Review: A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

39689872._sx318_Verdict: Gutting, viscerally upsetting, stunningly written.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Literary Fiction

Published by Faber & Faber, 2014

Find it on Goodreads.

Eimear McBride’s debut tells, with astonishing insight and in brutal detail, the story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother, and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumour. Not so much a stream of consciousness, as an unconscious railing against a life that makes little sense, and a shocking and intimate insight into the thoughts, feelings and chaotic sexuality of a vulnerable and isolated protagonist. To read A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing is to plunge inside its narrator’s head, experiencing her world first-hand. This isn’t always comfortable – but it is always a revelation.

Touching on everything from family violence to sexuality and the personal struggle to remain intact in times of intense trauma, McBride writes with singular intensity, acute sensitivity and mordant wit. A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is moving, funny – and alarming. It is a book you will never forget.

I don’t know what to say about this book. We have been buddy reading this with my Women’s Prize group (Rachel (5 stars), Callum (4 stars), Naty (currently reading), Emily (5 stars), and Sarah (in a reading slump)) and I have been periodically telling them that the book is killing me. And killing me it did. I do not know that I have ever read a book that I found this viscerally upsetting. It’s brilliant, mind, but so raw and so upsetting that I am glad to be done with it – while simultaneously wanting to read eveything Eimear McBride has ever written.

Told in fragmented sentences that are not so much stream-of-consciousness (although they are this too) but rather a stumbling, breathless kind of impressionistic language, the prose is the first and obvious draw here. It took me about three chapters of my audiobook to find my bearing (I listened to each of those first three chapters at least twice, frequently skipping back to relisten) but once I did, I found it mesmerizing. The rhythm to the language is stunning and McBride’s audio narration was just brilliant. I am a huge fan of books told in second person singular – and this rambling, raw narrative, addressed to the unnamed narrator’s older brother hit very many sweet spots for me.

This is a story about grief and trauma and I could not ever listen to more than half an hour before needing a break. The main character is traumatized: first by her brother’s brain tumor and her parent’s abuse, then again when, at 13, her uncle brutally rapes her. After this, she never finds her bearing again, getting lost in toxic behaviour and self-harm spirals. I found this book endlessly bleak – so much that by the end I could only listen to minutes before becoming overwhelmed. I also wish the people in the narrator’s life weren’t all this horrible – the horribleness of the uncle nearly eclipsed what an awful person her mother was as well. I thought the prose worked best in moments of immediate trauma but there were moments when I found it more vague than impactful. Still, what a brilliant, brilliant book.

Content warning: sexual assault, rape, pedophilia, cancer, familial death, religious bigotry, self-harm, alcoholism, abuse.

 

 

Wrap Up: June 2019 or apparently I am a romance blogger now

It is summer and I want to die. Germany is melting under a record heatwave and I am not dealing well with it. I miss Scotland.

Books I read in June:

  1. Faking Ms Right by Claire Kingsley: 4 out of 5 stars
  2. The Austen Playbook (London Celebrities #4) by Lucy Parker: 4 out of 5 stars
  3. Manchester Happened by Jennifer Sansubuga Makumbi: 3 out of 5 stars (review)
  4. Wolf Rain (Psy-Changeling #18, Psy Trinity #3) by Nalini Singh: 4 out of 5 stars
  5. Circe by Madeline Miller: 3 out of 5 stars (review)
  6. Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey: 4 out of 5 stars
  7. The Duchess Deal (Girl meets Duke #1) by Tessa Dare: 3 out of 5 stars
  8. Relationship Material by Jenya Keefe: 4 out of 5 stars
  9. Chase Me (Broke and Beautiful #1) by Tessa Bailey: 3 out of 5 stars
  10. The Governess Game (Girl meets Duke #2) by Tessa Dare: 3 out of 5 stars
  11. Need Me (Broke and Beautiful #2) by Tessa Bailey: 3 out of 5 stars
  12. Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney: 5 out of 5 stars (reread)
  13. Getaway Girl (Girl #1) by Tessa Bailey: 4 out of 5 stars

Favourite of the Month:

Continue reading “Wrap Up: June 2019 or apparently I am a romance blogger now”

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

The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019: Shortlist Thoughts and Winner Predictions

I still haven’t read all the books on the longlist nor the shortlist for that matter (yes, I got sidetracked by fantasy and romance novels) but I read enough of all the books to have opinions. I really enjoyed my journey through the longlist, mostly because I read it with some super wonderful people, and I do plan on doing this again. It is so much fun feeling connected to the blogging community! And our group chat is a thing of beauty. I will still be posting three reviews and I imagine I will have thoughts on the winner come tomorrow, so this isn’t quite the end of my coverage but it feels a bit like it.

I will keep my thoughts on the longlist for when I finish reading it so for now I will concentrate on the six books on the shortlist in order of preference. Overall I find the shortlist underwhelming. The judges have picked mostly traditionally told books instead of the more experimental ones (and there weren’t many to begin with on the longlist) and I personally adore interesting narrative structures more than anything.

6) Ordinary People by Diana Evans

35277858I do not get on with the book so far. The writing style is absolutely not for me and I am not sure yet whether I’ll finish it at all. I find this one does what many of the books I disliked on the longlist did: it gets bogged down in unnecessary detail. I know this is a me thing but it is driving me a little bit up the walls. I would be very surprised if it won.

 

5) An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

33590210Many people love this book but I am not one of those people. I found Jones’ depiction of toxic masculinity convincing – but so very infuriating. I am not sure the book accomplishes what it sets out to do: the deeply problematic behaviour of the main character made me doubt his innocence in a way that undermined the more political points. I do not want this to win but would not be surprised. This book has clearly spoken to many people.

4) Circe my Madeline Miller

37134404I want to love this book. I love Millers writing on a sentence-by-sentence level and I agree with her political points but the book is killing me. I find her narrative style patronizing, she does not seem to trust her readers to understand subtext, and everything is spelled out. There are glimpses of brilliance (Medea!) but overall, I find Circe’s story dull and overshadowed by the men in her life – which seems to be the exact opposite of what Miller set out to do. But still, what pretty sentences. This does have a pretty good chance of winning and I wouldn’t pull my hair out if it did. Also, nearly everybody loves this, so I am probably just the wrong reader.

3) My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

38819868I enjoyed this book a lot while reading it and I think it is a lot deeper than people give it credit for. But there is no way in hell this is the best book written by a woman or a non-binary author in the last year (that is obviously The Pisces but I am not still bitter about that). I loved the way the language flowed and I am always a fan of sibling relationships. If this won I wouldn’t be upset but I am not rooting for it. It does seem to be a lot of people’s prediction for the winner though, so colour me intrigued.

2) Milkman by Anna Burns

36047860This book has grown on me. While I found it brilliant from the beginning, I also struggled with my reading experience. But, god, what brilliance. This book is narratively the most interesting and accomplished book on the shortlist and it is the one I want to win even if it isn’t my personal favourite. There is just something mesmerizing about this book and I want Burns to have both the Booker and the Women’s Prize. Because this might actually be the best book written by a woman this last year (kidding, that is still The Pisces).

1) The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

38470229I loved, loved, loved this book. It was near perfect for me and seems practically custom-made. I love the way Barker tells her story and I find her characters endlessly compelling (they are the only really compelling characters on a shortlist filled with books whose characters did not work for me). I find her book very clever in its deliberate play with expectations (Achilles in humanized but not through his love to Patrocles but rather his difficult relationship with his parents; Briseis struggles more with her lack of agency than with the rest of her situation) and I am so very happy to love at least one book on the shortlist.

Which book are you rooting for? Is the book you’re rooting for the book you think will win? It doesn’t seem like there is a clear front runner, so I cannot wait for tomorrow.

Now I nearly forgot: I am predicting Milkman.

Review: The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

38470229Verdict: Incredible.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Literary Fiction, myth retelling

Published by Penguin Audio, 2018.

Find it on Goodreads.

The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, which continues to wage bloody war over a stolen woman: Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman watches and waits for the war’s outcome: Briseis. She was queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms until Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles’s concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army.

When Agamemnon, the brutal political leader of the Greek forces, demands Briseis for himself, she finds herself caught between the two most powerful of the Greeks. Achilles refuses to fight in protest, and the Greeks begin to lose ground to their Trojan opponents. Keenly observant and coolly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position to observe the two men driving the Greek forces in what will become their final confrontation, deciding the fate, not only of Briseis’s people, but also of the ancient world at large.

Briseis is just one among thousands of women living behind the scenes in this war–the slaves and prostitutes, the nurses, the women who lay out the dead–all of them erased by history. With breathtaking historical detail and luminous prose, Pat Barker brings the teeming world of the Greek camp to vivid life. She offers nuanced, complex portraits of characters and stories familiar from mythology, which, seen from Briseis’s perspective, are rife with newfound revelations. Barker’s latest builds on her decades-long study of war and its impact on individual lives–and it is nothing short of magnificent.

I am in love. Nearly everything about this book worked for me. While I do think that parts of that are due to the fact that it hits a lot of sweet spots of mine, I also think it really is an incredible achievement. I adore the story of the Trojan War though – so this was probably always going to work for me.

Pat Barker sets out to give a voice to Briseis, whose importance in the Trojan War cannot be overstated but who remains mostly voiceless in the Iliad. Briseis narrates the vast majority of the book and I found her voice compelling and incredibly well realized. The audiobook narrator (Kristin Atherton) was pitch-perfect in a way that wonderfully added to my listening experience.

Perhaps my favourite part of this book I adore for many reasons is Barker’s treatment of agency here. Agency and fate are at the heart of the original myth and I think this is really where her retelling shines. Obviously, Briseis’ agency is taken away and it is the thing she suffers most from. So much that the rapes and the humiliation and all the other horrible things happening to her seem to not even register for her (which I find very interesting as a narrative choice!). But even Achilles has very little agency in the grand scheme of things (an idea that Barker very heavily leans into and that I found very interesting). And when he does have choices he consistently does the wrong thing – until his agency is taken away again.

Briseis is a wonderfully realized character: I adore that Barker allows our first glimpse of her to be an ambivalent one, she has unkind thoughts and seems fairly self-involved while also trying to be a good person and loving her brothers. I find that a lot more interesting than perfect characters. Still, overall Briseis shows kindness and strength in the way she deals with her experience and her relationships to the other women in the Greek camp are beautifully done. Briseis’ part is told in first person and as such we follow her intimately in a way that Achilles’ third person narration does not achieve (a brilliant narrative decision). I appreciated this choice a lot: in a way Achilles is the one who remains voiceless and whose more humanizing behaviour is forgotten and only his awfulness is remembered (in this fictional universe where the Iliad is a historical text).

In short, I loved this. A lot. I find it a super interesting text in the way it deals with feminist issues in a way that more closely mirrors traditional myths and I adore that Barker lets the main characters behave in way that is maybe more unconventional for the modern reader but that makes perfect sense in the (pseudo-) historical context.

Content warning: rape, death, mutilation, physical abuse, slavery

 

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
  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. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (review)
  9. Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn (review)
  10. Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli (DNF)
  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)

Wrap Up: May 2019 or this was Wyrd and Wonder

First things first, as a housekeeping note: I’ll be trying to include trigger warnings in my reviews from now on. (I read two books at the same time that really knocked me sideways and while I know this is a weirdly self-involved reason to start including trigger warnings, it has given me the incentive to finally take the plunge, something I have thought about doing for a while) If I get anything wrong or forget to include something, please let me know.

Except for this unfortunate being knocked sideways and the resulting abandonment of any book even remotely challenging (and the resulting binge-reading of romance novels which soothed me), I had a pretty damn brilliant reading month. I rated three books five stars! That never happens!

I had so much fun with Wyrd and Wonder – a month-long celebration of the fantastic hosted by imyril @ There’s Always Room for One More, Lisa @ Dear Geek Place and Jorie @ Jorie Loves a Story, even if I didn’t end up posting a whole lot but I am so glad to have participated. Thank you so much for hosting and for the fun and the new people I followed!

Books I read in May:

  1. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite: 4 out of 5 stars (review)
  2. Silver Silence (Psy-Changeling Trinity #1) by Nalini Singh: 3 out of 5 stars
  3. Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World #2) by Rebecca Roanhorse: 5 out of 5 stars (review)
  4. Moon Called (Mercy Thompson #1) by Patricia Briggs: 3 out of 5 stars
  5. Blood Bound (Mercy Thompson #2) by Patricia Briggs: 3 out of 5 stars
  6. Bone Crossed (Mercy Thompson #4) by Patricia Briggs: 2,5 out of 5 stars
  7. Act Like It (London Celebrities #1) by Lucy Parker: 4 out of 5 stars
  8. Pretty Face (London Celebrities #2) by Lucy Parker: 4 out of 5 stars
  9. Making Up (London Celebrities #3) by Lucy Parker: 3,5 out of 5 stars
  10. Disorderly Conduct (The Academy #1) by Tessa Bailey: 3 out of 5 stars
  11. Disturbing His Peace (The Academy #3) by Tessa Bailey: 4 out of 5 stars
  12. Indecent Exposure (The Academy #2) by Tessa Bailey: 4 out of 5 stars
  13. The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon: 5 out of 5 stars (review)
  14. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker: 5 out of 5 stars

Favourite of the Month:

Continue reading “Wrap Up: May 2019 or this was Wyrd and Wonder”

Review: My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

38819868Verdict: Fun, fast-paced, surprisingly deep.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction

Published by Doubleday Books, 2018.

Find it on Goodreads.

When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…

I love books about siblings; a lot. So I was probably always going to enjoy this but I am still glad that this was indeed the case. This fast-paced novel about two sisters, one of which is a serial killer and the other her (un)willing helper, is deceptively shallow – but below the frankly addicting language and the exhilerating twists and turns, this is also a commentary on the roles women are supposed to play and the limited option they have. It perceptively shows the impact of abuse and power imbalance while showing a fun way in which this power might be taken back.

For me, the biggest strength was the way Braithwaite’s language flows. It is breathtakingly easy to read and the rhythm she achieves is wonderful – it makes absolute sense that the author is a spoken-word artist. I rarely notice language but here I was just in awe. Her sentences flow very nicely and make for a compulsive reading experience in the best possible way.

I enjoyed the sibling relationship at the core a whole lot; it read true to life (or rather as true to life as a dark comedy about a serial killer can ever be). Korede is alternately frustrated with her sister Ayoola and fiercely protective of her. I could really empathize with this feeling. This book also made me take a look at what I would do for my own siblings – and I have to be honest, Korede’s actions do not seem farfetched to me at all.

This is definitely a fun addition to the shortlist of this year’s Women’s Prize and while it is not my favourite of the books I have read of the longlist so far, it is heaps and bounds better than many books on the list and I am glad to see in advance. I would not mind if it won the prize as well – because I do think it is cleverly done in a way that makes it seem effortless, which is really difficult to pull off.

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. Normal People by Sally Rooney (review)
  4. Milkman by Anna Burns (review)
  5. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
  6. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (review)
  7. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (review)
  8. Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn (review)
  9. Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott (review)
  10. Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li (review)
  11. Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden (review)