a thriller. It is the perfect novel for our haunted times.”

Atmospheric horror is one of my favorite things to read, so this sounds like it could be a perfect fit for my tastes.

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My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
January 28, 2020
William Morrow

“2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.”

This sounds like it’s going to be all kinds of twisted and uncomfortable, and I cannot wait.

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The Truants by Kate Weinberg
January 28, 2020
G.P. Putnam’s Sons

“Jess Walker has come to a concrete campus under the flat grey skies of East Anglia for one reason: To be taught by the mesmerizing and rebellious Dr Lorna Clay, whose seminars soon transform Jess’s thinking on life, love, and Agatha Christie. Swept up in Lorna’s thrall, Jess falls in with a tightly-knit group of rule-breakers–Alec, a courageous South African journalist with a nihilistic streak; Georgie, a seductive, pill-popping aristocrat; and Nick, a handsome geologist with layers of his own.

But when tragedy strikes the group, Jess turns to Lorna. Together, the two seek refuge on a remote Italian island, where Jess tastes the life she’s long dreamed of–and uncovers a shocking secret that will challenge everything she’s learned.”

The Goodreads blurb begins with ‘perfect for lovers of Agatha Christie and The Secret History‘ – sold.

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The Island Child by Molly Aitken
January 30, 2020
Canongate (UK)

“Twenty years ago, Oona left the island of Inis for the very first time. A wind-blasted rock of fishing boats and sheep’s wool, where the only book was the Bible and girls stayed in their homes until mothers themselves, the island was a gift for some, a prison for others. Oona was barely more than a girl, but promised herself she would leave the tall tales behind and never return.

The Island Child tells two stories: of the child who grew up watching births and betrayals, storms and secrets, and of the adult Oona, desperate to find a second chance, only to discover she can never completely escape. As the strands of Oona’s life come together, in blood and marriage and motherhood, she must accept the price we pay when we love what is never truly ours . . .”

The only time I get excited at the prospect of reading magical realism is when Irish folklore is involved.  I think this could be a gorgeous book.  Plus, that cover!

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The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams
February 6, 2020
Doubleday

“A mysterious flock of red birds has descended over Birch Hill. Recently reinvented, it is now home to an elite and progressive school designed to shape the minds of young women. But Eliza Bell – the most inscrutable and defiant of the students – has been overwhelmed by an inexplicable illness.

One by one, the other girls begin to experience the same peculiar symptoms: rashes, fits, headaches, verbal tics, night wanderings. Soon Caroline – the only woman teaching – begins to suffer too. She tries desperately to hide her symptoms but, with the birds behaving strangely and the girls’ condition worsening, the powers-that-be turn to a sinister physician with grave and dubious methods.

Caroline alone can speak on behalf of the students, but only if she summons the confidence to question everything she’s ever learnt. Does she have the strength to confront the all-male, all-knowing authorities of her world and protect the young women in her care?”

It’s hard to say what exactly appeals to me about this blurb when, generally speaking, I have major ‘feminist dystopia’ burnout; but I think this sounds unique enough that it could be very striking.

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Daughter from the Dark by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko
translated by Julia Meitov Hersey
February 11, 2020
Harper Voyager

“Late one night, fate brings together DJ Aspirin and ten-year-old Alyona. After he tries to save her from imminent danger, she ends up at his apartment. But in the morning sinister doubts set in. Who is Alyona? A young con artist? A plant for a nefarious blackmailer? Or perhaps a long-lost daughter Aspirin never knew existed? Whoever this mysterious girl is, she now refuses to leave.

A game of cat-and-mouse has begun.

Claiming that she is a musical prodigy, Alyona insists she must play a complicated violin piece to find her brother. Confused and wary, Aspirin knows one thing: he wants her out of his apartment and his life. Yet every attempt to get rid of her is thwarted by an unusual protector: her plush teddy bear that may just transform into a fearsome monster.

Alyona tells Aspirin that if he would just allow her do her work, she’ll leave him—and this world. He can then return to the shallow life he led before her. But as outside forces begin to coalesce, threatening to finally separate them, Aspirin makes a startling discovery about himself and this ethereal, eerie child.”

Vita Nostra was one of my most pleasant reading surprises of 2018, so at this point I will read anything that the Dyachenkos and Julia Hersey publish.

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Weather by Jenny Offill
February 11, 2020
Knopf

“Lizzie Benson slid into her job as a librarian without a traditional degree. But this gives her a vantage point from which to practice her other calling: she is a fake shrink. For years she has tended to her God-haunted mother and her recovering addict brother. They have both stabilized for the moment, but Lizzie has little chance to spend her new free time with husband and son before her old mentor, Sylvia Liller, makes a proposal. She’s become famous for her prescient podcast, Hell and High Water, and wants to hire Lizzie to answer the mail she receives: from left-wingers worried about climate change and right-wingers worried about the decline of western civilization. As Lizzie dives into this polarized world, she begins to wonder what it means to keep tending your own garden once you’ve seen the flames beyond its walls. When her brother becomes a father and Sylvia a recluse, Lizzie is forced to address the limits of her own experience–but still she tries to save everyone, using everything she’s learned about empathy and despair, conscience and collusion, from her years of wandering the library stacks . . . And all the while the voices of the city keep floating in–funny, disturbing, and increasingly mad.”

I actually wasn’t interested in this book at all based on the summary, but then I read this tweet and I was instantly sold.  This sounds like it could be exactly my type of humor.

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The Snow Collectors by Tina May Hall
February 12, 2020
Dzanc Books

“Haunted by the loss of her parents and twin sister at sea, Henna cloisters herself in a Northeastern village where the snow never stops. When she discovers the body of a young woman at the edge of the forest, she’s plunged into the mystery of a centuries-old letter regarding one of the most famous stories of Arctic exploration—the Franklin expedition, which disappeared into the ice in 1845.

At the center of the mystery is Franklin’s wife, the indomitable Lady Jane. Henna’s investigation draws her into a gothic landscape of locked towers, dream-like nights of snow and ice, and a crumbling mansion rife with hidden passageways and carrion birds. But it soon becomes clear that someone is watching her—someone who is determined to prevent the truth from coming out.”

The publisher reached out to me about reviewing this book, and I accepted partially because I can’t resist a neo-gothic murder mystery, and partially because I have a friend who is obsessed with the Franklin Expedition so I figured I’d start here and see what all the fuss is about.

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The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld
February 13, 2020
Jonathan Cape (UK)

“In 1720s Scotland, a priest and his son get lost in the forest, transporting a witch to the coast to stop her from being killed by the village.

In the sad, slow years after the Second World War, Ruth finds herself the replacement wife to a recent widower and stepmother to his two young boys, installed in a huge house by the sea and haunted by those who have come before.

Fifty years later, Viv is cataloguing the valuables left in her dead grandmother’s seaside home, when she uncovers long-held secrets of the great house.

Three women, hundreds of years apart, slip into each other’s lives in a novel of darkness, violence and madness.”

I’ve only read one Evie Wyld – All the Birds, Singing – and had something of a mixed experience with it, but I loved Wyld’s prose and I love the sound of this book.

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Real Life by Brandon Taylor
February 18, 2020
Riverhead

“A novel of rare emotional power that excavates the social intricacies of a late-summer weekend–and a lifetime of buried pain. Almost everything about Wallace, an introverted African-American transplant from Alabama, is at odds with the lakeside Midwestern university town where he is working toward a biochem degree. For reasons of self-preservation, Wallace has enforced a wary distance even within his own circle of friends–some dating each other, some dating women, some feigning straightness. But a series of confrontations with colleagues, and an unexpected encounter with a young straight man, conspire to fracture his defenses, while revealing hidden currents of resentment and desire that threaten the equilibrium of their community.”

Brandon Taylor is great on Twitter, and I loved his short story Anne of Cleves, so I’m really looking forward to his debut novel.

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The Exhibition of Persephone Q by Jessi Jezewska Stevens
March 3, 2020
FSG

“Percy is pregnant. She hasn’t told a soul. Probably she should tell her husband–certainly she means to–but one night she wakes up to find she no longer recognizes him. Now, instead of sleeping, Percy is spending her nights taking walks through her neighborhood, all the while fretting over her marriage, her impending motherhood, and the sinister ways the city is changing.

Amid this alienation–from her husband, home, and rapidly changing body–a package arrives. In it: an exhibition catalog for a photography show. The photographs consist of a series of digitally manipulated images of a woman lying on a bed in a red room. It takes a moment for even Percy to notice that the woman is herself . . . but no one else sees the resemblance.”

I think I am either going to love this book or loathe it, and I don’t see myself falling anywhere in between those two extremes.  It appears to have so much that I love – feminism, art, commentary on the female body – but it’s also about pregnancy, which we all know is not exactly my favorite thing to read about.  So, I don’t know, but I’m going to be optimistic and say that I am really looking forward to this.

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The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
March 24, 2020
Knopf

“Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star glass-and-cedar palace on an island in British Columbia. Jonathan Alkaitis works in finance and owns the hotel. When he passes Vincent his card with a tip, it’s the beginning of their life together. That same day, Vincent’s half brother, Paul, scrawls a note on a windowed wall of the hotel: “Why don’t you swallow broken glass.” Leon Prevant, a shipping executive for a company named Neptune-Avramidis, sees the note from the hotel bar and is shaken to his core. Thirteen years later Vincent mysteriously disappears from the deck of a Neptune-Avramidis ship. Weaving together the lives of these characters, The Glass Hotel moves between the ship, the skyscrapers of Manhattan, and the wilderness of northern Vancouver Island, painting a breathtaking picture of greed and guilt, fantasy and delusion, art and the ghosts of our pasts.”

Station Eleven is one of my very favorite books, and I am up for reading anything by Emily St. John Mandel.  I have a couple of her backlist titles on my shelf that I should get to, but I know I won’t be able to resist picking this one up when it comes out.

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The Everlasting by Katy Simpson Smith
March 24, 2020
Harper

“Spanning two thousand years, The Everlasting follows four characters whose struggles resonate across the centuries: an early Christian child martyr; a medieval monk on crypt duty in a church; a Medici princess of Moorish descent; and a contemporary field biologist conducting an illicit affair.

Outsiders to a city layered and dense with history, this quartet separated by time grapple with the physicality of bodies, the necessity for sacrifice, and the power of love to sustain and challenge faith. Their small rebellions are witnessed and provoked by an omniscient, time-traveling Satan who, though incorporeal, nonetheless suffers from a heart in search of repair.

As their dramas unfold amid the brick, marble, and ghosts of Rome, they each must decide what it means to be good. Twelve-year old Prisca defiles the scrolls of her father’s library. Felix, a holy man, watches his friend’s body decay and is reminded of the first boy he loved passionately. Giulia de’ Medici, a beauty with dark skin and limitless wealth, wants to deliver herself from her unborn child. Tom, an American biologist studying the lives of the smallest creatures, cannot pinpoint when his own marriage began to die. As each of these conflicted people struggles with forces they cannot control, their circumstances raise a profound and timeless question at the heart of faith: What is our duty to each other, and what will God forgive?”

This summary sounds absolutely bonkers and I could not be more excited for this book.  This sounds like exactly the style of weird that works for me.  Plus, anything set in Italy is an automatic win.

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Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
March 31, 2020
Tinder Press

“Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet.

Award-winning author Maggie O’Farrell’s new novel breathes full-blooded life into the story of a loss usually consigned to literary footnotes, and provides an unforgettable vindication of Agnes, a woman intriguingly absent from history.”

(This is not the final cover, as evidenced by the extra ‘R’ in her last name.)  I’ve never read any of Maggie O’Farrell’s fiction, but I loved I Am, I Am, I Am and have been meaning to dive into her backlist.  But before I do that, I think I’m going to be distracted by her newest release, which sounds amazing.  (Plus it’s published on my birthday, so clearly it’s meant to be.)

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Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon
March 31, 2020
Doubleday

“Told in interweaving timelines organized around the four code names Nancy used during the war, Code Name Hélène is a spellbinding and moving story of enduring love, remarkable sacrifice and unfaltering resolve that chronicles the true exploits of a woman who deserves to be a household name.

It is 1936 and Nancy Wake is an intrepid Australian expat living in Paris who has bluffed her way into a reporting job for Hearst newspaper. She is fighting to cover the disturbing reports of violence coming out of Vienna and Berlin when she meets the wealthy French industrialist Henri Fiocca. No sooner does Henri sweep Nancy off her feet and convince her to become Mrs. Fiocca than the Germans invade France and she takes yet another name: a code name.”

So, I am typically not into this style of WWII historical fiction.  However, I had to do a lot of research on Noor Inayat Khan this year for my job, which naturally led me to quite a lot of research about Nancy Wake.  So when I saw this summary, I couldn’t resist.  Nancy Wake is incredible and I cannot wait to see what Ariel Lawhon makes of her story.

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Photograph: Jess Lowe/AFP/Getty Images

Lost, Found, Remembered by Lyra McKee
April 2, 2020
Faber & Faber (UK) – cover TK

“When the Northern Irish journalist Lyra McKee was murdered in Derry in April 2019 aged just 29, she was survived by her articles that had been read and loved by thousands worldwide.

This memorial anthology will weave together the pieces that defined her reputation as one of the most important and formidable investigative journalists of her generation. It showcases the expansive breadth of McKee’s voice by bringing together unpublished material alongside both her celebrated and lesser-known articles.

Released in time for the anniversary of her death, it reveals the sheer scope of McKee’s intellectual, political, and radically humane engagement with the world – and lets her spirit live on in her own words.”

The murder of Lyra McKee earlier this year was more devastating than I have words for, and I am so appreciative that Faber is putting together this anthology of her work.  I imagine that in addition to an incisive commentary on the current sociopolitical state of Northern Ireland, it will touch on what it was like for McKee growing up gay in Belfast, the subject of her letter to her 14 year old self that went viral.

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Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo
translated by Jamie Chang
April 14, 2020
Liveright

“In a small, tidy apartment on the outskirts of the frenzied metropolis of Seoul, Kim Jiyoung—a millennial “everywoman”—spends her days caring for her infant daughter. Her husband, however, worries over a strange symptom that has recently appeared: Jiyoung has begun to impersonate the voices of other women—dead and alive, both known and unknown to her. Truly, flawlessly, completely, she became that very person. As she plunges deeper into this psychosis, Jiyoung’s concerned husband sends her to a psychiatrist, who listens to her narrate her own life story—from her birth to a family who expected a son, to elementary school teachers who policed girls’ outfits, to male coworkers who installed hidden cameras in women’s restrooms and posted the photos online. But can her doctor cure her, or even discover what truly ails her? Rendered in eerie prose, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 announces the arrival of a major international writer.”

Another one that I think will be hit or miss for me, depending on how big of a thematic focus motherhood receives.  But the subgenre of ‘millennial women having mental breakdowns’ almost always works for me, so I think there’s a good chance I’ll like it.

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Lake Like a Mirror by Ho Sok Fong
translated by Natascha Bruce
March 10, 2020
Two Lines Press

“By an author described by critics as “the most accomplished Malaysian writer, full stop,” Lake Like a Mirror is a scintillating exploration of the lives of women buffeted by powers beyond their control. Squeezing themselves between the gaps of rabid urbanization, patriarchal structures and a theocratic government, these women find their lives twisted in disturbing ways. By an author described by critics as “the most accomplished Malaysian writer, full stop,” Lake Like a Mirror is a scintillating exploration of the lives of women buffeted by powers beyond their control. Squeezing themselves between the gaps of rabid urbanization, patriarchal structures and a theocratic government, these women find their lives twisted in disturbing ways.

This was first put on my radar by the publisher after I asked on Twitter for Malaysian lit recommendations, and it sounds like it could be incredible.

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Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh
April 21, 2020
Penguin Press

“While on her normal daily walk with her dog in the nearby forest woods, our protagonist comes across a note, handwritten and carefully pinned to the ground with a frame of stones. Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body. Our narrator is deeply shaken; she has no idea what to make of this. She is new to this area, having moved here from her longtime home after the death of her husband, and she knows very few people. And she’s a little shaky even on her best days. Her brooding about this note quickly grows into a full-blown obsession, and she begins to devote herself to exploring the possibilities of her conjectures about who this woman was and how she met her fate. Her suppositions begin to find echoes in the real world, and with mounting excitement and dread, the fog of mystery starts to form into a concrete and menacing shape. But as we follow her in her investigation, strange dissonances start to accrue, and our faith in her grip on reality weakens, until finally, just as she seems to be facing some of the darkness in her own past with her late husband, we are forced to face the prospect that there is either a more innocent explanation for all this or a much more sinister one—one that strikes closer to home.”

New Ottessa Moshfegh, need I say more?!  My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Eileen are two of my favorite books from recent years, and this one sounds even more up my alley than both of those did.

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If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha
April 21, 2020
Ballantine Books

“Kyuri is a heartbreakingly beautiful woman with a hard-won job at a “room salon,” an exclusive bar where she entertains businessmen while they drink. Though she prides herself on her cold, clear-eyed approach to life, an impulsive mistake with a client may come to threaten her livelihood.

Her roomate, Miho, is a talented artist who grew up in an orphanage but won a scholarship to study art in New York. Returning to Korea after college, she finds herself in a precarious relationship with the super-wealthy heir to one of Korea’s biggest companies.

Down the hall in their apartment building lives Ara, a hair stylist for whom two preoccupations sustain her: obsession with a boy-band pop star, and a best friend who is saving up for the extreme plastic surgery that is commonplace.

And Wonna, one floor below, is a newlywed trying to get pregnant with a child that she and her husband have no idea how they can afford to raise and educate in the cutthroat economy.

Together, their stories tell a gripping tale that’s seemingly unfamiliar, yet unmistakably universal in the way that their tentative friendships may have to be their saving grace.”

It sounds like there’s a lot going on here, and almost all of it appeals to me.

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What’s Left of Me is Yours by Stephanie Scott
April 21, 2020
Doubleday

“In Japan, a covert industry has grown up around the “wakaresaseya” (literally “breaker-upper”), a person hired by one spouse to seduce the other in order to gain the advantage in divorce proceedings. When Satō hires Kaitarō, a wakaresaseya agent, to have an affair with his wife, Rina, he assumes it will be an easy case. But Satō has never truly understood Rina or her desires and Kaitarō’s job is to do exactly that–until he does it too well. While Rina remains ignorant of the circumstances that brought them together, she and Kaitarō fall in a desperate, singular love, setting in motion a series of violent acts that will forever haunt her daughter’s life.”

I think this was pitched as a ‘for fans of Everything I Never Told You‘ situation, and that’s a comp that always gets me; but at the same time, this sounds unlike anything I’ve read before.

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Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski
April 28, 2020
William Morrow

“When university student Ludwik meets Janusz at a summer agricultural camp, he is fascinated yet wary of this handsome, carefree stranger. But a chance meeting by the river soon becomes an intense, exhilarating, and all-consuming affair. After their camp duties are fulfilled, the pair spend a dreamlike few weeks camping in the countryside, bonding over an illicit copy of James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. Inhabiting a beautiful natural world removed from society and its constraints, Ludwik and Janusz fall deeply in love. But in their repressive communist and Catholic society, the passion they share is utterly unthinkable.

Once they return to Warsaw, the charismatic Janusz quickly rises in the political ranks of the party and is rewarded with a highly-coveted position in the ministry. Ludwik is drawn toward impulsive acts of protest, unable to ignore rising food prices and the stark economic disparity around them. Their secret love and personal and political differences slowly begin to tear them apart as both men struggle to survive in a regime on the brink of collapse.”

Everything about this sounds heart-rending.  Sign me up.

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Strange Hotel by Eimear McBride
May 5, 2020
FSG (no cover announced yet – using UK cover)

“At the mid-point of her life a woman enters an Avignon hotel room. She’s been here once before – but while the room hasn’t changed, she is a different person now.

Forever caught between check-in and check-out, she will go on to occupy other hotel rooms, from Prague to Oslo, Auckland to Austin, each as anonymous as the last, but bound by rules of her choosing. There, amid the detritus of her travels, the matchbooks, cigarettes, keys and room-service wine, she will negotiate with memory, with the men she sometimes meets, and with what it might mean to return home.”

Eimear McBride is one of my favorite writers, but apparently she eschews her signature fragmentary style in her newest book in favor of actually writing in normal sentences, which is something that greatly intrigues me.

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Untold Night and Day by Bae Suah
translated by Deborah Smith
May 5, 2020
The Overlook Press

“A startling and boundary-pushing novel, Untold Night and Day tells the story of a young woman’s journey through Seoul over the course of a night and a day. It’s 28-year-old Ayami’s final day at her box-office job in Seoul’s audio theater. Her night is spent walking the sweltering streets of the city with her former boss in search of Yeoni, their missing elderly friend, and her day is spent looking after a mysterious, visiting poet. Their conversations take in art, love, food, and the inaccessible country to the north.
 
Almost immediately, in the heat of Seoul at the height of the summer, order gives way to chaos as the edges of reality start to fray, with Ayami becoming an unwitting escort into a fever-dream of increasingly tangled threads, all the while images of the characters’ overlapping realities repeat, collide, change, and reassert themselves in this masterful work that upends the very structure of fiction and narrative storytelling and burns itself upon the soul of the reader.”

I haven’t read Bae Suah yet, but Deborah Smith, say no more.

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Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh
May 7, 2020
Penguin

“Calla knows how the lottery works. Everyone does. On the day of your first bleed, you report to the station to learn what kind of woman you will be. A white ticket grants you children. A blue ticket grants you freedom. You are relieved of the terrible burden of choice. And, once you’ve taken your ticket, there is no going back.

But what if the life you’re given is the wrong one?

Blue Ticket is a devastating enquiry into free will and the fraught space of motherhood. Bold and chilling, it pushes beneath the skin of female identity and patriarchal violence, to the point where human longing meets our animal bodies.”

I feel like The poor Water Cure couldn’t catch a break there for a while in the book community, but I actually thoroughly enjoyed it, and Mackintosh’s second novel sounds like it could be even better.

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Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas
May 12, 2020
Custom House (UK)

“Catherine House is a school of higher learning like no other. Hidden deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania, this crucible of reformist liberal arts study with its experimental curriculum, wildly selective admissions policy, and formidable endowment, has produced some of the world’s best minds: prize-winning authors, artists, inventors, Supreme Court justices, presidents. For those lucky few selected, tuition, room, and board are free. But acceptance comes with a price. Students are required to give the House three years—summers included—completely removed from the outside world. Family, friends, television, music, even their clothing must be left behind. In return, the school promises a future of sublime power and prestige, and that its graduates can become anything or anyone they desire.

Among this year’s incoming class is Ines Murillo, who expects to trade blurry nights of parties, cruel friends, and dangerous men for rigorous intellectual discipline—only to discover an environment of sanctioned revelry. Even the school’s enigmatic director, Viktória, encourages the students to explore, to expand their minds, to find themselves within the formidable iron gates of Catherine. For Ines, it is the closest thing to a home she’s ever had. But the House’s strange protocols soon make this refuge, with its worn velvet and weathered leather, feel increasingly like a gilded prison. And when tragedy strikes, Ines begins to suspect that the school—in all its shabby splendor, hallowed history, advanced theories, and controlled decadence—might be hiding a dangerous agenda within the secretive, tightly knit group of students selected to study its most promising and mysterious curriculum.”

I mean… this kind of sounds like it could be the perfect book.

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Sisters by Daisy Johnson
June 4, 2020
Jonathan Cape (UK)

“After a serious case of school bullying becomes too much to bear, sisters July and September move across the country with their mother to a long-abandoned family home.

In their new and unsettling surroundings, July finds that the deep bond she has always had with September – a closeness that not even their mother is allowed to penetrate – is starting to change in ways she cannot entirely understand.

Inside the house the tension among the three women builds, while outside the sisters meet a boy who tests the limits of their shared experiences.”

I had something of a mixed experience with Everything Under – I was adoring it, ready to give it 5 stars, and then toward the end an extremely literal manifestation of a magical realism subplot kind of ruined things for me.  That said, I loved Johnson’s writing, and I love the sound of her new book, so, count me in.  Fingers crossed for less magical realism.

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Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
July 7, 2020
Dutton Books

“In the latest thriller from New York Times bestseller Riley Sager, a woman returns to the house made famous by her father’s bestselling horror memoir. Is the place really haunted by evil forces, as her father claimed? Or are there more earthbound—and dangerous—secrets hidden within its walls?

What was it like? Living in that house.

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.

Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.”

I haven’t even read this summary yet, but I am all aboard the Riley Sager hype train.  The Last Time I Lied didn’t entirely work for me, but Final Girls and Lock Every Door are two of my all-time favorite thrillers, so at this point I’ll read anything that Sager writes.

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Luster by Raven Leilani
August 4, 2020
FSG

“Edie is stumbling her way through her twenties—sharing a subpar apartment in Bushwick, clocking in and out of her admin job, making a series of inappropriate sexual choices. She’s also, secretly, haltingly figuring her way into life as an artist. And then she meets Eric, a digital archivist with a family in New Jersey, including an autopsist wife who has agreed to an open marriage—with rules. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscapes of contemporary sexual manners and racial politics weren’t hard enough, Edie finds herself unemployed and falling into Eric’s family life, his home. She becomes hesitant friend to his wife and a de facto role model to his adopted daughter. Edie is the only black woman young Akila may know.”

I love the sound of this – I don’t know what it is about books about young women exploring unhealthy sexual arrangements that appeals to me so much, but here we are.

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Hysteria by Jessica Gross
August 18, 2020
Unnamed Press

“In HYSTERIA, we meet a young woman an hour into yet another alcohol-fueled, masochistic, sexual bender at her local bar. There is a new bartender working this time, one she hasn’t seen before, and who can properly make a drink. He looks familiar, and as she is consumed by shame from her behavior the previous week— hooking up with her parents’ colleague and her roommate’s brother— she also becomes convinced that her Brooklyn bartender is actually Sigmund Freud. They embark on a relationship, and she is forced to confront her past through the prism of their complex, revealing, and sometimes shocking meetings.

With the help of Freud—or whoever he is—she begins to untangle her Oedipal leanings, her upbringing, and her desires. Jessica Gross’s debut is unflinchingly perceptive and honest, darkly funny, and unafraid of mining the deepest fears of contemporary lives.”

This sounds utterly unique and I am obsessed with that cover.


So, there we have it, at this point, these are my most anticipated books of 2020!  Are you looking forward to any of these?  Which other 2020 releases have caught your eye?  Comment and let me know!

book review: The Body Lies by Jo Baker

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THE BODY LIES by Jo Baker
★★★★★
Knopf, 2019

 

Despite not fitting neatly into the mystery/thriller genre, The Body Lies is one of the most tense, terrifying things I’ve ever read.  It follows an unnamed narrator (a normally irritating, overused convention, which is employed here with actual purpose) who takes up a teaching position somewhere in the north of England following a violent assault in London.  While at the university, she awkwardly attempts to mediate heated discussions on gender politics in her MA writing course, while receiving increasingly disturbing submissions from one of her students.

The Body Lies has a meta element that’s almost tongue in cheek; one of her students criticizes another for writing a detective novel which opens with the discovery of a dead girl, while Baker’s novel also opens with a dead female body.  But this book is a series of subverted tropes, of self-conscious commentary on these common, taken-for-granted elements that comprise so many thrillers.  It’s a razor sharp commentary and a compelling story all in one.

What also sets it apart from the genre is that the identity of the dead girl never really feels like the point.  For the first time… probably ever reading a thriller, I cared less about the mystery and more about the safety and the sanity of the protagonist, whose experiences as a woman in academia are all chillingly relatable.  This book isn’t the type of terrifying where there’s a serial killer lurking in the corner – it’s the sort of terrifying that hones in on the disturbing, oddly normalized commonalities of womanhood that are too easily accepted.  I raced through this, not because I was intent on getting to the bottom of the mystery, but because of the increasing sense of crushing dread that I couldn’t escape every time I attempted to step away from this book.

If I have to nitpick, I’d say the ending was let down by a too-long resolution which insisted on wrapping up every minor subplot in a neat bow, which is probably my least favorite way to end a novel, but I loved everything else about this, and I think it’s one of the smartest, most unsettling things I’ve read in a long time, that I’d encourage literary readers and genre readers alike to pick up.


You can pick up a copy of The Body Lies here on Book Depository.

book review: All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

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ALL MY PUNY SORROWS by Miriam Toews
★★★☆☆
McSweeney’s, 2015

 

All My Puny Sorrows is a beautiful book that I had almost no emotional reaction to: a fact that sort of surprised me (I had been assured so many times that this book would destroy me) and sort of did not surprise me (this seems reflective of the rut I have been in lately with my reading).  I don’t know if it was a wrong book/wrong time situation or if it’s indicative of something that was actually missing from the book, but I wanted more from this than it gave me, simply put.  Side bar: it does feel a bit cruel writing that, as Miriam Toews lost her own father and sister to suicide, rendering certain elements of this book in an autobiographical light – but it’s obviously not Miriam Toews’ life that I am reviewing.

This was my first experience reading Toews and what I did get from this book was a desire to check out more of her work – I’m interested in Women Talking in particular.  All My Puny Sorrows follows two sisters, Yoli and Elf, growing up in a Mennonite community in Canada.  The narrator, Yoli, chronicles her sister’s frequent suicide attempts, as the two of them attempt to come to terms with the suicide of their father some years prior.

It’s a heartbreaking setup, but where this book excelled for me was more in its intellectual engagement.  The irreconcilable tension between Elf and Yoli is rendered to perfection, summed up in this quote early on in the book: “She wanted to die and I wanted her to live and we were enemies who loved each other.”  The simplicity and the complexity (both, at once) of their relationship was this book’s strongest asset, and what kept me turning pages without any hesitation even as I had a growing sense that this book just wasn’t the right fit for me.

And a lot of that is ultimately down to its tone.  Dark humor in novels about serious subjects is one of my favorite things, but here it really let me down: the humor felt glib and forced and inorganic.  I never felt like I fully inhabited Yoli’s head and therefore I couldn’t quite follow the radical tonal shifts from melancholic to quirky and back again.  So all in all, a mixed bag, but I’m glad to have read it and I look forward to reading more by Toews, as I said.  More of a 3.5.


You can pick up a copy of All My Puny Sorrows here on Book Depository.

wrap up: September 2019

 

  1. Frankissstein by Jeannette Winterson ★★★★☆ | review
  2. The Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, translated by Sondra Silverston ★★★★☆ | review to come for BookBrowse
  3. The Need by Helen Phillips ★★☆☆☆ | review
  4. The Door by Magda Szabó, translated by Len Rix ★★★★☆ | review
  5. Valerie by Sara Stridsberg, translated by Deborah Bragan-Turner ★☆☆☆☆ | review
  6. A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore ★★★★★ | review
  7. Lanny by Max Porter ★★★☆☆ | review to come

Favorite: A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore
Honorable mention: The Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen
Least favorite: Valerie by Sara Stridsberg

SEPTEMBER TOTAL: 7
YEARLY TOTAL: 87

Other posts from this month:

September was also the month that Hannah and I hosted our very halfhearted readathon which Laura Frey dubbed ‘ARCS of Shame.’  Basically the idea was to read as many ARCs as possible in 2 weeks.  This did not go particularly well.  I managed 3 – Frankissstein, The Liar, and The NeedValerie was also an ARC though I didn’t manage to finish it in time.  3 ARCs in 14 days was… not my best work, and none of them became instant favorites, but at least I managed to knock out a few!  Anyway, I know a couple of you participated in this readathon, so thanks for joining us and I hope you did better than Hannah and I did!

Life updates:

Literally nothing.  I mean, I went to NYC for a weekend, but I already talked about that in my belated August wrap up.  The highlight of the rest of my month was probably seeing the Downton Abbey movie.  Which I did not think was a particularly good movie, but, I am overly invested in that show and in Thomas Barrow in particular, so… I was satisfied.  Oh, and I have become addicted to Love Island UK, thanks to Claire, who is the only person whose television recommendations I will be taking from now on.

OH, what am I talking about: the most important thing I did this month was create the Twitter account BadGoodreads with Ally and Rick, to… as Rick puts it, to ‘celebrate’ the Goodreads search engine.  Please follow us!

Currently reading:

 

Unbelievable by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong on audio (loving this), Cassandra by Christa Wolf (also loving this – but I put it aside for a little while because I was in this weird semi-book slump this month and the lack of chapter breaks in this book was not at all suited to what I was in the mood for – but I’m getting my reading inspiration back, slowly but surely), and Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb, which I’ve been reading for months now and which I’m determined to properly get back to in October.

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

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

The Guardian’s 100 Best Books of the 21st Century | reaction

Last week the Guardian posted a list of the Top 100 Books of the 21st Century, which, as lists like this are wont to do, has sparked quite a bit of debate on Twitter and booktube and in the comments section of the article.  I find stuff like this fun and terribly interesting, so I’ve been enjoying all of the heated discussions so far.

Kamil @ WhatKamilReads on booktube made a video about this list, breaking it into four categories: books he was happy to see on the list, surprises that he wasn’t happy to see, going through the top 10 one at time, and then listing what he thinks was missing from the list.  I loved watched this and it inspired me to use Kamil’s format to make my own reaction post, so, here we go.  (Also, Eric Karl Anderson has a great discussion video about the list here!)

I do just want to say right off the bat that I take all of these ‘best books’ lists with a massive grain of salt; quantifying ‘the best’ literature just isn’t possible and I think that in general people can get a little too worked up about something that’s ultimately so inconsequential.  So I am writing this post in the spirit of having fun: I’m not doing this in order to discern what Objectively Belongs on a list like this and what Objectively Does Not… these are just my very subjective opinions about these 100 books, of which I have read 16.

Happy to see on the list:

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara: I know you’re all sick of me talking about this book, so I’ll keep it short: I understand why this inspires so much ire in some readers, but it remains one of the most sensational books I have ever read.  Thrilled about its inclusion on here, even if I think it should be higher than 96.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin: One of the big surprises and delights for me was the inclusion of genre fiction on this list; so many lists like this all too readily dismiss the literary merit and cultural impact of genre fiction, so seeing a groundbreaking author like N.K. Jemisin get the credit she deserves on this list was excellent.  Even if I do still need to finish this series.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones: Another huge surprise, not least of all because Tokarczuk’s novel Flights is the one that’s made a much bigger splash in the English-speaking world with its 2018 Man Booker International win.  I haven’t read Flights, but I thought Drive Your Plow was terrific.

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker: Another huge surprise to see this one over the oft-compared (and in my opinion inferior) Circe by Madeline Miller.  ‘Feminist mythology’ has become quite the publishing trend in the last few years, and The Silence of the Girls remains the best novel I have read from this subcategory.

Women & Power by Mary Beard: The inclusion of nonfiction on this list is interesting as well.  Women & Power is essentially one of those ‘feminism 101’ books, but I can’t help but to favor this one over other comparable titles I’ve read like We Should All Be Feminists, because Beard’s approach to writing these essays through the lens of a classicist added a spin that made this collection really speak to my own tastes as a reader.

Human Chain by Seamus Heaney: This was fortuitous as I only read this poetry collection a few months ago, but it instantly became an all-time favorite of the genre.  You can read one of the poems that most struck me from this collection here.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel: Another huge surprise and a huge delight; I read this after falling in love with its musical adaptation, and Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir did not even begin to disappoint.  This book is a great gateway into graphic novels (or memoirs), as Bechdel’s prose itself is the star of this book, I think.

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson: One of the best memoirs I’ve read in recent years, The Argonauts is frank and raw and candid and all of those overused adjectives.  But even if the adjectives are done to death, this book is so singular.

Normal People by Sally Rooney: It’s inferior to her debut Conversations With Friends, in my opinion, but the cultural stamp that Sally Rooney has left on contemporary literary fiction cannot be ignored, and I am thrilled to see her recognized on here.

Surprises I’m not happy to see on the list:

Compared to the list of books I’m happy about, this list is much shorter!

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry: What’s the opposite of a problematic fave – something that you think is so objectively good that you feel problematic for not loving it?  That’s how I feel about this book.  On the one hand I’m not unhappy to see this queer epic on the list… and on the other hand I hated the experience of reading this book too much to fully get on board here.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin: I’ve only read a few books by Toibin and I think he is an excellent writer, but I remain unimpressed by Brooklyn, his rather by-the-book Irish immigration saga.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon: I’ve read this twice: once in high school (loved it) and once many years later for a book club (hated it).  I understand why this is a bestseller but I don’t think it goes deep enough into anything to really achieve what it’s trying to do.

There are other books like Gone Girl on the list that made me go ‘… really, that one?’  But I haven’t read Gone Girl so I don’t feel like I’m in a place to pass judgement.  Similarly, with something like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, my gut reaction was ‘… really?’ but of course, it’s hard to argue that book’s cultural impact (and ditto Gone Girl, to be honest), so maybe my inner literary snob should quiet down.  Especially as The Guardian was curiously vague about their criteria for this list: are we being literal about the word ‘best,’ or are we interpreting ‘best’ as ‘most influential’?

The top 10:

Spoiler alert: I have read one (1).

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: I haven’t been a fan of Ngozi Adichie’s nonfiction, but I have been wanting to give her fiction a shot.  All I have to say about this one is that I’m shocked that it’s this title and not Americanah.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell: I’ve read one Mitchell – Black Swan Green – which I loved, but which I fully understand is the least David Mitchell-y of his books, so I probably shouldn’t use it as an indicator of what his fiction is normally like.  I would like to read more from him, though, and I’m not surprised to see this here.

Autumn by Ali Smith: A surprise, and a welcome one!  I adore Ali Smith, but I have not yet read anything from her seasonal quartet.  I’m sure I will love it though.  I would have put How to be Both on this list, but I obviously can’t speak to how it compares to Autumn; I’m sure Autumn does more to capture the zeitgeist, which does seem to be one of the rubrics in lists like this.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: Speaking of the zeitgeist; I have not yet read this (I know, it is a shame) but I am very happy to see a book that discusses blackness in the U.S. make the top 10.

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman: I tried to read this series as a child and never made it very far.  Not my thing.  But I’m sure it fully earned its place here.

Austerlitz by WG Sebald, translated by Anthea Bell: This is the title and author off the top 10 that I know the least about, so I’m afraid I don’t have much to say here.  Should I read this?

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro: My favorite book of all time.  So.  I approve.

Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich, translated by Bela Shayvich: I am dying to read literally anything by Svetlana Alexievitch, but my local bookstore never has her.  (I should probably start looking elsewhere.)  But I’m happy to see her on here; as a Nobel Prize winner you can’t really argue her significance.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson: I’ll be honest – none of Marilynne Robinson’s books appeal to me at a glance.  But I’ve heard so many brilliant things that I should probably bite the bullet one of these days.  I’m sure it’s a very real possibility that I will end up loving her.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel: And another one that I feel a bit guilty for not having read!  I’m not at all surprised to see this here but a little surprised to see it take the coveted spot, especially over Never Let Me Go, but everyone who loves this book simply raves about Mantel’s skill.  I’m intrigued.

What’s missing:

Translated literature: this is one of the elephants in the room that I keep seeing discussed – obviously when you call your list the ‘best books of the 21st century,’ claiming that 86 of them are from English-speaking countries is… pretty bold.  But of course, I’m not sure we could really expect much else from a UK publication.  That said, there are some huge omissions of the translated lit variety: The Vegetarian and Human Acts by Han Kang, Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (even if I did not personally like this one).

Booker winners: given that the Booker’s tagline is ‘finest fiction,’ you’d think it would have zeroed in on a few more of the ‘best’ books of the 21st century, yes?  Some shocking omissions for me were Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, Milkman by Anna Burns, A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, Life of Pi by Yan Martel, and The Sea by John Banville (though I have not read the latter three).

Other: just a few more that I might have included.

I’m not going to go through these one by one.  But they’re good books.

So, that’s that.  What did you guys think of the Guardian list?  How many have you read off it?  Do you enjoy lists like this?  What notably omissions would your own list have included?  Let’s chat!

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