Thursday, 5 March 2020

WORLD BOOK DAY: THE LAST FOUR BOOKS I READ


It's World Book Day and this morning it was my responsibility to get my 10-year-old niece to school. It took me a grand total of 1 hour and 10 minutes to get through the treacherous traffic ~ three ambulances passed me! ~ and the sky, pigmented in a variety of ash greys and moody blues, only added to the pathetic fallacy that was this morning's commute. 

Along our way, we were cheered by lots of little people walking to school dressed as their favourite characters. We spotted Roald Dahl's Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's Oompa Loompa, a few Elsa and Annas, and my own niece was dressed as "Jane the Zoologist." She came out of the house with a JellyCat snake (bought by her favourite aunty last Christmas) wrapped around her neck and wearing a blue velvet dress. We may have been fifteen minutes late this morning, but I think she looked pretty cool. 

In celebration of all things books, Haze and I are starting our very own Book Club. 

Without further ado, here are the last four books I read and what I thought about them...

A Tale of The Time Being, Ruth Ozeki

I didn't quite know what to expect of this novel; I was recommended it by a friend without any explanation of the plot or style and decided to go straight in without reading the blurb either. Japanese writer, Ruth Ozeki's metafictional novel has a solid 4-star rating on Good Reads (which is my go-to site for reviews before buying a book) and I can vouch, first-hand, that it doesn't disappoint. 

Ozeki narrates the story from two perspectives that intertwine solely through a binding talisman: a diary. Canadian author, Ruth (like Ruth Ozeki wow, meta, I know), finds a diary written by Nao, a Japanese teenager living in Tokyo. The story flits between the two perspectives in a way that pulled me deeply into both worlds. The more Ruth learns about Nao's troubled life, the more she panics about what she can do in the present to help her. It's ambiguous as to how much authority Ruth really does have on Nao's narrative; what at the start is a clear-cut divide between time and worlds becomes blurred later on. 

I love how thought-provoking and ambitious this novel is. Through well-researched yet artful prose, I found myself symbiotically reading and managing to internally debate the philosophies Ozeki presents. A master in creating two immersive worlds interlink, I still find myself pondering on her themes of space, time, and spirituality, and how they're all, maybe, really connected. 

A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth

This is a big boy read peoples. And by Big Boy, I mean wrist-aching, neck-knotting, 10 point font seriousness. It's what I imagine fancy upper-class adults would be assigned to read for their bi-weekly book club that meets every Wednesday in a duck-egg blue and yellow co-ordinated cafe serving afternoon tea. I'm not part of one of those book clubs because a) I have my own now! Thanks to my little online following b) It took me two months, not two weeks, to get through this chunky read c) I'm 22, not 45 years-old (although I am very well aware that I'm a middle-aged woman at heart). 

A Suitable Boy is pretty much three novels of plot wound into a complicated and beautiful web of love, grief, and tragedy. Set in post-Partition India, the story starts with an arranged ~ and happy ~ marriage. However, Lata (the younger sister of the bride) is, according to her mother, approaching the marriageable age of nineteen and a suitable boy must be found promptly for her. Whilst Lata resists her mother's wishes, she grows fond of her older brother's in-laws (the Chatterji's) as well as her older sister's in-laws (the Kapoor's). We follow the three families closely throughout the novel as well as Lata's best friend, Malati, and her multiple love-interests too. 

What I loved about this was the sheer complexity of the narrative. Vikram Seth has a wicked imagination. Everything that happens, from conversations to page-turning events, are completely immersive and believable. The end, though somewhat frustrating, remains well in tune with the rhythm of the novel. As the novel comes to a close, we are brought full-circle -- after living multiple lifetimes through the many many many characters Seth creates -- to another arranged marriage. This time it's Lata's, but who and how shall she marry? With her head, her heart, or her something else entirely...


Still Alice, Lisa Genova

This is the only large-scale commercialised fiction I have read in the last year and was reluctant to give it a go because of its "MOVIE STARRING FAMOUS X Y Z" cover. I tend to shy away from books that have glossy actresses and airbrushed women looking sad on the front because I assume it's going to be cheesy or predictable. Maybe even poorly written. I'll put my hands up: I do judge a book by its cover. 

That's why I was so delighted when I reached the end of Genova's marvellously voiced first-person narrative. Mother of three, wife to a lab researcher, and highly regarded Harvard professor, Alice, is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's Disease. As Alice's mind and life deteriorate, so does the reliability of her narration. It's clever because this constantly forces you to become an active agent in understanding Alice and her disorder. 

I learnt so much about 
Alzheimer's: the testing processes, the basic problems a person faces with the disease, and the vital role that medical research plays in finding a cure for this irreversible diagnosis. I laughed at the oddities of the illness and shed many tears at the heart-aching sadness of its effects on the sufferer and their family. It's a 5-star rating from me. I guess you really shouldn't judge a book by its cover, hey?

The Hen who Dreamed She Could Fly, Hwang Sun-Mi

I picked this up as a Christmas present for my boyfriend's mum in a second-hand bookshop whilst I was in Auckland ~ being jetlagged is a great excuse to spend two hours wandering around looking for gifts. Hwang Sun-Mi's Korean short fable has sold over two million copies worldwide which is what sold it to me in my jetlagged haze. 

The narrative is told from the perspective of a battery-caged hen called Sprout (adorable name). Her life inside the cage is insufferable, she cries every time the farmer takes her 'babies' away and her feathers are falling out with the stress of it all. The only thing that gives her hope is the view of the green leaves through a crack in the barn's door. 

One day, the farmer decides Sprout's not producing enough eggs: she's old, unwell, and ready to be sent to the slaughterhouse. Plucked from her cage and thrown into the 'wheelbarrow of death', Sprout manages to escape and finds herself, alone, outside. It's everything Sprout has dreamed of her whole egg-laying life: the lush grass, the treetops and the fresh air. Until it isn't. 

Sprout struggles to find her place in the outside world. The barn animals don't want her, the duck's don't want her, and there are predators that want to eat her. Pushed from pillar to post, Sprout experiences it all: she goes from a mundane egg-hatcher to a host mother outside of her cage. Her maternal instincts are fierce and she puts her life ~ quite literally ~ on the line to protect those she loves. 

This was such a quick and heartwarming read that has stayed with me in unexpected ways. In just 120 pages or so, I found myself rooting for Sprout's survival in the wild and moved by her unwavering love. Perfect for anyone who needs reminding of their own strength. 

What are you reading at the moment? If you've read any of these and thought differently/ the same then feel let's chat! 

Love, George x





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