Catching up on book-posts… these mostly-vague-and-non-spoilery thoughts refer to March/early April reads.
Hilary Mantel – An Experiment In Love
Girl goes to college in 1970, accompanied by two childhood friends, or not-quite-friends. It’s a novel about hunger of various kinds, a slim and dark volume with some wonderful perceptive moments, and then moments that aren’t quite explored in as much depth as one might like – I have an edition with ‘extra bits’ at the end, Q and As and ‘how I got the idea’ bits from Mantel, and there’s this quite chilling point which I felt belonged in the book, actually alluded to in some way rather than hovering in the background. (Which is all terribly vague for anyone who hasn’t read the book, but anyway.)
Brian Morton – Starting Out In The Evening
I saw the trailer for the film a while back, which I have yet to see, but the book sounded interesting – young, naive (in some respects, anyway) masters student tracks down elderly out-of-print writer whose work she’s writing a thesis on, and her life entangles not only with his but with his daughter Ariel’s. One of my favourite things about this book is that alongside its references to, say, Henry James, you have Ariel contemplating her life as Star Trek episodes – it’s not drowning in high culture despite it being about terribly literary types. Well-written, and moves along nicely.
Joanne Williamson – Jacobin’s Daughter
I have no idea whether this is a good or bad book. Seriously. You know how sometimes there are things that just tick off so many of your favourite boxes that you can’t be objective? So this is… a young adult novel set during the French Revolution. Narrated by Babette (Elisabeth) Duplay. (Which is slightly below ‘young adult novels based on fairytales and set in boarding schools’ on the list of ‘things of shiny’, but still pretty darn.) At one point she goes shopping and runs into Charlotte Corday, who is really loudly looking for a knife. A sharp knife. It needs to be sharp. It’s exactly the kind of awkward get-all-the-important-history-bits-in thing that bothers me about historical fiction, especially historical fiction aimed at young audiences. And, y’know, the Duplays were sufficiently tangled up with so many of the main players that it seems a little much. I did like it, though, despite this…
Jodi Picoult – House Rules
Issue du jour: Asperger’s syndrome. It being Jodi Picoult, of course there is a murder investigation and a trial and crazy would-do-anything-for-my-child-or-at-least-one-of-them-who-cares-about-the-normal-kid parents. This was, I think, the first one of her books where I guessed the twist early on and there was nothing else shocking thrown at you, so even though it is in many respects as readable as her other books, it is slightly disappointing on the twist front.
Elizabeth Scott – Something, Maybe
Elizabeth Scott writes parents really well, which is one of the great strengths of this book. Marketed as a love story, there’s more going on than just narrator Hannah’s confusion over which male co-worker – super-intellectual, super-gorgeous Josh or the annoying, smart-mouthed Finn – she really has a crush on, including the parental drama – her father is a Hugh Hefner-esque figure who wants her back in his life (or possibly just so it’ll look good on his TV show) and her mother earns a living via live webcam chats in sexy lingerie. Worth reading.
Deb Caletti – The Six Rules of Maybe
I love Deb Caletti’s writing, so I was eagerly anticipating The Six Rules of Maybe. It does not deal with averageness quite as much as that essay might lead one to believe, but no complaints here: an essay is an essay and a novel is a novel, and even though Caletti’s writing is thoughtful and musing, it’s not preachy. The book focuses on Scarlett, a ‘nice’ girl who spends her time trying to help out other people and solve other people’s problems, and what happens when she discovers she wants something for herself – something/someone she can’t have. A range of well-developed supporting characters round out the book, from Scarlett’s family (Caletti does families well) to her neighbours and friends.
Stephanie Hemphill – Your Own, Sylvia
I was half-intrigued and half-terrified by the concept of this book, which turned out to be a novel in verse from the perspectives of everyone but Sylvia Plath, rather than herself, which works out quite well. It’s an interesting read.
Elizabeth Scott – The Unwritten Rule
Another Elizabeth Scott – this is her latest, out earlier this year. Another set of interesting parents, and a character who – wait for it! – actually does homework! On a regular basis! I don’t think this is something that’s struck many of the reviewers, but the ongoing mentions of having actual homework to do, and not just in the form of special projects that let characters hook up or allow for lots of comparisons to situations in their life, rang very true. In this novel, main character Sarah has a crush on her best friend Brianna’s boyfriend, and complications ensue. Although the set-up for this feels slightly ‘oh, Sarah, open your eyes, of course he liked you first!’ at times (and echoing Kate in Scott’s Perfect You with her inability to see that a guy likes her), the story works, and the characters are compelling.
Megan Crane – Everyone Else’s Girl
And for this book-post’s ‘smart chick lit writer, ha!’ it’s Megan Crane, whose English as a Second Language (about a twentysomething American who goes to the UK to do a masters in English – let’s add ‘books about people in college writing essays’ to my ‘things of shiny’ list) I adored. Everyone Else’s Girl covers completely different subject matter – it’s very much focused on family, and returning to the place you grew up, and dealing with the things and people you thought you’d left behind, including your old self (or what you thought your old self was) – but is a terrific read all the same. Also an interesting one to read after Caletti’s The Six Rules of Maybe, as they both deal with the ‘nice helpful girl’ persona idea, albeit in different ways.
Sarah Webb – The Loving Kind
Fun and fast-paced read about plastic surgery and writing romance fiction. Yay! I’m a sucker for books-about-writers, too, and this one works well.
Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451
One of those ‘I should definitely have already read this. Bad self, bad!’ books. And one of those ‘I can’t believe I haven’t read this before’ books as I was reading it. Books! Censorship! Dumbing down! I am not a fan of the ‘TV will crush culture’ interpretation, and Bradbury’s own take on what he meant by the book (another edition with notes in the back!) worked for me maybe only 70% of the time, but it’s definitely a book I’m glad to have read.