July was a slightly odd reading month. Which I’ve read pretty much the same number of books I normally would, it wasn’t until I picked up Birdcage Walk in the last few days of the month that I was actually feeling compelled to read. I just didn’t seem to be motivated to read, and while it wasn’t a slump, it certainly felt like one. It also marked the point at which I hit a slump on blogging, hence this post going up at the beginning of September
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
This was our Waterstones Loves title for July and August, and Penguin very kindly sent the shop a copy along with a packet of Skittles. Having eaten the Skittles, I felt morally obliged to read the book. That said, I really enjoyed it. It’s a graphic novel for the 9-12 age group and centres around a young girl getting into roller derby. It’s about finding your friends, understanding other people, doing your own thing and persistence.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Next up in my Austen rereads/listens was the big one. This was maybe the tenth time I’ve read Pride and Prejudice, and my second go around listening to this Rosamund Pike narrated audiobook. I love her performance of it, and obviously I adore the book.
Certainty by Madeleine Thien
Having totally adored Do Not Say We Have Nothing, I had super high expectations for this, which of course weren’t met (are they ever?). I did really like it, but the characters weren’t as vivid and the story felt altogether less coherent. As many strands as Do Not Say We Have Nothing contains, they still feel like one story, albeit a huge, sweeping one, where this had a lot of strands that lacked that flow, maybe because it jumps around in time a lot more.
Persuasion by Jane Austen
This is maybe the Austen novel that I remember the least from my previous reading. It’s said to be her most mature work, and that definitely rings true for me: I took a lot more out of this book at 23 than I did at 17. It’s a love story, of course, but it stands apart from her others. I find the description more vivid – while Austen is never overly descriptive, she really knows how to put you into a scene and this is probably the best example of that – and has a strong sense of how precarious her characters situations are, in their financial state, in the love lives, in their relationships with their families. If you think you don’t like Austen, a) you’re wrong and b) read Persuasion.
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
I bought this book in hardback when it came out, and I have carted it with me through multiple house moves, to France and back, and yet I had never read it. I think it just got over hyped and I always get put off when that happens. This is one of the few over hyped books I’ve ever read that I genuinely really enjoyed. It’s an unusual look at a potential apocalypse, more nuanced than you normally see in that genre and ultimately, I think, more hopeful. It also has the most realistic depiction of violence that I’ve ever seen in a dystopian novel. I blame the weird reading month I was having for the fact that I liked it rather than loved it.
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
I’m beginning to wonder whether I actually like Margaret Atwood all that much. I adore The Handmaid’s Tale, but of the other three of hers that I’ve read, I hated The Edible Woman and am pretty meh about Surfacing and now The Penelopiad. I got what she was doing, giving Penelope (wife of Odysseus) her own voice, but the problem was that it’s told very conversationally and casually, so she’ll just say X used to happen a lot rather than there being a scene in which X happens, which is just the absolute opposite of the show-don’t-tell rule. It’s just not very exciting, although it is quite funny in places.
Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore
FINALLY. I raced through this book, I could not put it down. You know sometimes, you read a book that reminds you why it is that you read at all? This was one of those books for me. It’s kind of sold as a psychological thriller, which it is sort of, but it’s also intensely political, as many of the characters are deeply involved in the anti-monarchy movement in England at the time of the French Revolution. It revolves primarily around the marriage of the daughter of a radical writer to an abusive, terrifying man. Its only real flaw was that it does that thing where there is a character who discovers some piece of information in the present relevant to the historical story, which I always think is an outdated technique which serves basically no purpose most of the time.
Often I Am Happy by Jens Christian Grøndahl
This is pretty much an old woman, Ellinor, reflecting back on her life after the death of her partner, who used to be married to her best friend, Anna, until she died in a skiing accident which also killed Ellinor’s husband/Anna’s lover. That sounds very soapy, but honestly this is a fairly slow moving, quiet book which is more about forgiveness and what constitutes a happy life than high drama. The scandal is there, but it is decades in the past and I think the point of the novel is that events like that don’t define a whole life. It’s also translated from the Danish by the author himself, so fair play to him.