Jeezo, is it November already?! I’m quite behind on my reviewing and didn’t seem to notice the time flying by. I’ve read some great books over the past couple of months and even though I don’t plan to write a full review of them, I still wanted to write down some thoughts. Here’s the first batch…
The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín
I love Colm Tóibín. I loved his book Brooklyn and listened to a brilliant interview on the Guardian Books podcast which really brought the novel alive. The Testament of Mary was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year (which was won, in the end, by The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton). It’s a novella, a short little book that is more a monologue than a story as such. Everyone knows the story of the Crucifixion, but no one has really given Mary a voice before. I thought this book was very evocative, and perhaps it deserved more time than I gave it (I hurried through it all in one go one Saturday morning). The time and the place felt real and you really got a sense of the pain and miscomprehension Mary felt watching her son grow from boy to man to Son of God, into someone she could barely recognise. Part of me thinks this book went over my head a little bit, as so many people I’ve spoken to have thought it was wonderful. One to revisit and spend more time savouring, I think.
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
I bought this book as I thought the idea of a time-travelling serial murderer being hunted down by the one victim who managed to get away sounded great. It was such an interesting idea and there were parts of it that I really enjoyed, the murderer Harper was intensely creepy, the house he lived in shifted and changed and spurred him on to kill more ‘Shining Girls’, and the stories of the murders were quite harrowing. The story was clearly well-researched and the Boston setting from the Depression era to the nineties changed and evolved. There was an intricacy to the plot, with clues and symbols dotted throughout the text, linking the women and the different times and places. Despite that, I was overall pretty disappointed by the novel as I found the main character Kirby (the one who got away) a little irritating and I found the love interest to be utterly pointless – it just didn’t serve the plot at all. This could have been a great book but the narrative featuring Kirby wasn’t as strong as the narrative with Harper and that really let it down as about half of the book was dedicated to each of them.
May We Be Forgiven by A. M. Homes
This book won the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year (also up were Life After Life by Kate Atkinson which I loved and will talk about in my audio round-up still to come). The action of May We Be Forgiven centres around one man, Harold, who is thrown in at the deep end when his brother is involved in an accident, his marriage breaks down and he has to look after his brother’s family. I don’t want to say too much more and give the story away, as the story was pretty crazy. It keeps you on your toes and the storyline goes down unexpected routes, involving family betrayals, adoption of an orphan and an elderly senile couple, trips to Disneyland, a gay love affair between a teacher and pupil, and a covert criminal rehabilitation scheme. It sounds mad when you write it down like this, but it works. There is something uplifting about the novel, in the way that Harold manages to pull together a family of sorts after his own have come undone, and the characters begin to find peace after some pretty traumatic events. I’ve heard that A.M, Homes earlier novel This Book Will Save Your Life is even better so I will look forward to reading that at some point soon.
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
I have been meaning to read this book for soooo long. Ever since I saw the BBC TV adaptation and loved it, and then I started working at Canongate this still gleamed down at me from my bookshelf. I absolutely loved it, and it was just the type of thing I was looking for, a long weighty Victorian novel to get stuck into as winter starts to set in. I knew the story already but very much enjoyed the novel, it is the way the story is told that makes it so special, the way the narrator invites you in, whispering lasciviously in your ear and letting you peek through the keyholes into the underbelly of Victorian life that society tried so hard to keep hidden. The world that Faber creates is wonderful, bringing to life all of the sights and smells of all parts of London. The wordly-wise and smart Sugar (the prostitute at the centre of the novel) is an unforgettable character, and the innocent and dreamy Agnes (the wife of the man who hires Sugar as his live-in concubine) equally so. I’d also highly reccommend the BBC TV adaptation as it was wonderful too, and quite true to the novel.
The Apple by Michel Faber
I rattled through this the couple of days after I finished The Crimson Petal and the White, as I wanted to know more about what had become of the characters. There aren’t any huge revelations, just a few little teasers and these short stories are a pleasing way to dip back into the Crimson Petal world if you’ve been missing it. I’m looking forward to reading Faber’s first novel Under the Skin very soon – there’s a film coming out of it next year starring Scarlett Johansson which has been getting very good reviews!
I’ll have the next lot up tomorrow. What have you all been reading this autumn?