Tuesday, 3 October 2017

What I Read In September.


I wrote one of these about both June and July and as they went down pretty well, I thought I'd do another. I've had quite an eclectic month in terms of books so hopefully there's at least one title that catches your eye!

The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing

The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing

I picked this up because Goodreads recommended it for me, and I was interested by the thought of reading some 1960s feminist literature. The Golden Notebook is about Anna, a successful writer and single mother, who keeps four notebooks: a black one in which she writes about her experience in Africa during WWII; a red one which details her experiences in the Communist Party; a yellow which contains her new novel, based on her own break-up; and a blue one which she keeps as a personal journal. As the book progresses, Anna attempts to tie these four strands together in a (wait for it...) golden notebook. 

This is an incredibly complex book. Not only was it well over 600 pages of tiny text, the structure felt quite hard to grasp. Each chapter is either part of the standalone novel regarding Anna, or part of a completely separate storyline as part of one of the notebooks. As the notebooks overlap and are non-chronological (in fact, the yellow notebook has entirely different characters as it is a novel within the novel - help) I found it really hard to know what was actually going on at any point. 

While this book deals with really important themes of love, sex, mental health, feminism and politics, I just couldn't really get into what it was saying because it took so bloody long to say it. This is very dialect heavy - if you're looking for a book where things actually happen, this is not it. There is quite a lot of navel-gazing and at times just straight up middle-class whinging. I fully respect that this must've been a groundbreaking book in its time, but it felt quite turgid and really hard-going at times.

I did really like that this book dealt with the separation of self: Anna keeps her various roles (mother, friend, political activist, sexual being) very segmented and finds it hard to tie all of these together (as she literally tries to do with the golden notebook). I think that's an issue that many people still find hard to reconcile and it was interesting to see such honesty about it, particularly in a book written over 50 years ago.

If you can make it through this, it does have some pretty interesting things to say, but I can completely understand why people would give up on this book fairly quickly.

The Snow Globe - Judith Kinghorn

The Snow Globe - Judith Kinghorn

I'm not going to say too much about this because I have a full book review coming on October 6th. What I will say is that this has had many comparisons to Downtown Abbey, and with good reason. The Snow Globe is the coming-of-age story of Daisy, who has lived a privileged, sheltered life but has a rude awakening in the Christmas of 1926. As everything she has known turns out to be tarnished, she finds herself having to rethink her closest relationships, and romance quickly becomes a complicated affair.

This is an easy-to-read romantic drama that discusses the complexities of families, and the struggle of head-vs-heart when it comes to love.

Whit - Iain Banks

Whit - Iain Banks

I tried this out because I wanted to read more Scottish writing, but when I first started reading this I didn't think it was going to be up my alley at all. When I realised it was about a cult-like religion called Luskentyrianism I was sure this was going to be an overly complex and boring book. Luckily I was very wrong.

Whit follows Isis Whit, a member of a religious cult that is cut off from the modern world. Isis is the Elect of God, meaning she is no ordinary cult member - in fact, she's the granddaughter and heir of the founder, Salvador Whit. Salvador founded the Luskentyrian faith after he was washed ashore on the Isle of Harris and was rescued by (and later married to) Indian twins Aasni and Zhobelia.

The Luskentyrians believe that those born on the 29th February (like Isis) hold special powers, and hold a Festival of Love nine months beforehand (I think you can work out what happens at the festival...). When Isis' cousin Morag, who is pursuing a career in London but is expected to be Guest of Honour at the Festival, writes to the cult to denounce their beliefs, Isis is sent on a mission to find Morag and bring her back to the Community. Isis' journey through a modern world she doesn't quite understand leads her to truths that have her questioning everything she's known. What will Isis do with her new-found knowledge?

I personally really enjoyed this book. It's full of humour and is very satirical, and I really enjoyed that it never takes itself too seriously. Banks' writing is so easy to read and the story was highly enjoyable. I loved seeing how Isis would deal with the strange and unfamiliar situations she was put in, but I have to say that I found the ending quite disappointing. I was hoping it would go a totally different way, but it didn't ruin the overall enjoyment for me. It is a fun and lighthearted book that was definitely required after The Golden Notebook!

The Body in the Marsh - Nick Louth

The Body in the Marsh - Nick Louth

I did a full book review of this here so I won't repeat myself too much.

The Body in the Marsh follows DCI Craig Gillard, who is investigating the disappearance of a woman he dated 30 years previously. Her husband, who has openly criticised the police for the mishandling of a sexual abuse case, has also gone missing, and human remains have been discovered in their house near the marsh. But with such an expansive area to hide a body, can Gillard find the truth about what happened to Elizabeth?

This book has an excellent storyline, with so many twists and turns that make it near impossible to guess what happens next. The suspense and tension remains at the perfect level throughout the book, and the writing is atmospheric and absorbing. I'd highly recommend this to anyone who loves a thriller.

A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away - Christopher Brookmyre

A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away - Christopher Brookmyre

Again, this was another attempt to read more from Scottish authors. I'm so glad I picked this book up, it was by far my favourite this month and I am desperate to read more Christopher Brookmyre books!

Raymond Ash is living a life that isn't what he'd expected. Far from the rock star life he'd dreamed of, he's married with a mortgage, a new baby and a 'grown-up' job as a teacher. Overcome with the responsibility and banality of it all, he visits Glasgow airport for an escape, only to lock eyes with Simon Darcourt - his ex-flatmate who apparently died in a plane hijacking years earlier.

In reality, Simon is known as the Black Spirit, is part of notorious terrorist organisation, and is planning an attack on British soil - and Ray has seen too much. Can he escape Simon's clutches, and foil his plan to wreak havoc in Britain?

This is hilarious, but it is definitely a black comedy. The subject matter is at times bleak, but the writing style is so wry and sarcastic that I found myself laughing out loud (I actually read the descriptions of Aberdeen in the first chapter out loud to my husband as they had me cackling with their accuracy). It starts off quite slow and pondering, but once the action begins this novel goes 0-100 so quickly! Saying that, I really enjoyed the sections that provided background information, and particularly Simon's development from marketing man to professional assassin.

I should probably point out that a fair amount of the dialogue is in Scottish slang (think Trainspotting) so there may be a little bit of translation work needed, but for other Scots I think this just makes the book even funnier. It feels weird to describe an action-thriller as funny, but it is. For me, this is an entirely unique and unusual take on the thriller genre, and I loved every second of this book.

So there we go, the books I read in September! Have you read any of these, or are any of these going to end up on your to-be-read pile? What has been the best book you've read lately? Let me know!

1 comment

  1. The Golden Notebook sounds like it would make my head implode trying to figure it out. I'm definitely adding Whit to my Goodreads to read list though, that sounds really good. I am in need to any suggestions I can get because I have 10 books to go to reach my 2017 reading challenge target!


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