Review: Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

“I wanted to tell him that in a framework where affection was circumspect, its overt forms were necessarily hostile. Look, I’d say, it’s like English grammar. It doesn’t make sense but it’s too late to change it.”

Exciting Times – published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, April 2020

Ava, newly arrived in Hong Kong from Dublin, spends her days teaching English to rich children.

Julian is a banker. A banker who likes to spend money on Ava, to have sex and discuss fluctuating currencies with her. But when she asks whether he loves her, he cannot say more than ‘I like you a great deal’.

Enter Edith, a lawyer. Refreshingly enthusiastic and unapologetically earnest, Edith takes Ava to the theatre when Julian leaves Hong Kong for work. Quickly, she becomes something Ava looks forward to.

And then Julian writes to tell Ava he is coming back to Hong Kong….

Find it on Goodreads.

Verdict: Great beginning, brilliant ending, kind of terrible middle.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I love books about disaster women and unlike many of my bookish friends do not seem to tire of them at all. There is just something I really appreciate about women writing about women making terrible choices and being honest about that while they are doing it. It’s something I appreciate in memoirs and also in literary fiction. This year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist includes quite a few of these disaster women books and I for one am really pleased with that. That said, I did not always love this book.

Told in first person from Ava’s perspective, the tone and voice worked exceedingly well for me in the beginning. Ava is awful, or at least she thinks so and the way in which she treats first Julian, a banker who quickly starts to finance her life, and then Edith a woman she starts a relationship with while omitting the fact that she regularly slept with her “roommate” aka Julian, seems to agree with her. When this book works, it really works for me. Dolan has a brilliant way of writing dialogue and especially the kind of hostile banter between Ava (a self-proclaimed socialist) and Julian (a lot closer to a Tory) was just mesmerizing. They spar and they bicker and they treat each other horribly – but somehow it works. My favourite parts of the book were when Dolan leans into this narrative.

On the other end of the spectrum is Edith – who is by all accounts wonderful and who makes Ava want to be a better person. Their relationship is definitely the more healthy one but I found it boring and I also could not help but brace for the inevitable shoe drop. I do not deal well with lying in books.

I want to briefly touch onto the comparison to Sally Rooney which I do not think does this book all that many favours; while there are similarities, I do think that Exciting Times excels in different areas. It is a lot more overtly political and more successful at that part; Dolan does seem to know a lot about political and economical theory in a way that really worked for me. The asides on language did not work as well for me as they did for other readers but they do add another layer to the class discussion Ava is always having in her head. What this book does not quite as well but I do think on purpose is the secondary characters; Ava is not really all that great at reading other people (or herself for that matter) in a way that fits with her character but made for sometimes flat love interests.

Overall, I did enjoy this and thought parts were absolutely brilliant – I will definitely read whatever Dolan decides to write next. I cannot recommend the audiobook highly enough, it is narrated by the always great Aoife McMahon and gave this book the extra something I needed.

Content warnings: cheating, homophobia

I am not reading the complete longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year but I will attempt to review the books I do get to. I also cannot help myself and will rank the ones I read.

  1. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (review)
  2. Luster by Raven Leilani (review)
  3. Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

Mini-Reviews: upcoming short story collections (Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz, Kink ed. by Garth Greenwell and R. O. Kwon, and The Ocean House by Mary-Beth Hughes)

Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz

Published by Grove Atlantic, February 2nd 2021

This is such a good debut collection of short stories. I especially liked the focus on girlhood and thought Moniz captures that particular time of life incredibly well – with all the inherent darkness a focus on girls can lead to. And dark these stories are – but I did not find them hopeless even if Moniz refuses to give her stories neat endings. I found this impeccably written, the metaphor heavy language a perfect fit for the format, and her characterization incredibly well-done. Some stories veered too much into darkness for me (I did not love “Tongues” and thought “Exotics” wasn’t half as clever as it should have been), but others were near pitch perfect (the collection starts incredibly strong with “Milk Blood Heat” which broke my heart but in a good way; “Thicker Than Water” with its examination of sibling relationships, guilt and grief was my favourite).

Content warning: rape, child sexual abuse, miscarriage, abortion, cannibalism, suicide, suicidal ideation, grief induced hallucinations

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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

Kink: Stories ed. by Garth Greenwell and R. O. Kwon

Published by Simon & Schuster, February 9th 2021

The second I heard about this anthology, I knew I needed to read it. The subject matter is right up my alley and the list of contributors is just incredible. The book did not disappoint in the slightest. Of course, when it comes to anthologies there will always be stories that work better for me than others but I genuinely thought all of these stories did something interesting.

The biggest surprise was Trust by Larissa Pham which I found emotionally resonant and super well-written – by an author I had not heard of before and whose other work I cannot wait to check out. Not surprising in the least was that I liked Carmen Maria Machado’s story The Lost Performance of the High Priestess of the Temple of Horror – because I genuinely do not think she could write a bad story if she tried. That she made me enjoy a historical fiction story speaks for itself. My absolute favourite of the bunch, however, was Brandon Taylor’s Oh, Youth. This story was pitch-perfect and heart-breaking and impeccably paced. It made me even more excited for his upcoming collection if that is at all possible.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content warning: death of a loved one, death of a pet, insomnia, suicidal idolation, divorce

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

The Ocean House by Mary-Beth Hughes

Published by Grove Press, January 12th 2021

I did not get on with this. I struggled from the first story on and liked the second even less. Most of the things that didn’t work for me are very much subjective: the stories that I read were all historical fiction with the accompanying trope and style choices and that is a genre I rarely enjoy. I also found the characters deeply unpleasant (and while I often enjoy that in novels, I prefer more readily sympathetic characters in short stories) and the stories felt cynical in a way that I am sure will be perfect for the right reader. There was also something about the sentence structure that made the prose feel more convoluted than I like.

I wish I had liked this more because I do love interconnected short stories, but I am just not in the mind set to be able to force myself to read things that I am only partly enjoying (for what it’s worth, this probably would have been a three star in the end, so it is definitely not a bad book!).

DNF

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

Mini-Reviews: creative nonfiction about illness (Pain Studies by Lisa Olstein and The Shapeless Unease by Samantha Harvey)

Pain Studies by Lisa Olstein

Published by Bellevue Literary Press, March 10th 2020

This is a book of creative nonfiction in the vein of Sarah Manguso, focussing pain in general and migraine in particular – and as such I was just the right reader for this. I like this kind of nonfiction that jumps from topic to topic, organized in short, punchy essays. Olstein looks at philosophical thought on pain, on its depiction in pop culture (especially in House, M. D.), there is a part dedicated to Joan of Arc, and so much more. I love this jumping around and connecting different train of thoughts to a more or less coherent whole, so for me this absolutely worked. I did think that sometimes this connecting could have been done a little bit more explicitly, but I did like having to close some gaps myself. For me the descriptions of migraine really resonated but I am unsure how the book reads for somebody who does not know the weird state of being a strong migraine with an aura invokes.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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

The Shapeless Unease by Samantha Harvey

Published by Grove Press, May 12th 2020

I tried and failed to read this book several times during the last few months of my pregnancy where I suffered, for the first time in my life, from insomnia myself. But the beginning of this book rang so true that it ended up too much for me. Now that falling asleep really is not a problem anymore, I finally finished the book and I am glad I did, even if it did not often work for me. Samantha Harvey approaches her insomnia from different angles, many of which are experimental in narrative structure. I did not like this as much as I hoped I would – particularly in the middle there were long passages that I found uninteresting and also not as well thought-out as I would have liked. I think the approach would have worked better for me had it either been closer to her own life or more thoroughy researched and cited, this middle ground made me impatient. Harvey plays with perspective in a way that I found inappropriate for non-fiction but that might have worked better in a novel; for example she imagines in great detail the thoughts one of her doctors might have to suit her narrative and I could not get on board with it (I don’t even want to imagine what her point was when she compared a homeless person to a bin bag and imagined their thoughts that she assumed would be filled with self-loathing).

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Content warning: death of a loved one, death of a pet, insomnia, suicidal idolation, divorce

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

Mini-Review: You Will Never Be Forgotten by Mary South

Verdict: Bleak, hopeless, not for me.

Published by Pan Macmillan, August 6th 2020

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

In this provocative, bitingly funny debut collection, people attempt to use technology to escape their uncontrollable feelings of grief or rage or despair, only to reveal their most flawed and human selves

An architect draws questionable inspiration from her daughter’s birth defect. A content moderator for “the world’s biggest search engine,” who spends her days culling videos of beheadings and suicides, turns from stalking her rapist online to following him in real life. At a camp for recovering internet trolls, a sensitive misfit goes missing. A wounded mother raises the second incarnation of her child.

In You Will Never Be Forgotten, Mary South explores how technology can both collapse our relationships from within and provide opportunities for genuine connection. Formally inventive, darkly absurdist, savagely critical of the increasingly fraught cultural climates we inhabit, these ten stories also find hope in fleeting interactions and moments of tenderness. They reveal our grotesque selfishness and our intense need for love and acceptance, and the psychic pain that either shuts us off or allows us to discover our deepest reaches of empathy. This incendiary debut marks the arrival of a perceptive, idiosyncratic, instantly recognizable voice in fiction – one that could only belong to Mary South.

This collection was very much not for me – and I had been close to just putting it down, when the third story (Frequently Asked Questions About Your Craniotomy) was just brilliant and I spent the rest of my reading time chasing that high (which never came). South takes already uncomfortable premises and somehow makes them worse – and I do not like fiction that makes me feel like I need to take a shower. I admit that this is very much a me-thing and looking at other reviews made that very clear – there is a lot to love here, if you don’t mind sitting with discomfort.

I left the collection wondering if South does like the internet, at all, or even people, for that matter. Most of her premises lean into the possibility of technology making everything worse, while most her protagonists are genuinely awful people, or at least people at the whim of other horrible people. Her men are self-involved and rarely able to look outside their own problems, her women are often victim of either their own bodies or patriarchy. I did not enjoy my time with this book as it was way too bleak and hopeless for me.

Content warnings: rape, miscarriage, SIDS, trolling, depiction of graphic violence, killing of a cat, alcohol and drug abuse, fat shaming, death of loved ones, stalking, cheating

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

Mini-Reviews: Alpha Night by Nalini Singh and Catalina Baylor #1 and #2 by Ilona Andrews

Alpha Night (Psy-Changeling #19) by Nalini Singh

Published by Orion, June 11th 2020

There was very little chance of me not enjoying this book – therefore it feels necessary to begin this review with a disclaimer. I have read more than 20 books by Nalini Singh in about 18 months, I love what she does with her world building and I nearly always adore the couple she centers in each of these books. I am in no way impartial. But, if like me you enjoy these books (or if you like romance and interesting sci-fi-esque fantasy worlds and haven’t read any of her books, I really recommend you remedy that!), you will be pleased to hear that her latest (the 19th full-length novel in her Psy-Changeling universe) is as great as we all hoped.

Singh explores a new dynamic here with a mating at first sight and while this for sure is not my favourite trope, I thought she pulled it off. Ethan and Selenka are an interesting and believable couple and I bought into their relationship immediately. They are, however, not my favourite and I enjoyed the parts concerned with the larger political developments more. I am very excited to see where Singh takes the story next as this book indicates some far-reaching changes. I have said so before but it is worth saying it again: if this series wasn’t primarily romance focussed, Singh would be one of the authors always recommended when impeccable world-building is discussed.

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.

The Catalina Baylor Trilogy (Hidden Legacy #3.5, #4, #5) by Ilona Andrews

I am upset. And I only have myself to blame.

I managed to hold of reading the first two books until the week the second full novel in the continuation of the brilliant Hidden Legacy series released and then I basically inhaled them. I obviously love this but you know what I do not love? The absolutely brutal cliffhanger and the fact that I now have to wait until at least 2021 to find out how this is going to be resolved.

I always love Ilona Andrews’ particular mix of kickass women, snark, great world building, and incredibly binge-able writing style. I thought Catalina was an incredible new main character and I love her. I love the family dynamics as much as I always did, I love her power and the way in which her modus operandi differs from her older sister. I did not love Alessandro as much as I loved Mad Rogan but he did grow on me. The world is as impeccable as ever and I can always trust that the Andrews’ have a plan.

Review: Sisters by Daisy Johnson

50186889._sx318_sy475_Verdict: Creepy, tense, unsettling – let down by the ending.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Psychological Horror/ Literary Fiction

Published by Jonathan Cape, August 13th 2020

Find it on Goodreads.

After a serious case of school bullying becomes too much to bear, sisters July and September move across the country with their mother to a long-abandoned family home.

In their new and unsettling surroundings, July finds that the deep bond she has always had with September – a closeness that not even their mother is allowed to penetrate – is starting to change in ways she cannot entirely understand.

Inside the house the tension among the three women builds, while outside the sisters meet a boy who tests the limits of their shared experiences.

With its roots in psychological horror, Sisters is a taut, powerful and deeply moving account of sibling love that cements Daisy Johnson’s place as one of the most inventive and exciting young writers at work today.

I read this mostly on the strength of Johnson’s debut novel and did not really know what to expect from it. The blurb is intentionally vague and I was unprepared for how creepy this book was. I was hooked from the very beginning though, racing through this book breathlessly, torn between wanting to keep reading and dreading what was to come – that something is not quite right with September and July is obvious from the beginning. Johnson skillfully leads the reader through her labyrinthian narrative told from the perspective of July, the younger of the two sisters and the more quiet and withdrawn one, always in the shadow of her slightly older and domineering sister September. The sibling relationship is at the core of this novel (and I am always a fan of well-told sibling stories) and that it feels so real is one of the big strengths. Their relationship is creepy and obsessive, they are so close to each other that even their mother has no place in their vincinity. Parts told in third person from their mother’s perspective underscore how weirdly codependent the two sisters are. September often treats July abysmally, and Johnson leans into the inherent creepiness of children’s games when she has her teenaged main characters play them with an increasing escalation of violence.

After some tragedy the family leaves Oxford for a house by the ocean owned by their dead father’s sister; here the mother takes to her room and leaves her daughters to roam Settle House, which is just as unsettling as the name indicates. The tragedy in the wake of July being bullied at school is one of the central mysteries of the book as July does not seem to remember what exactly happened that made her mother abruptly leave Oxford and decide to live in a house she hates as it brings only bad memories of the abusive father of her children. July’s narration is often unclear and I early began wondering how reliable she was, as her mind seems to be fragmenting. The novel works best when Johnson plays with this unreality she invokes, when it isn’t at all clear what is happening. Her fragmented, allusion-rich prose coupled with her vivid and unsettling imagery mirror’s July’s mental state excellently. As such the ending, when things became more clear again, did not work for me as well as the parts that preceeded it. But even so, the pitch perfect prose and an impressively oppressive atmosphere made this a rewarding reading experience that I was nevertheless ultimately glad to be done with – this book gave me nightmares.

Content warnings: bullying, assault, revenge porn, vomit, underage drinking, blackouts, depression, spousal abuse, death of a loved one

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

Review: The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates #1) by A. K. Lardwood

45046552Verdict: Delightful, clever, incredible world-building – not my favourite main character.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy/Sci-Fi

Published by Pan Macmillan, February 20th 2020

Find it on Goodreads.

What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does. She will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice. On the day of her foretold death, however, a powerful mage offers her a new fate.

Csorwe leaves her home, her destiny, and her god to become the wizard’s loyal sword-hand — stealing, spying, and killing to help him reclaim his seat of power in the homeland from which he was exiled.

But Csorwe and the wizard will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

I loved very many things about this. The worldbuilding is impeccable and wonderfully integrated into the main storyline, giving just enough details to make the world(s) believable without overwhelming the narrative. I loved the prose which I found lyrical enough to work for me while being somehow quintessentially “fantasy”. I nearly always love fantasy books dealing with deities and this one was no exception. Set in a multi-world multiverse governed by many different deities, some of these half dead or lost, with many different belief-systems, our focus is Csorwe who was supposed to be a sacrifice to her (creepy and horrifying) god until a visiting wizard rescued her and made her his bodyguard/ assassin/ ward.

I adored this – the book just worked for me in every single way, except for Csorwe who I found indistinct and to be honest, sometimes painfully daft. She kept getting herself into situations that obviously would not work out the way she expected them to and she never seemed to learn. I did really appreciate her rivalry with another of the wizard’s men and their banter was great. I also loved the fraught and complicated relationship she has with her mentor and the way this wrapped up had me glued to the page. I was not so keen on the love story which ultimately kept me from giving this the whole five stars.

My favourite part of this sci-fi/ fantasy hybrid was the underlying mythology and the way in which Larkwood fleshes it out with different deities and their believers; in parts creepy, in parts interesting, always fascinating. There are so many ways in which the story can be developed next and I am excited for most of them. I had such a great time reading it and I am eagerly awaiting the sequel. This is the best high fantasy novel I have read in ages.

Content warning: disfigurement, death, huge serpents, death cults

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

Mini-Reviews to catch up: Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Samantha Irby, André Leon Talley

I fell out of my reviewing groove some time last year and am only now starting to get back into things. This does mean that I have pending reviews for books that I read nearly a year ago – and I am not good at writing reviews if I leave them too long. Therefore I decided to write mini-reviews to finally catch up and start with afresh, hoping that I will not leave books unreviewed for this long.

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

36510722Published by Quercus Books, July 23rd 2019

This book combines very many things I adore in books: whimsical writing in fantasy books for adults, a female main character I could not help but adore, ruminations on godhood and what makes humans human, as well as a mythology that I am not familiar with. I already knew that I would like Moreno-Garcia’s writing, as her short stories are consistently amongst my favourites in anthologies. I did ultimately enjoy this but did not love it. The aloof tone was something I appreciated but which kept me from adoring this. I am still excited about quite a few of Moreno-Garcia’s books though.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

47169050Published by Faber & Faber, April 2nd 2020

I adore Samantha Irby. Her humour and the way she structures her essays in a way that seems effortless but surely isn’t make her books a joy to read. Her third collection of essays is as good as the ones that came before and it came to me at just the right moment. It got me reading in the middle of a pandemic induced reading slump and made me happy. Irby writes about growing older, body positivity, the internet, imposter syndrome, and many things more in a way that makes these topics approachable and so funny. I hope she keeps on writing these books because I love them.

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.

The Chiffon Trenches by André Leon Talley

51794442._sx318_sy475_Published by 4th Estate, May 19th 2020

This book mostly made me sad. André Leon Talley has written a book supposedly telling it all – and he does tell a lot of things about the inner workings of Vogue, of the micro-aggressions he endured as one of the very few black people in the fashion world and as a black gay man in particular. Weirdly enough I never got a concrete understanding how much of the awful treatment he received was due to his identity and how much was just the way the fashion world worked, and it made me so very sad for him. I enjoyed being able to glimpse behind the curtain and I enjoyed how petty André Leon Talley allowed himself to be. I do think the book promises something in the introduction it then never delivers on: Talley does not spend a lot of time ruminating on the role of race in his trajectory, but rather tells of his life as he experienced it – and apparently he experienced it mainly as a means to wear extravagant clothes which he describes in minute detail, from the way things looked to where he got them to who complimented him on them – and that part of the book I was not that keen on. Reading between the lines, Talley seems profoundly lonely and I sometimes wished he would be more honest about that – but then again, he can choose to tell his story in any way he wishes.

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.

Review: Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh

47545450._sy475_Verdict: Uneven but in parts brilliant.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Literary Fiction / Dystopia

Published by Hamish Hamilton, August 27th 2020

Find it on Goodreads.

Calla knows how the lottery works. Everyone does. On the day of your first bleed, you report to the station to learn what kind of woman you will be. A white ticket grants you children. A blue ticket grants you freedom. You are relieved of the terrible burden of choice. And, once you’ve taken your ticket, there is no going back.

But what if the life you’re given is the wrong one?

Blue Ticket is a devastating enquiry into free will and the fraught space of motherhood. Bold and chilling, it pushes beneath the skin of female identity and patriarchal violence, to the point where human longing meets our animal bodies.

First things first: Mackintosh’s prose has gotten even better since her debut, which I already enjoyed a lot. There is something mesmerizing about the way she constructs her sentences and I am always in love with her metaphors and allusions. On a sentence-by-sentence level, this is excellent and cemented what I said after reading her debut: I will always be reading what she writes even if this reading experience was uneven for me.

Her depiction of female longing and female friendship worked exceedingly well for me – and I would indeed argue that this is what she is interested in because where this book falters is in its dystopian elements. Calla’s close first person narration is our entry point into the world Mackintosh has created here and as she knows very little about her society, it remains vague and what we learn makes very little sense. While this is arguably true for her debut as well, there I thought the vagueness worked because it was never quite clear if what the protagonists knew was true at all. This time around, this is very obviously a dystopian society and even if Calla does not know why things came about, the consequences are very true for her life. Again, I do not think the dystopian part is Mackintosh’s strength or even what she really set out to write about. Whenever the story focussed on what Calla experienced and on her inner life and struggles, the book shone and I wish that part had been more prevalent throughout. I knew going in that I probably should not expect the dystopia to be ground-breaking in its political machinations, so the book did overall work for me but I can see where other readers might struggle. In the end, I am such a huge fan of Mackintosh’s prose that even as parts did not work for me, overall I did appreciate the book a lot (and it made me cry).

Content warning: pregnancy, vomit, stillbirth, consumation of alcohol and cigarettes while pregnant, rape, sexual assault, assault (and another very spoilery trigger warning that you can find under the spoiler tag on my goodreads review)

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

Review: The Harpy by Megan Hunter

48637753._sy475_Verdict: Weird, baffling, incredibly well-written, let down by the ending.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Literary Fiction

Published by Grove Press, November 13th 2020

Find it on Goodreads.

Lucy and Jake live in a house by a field where the sun burns like a ball of fire. Lucy has set her career aside in order to devote her life to the children, to their finely tuned routine, and to the house itself, which comforts her like an old, sly friend. But then a man calls one afternoon with a shattering message: his wife has been having an affair with Lucy’s husband, Jake. The revelation marks a turning point: Lucy and Jake decide to stay together, but make a special arrangement designed to even the score and save their marriage–she will hurt him three times.

As the couple submit to a delicate game of crime and punishment, Lucy herself begins to change, surrendering to a transformation of both mind and body from which there is no return.

Told in dazzling, musical prose, The Harpy is a dark, staggering fairy tale, at once mythical and otherworldly and fiercely contemporary. It is a novel of love, marriage and its failures, of power, control and revenge, of metamorphosis and renewal.

Megan Hunter’s prose is as spell-binding as ever. I really enjoyed her debut but knew even as I read it that it would not stick with me: “But sometimes I like books told in style and glitter and beautiful sentences.” This book is different – the prose is deliberately over the top and overwritten, stunningly so, but still A LOT, whereas The End We Start From was deliberately sparse in a way that I prefered. However, this book has stuck with me and I cannot quite stop thinking about it. It is so very clever but was ultimately, for me at least, let down by its vague ending that did not work as well as the unflinching honesty the rest of the book possessed. I rounded up my rating anyways because of the aforementioned cleverness.

Told from a close first person narration by Lucy, as former PhD-student of the Classics who now lives her life as a stay-at-home mum of two who occasionally free-lances, this book is a look at motherhood and relationships. The book starts with Lucy finding out that her husband has been cheating on her and them agreeing to her being allowed to hurt him, three times. Interspersed are prose-poem like asides about harpies, the subject of Lucy’s abandoned PhD project. Lucy is, before everything else, resentful; resentful of the way her life has turned out, resentful of her husband, resentful of the other parents at her children’s school, and yes, often resentful of the time her children demand of her. Jake is not a bad man, he is present and an active part in their children’s lives but still – most of the mind-numbingly boring parts of motherhood are managed by Lucy alone – driving the children to school and to their different activities, making sure they have snacks, that they are clothed properly and so on, and Lucy resents that. It feels like she is even a little bit relieved when Jake’s affair comes to light because it gives her anger a focus, a reasonable excuse to give in to the swirling feelings she has. Lucy is difficult to root for because she is so grimly unhappy and humourlessly mean – but she is also stuck in a situation she never wanted to be in and as such I could not help but feel for her. Her husband has the job she was on a trajectory on, being a university lecturer at an unnamed university (it does feel like either Oxford or Cambridge from the way their town is described), her ambition left her but not enough for her to be happy with her life as it is.

Content warning: self-harm, alcohol abuse, cheating, domestic abuse, vomit, suicide

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