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Jane Austen July Review

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For the first time, I took part in Jane Austen July (hosted by YouTuber Books and Things). Here is a list of the prompts and what I read or watched for each one.

  1. Read one of Jane Austen’s six main novels: I participated in the Pride and Prejudice readalong but ended up reading ahead and finishing early as I was enjoying it so much.
  2. Read something by Jane Austen that is not one of her six main novels: I also took part in the Lady Susan readalong, and again I couldn’t stop reading. The manner in which character and events are expressed through correspondence is deftly executed.
  3. Read a non-fiction work about Jane Austen or her time: I chose What Matters in Jane Austen? by John Mullan, which is a very interesting exploration of topics such as blushing, what the characters call each other, and sharing bedrooms, spanning the six main Austen novels.
  4. Read a retelling of a Jane Austen book or a work of historical fiction set in Jane Austen’s time: I read Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. This is tragic and atmospheric and I will reread it at some point.
  5. Read a book by a contemporary of Jane Austen (ie published between 1775 and 1817): my choice here was A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe. I knew what to expect, having read The Mysteries of Udolpho many years ago; it’s a perfect (and much shorter) accompaniment to Northanger Abbey.
  6. Watch a direct screen adaptation of a Jane Austen book: I watched the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley, which I felt was an excellent portrayal of the novel.
  7. Watch a modern screen adaptation/retelling of a Jane Austen book: I didn’t know what to pick but saw others were watching Clueless, which is apparently loosely based on Emma, which I haven’t read. It was surprisingly entertaining in an undemanding way.

I thoroughly enjoyed this exploration of Jane Austen and related works. Focusing in this manner allows you to completely immerse yourself and gives you a far deeper and wider understanding. It would be a good strategy to apply to other writers whose works you which to explore in more depth.

My reading week: 30/52

Currently Reading

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.

Recently Completed

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.

Reading Next

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

My reading week: 29/52

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Currently Reading

My current contemporary read is The Cockroach by Ian McEwan.

I’ve also begun working on my Ulysses project, guided by The Hardcore Literature Book Club, which is presented by Benjamin McEvoy. I have read the first chapter of Ulysses by James Joyce, alongside the appropriate section of The New Bloomsday Book, Harry Blamires‘ guide to reading the novel. As an accompaniment, I am also reading Emily Wilson‘s translation of The Odyssey by Homer, have have completed the introduction and ‘Book 1: The Boy and the Goddess’.

Recently Completed

This week I finished reading and listening to A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe.

This early novel explores the cavernous landscapes and labyrinthine passages of Sicily’s castles and convents to reveal the shameful secrets of its all-powerful aristocracy. Julia and Emilia Mazzini live secluded in an ancient mansion near the Straits of Messina. After their father’s return to the island a neglected part of the house is haunted by a series of mysterious sights and sounds. The origin of these hauntings is only discovered after a series of breathless pursuits through dreamlike pastoral landscapes. When revelation finally comes, it forces the heroines to challenge the united forces of religious and patriarchal authority.

I read this as part of Jane Austen July, the prompt being to read a novel by a contemporary of Jane Austen. Having read The Mysteries of Udolpho many years ago, I knew what to expect, and this novel has to be admired as a textbook example of the gothic genre and makes a perfect accompaniment to Northanger Abbey, in which Austen parodies this type of novel. It is a fast-paced, plot-driven work, which doesn’t sit comfortably with me as I prefer slow, character-driven novels. For me, it has no depth or philosophy and doesn’t require any thought; it’s ridiculous, light-hearted and undemanding escapism, containing a ridiculous amount of implausible coincidences. If you are considering reading Northanger Abbey, it is well worth reading A Sicilian Romance beforehand, in order to appreciate what Austen is doing. Although she specifically refers to The Mysteries of Udolpho, this novel has the same elements and is much shorter.

Another book I finished for Jane Austen July was What Matters in Jane Austen? by John Mullan.

What are the right and wrong ways to propose marriage? What do the characters call each other, and why? And which important Austen characters never speak? In twenty short chapters, each of which answers a question prompted by Jane Austen’s novels, John Mullan illuminates the themes that matter most to the workings of Austen’s fiction.

This is a very thorough but easily accessible insight into particular recurring elements in Jane Austen’s novels and certainly causes you to consider areas that you might not otherwise have thought about. There are detailed examples from her major works to illustrate the points and an in-depth analysis of the significance of, for example, blushing, which proves to be very interesting (women blush, men go red or white). However, I have read only three of her novels recently and so a dive into the other works was not as meaningful; consequently, I think this would be a book better dipped into alongside a reading of a specific novel rather than sat down and read from cover to cover. I ended up skimming over paragraphs concerning Emma, which I have never read. At times, the general points were lost amongst the detailed analyses and, for this reason, a chapter summary would have been a useful addition. One thing that I found particularly pleasing about the book was that you can take the topics, for example ‘what do the characters call each other and why?’ and apply them to works by other writers both past and present; as a result, Mullan’s work extends beyond the narrow focus of Austen.

Another prompt for Jane Austen July was to read a work by Austen that is not one of her six main novels and for this I chose Lady Susan.

The scheming and unscrupulous Lady Susan is unlike any Austen heroine you’ve met in this fascinating early novella.

The novella comprises 41 letters between a small cast of characters in Lady Susan’s life, through which the story of her scandalous, shameless and manipulative behaviour is told. The epistolary form is very effective at revealing her duplicity and the thoughts and feelings of her friends and relatives, and it is a joy to witness the story unfold. It is light-hearted and fast-paced and although it is hard to like Lady Susan, it is definitely entertaining to observe her planning and scheming. If you would like to experience Jane Austen but are wary of diving into a longer piece of her fiction, this would be an excellent introduction to her world.

Finally, I returned to the 21st century to read Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney.

Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a distribution warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend Eileen is getting over a break-up, and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood.

Alice, Felix, Eileen and Simon are still young—but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They have sex, they worry about sex, they worry about their friendships and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?

I read Conversations with Friends when it was first published and enjoyed the TV adaption of Normal People, which I haven’t yet read. The latter I only struggled with in terms of not understanding the characters: I felt I didn’t know them well and couldn’t understand their motivations – when I do get round to reading the novel, I’m hoping there will be a greater depth to the characters. Consequently, I was wary of reading Beautiful World, Where Are You and had one false start on it. However, I came back to it a few weeks later and loved it. I found myself having so much sympathy with the characters; I cared for them and felt their suffering as they struggled with the complexities of their lives and the wider world. The questions they grappled with were thought-provoking and have no easy answers, especially the search for meaning in life, the crises facing human existence, and, on a slightly less-challenging scale, on writing. The novel spoke to me on an intellectual level and if I had not been lent to me by a friend, I would have covered the pages with underlining and notes.

Reading Next

My next read is going to be It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover, who was the most popular author around the pool on my recent holiday so I’m intrigued to find out what the draw is and whether I agree.

My quotation this week comes from Beautiful World, Where Are You, and expresses how I feel about previous decades of my life when I say that past times seem to have taken place in ‘another life’:

To think of childhood gave her a funny queasy feeling, because it had been real life once and now it was something else.

Sally Rooney

The Ulysses Project

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At the beginning of June, I joined the Hardcore Literature Book Club, Benjamin McEvoy’s guided reading and lecture series on Patreon, primarily so I could watch his lectures on Jane Austen’s Persuasion, which I was reading for my trip to Bath. However, I enjoyed them so much, I decided to stay. The next ‘big read’ is Ulysses by James Joyce, which will take place over July, August and September, and this is the first book I will read along with in real time.

To keep the motivation going, I’ve decided to approach it as a project and will simultaneously read Emily Watson’s translation of The Odyssey, which I have never read before. To help me with Ulysses, I have purchased the highly recommended accompaniment, The New Bloomsday Book by Harry Blamires. Then I will also watch the videos that McEvoy releases to help me dive even deeper into the text. I’ve got both The Odyssey and Ulysses on audio as well as text form to help make things easier.

At the moment, I’m listening to/reading the introduction to The Odyssey. Next week, when I have finished Jane Austen July, I will start reading Ulysses. I plan on reading the relevant section of Blamires’ textbook before I read the appropriate chapter of Ulysses. Once I’ve seen how that goes, I will create a weekly plan. I don’t want it to be an arduous project: it’s supposed to be a rewarding and enriching experience, and if I find it’s going to take me longer, then so be it. My intention isn’t simply to read it but to enjoy it so I don’t want to create any unnecessary pressure that detracts from this aim.

I feel that approaching in this way what now looks like a monumental task will give me a better chance of getting through it – after all, they’re not going to be the lightest of summer reads!

My reading week: 28/52

Currently Reading

I’m concentrating on Jane Austen July and am reading/listening to A Sicilian Romance by Jane Austen’s contemporary, Ann Radcliffe. I’m also reading What Matters in Jane Austen? by John Mullan.

Recently Completed

I’ve finished two novels this week, the first being The Bread the Devil Knead by Lisa Allen-Agostini.

Alethea Lopez is about to turn 40. Fashionable, feisty and fiercely independent, she manages a boutique in Port of Spain, but behind closed doors she’s covering up bruises from her abusive partner and seeking solace in an affair with her boss. When she witnesses a woman murdered by a jealous lover, the reality of her own future comes a little too close to home.

Bringing us her truth in an arresting, unsparing Trinidadian voice, Alethea unravels memories repressed since childhood and begins to understand the person she has become. Her next step is to decide the woman she wants to be.

The audiobook is beautifully narrated by the author, who is also a poet, and this serves to bring the story alive and makes the experience quite personal. Although there are some truly harrowing events, the protagonist doesn’t allow them to crush her spirit but keeps driving herself forward with strength, and thus the novel never loses its sense of hope. It is set mainly in the present but the chapters are interspersed with scenes from a week in her childhood, which serve to illuminate our deeper understanding of the main character. Overall, the novel has a vibrant feel to it considering it deals with the darkest of themes.

I also read and listened to Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

The love story of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, who misjudge, then challenge and change each other, is also a novel about the search for happiness and self- knowledge in a world of strict social rules, where a woman must marry well to survive.

I was put off reading the classic novels of English Literature by school, which is such a shame as I have avoided them for years but am now discovering that I enjoy them. I love the characterisation in Austen’s novels, and the way she shows us their characters through their speech. We are aware of how much they are giving away and how they are fooling themselves but not fooling us. The plotting is intricately executed and she moves her characters like pieces on a chess board, bringing them together before separating them again and moving them into position for their next meeting. There is a true joy in watching the story unfold with all its misunderstandings and obstacles, whilst feeling secure that all will be well in the end.

Reading Next

This will be my final novel for Jane Austen July: Lady Susan by Jane Austen.

My reading week: 27/52

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Currently Reading

For Jane Austen July, I’m currently participating in a Pride and Prejudice readalong, and to complement this I’m working my way through What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved by John Mullan.

I’m also reading and listening to The Bread the Devil Knead by Lisa Allen-Agostini, for my challenge to read this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist.

Recently Completed

I’ve finished reading Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga.

Two decades before Zimbabwe would win independence and ended white minority rule, thirteen-year-old Tambudzai Sigauke embarks on her education. On her shoulders rest the economic hopes of her parents, siblings, and extended family, and within her burns the desire for independence. A timeless coming-of-age tale, and a powerful exploration of cultural imperialism, Nervous Conditions charts Tambu’s journey to personhood in a nation that is also emerging.

I chose this novel for the StoryGraph Reads the World challenge for Zimbabwe. Its themes are gender inequality, the influence of colonialism, and tradition versus progress, all ideas that interest me. I thought that through it I would learn something about Zimbabwe’s political climate and the protagonist, Tambu’s life within this world. I also anticipated it concentrating on her experience of education within this context. However, the novel centres on her the patriarchal structure of, and dynamics within her extended family and is quite insular in that respect. Her education comes more through her increasing awareness and understanding of her world than her experience at school, or at least that’s what Dangarembga focuses on, in my opinion.

Although the novel didn’t meet my expectations in terms of content and focus, it was nevertheless interesting. I enjoyed its exploration of the difficulty of living between two cultures and the depiction of wealth and poverty that existed within Tambu’s extended family. The oppression of women is quite shocking and something that Tambu becomes increasingly aware of: The needs and sensibilities of the women in my family were not considered a priority, or even legitimate…I felt the injustice of my situation…this is how I came to dislike…everybody. I also enjoyed her determination, particularly at the beginning of the novel when she decides to raise money for her school fees. The novel also has an arresting opening line: I was not sorry when my brother died.

I believe this is the first novel in a trilogy and may well read the other two at some point, which I assume will continue Tambu’s story.

I also finished reading The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra.

Since the ascendancy of the Taliban the lives of Mosheen and his beautiful wife, Zunaira, have been gradually destroyed. Mosheen’s dream of becoming a diplomat has been shattered and Zunaira can no longer even appear on the streets of Kabul unveiled. Atiq is a jailer who guards those who have been condemned to death; the darkness of prison and the wretchedness of his job have seeped into his soul. Atiq’s wife, Musarrat, is suffering from an illness no doctor can cure. Yet, the lives of these four people are about to become inexplicably intertwined, through death and imprisonment to passion and extraordinary self-sacrifice.

I came across this short novel in a charity shop and, being interested in Middle Eastern literature, was keen to read it. It didn’t let me down. It’s written by Algerian author, Mohammed Moulessehoul, who used a feminine pseudonym so that his manuscripts didn’t have to be approved by the army he served in. It is beautifully written, has a narrow focus of four main characters, and highlights the horror of living under an oppressive regime where even laughing in the streets can result in a beating. The writer clearly shows how the characters’ living conditions have impacted on them physically, mentally and emotionally. The story culminates in an ending that is powerful, shocking and heartbreaking.

Reading Next

I think my next choice will be part of the Jane Austen July project. One of the prompts is to read a contemporary of Austen and I have chosen A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe.

My quotation this week comes from The Swallows of Kabul and demonstrates how women become invisible under the oppressive regime:

For him, women are only ghosts, voiceless, charmless ghosts that pass practically unnoticed along the streets; flocks of infirm swallows.

Yasmina Khadra

Holiday reading review

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I’ve now returned from my holiday and here are the books I read whilst relaxing in the sunshine.

The first novel was Bunny by Mona Awad.

Samantha Heather Mackey is an outsider in her small, highly selective MFA program at Warren University. In fact, she is utterly repelled by the rest of her fiction writing cohort – a clique of unbearably twee rich girls who call each other ‘Bunny’.

But then the Bunnies issue her with an invitation and Samantha finds herself inexplicably drawn to their front door, across the threshold, and down their rabbit hole.

It’s hard to know where to begin with this dark academia novel. I was expecting something along the lines of The Secret History by Donna Tartt, and at the outset, it seemed as if it might head in that direction. It was engaging and the right choice to hold my attention on the flight. As the novel progressed, it took on a decidedly weird turn and at times I wasn’t sure quite what I was reading as events become increasingly bizarre. I think I ‘got it’ by the end but Awad is definitely playing with our minds.

My next choice was Ponti by Sharlene Teo.

Set in 2003 in the sweltering heat of Singapore, Sharlene Teo’s Ponti begins as sixteen-year-olds Szu and Circe develop an intense friendship. For Szu it offers an escape from Amisa, her beautiful, cruel mother – once an actress, and now the silent occupant of a rusty house. But for Circe, their friendship does the opposite, bringing her one step closer to the fascinating, unknowable Amisa.

Seventeen years later, Circe finds herself adrift and alone. And then a project comes up at work, a remake of the cult seventies horror film series ‘Ponti’, the same series that defined Amisa’s short-lived film career. Suddenly Circe is knocked off balance: by memories of the two women she once knew, by guilt, and by a lost friendship that threatens her conscience.

I struggled to connect with this novel even though I should have loved it as it had the feel of Margaret Atwood’s Lady Oracle and Cat’s Eye, set in the present but with extensive flashbacks to the past. Despite this, I felt I didn’t get to know the three main characters particularly well and didn’t connect emotionally with them. Perhaps, for me, it was the wrong book at the wrong time as it is a good novel. It’s well-written and the premise is interesting; I don’t know why we didn’t gel as I thought we would.

I also read Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.

Yeongdo, Korea 1911. In a small fishing village on the banks of the East Sea, a club-footed, cleft-lipped man marries a fifteen-year-old girl. The couple have one child, their beloved daughter Sunja. When Sunja falls pregnant by a married yakuza, the family face ruin. But then Isak, a Christian minister, offers her a chance of salvation: a new life in Japan as his wife.

Following a man she barely knows to a hostile country in which she has no friends, no home, and whose language she cannot speak, Sunja’s salvation is just the beginning of her story.

This is a family saga of around 560 pages, which I wouldn’t normally choose but I’d heard nothing but praise for it and felt it could be an ideal holiday read. I don’t usually enjoy multi-generational novels because I like to focus on one person’s story so I always feel disappointed when we move on to the next character and leave that person behind. However, this was an absorbing read and despite it covering a broad sweep of time, we lingered with each character for long enough that I got to know them. I enjoyed learning about the history of Korea and Japan, which I had no knowledge of, and was interested in the exploration of what it means to be treated as an outsider in the country you were born in. It was the perfect novel to get lost in on holiday.

The final novel I completed on holiday was Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.

Emily Bronte’s novel of impossible desires, violence and transgression is a masterpiece of intense, unsettling power. It begins in a snowstorm, when Lockwood, the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange on the bleak Yorkshire moors, is forced to seek shelter at Wuthering Heights. There he discovers the history of the tempestuous events that took place years before: the intense passion between the foundling Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, her betrayal of him and the bitter vengeance he now wreaks on the innocent heirs of the past.

I simultaneously read and listened to this classic novel and found it completely absorbing. The writing is captivating, the wild landscape is beautifully evoked, and the characters, with all their flaws, exquisitely drawn. It deserves to have the status that it does.

Overall, I’m very pleased with my choice of holiday reading. Four completely different novels that generally provided good company for relaxing in the sunshine.

My reading week: 25/52

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I finished the brilliant novel, Panenka by Ronan Hession.

His name was Joseph, but for years they had called him Panenka, a name that was his sadness and his story. Panenka has spent 25 years living with the disastrous mistakes of his past, which have made him an exile in his home town and cost him his dearest relationships. Now aged 50, Panenka begins to rebuild an improvised family life with his estranged daughter and her seven year old son. But at night, Panenka suffers crippling headaches that he calls his Iron Mask. Faced with losing everything, he meets Esther, a woman who has come to live in the town to escape her own disappointments. Together, they find resonance in each other’s experiences and learn new ways to let love into their broken lives.

I’d not heard of this novel until I came across it on Jack Edwards’s YouTube channel and, for some reason, was drawn to it. What a gem! I went to search for it in Waterstones but couldn’t remember the author, tried to search for it on my phone but couldn’t remember the exact title, eventually it came up on google and I headed to the shelf, found Hermann Hesse, who this writer should have been after – but it wasn’t there. As I was turning to leave, my eye drifted to the shelf below, and there it was, incorrectly placed! I sat in the bookshop cafe and started to read, and I was hooked from the beginning.

It felt as though I had stepped into the characters’ lives and was following them around, listening to their conversations and watching their interactions. They were lovable and believable, despite their shortcomings, and it was a pleasure to be in their company as they dealt with the mundane and the unusual in their everyday lives. It is well-written, with some truthful philosophical insights, and my only complaint is that it is too short – I wanted to spend longer with these people. I’m so glad I followed my intuition on this one.

Jane Austen July

This is a project hosted by Books and Things (link below) with seven categories related to Jane Austen. I’ve decided to take part for the first time and here are the prompts and my proposed choices.

1. Read one of Jane Austen’s main six novels. I’m going to join in with the Pride and Prejudice readalong, which started today. I’ve got the audio, narrated by Lindsay Duncan, and a copy of the novel that I picked up in a charity shop several years ago.

2. Read something by Jane Austen that is not one of her main six novels. There is another readalong, starting when the Pride and Prejudice one finishes, for Lady Susan. I’ve got the novel and will probably find an audio accompaniment as well.

3. Read a non-fiction work about Jane Austen or her time. Several people mentioned that they were going to read What Matters in Jane Austen by John Mullan, which sounds very interesting. It contains twenty chapters, each dealing with a different ‘puzzle’. The first, which I’ve read today, considers ‘How much does age matter?’ and it gives a fascinating insight into not only the ages of the characters but the way other characters perceive their ages, and the relevance of age at that time.

4. Read a retelling of a Jane Austen book or a work of historical fiction set in Jane Austen’s time. This morning I finished Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, which is set in Jane Austen’s time and which I’ll use for this prompt.

5. Read a book by a contemporary of Jane Austen (ie, published between 1775–1817). I’ve got three options on my shelf: Castle Rackrent and Ennui, both written by Maria Edgeworth, and A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe.

6. Watch a direct screen adaptation of a Jane Austen book. Persuasion is being released on Netflix later this month so will be perfect.

7. Watch a modern screen adaptation/retelling of a Jane Austen book. I was at a loss with this one but apparently Clueless is loosely based on Emma and sounds like a bit of light-hearted fun.

It remains to be seen whether I’ll get through all of these prompts within July – they may have to spill over into August – but even if I don’t complete them all, at least I will have extended my understanding and appreciation of classic fiction and the work of Jane Austen.

My holiday reading plan

Finally, I am heading off for a long-awaited and much needed eleven day holiday on a Greek island. These are the novels that will be accompanying me.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. I had originally planned on reading this for May’s Asian Readathon but as it is about 500 pages, I thought it would be perfect for immersing myself in whilst relaxing in the sunshine. It’s a family saga spanning 100 years, which explores, in the words of Good Housekeeping magazine: ‘two different cultures, and what it means to be the outsider’. David Mitchell describes it as ‘addictive’.

Ponti by Sharlene Teo. This is another novel I bought with the Asian Readathon in mind – I can’t remember how I discovered its existence – but its premise sounds ideal for a holiday read. This coming-of-age novel intriguingly involves a remake of a cult seventies horror film series, and explores memories, guilt and lost friendship. Ian McEwan praises it as ‘remarkable‘ and I trust his judgement!

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga. I purchased this novel for the Storygraph Reads the World challenge, where one of the prompts is a writer from Zimbabwe. After a bit of research on who I could read, I went for Dangarembga who was short-listed for the Booker. It’s another coming-of-age tale, which focusses on a thirteen-year-old girl embarking on her education, which her family hope will improve their economic circumstances. It has praise from Doris Lessing, Chinua Achebe, Madeleine Thien and Alice Walker, who respectively describe it as ‘a masterpiece’, ‘as natural as the grass grows’, ‘astonishing’ and ‘unforgettable…not to be missed’. I hope it’s not too political for a holiday read although it is said to have ‘wicked humour‘.

Bunny by Mona Awad. This was a last-minute purchase as I’m hearing so many positive reports on this ‘dark academia’ novel and thought it would be perfect for the airport/flight. It’s about a group of students on an MFA programme: outsider Samantha who is drawn into the rich girl clique, the Bunnies. It’s apparently satirical, a mix of thriller and fairytale horror, and is described by Margaret Atwood as ‘sooo genius’.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. I’ve just finished Volume I of this classic novel and will probably continue with my one or two chapters a day whilst I’m away.

I think Ponti, Nervous Conditions and Bunny will be quite quick to read, whereas Pachinko will take me longer, and Wuthering Heights is a deep-dive that I’m spending more time on. Hopefully, I won’t get through them all before the return flight but if I do, I’ve got the audio of Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner to listen to.

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