I’m reading Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason, as part of my challenge to read the 2022 Women’s Prize shortlist.
I’m still listening to The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. This is a long one and it’s going to take me some time. I should probably be reading it instead.
My current classic is Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, and here I’m doing a mix of listening and reading.
My non-fiction read is Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman.
I finished reading Things We Left Unsaid by Zoya Pirzad.
Deep in an Iranian suburb, made rich by the booming oil industry, Clarice Ayvazian lives a comfortable life surrounded by the gentle bickering of her children and her gossiping friends and relatives. Happy being at the heart of her family, she devotes herself to their every need. But when an enigmatic Armenian family move in across the street, something begins to gnaw at Clarice’s contentment: a feeling that there may be more to life – and to her – than this. Dizzy with the sweltering heat and simmering emotions, Clarice begins to feel herself come alive to possibilities previously unimaginable.
This was sold as being for fans of Anne Tyler (which I am), and I agree that it is in the vein of the ordinary workings of a ‘normal’ family and what I would call a quiet novel. I enjoyed the playing out of the family dynamics and the underlying tensions, and the sense of mystery created by the new family that moves into the neighbourhood. It’s told in short chapters, which always makes a novel quick and easy to read.
However, I was more or less able to predict events and there were no surprises, and the whole novel felt inconclusive. I would have preferred a deeper insight into the psychology of the characters, particularly the main character as it was told via first person narration. She didn’t seem to have much self-awareness, and I struggled to make sense of her. Having made this criticism, I feel this could have been intentional on the part of the writer: Clarice begins questioning the way she lives her life, its purpose and whether she is fulfilled. She can’t come up with answers and so how can the reader know? I found this as frustrating a situation as Clarice probably did, as when she ponders what she will do as her children grow up and become more independent.
Then I will finally have time for things I want to do, I thought. My critical streak started in, ‘Like what things?’ …’I don’t know.’ It was a depressing thought.
Overall, I enjoyed this novel but was left with the feeling that, like Clarice, I wanted something more. Does this make it a clever novel?
This fulfils prompt 42 of the 52 Book Club Reading Challenge: An indie read (it’s published by OneWorld).
I also read it for prompt 1 of the Asian Readathon: A book written by an Asian author.
The second book I completed was Take Me With You When You Go by David Levithan and Jennifer Niven.
Ezra wakes one day to find his sister gone. No note, no sign, nothing but an email address hidden somewhere only he would find it.
Escaping their toxic home life, Bea finds herself alone in a new city – without friends, without a real plan – chasing someone who might not even want to be found.
As things unravel at home for Ezra, Bea confronts secrets about their past that will forever change the way they think about their family. Separated by distance but connected by love, this brother and sister must learn to trust themselves before they can find a way back to each other.
This young adult novel is an unusual choice for me and I discovered it when searching the teenage section of the library in a bid to find the kind of books available to young people these days. I’m an English and maths tutor and because so many of my students have an aversion to reading, I want to be able to recommend books that I think they will enjoy. My aim was to experience something that I felt would appeal to them. I chose this one because it’s got a beautiful cover, I’ve heard of David Levithan, it has both male and female main characters, and it’s written in email form.
I wasn’t expecting to like it but I enjoyed it immensely! It’s gripping from the start and, through the emails, events are gradually revealed so that the reader is constantly putting the pieces of the jigsaw together to ascertain what has happened in the past and to predict what will happen in the future. However, because of the form, we only ever saw other characters through the siblings’ eyes, and I desperately wanted to know more about the motivations, thoughts and feelings of the other characters; in particular, I was desperate to learn more about their mother. I liked the siblings and had a lot of sympathy for them, even when they weren’t acting at their best. The novel deals with gritty issues, such as abuse, homosexuality, relationship breakdowns, friendships, the challenges of navigating the teenage years, and loss, in a way that I feel young people will be able to relate to. I have to confess I couldn’t put it down and completed it in two days. I would definitely recommend it to teenagers and within its pages there are important messages:
It’s wonderful when someone else sees you, the real you but…maybe the most important thing is seeing yourself.
I’m going to stretch this one and use it for prompt 50: a person of colour as the main character (one of the central characters fulfils this requirement)
Finally, I read Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li.
Written over two years while the author battled depression, Dear Friend is a painful and yet richly affirming examination of what makes life worth living. Interweaving personal memoir with a wide-ranging celebration of writers and books, this is a journey of recovery through literature.
From William Trevor and Katherine Mansfield to Kierkegaard and Larkin, Yiyun Li traces the themes of time and transformation, presence and absence. Drawing on personal experiences from her difficult childhood in China, she constructs a beautiful, interior exploration of selfhood and what is required to choose life.
This memoir of Chinese author, Yiyun Li, is divided into eight sections and got off to a very promising start with reflections on time, memory, emotions, dreams, and battles. Then I struggled with it and at a little over half way through I was questioning why I couldn’t grasp the thread that should hold it together and it became much harder for me to understand. I desperately wanted to enjoy it but I couldn’t say that I was and felt I was limping towards the end to the point where, desiring not to give up but to finish it, I resolved to read just ten pages a day to achieve this. Much to my surprise, my interest was piqued during the final three sections, which felt much more coherent to me. I wonder if my experience with the memoir mirrored the writer’s experience with depression, if indeed the sections were written in chronological order.
I found many thought-provoking ideas, even when I wasn’t enjoying it so much, and it is possibly the most underlined book I possess. It’s hard to pick just one so I opened the book at random and found this tragic statement, which sums up the Yiyun Li’s despair:
Often I think that writing is a futile effort; so is reading; so is living.
I read this for Prompt 2 of the Asian Readathon: A book featuring an Asian female/older woman.
I will also use it for prompt 33 of the 52 Book Club Reading Challenge: A bilingual character – one of the topics the writer explores is her experience of moving, not only physically to another country but to another language, and how language is linked to our identify:
What happened during my transition from one language to another did not become memory.
I have three exciting library books waiting to be read:
- Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller – I’ve read two books by this author and like the unusual scenarios she creates
- Should We Stay or Should We Go by Lionel Shriver – Having recently read We Need To Talk About Kevin, I’m impressed by Shriver’s writing and the ideas she conveys
- Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafron – I couldn’t resist a novel that bears my name!