I’ve just started Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, which was the first book covered on the Hardcore Literature reading programme when it commenced in 2021. This is going to be a long slow read.
I’m also working on my Ulysses Project, for which I’m reading Ulysses by James Joyce, The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson, and Harry Blamires‘ guide to Ulysses entitled The New Bloomsday Book.
For contemporary fiction, I’m rereading A Good Neighbourhood by Therese Anne Fowler, which has been chosen for my August book club.
The first book I finished this week was The Cockroach by Ian McEwan.
That morning, Jim Sams, clever but by no means profound, woke from uneasy dreams to find himself transformed into a gigantic creature.
Jim Sams has undergone a metamorphosis. In his previous life he was ignored or loathed, but in his new incarnation he is the most powerful man in Britain – and it is his mission to carry out the will of the people. Nothing must get in his way: not the opposition, nor the dissenters within his own party. Not even the rules of parliamentary democracy.
This novella is a parody of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, but in reverse. Here a cockroach is transformed into the Prime Minister, but it doesn’t stop there: cockroaches take over the Cabinet ministers as well. Political shenanigans follow in this attack on Brexit but it could easily apply to any of the other parliamentary goings on. It was clever and entertaining; however, it probably contains some uncomfortable truths.
I also read It Ends With Us by the incredibly popular Colleen Hoover.
Sometimes the one who loves you is the one who hurts you the most.
Lily hasn’t always had it easy, but that’s never stopped her from working hard for the life she wants. She’s come a long way from the small town in Maine where she grew up – she graduated from college, moved to Boston, and started her own business. So when she feels a spark with a gorgeous neurosurgeon named Ryle Kincaid, everything in Lily’s life suddenly seems almost too good to be true.
Ryle is assertive, stubborn, maybe even a little arrogant. He’s also sensitive, brilliant, and has a total soft spot for Lily, but Ryle’s complete aversion to relationships is disturbing. Even as Lily finds herself becoming the exception to his “no dating” rule, she can’t help but wonder what made him that way in the first place.
As questions about her new relationship overwhelm her, so do thoughts of Atlas Corrigan – her first love and a link to the past she left behind. He was her kindred spirit, her protector. When Atlas suddenly reappears, everything Lily has built with Ryle is threatened.
As I usually stick to literary fiction, I wasn’t sure how I would respond to this one, but everywhere I turn I see Colleen Hoover’s novels so I was keen to see what the appeal was. There were a few things I wasn’t so keen on. Firstly, the plot relies on two, possibly implausible, coincidences, and the narration can be a little cloying at times. I also felt I didn’t get to know some of the key characters particularly well, mainly due to the first person narration, but I did find it somewhat disappointing at this lack of depth.
Having said that, I can fully understand why she is such a popular author. It is a gripping page-turner and I read the last 40% in one sitting, aided by the fact that the writing style is undemanding and easy to read. The idea for the plot came from Hoover’s family situation and, as a result, she explores the complexities of abuse with sympathy and understanding, especially the difficulties women face in extricating themselves from these situations. I also liked the flashbacks to the protagonist’s childhood, which took the form of her teenage journal, which was written as a series of letters to Ellen DeGeneres. For me, there was a clever and satisfying moment that I can’t say anymore about as it would be a spoiler. Overall, I enjoyed this far more than I anticipated and am glad I read it.
Finally, I read a novel I’ve had on my shelf for a few years: A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark.
When Mrs Hawkins tells Hector Bartlett he ‘urinates frightful prose’, little does she realise the repercussions.
Holding that ‘no life can be carried on satisfactorily unless people are honest’ Mrs Hawkins refuses to retract her judgement, and as a consequence, loses not one, but two much-sought-after jobs in publishing.
Now, years older, successful, and happily a far cry from Kensington, she looks back over the dark days that followed, in which she was embroiled in a mystery involving anonymous letters, quack remedies, blackmail and suicide.
I enjoyed the characterisation in Spark’s novel; she certainly had an eye for people’s idiosyncrasies and eccentricities. The protagonist is strong and resourceful, and I liked her no-nonsense approach to life and the way she dealt with the various situations she found herself in. It was light-hearted and entertaining, even when dealing with serious subjects, and another quick and easy read. On the negative side, I imagined the mid-20s main character to be in her 50s and it wasn’t until I was near the end that I discovered she was much younger (that could be an oversight on my part but the character certainly seemed much older in the way she was portrayed). Also, it was another novel where I didn’t get to know the characters in depth.
I will need another easy and light-hearted accompaniment to my ‘heavy’ reading so will probably choose another incredibly popular novel: Beach Read by Emily Henry.
My quotation this week comes from A Far Cry From Kensington:
It is my advice to any woman getting married to start, not as you mean to go on, but worse, tougher, than you mean to go on. Then you can slowly relax and it comes as a pleasant surprise.Muriel Spark