This January I made a conscious decision to hibernate. Pretend like January wasn’t happening. Like I wasn’t back into the routine of lunch prepping, commuting and other tedious facts of life. Every evening, after the kids had been put to bed, (the eldest of which was always not necessarily actually asleep, using this as a time to be at his most charming, talkative and inquisitive. Nice try, pal, go to bed.) I would get under my own duvet with a book.
As such I’ve been able to get through a few books already this month. I read really quickly, so sometimes I forget the details of a book as soon as I’ve put it down, remembering only if I loved it or hated it. I’m going to try and write a few lines on every book I read this year, as a personal aide memoir, and also as a way to do more writing and improve my vocabulary beyond, ‘it was really good.’ Here’s a little summary of some of the things I’ve read so far. Once February comes I have told myself I will have to abandon my duvet and engage with the world again, so I’m making the most of the winter nights whilst I can.
Midwinter Break – Bernard MacLaverty
I’ve never read anything by MacLaverty before, but heard his newest release was one of his best, so ordered it from my local library. In this a couple in their sixties, long married, take a midwinter break to Amsterdam. One of them is more dissatisfied with the relationship than the other and ponders what it might be like to start anew. It’s the kind of novel, that could seem quite inconsequential as nothing of substance happens, indeed the major event of the novel is told only through reminiscences. But , actually, it’s not inconsequential at all. Both the message of the book and the characters themselves have a depth which you only realise as you put the book down. There is a lovely segment where the husband lists all the things his wife knows where he says, ” And she knew about love – how to make it and how to mend it.’ I found that heartbreaking. It’s about the mundanity of long term relationships, the compromises we make, the things we don’t say, and it is through this mundanity that MacLaverty reveals what love is.
Living the Dream – Lauren Berry
I picked this book up on Kindle because it was 99p and about two women in their twenties who were struggling to adjust to the working world and finding their place in it. Yes, I, a thirty eight year old, still identify with wayward twenty somethings. This was an easy read, and enjoyable for the most part. Berry was an editor for a feminist magazine and her political viewpoint is evident throughout the story, particularly in the abortion storyline. However, about midway through it’s like the writer kind of gave up and just wanted to tie everything up in a big happy bow. Everything falls into place a bit too easily for the two main characters, ultimately betraying any of the realism which existed in the earlier parts of the novel. But, I still enjoyed it as an easy read with a bit of bite.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman
Very late to the party on this, but deliberately so. I had been wanting to read this for ages, having read so many excellent reviews, but wanted to save it for a time when I could really indulge in it, rather than snatching time to read snippets whenever I could manage it. So on the 2nd January after waving good bye to my family who had been visiting, I took myself to bed at three o’clock in the afternoon with my kindle and a cup of tea. Is there anything more blissful than a book, a duvet and a cup of tea? Not for me, I’m afraid, not for me. I read the book in one gulp. I took on the slightly odd but endearingly likeable character of Eleanor as a best friend for the afternoon. It was heartwarming, but not saccharine and sweetly inevitable rather than boringly predictable.
Women and Power – Mary Beard
Given Mary Beard is a heavy hitting academic, I had expected this book to be a weighty tome of a book, but it’s actually a light pamphlet style. It’s actually an amended transcript of a couple of speeches she made on the topic, hence the brevity. Given it’s brevity you would be forgiven for thinking there isn’t much depth to it, but Beard manages to drop several truth bombs as well as posing several questions which you will ponder long after you’ve finished reading. She talks about women in power currently, Angela Markel, Theresa May, and says, ” we have no template for what a powerful woman looks like, except that she looks rather like a man.” She says there is no need for those with power to have celebrity status and cites the three black women who started the Black Lives Matter movement, and are relatively unknown. I particularly enjoyed her questioning of the current obsession with leadership and why it is assumed to be the key to successful institutions. I’d love to read more of her thoughts on this, as I loathe the emphasis on Women in Leadership events. As she is Professor of Classics, it is of course littered with classical references and comparisons of how they relate to modern day – needless to say these went way over my head, so the book left me feeling simultaneously mildly ignorant, angry and inspired. A pretty helpful combination, actually.
Single, Carefree , Mellow – Katherine Heiny
Katherine Heiny is one of my new favourites. I read her novel Standard Deviation last year, and have just finished ‘Single, Carefree, Mellow’ which is a collection of short stories ( it was released before her novel). She writes about people and relationships in a really dry, honest and realistic way. Both Standard Deviation and this collection are funny – in an oh my god that is actually what life is like kind of way. These stories are mostly about people who are in long term relationships and having affairs, and so they are about the secrets that we keep, the lies we tell ourselves and others, what makes a relationship good or bad. What makes a person good or bad. The characters are simultaneously awful and relatable – aren’t we all?