Review: Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie

43305429Verdict: Unfocussed.

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction

Published by HarperCollins UK, 2019

Find it on Goodreads.

On an ordinary Saturday morning in 1996, the residents of Nightingale Point wake up to their normal lives and worries.

Mary has a secret life that no one knows about, not even Malachi and Tristan, the brothers she vowed to look after.

Malachi had to grow up too quickly. Between looking after Tristan and nursing a broken heart, he feels older than his 21 years.

Tristan wishes Malachi would stop pining for Pamela. No wonder he’s falling in with the wrong crowd, without Malachi to keep him straight.

Elvis is trying hard to remember to the instructions his care worker gave him, but sometimes he gets confused and forgets things.

Pamela wants to run back to Malachi but her overprotective father has locked her in and there’s no way out.

It’s a day like any other, until something extraordinary happens. When the sun sets, Nightingale Point is irrevocably changed and somehow, through the darkness, the residents must find a way back to lightness, and back to each other.

Following six different perspectives around the events of a semi-fictional tragedy, I could not properly make sense of the why of this story – why did the author need this particular tragedy to tell the story? Why is the tone so glib when the events are so tragic? Is this supposed to be a story about a community or about a tragedy?

My thoughts on this are complicated: while I thought there were chapters and scenes that really worked, there were also vast stretches that I could not get interested in. Therefore, a list of things that worked for me and a list of things that didn’t:

What I liked:

  • Mary’s perspective. I really appreciated Mary’s voice and her particular dilemma. I thought her character was interesting and flawed in a really believable way. I enjoyed the different parental relationships she had with both her biological children and with Tristan and Malachi.
  • The wonderfully layered sibling relationship between Malachi and Tristan.

What I didn’t like:

  • The structure was possibly the part of the book that I found least successful. It took pages upon pages to finally reach the point of the plane impact and afterward the book felt very different than before. The book gets better in the direct aftermath of the tragedy but by then I had already spent hours listening to character exposition. After that the book jumps ahead in a way that made it feel like much of the plot and the character development happened off-screen.
  • Everything about the way in which Pamela’s story was handled. I found it both predictable and horrifying, which is my least favourite combination.
  • Tristan’s perspective: while I thought his character was interesting, his voice never felt authentic to me – to be fair, I do not know that many 15-year-old boys, but still it felt stereotypical rather than authentic. And I really could not deal with his rap verses, especially during scenes when a lot of things were happening.
  • I am not sure I liked the way in which Elvis’ sections were handled but I do admit that I cannot completely put my fingers on the why of that. I disliked the choice to have him refer to other characters by harsh descriptions (“the bad Black boy” for example), and by the clumsy way in which commentary on race and gender was integrated in his sections.
  • The scope was too broad for me, dealing with everything imaginable (racism and sexism, abuse, ableism, tragedy and familial relationships, cheating and abandonment) while never really giving any of those things any room to properly breathe.

Overall, the worst part was that after each momentary glimpse of brilliance, the next scene would again be clumsy and ill-thought-out, making me sad for the book this could have been if it had been more focussed; its inclusion on the Women’s Prize longlist baffles me.

Content warning: depictions of racism, sexism, and ableism; abuse; abandonment; cheating; death of loved ones; bullying; PTSD; drug abuse

I am reading the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist this year. My current ranking is as follows:

  1. Actress by Anne Enright (review)
  2. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (review)
  3. Weather by Jenny Offill (review)
  4. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes (review)
  5. Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie
  6. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (review)

Not planning on reading: The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

Wrap Up March 2020 or it’s Women’s Prize Season!

March was weird, I am sure everybody will agree. And I am not sure April will be any less weird but maybe I will be more used to the weirdness by then? In positive news, the longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction was announced and I have started making my way through it – and for the most part I have enjoyed the books so far, although I am weary if that’ll stay that way.

Books I read in March:

  1. Love Her or Lose Her by Tessa Bailey: 2 out of 5 stars
  2. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes: 4 out of 5 stars (review)
  3. Weather by Jenny Offil: 4 out of 5 stars (review)
  4. Actress by Anne Enright: 4.5 out of 5 stars (review)
  5. Verge by Lidia Yuknavitch: 3 out of 5 stars
  6. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett: 1.5 out of 5 stars (review)
  7. Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby: 4 out of 5 stars
  8. Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie: 2 out of  5 stars

Favourite of the Month:

Actress. I did not think I would like this book and was then very happy when I did. It is so far my favourite of the longlisted books.

Stats(ish):

I finished eight books in March, all of them written by women. Of these books five were on the Women’s Prize longlist and thus fiction. I also read one romance novel, one short story collection, and one memoir. I also spent a lot of my time re-reading parts of the Psy-Changeling series because those books always make me happy. I did not completely read any of those books though.

Currently Reading:

Books I should get to soon:

I am still kind of planning to finish the Women’s Prize longlist (except for the Mantel) before the shortlist is announced on the 22nd. I am unsure whether that is at all doable but I am still going to try my best.

Women’s Prize coverage by other bloggers:

Rachel, Callum, Naty, Marija, Emily, Gilana, Laura

Review: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

44318414Verdict: Very much not my type of book.

My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction

Published by Bloomsbury, 2019

Find it on Goodreads.

“Do you think it’s possible to ever see the past as it actually was? I asked my sister. We were sitting in her car, parked in front of the Dutch House in the broad daylight of early summer.”

At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.

The story is told by Cyril’s son, Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. the two wealthy siblings are thrown back escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakable bond their lives and thwarts their futures.

Set over the course of five decades, ‘The Dutch House’ is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they’re together. Throughout their lives , they return to the well-worn story of what they’ve lost with humor and rage. But when at last they’re forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested.

“The Dutch House” is the story of a paradise lost, a tour de force that digs deeply into questions of inheritance, love, and forgiveness, of how we want to see ourselves and of who we really are. Filled with suspense, you may listen to it quickly to find out what happens, but what happens to Danny and Maeve will stay
with you for a very long time.

I knew fairly early into this book that I was not the right reader for it. That I finished it has more to do with the format in which I consumed it (the audiobook is narrated by Tom Hanks) than with any hope I had that it would get better. To be fair, there were parts in the middle that worked better for me – but overall, this is just not my type of book at all. It has been described as a modern fairy tale and that is true only in the worst sense: the story is neither magical nor lyrical but the characters are all as flat as the characters in Grimm’s fairy tales – they are Patchett’s puppet’s moving the story along, not always in ways which made sense to me.

To illustrate why I am not the right reader, here a few things I dislike in books, in no particular order: family sagas (check), historical fiction (check), evil step parents (check), flat characters (check), undeveloped female characters (check), incredibly detailed narration (check), people being treated unfairly (check), women hating women for no good reason (check), horrible parents (check and check). The structure could have worked for me as it jumps back and forth in time, which is something I often enjoy, but the storyline mostly just bored me. The rambling nature of the narrative worked best for me when there were the smallest emotional stakes: when Danny talks about his education or his real estate dabbling. Whenever the stakes were higher, I became increasingly frustrated. Part of that has to do with Danny being an omnipotent narrator while still being only in his own head, part has to do with how one-note these characters all were. For other people, this book has worked brilliantly (and I can kind of see why if I squint and look at this sideways), for me this was a frustrating slog following a character I found boring and self-involved.

Content warning: Death of a loved one, heart attack, abandonement, Alzheimer’s Disease

I am reading the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist this year. My current ranking is as follows:

  1. Actress by Anne Enright (review)
  2. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (review)
  3. Weather by Jenny Offill (review)
  4. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes (review)
  5. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Not planning on reading: The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

TBR: ARCs on my shelves part I (2020)

I have not felt the need to write up a post like this in quite some time – but I have quite a few ARCs now that I am super excited for and want to share that excitement. For many reasons, I am even worse at following TBRs than I used to be but some of these books I am so very much looking forward to that I am hoping to read and review these books before their publication date for a change.

49385085._sy475_The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mantel

Picador, April 30th

Station Eleven by the same author is one of my all-time favourite books, so you can imagine how excited I am that this newest book of hers is getting rave reviews. I need to carve out a day to immerse myself in what is likely to be one of my favourite books of the year.

47545450._sy475_Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh

Hamish Hamilton, May 7th

I really enjoy Mackintosh’s debut novel and am currently loving this one – I am about a quarter of the way through. Her prose is even better than in her first novel and I love the way in which she uses dystopian settings to explore human behaviour. People looking for a more classical dystopian novel are bound to be disappointed – but I get the feeling that this is just not the type of writer Mackintosh is.

44778722._sy475_The Shapeless Unease by Samantha Harvey

Grove Atlantic, May 12th

This is a non-fiction book about the author’s struggle with insomnia. I have read the first few pages and it seems like just my type of book. It is just the right mix of personal and experimental that I really appreciate in creative nonfiction.

52272255._sx318_sy475_Hex by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight

Bloomsbury Publishing, May 14th

A book about a failed PhD student, obsession, and poisonous plants sounds like it could be perfect for me. I am hoping for difficult women and introspective narration.

50186889._sx318_sy475_Sisters by Daisy Johnson

Jonathan Cape, July 2nd

I adored, adored Johnson’s debut and have been looking forward to her next book ever since. Her prose and imagination are just perfect and her brand of magical realism really works for me. I am beyond excited for this one, which focusses two sisters and their complicated relationship.

43301992Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford

Grove Atlantic, July 24th

The cover drew me in and then the blurb featured this brilliant sentence: “Against the vivid backdrop of the Red River, we see their struggle to survive in a world—of unreliable men and near-Biblical natural forces, like wildfires and tornados—intent on stripping away their connections to one another and their very ideas of home.” – and I could not not request this. I love stories about familial relationships and I am interested in the influence religious devotion can have on those.

51541496._sx318_sy475_Luster by Raven Leilani

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, August 4th

Honestly, this novel about a twenty-something woman getting caught up in a couple’s open marriage sounds like it could be similar to The Pisces, which is always enough to convince me to try a book – I have been chasing that high since reading Broder’s magnificent book about a horrible woman.

48637753._sy475_The Harpy by Megan Hunter

Grove Atlantic, August 11th

Again, a book by an author whose debut I really enjoyed, this also has possibly my favourite cover of the year. The premise of a woman whose husband has cheated on her and in return has agreed to be hurt by her three times sounds incredible – coupled with Hunter’s strong prose, this could be a favourite for me.

Review: Actress by Anne Enright

45993330Verdict: Incredible.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Literary Fiction

Published by Jonathan Cape, 2020

Find it on Goodreads.

Katherine O’Dell is an Irish theater legend. As her daughter Norah retraces her mother’s celebrated career and bohemian life, she delves into long-kept secrets, both her mother’s and her own.

Katherine began her career on Ireland’s bus-and-truck circuit before making it to London’s West End, Broadway, and finally Hollywood. Every moment of her life is a star turn, with young Norah standing in the wings. But the mother-daughter romance cannot survive Katherine’s past or the world’s damage. With age, alcohol, and dimming stardom, her grip on reality grows fitful and, fueled by a proud and long-simmering rage, she commits a bizarre crime.

Her mother’s protector, Norah understands the destructive love that binds an actress to her audience, but also the strength that an actress takes from her art. Once the victim of a haunting crime herself, Norah eventually becomes a writer, wife, and mother, finding her way to her own hard-won joy. Actress is finally a book about the freedom we find in our work and in the love we make and keep.

I did not expect to love this as much as I did.  I often struggle with historical fiction and I have tried to read Enright before but found her endlessly bleak – this book is the opposite of that. I found it clever and funny and absolutely incredibly well-written. The latter was probably to be expected – there is a reason Enright is one of the Great Writers of our time. I listened to the audiobook which she reads herself and this was such a genius thing to do – her narration is pitchperfect and works exceedingly well for the stream-of-consciousness feel of the book.

This book is, at its core, about a mother and daughter relationship, but it is also so much more: it is an impeccably structured love letter to human connection, it is a reckoning with sexism, it is a warm and kind and still wildly biting commentary on the arts and literature and I loved it so very much. (As is sometimes the case when I feel like a book is custom-made for me, this is more gush than review, please do bear with me.)

The book is told from Norah’s perspective as a winding inner monologue about her mother – famous theatre and movie actress Katherine O’Dell, told in parts to the narrator’s husband, in parts to a PhD student interested in “finding the woman behind the myth”. Enright makes the narrative style seem effortless but it is so impeccably done that I was swept along and got hit in the feelings at just the right moments. The prose and the structure are the obvious draw here – but I also loved the way in which the characters, especially Katherine and her daughter Norah are drawn. I found them real and believable and wonderfully flawed. The other characters are not always quite as sharp, but in a way this works for a narrator whose very identity is influenced so very much by her relationship to her mother.

While there were some plot developments that I did not completely loved, the overall reading experience was just too wonderful. Norah is such a brilliantly flawed character and spending time in her head was a delight for me.

Content warning: Rape, mental illness, death of a loved one

I am reading the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist this year. My current ranking is as follows:

  1. Actress by Anne Enright
  2. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (review)
  3. Weather by Jenny Offill (review)
  4. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes (review)

Not planning on reading: The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

Review: Weather by Jenny Offill

37506228Verdict: My kind of catnip.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Literary Fiction

Published by Knopf, 2020

Find it on Goodreads.

Lizzie Benson slid into her job as a librarian without a traditional degree. But this gives her a vantage point from which to practice her other calling: she is a fake shrink. For years she has tended to her God-haunted mother and her recovering addict brother. They have both stabilized for the moment, but Lizzie has little chance to spend her new free time with husband and son before her old mentor, Sylvia Liller, makes a proposal. She’s become famous for her prescient podcast, Hell and High Water, and wants to hire Lizzie to answer the mail she receives: from left-wingers worried about climate change and right-wingers worried about the decline of western civilization. As Lizzie dives into this polarized world, she begins to wonder what it means to keep tending your own garden once you’ve seen the flames beyond its walls. When her brother becomes a father and Sylvia a recluse, Lizzie is forced to address the limits of her own experience–but still she tries to save everyone, using everything she’s learned about empathy and despair, conscience and collusion, from her years of wandering the library stacks . . . And all the while the voices of the city keep floating in–funny, disturbing, and increasingly mad.

This is a very specific kind of navel-gazy book that works really well for me but might prove frustrating or even kind of empty for other readers. This is the kind of novel Sarah Manguso would write and I loved it.

The blurb makes this sound like a plot heavy book but it is very much the opposite. Offill has edited her book down to sparse scenes, short musings, and witty sentences. Much of the action happens off-page and only the ramifications are felt. I thought the easily readable prose actually hides how very thought-provoking this book is, and the brief scenes hide the emotional leg work she does with them. I found the sibling relationship at the heart of the novel impeccably drawn and highly emotional. People have talked about the anxiety-inducing spiral with regards to climate change the narrator is involved in, but I actually found the commentary on post partum depression a lot more difficult to read, for obvious reasons I guess. I thought the narrator’s voice imparted so much warmth towards her brother that I felt her helplessness in this situation acutely.

Content warning: Climate change, (emotional) cheating, post partum depression

I am reading the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist this year. My current ranking is as follows:

  1. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (review)
  2. Weather by Jenny Offill
  3. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes (review)

Not planning on reading: The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

Review: A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

42595255._sy475_Verdict: Competent enough.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Myth Retelling

Published by Mantle Books, 2019

Find it on Goodreads.

In A Thousand Ships, broadcaster and classicist Natalie Haynes retells the story of the Trojan War from an all-female perspective.

This was never the story of one woman, or two. It was the story of all of them…

In the middle of the night, Creusa wakes to find her beloved Troy engulfed in flames. Ten seemingly endless years of brutal conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans are over, and the Greeks are victorious. Over the next few hours, the only life she has ever known will turn to ash . . .

The devastating consequences of the fall of Troy stretch from Mount Olympus to Mount Ida, from the citadel of Troy to the distant Greek islands, and across oceans and sky in between. These are the stories of the women embroiled in that legendary war and its terrible aftermath, as well as the feud and the fatal decisions that started it all…

Powerfully told from an all-female perspective, A Thousand Ships gives voices to the women, girls and goddesses who, for so long, have been silent.

I am, in many ways, the perfect reader for this book: I have been interested in and reading books about the Trojan War for around 20 years, and thus have an emotional connection to these women already and general knowledge about what happened when in this sprawling story. But this also means that when Haynes makes character decisions I do not agree with, I super do not agree with them. My favourite book of all time is Kassandra – which should give you an indication how seriously I adore her. Also, as a side note, my favourite book from last year’s shortlist was The Silence of the Girls (which this book has been compared to without a break – something I will try to avoid in the interest of being fair to this book).

Haynes sets out to retell the story of the Trojan War from the perspectives of the women. She does so unchronologically – something I obviously enjoyed. She tells both from the perspectives of women close to the heart of the original myth and from those more at the periphery. For me personally, the perspectives by women who were allowed to be angry worked the best, while I thought some were less successful in their pettiness. The best parts, hands down were those narrated from the perspectives of goddesses. Haynes lets these creatures be exactly as otherworldly and still relatable as the orginal Greek myths describe them; especially Eris was just wonderfully rendered. I admit that those stories that I had the least fondness for, worked best for me – so maybe I was not the perfect reader after all.

My biggest problem, by far, was Haynes’ treatment of Helen though. I admit that I have a fondness for Helen, so this coloured my reaction, but I just did not enjoy the constant Helen-bashing the other characters indulged in – I found this detracted from what the author set out to do (based on her author’s note at the end). More than one character kept referring to her as “that whore” and this seems – I don’t know – petty and unneccessary at best, super lacking in nuance for sure, sexist at worst. Especially when Calliope (who for me at least reads like a direct author stand-in) admits to being interested in all the women’s stories, except for Helen’s, “who bores her”. I am trying to not blame the book for the marketing it received, but I am unsure whether marketing this as a feminist retelling did it any favours, at least for me.

I wavered between three and four stars for this, but in the end, my pre-existing fondness for the story and the wonderful way she handled the goddesses won out. This is not a book without its flaws but I am glad the longlist finally gave me the push I needed to read this book. I can also only recommend the audiobook, which the author narrates herself, something I always enjoy.

Content warning: It is a myth retelling, so many; the book is however not graphic in its descriptions. Rape (off page mostly), murder, death of loved ones, maiming, slavery.

I am reading the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist this year. My current ranking is as follows:

  1. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (review)
  2. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

Not planning on reading: The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel