In which I wrap up April...
(1) Things which I have read and enjoyed
April was the month for reading a good chunk of the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist - plus a few other bits and pieces.
From the Women’s Prize list I read:
My Sister the Serial Killer - Oyinkan Braithwaite. Dark, snappy fun, but it doesn’t come with a lot of depth or hang around the mind. But who says serial killer black comedies have to?
Circe - Madeline Miller. I enjoyed this so much more than Silence of the Girls, which is also on the long list, and more than Miller’s own Song of Achilles. I thought it was a great take on Circe and a number of familiar myths.
Bottled Goods - Sophie van Llewyn. A total surprise to me - this short little book of was a lovely little slice of magical realism about communist Romania. Would totally recommend.
Normal People - Sally Rooney. Didn’t love, but also - didn’t hate, which is impressive given that I went in sceptical about the ‘next big thing.’ I read one of those interviews with Bret Easton Ellis this month (don’t ask me why, and don’t do it), in which the interviewer described this as the great millennial novel. It’s a very good novel about millennials, but it’s not great. I probably would have liked it more if I were in my early 20s, but at heading for late 30s it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know about people.
Ghost Wall - Sarah Moss. The fact that this is not on the short list is a TRAVESTY. I’ve been hearing about Moss for ages, but this was my first and I blimmin’ loved it. It hugely evocative, and manages to be both warm and fond and eerie and chilling at the same time. It should have PRIZES.
Lost Children Archive - Valeria Luiselli. I enjoyed this quite a lot. It isn’t the easiest read, and clearly the adults in it are just people you wouldn’t want to spend time with, but it is also trying to deal with a big topic in a really interesting way and I liked that.
Praise Song for the Butterflies - Bernice L McFaden. Totally solid: a fascinating story, really well written.
I also read three new novels, two by novelists I’ve been a fan of for a while, and one by someone who might be becoming a fave.
Little Faith - Nickolas Butler. Butler’s first novel, Shotgun Lovesongs, is precious to me and I’ve made my peace with the fact that he may never again write anything I love that much - and I really enjoyed this. It has an interesting premise, a strong sense of place (as ever), and deals really well with the complexity of family relationships and with faith.
We the Survivors - Tash Aw. I enjoyed Aw’s Map of the Invisible World and his last, Five-Star Billionaire, blazed itself into my brain (read it). I wanted to love this so much, and it has had really good reviews - but for me it was so intent on the importance of its theme (which, don’t get me wrong, is big and worth getting teeth into) that never really took flight as a story and a novel, with the result that I just didn’t care as much as I wanted.
Lanny - Max Porter. Oh my gosh, this book. It’s strange and lush and atmospheric and wonderful and it opens up a world in your world, and makes total sense without being sensible at all, and I loved it.
And then I re-read Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones on Easter Monday, because if you can’t re-read a little childhood wizardy fun on a holiday, when can you.
(2) Things which I have watched and enjoyed
I saw Red Joan, which is an almost total waste of Judi Dench and quite a waste of everyone else: it’s a British spy story for a wet weekend when you’ve exhausted all your other options. Fortunately I also saw Eighth Grade, which is spectacular: both painful and joyful, and full of life - and I never never ever want to have to deal with the teenage years again. And yes, I saw Avengers: Endgame, along with apparently half the western world. I didn’t like Infinity War much, so I was really glad that this one landed for me and I was very satisfied, emotionally, by the whole thing, which is all I really wanted.
(3) A recommendation of some kind
Do you hate Vivaldi’s Four Seasons? I used to hate Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I’m pretty sure it was the hold music for every railway company in the UK I needed to complain to at one point. However… I no longer hate it. Here’s how you get there: you listen to Max Richter’s Four Seasons: Recomposed and Anna Meredith’s ANNO: Four Seasons, and these will remind you that there are some truly astonishing, heart-soaring moments in the Four Seasons, and you will want to go back and listen to the whole thing again, forgetting about the cut-up bits used on hold music. And you will find that it is wonderful.
(4) In the pile for May
I am re-reading Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker, and then I have one more Women’s Prize nominee to read (Tayari Jones’ American Marriage). I want to read We Have Always Lived in the Castle before the film comes out, so that has been added to the pile, and I have picked up Robert Macfarlane’s new book, Underland, and Sandra Newman’s new book, The Heavens.
(5) A photo from the month gone by
I spent the Palm Sunday weekend in Cornwall. We went to the Tate St Ives on a windy Monday, and it does have a gallery with one of the best gallery views in the world.