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Reading round-up - November 2017

Now that I’m not working full-time, I have so much more energy for reading. I suppose it also helps that I have a total of five friends in Scotland (and two of them are dogs).

In any case, here are some books that I’ve been loving recently:

Cousins by Sally Vickers

For some reason, I felt very drawn to reading a book about white upper class people in Britain, whose primary problems are ones they’ve brought on themselves. Perhaps because the last book I read was Beloved by Toni Morrison, which is basically the opposite of that description, so it was pleasant to feel a little detached from the characters’ woes, but still captivated by the narrative.

Cousins is literally about cousins – two young people, related by blood but drawn together by attraction, who somehow both seem damaged, despite their mostly privileged upbringings. There is a darkness that lingers throughout the book, a sense of foreboding that begins long before the reader has any real cause to worry.

Vickers is a fantastic writer, drawing the plot out in complex and intricate ways through the use of multiple first-person narrators. Interestingly, her choice of narrators are three secondary characters, which only serves to make the two central characters more enigmatic and alluring. I enjoyed the pace of Cousins, and would recommend this as a beach read (for all of you who will be having sunny Christmas holidays).

Autumn by Ali Smith

I’ll admit that I originally bought this almost entirely for the cover. Smith is delivering four books over the course of one year, each themed to a season. Autumn is the first, and was released just as Edinburgh began to look decidedly autumnal, which was quite fun for me (my book matched my outfit and the environment!).

This is a whimsical book that is a little strange but oddly delightful. I usually have very little patience for whimsy in books (there’s something too cynical in my nature), but Smith manages to be quirky without feeling contrived.

The central narrative is one of a young woman Elisabeth, who as a child had a special friendship with the old man who lived next door, Daniel (not a sinister special relationship, but a genuine friendship). As Daniel lingers in an almost coma in a nursing home, Elisabeth visits him daily, while drifting through her own life.

This book wasn’t as satisfying as I hoped it would be, but I liked the observations on our mundane lives, and particularly enjoyed the character of Elisabeth’s recently-out-of-the-closet mother.

Elmet by Fiona Mozley

Elmet was shortlisted for the Booker this year. The story is of two siblings, living with their eccentric father in a house they have built from their own hands, using materials they have scavenged primarily from the woods near them.

There is violence, and class conflict, and an undertone of something more sinister, that kind of rears its head later in the book. I found this very gripping, but was frustrated at how Mozley teases at some really interesting gender themes that then never get fully explored.

I tend to hate feeling unresolved at the end of a book, and this one is no exception, but I suppose that’s testimony to Mozley’s ability to build pace in her writing, and to create investment in her characters, even the enigmatic father and sister in this novel, that made me yearn for a sense of closure.

Nutshell by Ian McEwan

I was recommended this one as one of McEwan’s ‘good ones’ (because we all know he can be hit and miss), and was not disappointed.

This novella (I don’t know if it’s technically a novella, but it’s definitely shorter than your typical novel) is told from the point of view of a baby in the womb, and if I had a guarantee that my baby would turn out as sardonic and clever as the narrator of Nutshell, I might actually consider having one.

There is murder, conspiracy, action and drama, and a lot of dry humour. I really enjoyed this, and highly recommend as a light read that’s guaranteed to be more interesting than the next Girl Gone On A Train Into the Woods or whatever we’ll be wooed with this Christmas.

Buying books while living temporarily overseas is a silly indulgence, but one I can’t shake, so I hope to have another round up to share soon. If you have recommendations, please let me know!

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