A really, really late June wrap up

I’ve been working like a maniac for the last few months – I have two part time jobs, which in theory don’t even add up to full time but in reality add up to pretty frequently working for twelve days straight – and at the beginning of this month, I crashed HARD. The result of this was that I spent all of my time watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race and none of it writing blog posts, so my June wrap up is going up on the 24th of July.

Sympathy by Olivia Sudjic
This was one of my most anticipated releases of 2017, having read about it back at the beginning of the year. Unfortunately, I ended up being disappointed. It’s a book about stalking and obsession, but it’s not as creepy as it should be, the narrator is supposed to be unreliable but the only steps taken towards actually making her unreliable are like two occasions when the timeline is off and at the end she says that most of it was probably lies, which is just not effective. It also comes to the conclusion SOCIAL MEDIA = BAD which is just not an interesting point of view.

The House in Smyrna by Tatiana Salem Levy
I loved this as I read it, but because it was now over a month ago, I don’t remember it particularly strongly. I think that’s partly a result of how short it is – there are four or five story strands in under two hundred pages and while I like short novels, I just got so little time with each part that I’ve mostly forgotten them. There is some really memorable, awful description of an abusive relationship, which is done really effectively so that even before the abuse starts, you know the relationship isn’t healthy but couldn’t necessarily identify why. It’s very uncomfortable reading.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
I’m super into Greek myth retellings at the moment and this is an LGBT twist on Achilles. I absolutely ADORED this book, it was one of those books I just couldn’t stop reading. It won the Women’s Prize a few years ago and it really just proved to me why it is that I follow that prize: they reward really enjoyable, readable books, even if they are “commercial” (whatever the fuck that means).

The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell
This is the upcoming offering from the author of How to Train Your Dragon, which I loved as a kid, and it’s about a Britain where magic exists, set thousands of years ago. I really enjoyed it, but this is the first time I’ve had a proof of an illustrated book and a lot of the illustrations obviously aren’t ready yet so there were just empty spaces, which meant some of the effect was lost.

Bluets by Maggie Nelson
This was my first Maggie Nelson, and I think I went about it the wrong way. Because it’s so short, and because the vignettes feel almost like poetry, I read it all in one go, but actually I think I should have read it in a lot of short bursts. It’s incredibly clever and made me think a lot, but I needed to give it some breathing room.

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami
Having loved The Nakano Thrift Shop, I had to pick up Kawakami’s earlier novel (at least it was published in the UK earlier, I don’t actually know what the original publication order was in Japan). It’s about a woman in her late thirties who slowly, hesitantly falls in love and forms a relationship with her former teacher. Much like The Nakano Thrift Shop, it is deeply melancholic and moving, despite very little happening.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell 
This was a reread for me, and a first listen to the audiobook. It’s primarily narrated by Rebecca Lowman, who does a really fantastic job, particularly with Levi. I love this book, and when a migraine hit last month, it saved me from dying of boredom while I was lying in a darkened room unable to do anything.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
As we know, I am a giant snob and I had somewhat dismissed this book for being popular (honestly Molly what is wrong with you), and it turned out to be fantastic. The thing that really made me read it is that I heard it described as like To Kill a Mockingbird set in Nottingham in the seventies (I love To Kill a Mockingbird, I love Nottingham, it was a no-brainer). It’s not really that, although I can see why you’d describe it that way. It switches narrators between a ten-year-old girl and the adults who live on her cul-de-sac, and I personally way preferred the various adults’ point of view.

The DUFF by Kody Keplinger
This was another audiobook reread, just because I was in the mood for YA romance. In all honesty, you should just watch the film, it’s better.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
I loved this book. It’s Sally Rooney’s first novel, and she just has an incredible insight into the way clever young people interact and form relationships. The central thread is an affair between Frances, a student, and Nick, an older, married actor, but the progression of their relationship, while compelling is a backdrop to Frances’s inner life and the way she relates to the world. I identified super strongly with Frances, and so many of the conversations she has reminded me so vividly of my friends (although her friends are more intelligent and less mean than we often are).

Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith
With my craving for YA romance, I thought I’d try a new one, and honestly it just reminded me why it is that I just return to tried and tested romances. Many of them are crap. This one is a bit crap, mostly because I just don’t know why the narrator would be so into the love interest, particularly when there is another, clearly nicer, guy interested in her.


The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami

I’ve never read Japanese fiction at all, not even Murakami. The only thing translated from Japanese I’ve ever read is Naoki Higashida’s The Reason I Jump, which is a non fiction account of autism, written when the author was around 13. (Side note – he’s just released another book which I am greatly looking forward to reading.) I’m bad with translated fiction – because I am able to read some foreign lit in the original, I have tended to think that reading in translation somehow doesn’t count, which is a) snobbery and b) just weird.

With the aim of correcting this gap in my reading, I requested The Nakano Thrift Shop from the publisher through work, in exchange for feedback or a review on the Waterstones website. It is set in a little thrift shop in a suburb of Tokyo, and the characters are the group of people who work there. There is Hitomi, the narrator, a young woman who has no real direction in life, Takeo, the abrupt, prickly delivery driver, Mr Nakano, the owner, an aging womaniser, and Masayo, his sister, an artist and hopeless romantic.

Image result for the nakano thrift shop review

I’ve heard it described as more like an interconnected collection of short stories, and while it definitely is episodic and you could argue that it is sort of presented like a collection of short stories, given that each chapter is titled with an object which comes into the shop, and appears to have a conclusion of sorts, I don’t think it is as vignette-y as that would imply. It is loosely chronological and there are plots which run throughout: Takeo and Hitomi’s relationship, Mr Nakano’s affair with an antiques dealer, Masayo falling in love with a man of whom her brother does not approve.

This is a look at relationships, love and sex, and the way that these things can falter and struggle, the awkwardness that we experience as we try to form relationships, with women given the primary voices and much of the power, both in the actual establishment of these relationships and in the discussion of them. This is not to say that these are all powerful, decisive women going after what they want from men; Hitomi in particular is hugely indecisive and often has no idea what she wants from Takeo, or struggles to voice it when she does know. But the power to begin or end this relationship often seems to be in her hands; even when Takeo appears to have decided against the relationship, it is within her power to change his mind.

This is a subtle, melancholic, hesitant book, which I believe is typical of Japanese fiction. It is slow, the characters aren’t enormously expressive, and I can see why, as I scroll through goodreads, there are a fair few two star reviews. But that is the beauty of this novel. It takes its time to tell a simple story, with an enormous amount of nuance. It is romantic and moving and emotional, but only if you’re willing to just sit with it and allow it to wash over you. It’s probably not for everyone, but honestly I don’t have a bad word to say about it, and I will absolutely be reading as much Kawakami as I can get my hands on.