Review: Leave The World Behind by Rumaan Alam

“Three flamingos lifted out off the pool’s surface with a masculine flaunting of wings. Any flamingo, seeing this, would have wanted to incubate their issue. These were flamingos, the best of flamingos, hale and powerful. They rose into the air, a simple trick, and above the trees. The flamingos on the grass followed, seven human-sized pink birds, twisty and strange, ascending into the Long Island night, beautiful and terrifying in equal measures.”

Leave The World Behind – published by Bloomsbury Publishing, October 6th 2020

A magnetic novel about two families, strangers to each other, who are forced together on a long weekend gone terribly wrong

Amanda and Clay head out to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a vacation: a quiet reprieve from life in New York City, quality time with their teenage son and daughter, and a taste of the good life in the luxurious home they’ve rented for the week. But a late-night knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H. are an older black couple—it’s their house, and they’ve arrived in a panic. They bring the news that a sudden blackout has swept the city. But in this rural area—with the TV and internet now down, and no cell phone service—it’s hard to know what to believe.

Should Amanda and Clay trust this couple—and vice versa? What happened back in New York? Is the vacation home, isolated from civilization, a truly safe place for their families? And are they safe from one another? 

Suspenseful and provocative, Rumaan Alam’s third novel is keenly attuned to the complexities of parenthood, race, and class. Leave the World Behind explores how our closest bonds are reshaped—and unexpected new ones are forged—in moments of crisis.

Find it on Goodreads.

Verdict: Very much not for me.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Sometimes I am so in the minority with a book that I am starting to question whether I read the same book as everybody else. This is one of those cases (partly at least, because an abundance of DNF-reviews agrees with me). I did not get on with this. Maybe I should have called it quits when at 15% in, Alam had managed to reference the genitalia of three of the four family members. Snark aside, I was very much the wrong reader for this – where other people read scenes as tense, I found them satirical – and I do not particularly like satire. I found the tone impossible to pin down and as such the reading experience was more frustrating than anything else. Additionally, there were mainly three things that did not work for me: uneven perspective, disdainful characterisation, and a lack of trust in the reader’s intelligence.

Alam chose a omniscient narrator for his story, flitting between his characters’ heads, often within the same paragraph. While this might have worked had the tone been different, here I found this led to a lack of tension and an immense amount of frustration on my end because he chose to keep things artificially hidden from the reader. I would have prefered the narration to be either closer to the two couples or further away, as it was, the sprinkled-in sentences about the outside world took the little bit of tension I felt completely away.

I do not mind unlikable characters (at all, especially when they are women) but I need to feel like the author cares for their characters. Here I felt like I could basically see Alam sneering at his characters and I found that approach unkind – and again leading to my lack of interest in what was going on. He is also weirdly focussed on genitalia in a way that I found frankly baffling – I do not know what purpose the masturbation and sex scenes played for the story and I would have rather not spent this much time reading about a teenager’s penis.

It felt like Alam did not trust his readers to understand subtext or character development. Everything is spelt out, excrutiatingly. So much that I started to wonder if something really obvious was flying over my head. By the time I finished this book, all goodwill I had towards this book based on the incredible premise was lost.

Content warnings: depiction of racism, vomit, loss of teeth, disease on unknown origin, alcohol abuse, spiders

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quotations are taken from an unfinished copy and are subject to change.

Mini-Reviews: Short Story Collections

Black Light by Kimberly King Parsons

43152994Published by Atlantic Books, August 6th 2020

This hyper-realistic short story collection is dark and depressing and with prose not always sharp enough to work for me. The stories are mostly about people in the middle of bad decisions; not necessarily life-threatening bad decisions but rather smaller, mundane ones. Often these decisions involve neglect, neglect of their own bodies, their living environment, or most tragically their children. In subject matter it reminded me of Lidia Yuknavitch’s writing (who makes an appearance in the acknowledgements) but writing wise it could not reach her brilliance. I did not love the way Parsons wrote about weight and sadly too many of her protagonists were unkind about either their own bodies or the bodies of others.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang

P51199867._sx318_sy475_ublished by Atlantic Books, July 2019

Really really good! These mostly realistic stories worked exceedingly well for me – especially those that were told unchronologically in a way that I have not encountered in short stories before. This way of telling a story is something I particularly enjoy, so I was very pleased when I realized what Wang was doing. Not every story did work for me but enough did that I will be reading whatever she writes next. I also cannot get over the absolutely stunning cover.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

How To Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa

51323315._sy475_Published by Bloomsbury Publishing, April 16th 2020

I enjoyed these stories a lot with their thoughtful explorations on families, focussing on the lives of Laos immigrants and their children. I particularly enjoyed that the parents depicted really do try to do the best for their children (especially contrasted to the horrible parents in this years crop of Women’s Prize longlisted books) even if they sometimes miss the mark or sometimes cannot be the parent they would love to be if they had more time/ money/ knowledge.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Verge by Lidia Yuknavitch

45280901Published by Riverhead Books, February 2020

Sadly disappointing. My expectations were mile-high: I love Yuknavitch’s writing and had been anticipating her first short story collection in years (her earlier ones are our of print and I haven’t manage to find a copy yet) but while her prose is sharp as ever, for some reasons many of these stories did not work for me. Part of that has to do with the inherent cynicism of her stories that was not tempered by the endless capacity for empathy that her other books of hers I read possessed. I left the collection feeling kind of sad.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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

Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

18366739._sx318_Verdict: Off the rails, addictive, wonderful.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Published by Bloomsbury, 2013

Find it on Goodreads.

It is the year 2059. Several major world cities are under the control of a security force called Scion. Paige Mahoney works in the criminal underworld of Scion London, part of a secret cell known as the Seven Seals. The work she does is unusual: scouting for information by breaking into others’ minds. Paige is a dreamwalker, a rare kind of clairvoyant, and in this world, the voyants commit treason simply by breathing.

But when Paige is captured and arrested, she encounters a power more sinister even than Scion. The voyant prison is a separate city—Oxford, erased from the map two centuries ago and now controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. These creatures, the Rephaim, value the voyants highly—as soldiers in their army.

Paige is assigned to a Rephaite keeper, Warden, who will be in charge of her care and training. He is her master. Her natural enemy. But if she wants to regain her freedom, Paige will have to learn something of his mind and his own mysterious motives.

This book is off the rails, it reads like Samantha Shannon crammed about five books into one, and it follows familiar beats but I loved it. I had a complete blast reading this and I cannot believe I started a seven book series with only three books published so far. I loved this so, because it seems like it’s certainly not the most original thing I have ever read and it is in parts ridiculous – but Shannon gives her story and her tropes enough of a twist to keep me on my toes.

The book starts fairly unoriginal in a future dystopic world where clairvoyant people are hunted and their mere existence is outlawed but soon goes completely off the rails. Shannon does not give the reader any moment to breath before her main character kills somebody with her powers (it is self-defense, because let’s not get overly excited, the main character is a good person – which I happen to adore in my fiction to be honest, regardless of my snark) and has to run, only to be captured and driven to Oxford which is not supposed to exist anymore. And then suddenly – aliens. Sexy aliens even. I thought I could see where this was going from a mile away (there is even the inevitable early 2010s love triangle between her childhood friend and a sexy, dark, brooding stranger) but I did not care one bit and I was also not quite correct. Shannon had me hooked and increasingly frantic to find out more about this world and to see where this is going. In a way, I think this book was better for me because I have not read all that many of the YA staples and as such the familiar beats were comforting without being boring – also, this story while certainly not without crossover appeal, most certainly is a work of adult fantasy and worked all the better for me in its deliberate darkness. I also really think that Shannon’s writing and her characterization are on point. I found this addictive and her main character sympathetic without being unbelievable. Her reactions always made sense and even though she is impulsive this is always tempered by her wish to do what is right.

This might be the most backhandedly complimentary four star review I have ever written but I did really love it, even if I can see on some level why it totally would not work for other readers. But I will surely read every single thing Shannon ever writes.

Content warning: Slavery, bigotry, mind rape, assault, a really uncomfortable sex scene tinged with regret

Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

37134404Verdict: Beautifully written, but dull.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: fiction, myth retelling

Published by Bloomsbury, 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.

Circe is the daughter of Helios, the sun god, and Perse, a beautiful naiad. Yet from the moment of her birth, she is an outsider in her father’s halls, where the laughter of gossiping gods resounds. Named after a hawk for her yellow eyes and strange voice, she is mocked by her siblings – until her beloved brother Aeëtes is born.

Yet after her sister Pasiphae marries King Midas of Crete, Aeëtes is whisked away to rule his own island. More isolated than ever, Circe, who has never been divine enough for her family, becomes increasingly drawn to mortals – and when she meets Glaucus, a handsome young fisherman, she is captivated. Yet gods mingle with humans, and meddle with fate, at their peril.

In Circe, Madeline Miller breathes life once more into the ancient world, with the story of an outcast who overcomes scorn and banishment to transform herself into a formidable witch. Unfolding on Circe’s wild, abundant island of Aiaia, where the hillsides are aromatic with herbs, this is a magical, intoxicating epic of family rivalry, power struggles, love and loss – and a celebration of female strength in a man’s world.

This book is, when considering the writing on a sentence-by-sentence perspective, incredibly beautiful. The language is wonderfully evocative and the imagery is stunning. But for me at least, beautiful writing is not enough to distract me from the fact that I found it dull. I am also having problems divorcing my experience of this book from the way it has been discussed in the book community and while this is not the book’s fault, it did influence my enjoyment. This book has been praised left and right as a feminist retelling of Circe’s life – a life that in mythology is at the periphery (both literally as she is living on her own, exiled on an island and figuratively as she is an antagonist without much agency). I am having trouble seeing that supposed feminist angle and it made me pretty cross while reading. I thought the book was much more the story of the men in Circe’s life than her own story. And I am fairly certain this was on purpose (something something role of women, something something limitation of expression) but for the life of me I cannot find a reason that makes this narrative choice palatable for me. To be clear: I am not blaming the book for this, I am sure this has more to do with who I am as a reader with pretty distinct tastes and preferences, but I struggled.

On the opposite spectrum of this, I found Circe most compelling when she was facing off with another woman (her sister or her grandmother or Medea or Penelope) – I wish the book had been populated with more women and less men, I would have enjoyed it more for it. As it stands, the ending did go a long way towards redeeming this book for me. If the middle hadn’t been as rambling and bland this could have worked better for me. Circe was not always an exciting narrator even if I have to grudgingly agree that her characterization makes sense but I wished for her to have more edges and to be allowed to be more unpleasant; she was the first witch after all. Her blandness was in the end my biggest problem with a book that took me ages to finish and left me wanting something else entirely.

Content warning: Rape, Caesarian sections (brutal ones!)

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

  1. The Pisces by Melissa Broder (review)
  2. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (review)
  3. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker (review)
  4. Normal People by Sally Rooney (review)
  5. Milkman by Anna Burns (review)
  6. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (review)
  7. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (review)
  8. Circe by Madeline Miller
  9. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (review)
  10. Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn (review)
  11. Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott (review)
  12. Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li (review)
  13. Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden (review)

DNF:

  • Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
  • Ordinary People by Diana Evans

Review: The Corset by Laura Purcell

39098246Verdict: Phrenology creeps me out.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Historical/ Gothic Fiction

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing UK / Raven Books, September 20th 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

Is prisoner Ruth Butterham mad or a murderer? Victim or villain?

Dorothea and Ruth. Prison visitor and prisoner. Powerful and powerless. Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor and awaiting trial for murder.

When Dorothea’s charitable work leads her to Oakgate Prison, she is delighted with the chance to explore her fascination with phrenology and test her hypothesis that the shape of a person’s skull can cast a light on their darkest crimes. But when she meets teenage seamstress Ruth, she is faced with another theory: that it is possible to kill with a needle and thread. For Ruth attributes her crimes to a supernatural power inherent in her stitches.

The story Ruth has to tell of her deadly creations – of bitterness and betrayal, of death and dresses – will shake Dorothea’s belief in rationality and the power of redemption.

Can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad, or a murderer?

I got retroactive FOMO for Laura Purcell’s novel The Silent Companions because everybody seemed to be raving about it, so I knew I needed to read this one. Especially because it focusses on two women, one of them being a prisoner on trial for murder. I love books featuring unapologetically difficult women and Ruth and Dorothea definitely fit the bill.

Dorothea Truelove is a young, unmarried woman, with plenty of suitors who would rather spend her time doing charity work (do not take her to be a kind person though, she really is not). She is most interested in prisons, as she has a strongly developed theory of phrenology that she feels the need to prove (which proves my point about her being maybe not the best person). As such, Ruth seems to be the perfect specimen to research for her: Ruth is sixteen and in prison awaiting her trial that will most likely lead to her execution for murder. The story is told in these dual perspectives, where Ruth is telling her story to Dorothea and the reader is along for the ride to figure out whether Ruth truly killed her mistress with her magic needle work.

For me, this was a really uneven reading experience. While I for the most part really enjoyed Ruth’s perspective and the ambiguity of her story, Dorothea’s part of the book did not work for me (except for the last chapter). Ruth is a compelling character, whose tough and hatred-filled veneer starts to crack the further her story developes. She is still so childlike while being so very broken, it hurt my heart. Dorothea on the other hand with  her boring social life and her creepy obsession with phrenology did not quite keep my interest. This might be different for readers from different countries, but for me phrenology itself makes me very uncomfortable. I do not want to read about this and did not realize how obsessive Dorothea would be describing everybody’s skull (there is an in-story reason for this – but it did not change my gut reaction to this).

Furthermore, I found quite a bit of Ruth’s backstory to toe the line to torture porn, which probably says more about me as a reader than about the book to be honest. I would have liked to have these scenes be a little bit more scarcely used.

However, I found the ending to be very satisfying – Laura Purcell pulls together the two storylines in a really wonderful way. I was fine with the men’s storylines to be unresolved because in the end – this is a book about Ruth and Dorothea.

I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing UK / Raven Books in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Can You Tolerate This? by Ashleigh Young

40206019Verdict: Uneven.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Non-Fiction, Essays, Memoir(ish)

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing, August 9th 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

In Can You Tolerate This? – the title comes from the question chiropractors ask to test a patient’s pain threshold – Ashleigh Young ushers us into her early years in the faraway yet familiar landscape of New Zealand: fantasising about Paul McCartney, cheering on her older brother’s fledgling music career, and yearning for a larger and more creative life.

As Young’s perspective expands, a series of historical portraits – a boy with a rare skeletal disease, a French postman who built a stone fortress by hand, a generation of Japanese shut-ins – strike unexpected personal harmonies, as an unselfconscious childhood gives way to painful shyness in adolescence. As we watch Young fall in and out of love, undertake intense physical exercise that masks something deeper, and gradually find herself through her writing, a highly particular psyche comes into view: curious, tender and exacting in her observations of herself and the world around her.

How to bear each moment of experience: the inconsequential as much as the shattering?

In this spirited and singular collection of essays, Ashleigh Young attempts to find some measure of clarity amidst the uncertainty, exploring the uneasy tensions – between safety and risk, love and solitude, the catharsis of grief and the ecstasy of creation – that define our lives.

This was… highly uneven. I thought the second half worked a lot better than the first (there were some really amazing essays there) but if I hadn’t had a review copy of this, I don’t think I would have even gotten that far. The first third of the book was particularly difficult to get into.

Ashleigh Young wrote essays on a variety of topics, often semi auto-biographical in nature but always considering other perspectives as well and in theory I should have adored this. There is a fairly long essay early on in this collection (Big Red) dealing with her relationship with her brothers that seems custom-made for me (I do love sibling relationships) but made me nearly give up the book. I found it unfocused and to be honest, pretty badly written in a vague way.

I did, however, really enjoy her essay on working in Katherine Mansfield’s birth house which signaled a shift in quality for me. After that her essays become both more experimental and more assured in tone. Her essay on her eating disorder was the high point for me. I adored how she structured it and the vulnerability and strength she showed.

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

33606119Verdict: Important, timely, for a different reader.

My rating: 3,5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Non-Fiction (Essays)

Published by Bloomsbury, 2017

Find it on Goodreads.

In 2014, award-winning journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge wrote about her frustration with the way that discussions of race and racism in Britain were being led by those who weren’t affected by it. She posted a piece on her blog, entitled: ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ that led to this book.

Exploring issues from eradicated black history to the political purpose of white dominance, whitewashed feminism to the inextricable link between class and race, Reni Eddo-Lodge offers a timely and essential new framework for how to see, acknowledge and counter racism. It is a searing, illuminating, absolutely necessary exploration of what it is to be a person of colour in Britain today.

My thoughts on this are slightly complicated. This book is incredibly important, impeccably researched, stringently argued – but possibly not quite for me. I spend an awful lot of time reading feminist texts, both academically and in my private life. I have been following the discourse closely for a few years (ever since I realized how white my formal academic background is I felt the need to remedy that) and I think the most important work in recent feminism has been done by intersectional feminists (and here especially black woman). This book gives a comprehensive overview – and it cannot be overstated how brilliantly argued and researched it is – but for me there was very little new. Then again, that seems like an unfair baseline for any work, so take my rating with a grain of salt. Because I do think everybody should read this.

For me, the chapter that was most important was the one on feminism itself – here I found a lot to mull over. Reni Eddo-Lodge shows the structures of privilege and the way these spaces that should be inclusive can end up being the opposite.

The chapters that read more like text-book entries (for example on White Privilege) are equally stringently argued but for me those did not quite work – as I said, I do think I am fairly well-read in this area. I can still see why it is important to include the bases of one’s theories in a book like this, that is not written with me in mind. It gives women of colour the tools to talk about everyday occurences and gives white people a perspective they might not have considered. And Reni Eddo-Lodge’s measured and thoughtful approach is definitely a needed one.

On a final note: I just cannot get over how brilliant the cover is. Clever, stunning, evocative.

Review: Putney – Sofka Zinovieff

40022793Verdict: Stressful, blood boiling, very very good but also frustrating.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing (UK & NZ), July 12th, 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

It is the 1970s and Ralph, an up-and-coming composer, is visiting Edmund Greenslay at his riverside home in Putney to discuss a collaboration. Through the house’s colourful rooms and unruly garden flits nine-year-old Daphne – dark, teasing, slippery as mercury, more sprite than boy or girl. From the moment their worlds collide, Ralph is consumed by an obsession to make Daphne his.

But Ralph is twenty-five and Daphne is only a child, and even in the bohemian abandon of 1970s London their fast-burgeoning relationship must be kept a secret. It is not until years later that Daphne is forced to confront
the truth of her own childhood – and an act of violence that has lain hidden for decades.

This book made me mad, it made me anxious, it stressed me out with no end – and I could not stop reading it (I mean, except for frequent breaks to calm down). My Kindle died halfway through this book and I finished it on my laptop, which should give you an indication of how much I needed to get to the end.

This is story of Ralph and Daphne’s developing ‘relationship’, only that Ralph is 25 and Daphne is nine when they meet. Told in flashbacks from three different perspectives, Ralph’s, Daphne’s, and her best friend Jane’s, this story spans nearly 40 years. The book is unflinching it its portrayal; the characters are fully formed and human, which makes reading it all the more gruelling (for me at least).  Ralph is despicable, but (of course) doesn’t see himself that way and reading about his justifications for his actions made me sick to my stomach. His characterisation is extremely well done and shows the brilliance of this book. Daphne is equally compelling and you feel sorry for her while wanting to shake her. I personally would have loved to spend more time with her because I found her inner workings the most fascinating. Jane’s perspective did not always quite work for me but I can see how it was needed to give a bit of an outside perspective on the immorality of the ‘relationship’.

Overall, the characters are what makes this book shine but there were other strengths as well. I admire Sofka Zinovieff’s willingness to tell this story and found it provoking but needed. This novel deals with memory and its unreliability in a truly excellent way. She also deftly handles other topics such as mental health, classism, and female friendship. The framing of this story was very successful to me as somebody who loves stories jumping between different time periods in somebody’s life.

I did feel the need to take a shower after this book, because even though the sex is never gratuitously described, spending this much time in a creep’s head made my skin crawl. I am also not the biggest fan of some of the narrative decisions towards the end and thus was glad to have finished it. I am also very glad to have read it though.

I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review: The Pisces by Melissa Broder

37590570Verdict: Brilliant. Uncomfortable. Vulgar. Funny. Heartbreaking.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Date read: April 4th, 2018

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing, May 3rd 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

Lucy has been writing her dissertation about Sappho for thirteen years when she and Jamie break up. After she hits rock bottom in Phoenix, her Los Angeles-based sister insists Lucy housesit for the summer—her only tasks caring for a beloved diabetic dog and trying to learn to care for herself. Annika’s home is a gorgeous glass cube atop Venice Beach, but Lucy can find no peace from her misery and anxiety—not in her love addiction group therapy meetings, not in frequent Tinder meetups, not in Dominic the foxhound’s easy affection, not in ruminating on the ancient Greeks. Yet everything changes when Lucy becomes entranced by an eerily attractive swimmer one night while sitting alone on the beach rocks.

Whip-smart, neurotically funny, sexy, and above all, fearless, The Pisces is built on a premise both sirenic and incredibly real—what happens when you think love will save you but are afraid it might also kill you.

This is not a book for everyone, but it was very much a book for me. I was hooked from the very first page and could not stop thinking about this book in the breaks between reading it (I went on a 4-day hike in-between and would constantly mull over this book while walking). The book starts when Lucy has apparently already hit rock bottom: her boyfriend has left her, her thesis supervisors give her a deadline to finally finish writing the thesis on Sappho she has been working on for years (and in which she does not believe anymore), and she spirals out of control leading to her assaulting her ex and as a result being forced into therapy. Her (much older) sister offers her a job house- and dog-sitting so that maybe she can find her footing again while also attending group therapy. But Lucy is not done spiralling just yet.

Melissa Broder hit a nerve with me here: her descriptions of academia and the slog of a PhD felt on point. Lucy’s thoughts are close to thoughts I have had in the depth of trying to write a thesis – if I started to doubt my dissertation’s main thesis, I am sure I would feel as lost as Lucy does when she realizes she does not believe in her work any more. This coupled with her depression and dependency issues made for a very believable character.

The biggest strength of this very strong book is therefore Lucy. She is unpleasant, deeply so, mean and self-centered while staying believable as a person and ultimately being somebody I could not help but root for, even when she makes one ridiculous decision after the other. She manages to always find the most destructive course of action for any given situation. Her addiction to love (while being emotionally unavailable) is painful to watch, exactly because it is so believable. Her reaction to men is even more unbearable to watch and Melissa Broder captures the awkwardness and heartbreak of bad one-night-stands so very vividly that it made me cringe (and I mean that as a compliment).

I adored this. While I thought the first half was near perfect (funny and sad and poignant and so very very relatable and beyond everything just brilliant), I did think the second half suffered from Broder’s infatuation with her own metaphor. It is a great metaphor, for sure, but not so much that it could sustain the brilliance of the beginning. Still, god, what a book.

First sentence: “I was no longer lonely but I was.”

I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing in exchange for an honest review.