April Roundup – Hop-hop-hop.

Right. April has been plenty exciting – both on the personal, publishing and reading front. Don’t want to spoil or jinx anything on the personal and work front so will stick to reading and travelling this month. I rarely write up written reviews, which is a pity, because I often have a lot to say about the books I am reading while I read them.

I recently got back into “reading” more audiobooks. There is a lot of dishwashing, and general chores, including commuting that can be filled with interesting listening. I also discovered NetGalley – an awesome resource full of ARC’s and review copies for a geek like me. A book for a review swap? No problem. *cheesy grin* Whatever gets me writing properly about the books I read.

Hamster’s Den

April’s book haul:

  • the 4 Edinburgh Review Journals were bought on sale at Word Power Books (£1 per issue !!!) which has recently been brought under new management and will open it’s doors (officially) on May 9th, it’s looking fabulous @WordPowerBooks
  • O’Connor, Nin and Dasgupta are all short-story collections – finds from Barnardo’s Bookshop where I used to volunteer; it was an emotional reunion, the space has been seriously upgraded (I still don’t understand how they made so much space on the shop floor) and is now under new management. Funnily enough, my ‘bag of books’ is still stuck tight in the corner.
  • The Vorrh, which I have been wanting and meaning to read for ages, is finally in my possession. It was purchased at Alnwick’s own Barter Books – EU’s biggest 2nd hand book store, apparently. I was swept away by this store. I legit had to sit down for awhile to take it all in. Impressionable as I am, it took me awhile to not feel overwhelmed navigating the awesomeness that is that enormous bookstore. I may have been somewhat affected by the sun, we spent at least three hours beforehand roaming and exploring the castle (the original destination of our technically first Honeymoon trip).17917517_1903572169920418_4087581163560819907_o.jpg

eBooks

I find it quite funny that, as someone who wrote a master’s dissertation and painstakingly researched the topic of eBooks and digital spaces – I still read most of my books on paper; the hoarding, anachronistic hamster that I am. Another reason for this is that I have quite an old, pre-Kindle, ebook reader which I rarely use due to cue piles and piles of physical books. However, I now have a smartphone with a large enough screen to enable me to read from it without much fuss, a library account and the OverDrive app. So, from now on I am striving to read more from my device. The majority of these titles will be new releases. Also good news for me trying to keep up to date with publishers.

There are a few titles awaiting to be read and reviewed from NetGalley at the moment:

  • Blood Stained Tea by Amy Tasukada
  • Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera
  • Being a Witch and Other Things I didn’t Ask For by Sara Pascoe
  • The Whitby Witches by Robin Jarvis
  • Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny
  • The Jungle by Pooja Puri
  • Beyond Trans by Heath Fogg Davis

This month I’ve listened to:

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Story: 3.5/5 Narration: 5/5

– not my usual cup of tea but was intrigued by the Pulitzer Prize win for Fiction. I am a firm believer that reading outside of one’s own interests is necessary and quite healthy for the mind and imagination. This book is about a preacher living out his last days in a in-the-middle-of-nowhere part of USA, the novel takes shape as a long narrative letter to his young son about himself, how he came to be (both he and his son) and about his family’s and town’s history. It is generous, truly compassionate, questioning, very human and filled with doubt and, at the same time, a strong sense of love and hope for the world and for God. Something which, as someone who did not grow up with fait,h I can never understand. But I do enjoy reading stories that approach the subject in a non-judgemental manner. If anything, this book about a preacher is very non-preachy. I also loved the voice of the narrator – I believe this can add and take away a lot from an audiobook. Well done Picador.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli
Story: 4/5 Narration: 3/5

I am a sucker for learning more about physics and the Universe. This was a great, albeit rather brief, series of lectures. Lots of things to reference back to and research in my own time. I’d actually like to read a paper copy of this work some time. The only down side for me was the narration. Although the narrator was candid, enthusiastic and in love with his subject – you could easily tell he wasn’t ready for the task of reading out his entire oeuvre over three hours. He got tired (or overly excited), and because of this some words and sentence structures were jumbled and pronounced in an unfamiliar way (all were eventually deciphered) but alongside the complex nature of the subject this took away from my being able to understand everything he read, which is a pity.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka 
Story: 4/5 Narration: 3/5

I have been longing to read this story for a long time, just as well that I listened instead. As I understand many of my English Literature 6th form colleagues had the chance to read this. I am glad I got to it just now. What a peculiar story. Not sure I am buzzing to get to read the words on paper just yet, even though I do have a copy of Kafka’s stories. Funnily enough I don’t have much to say, the story is still fresh in my mind, peculiar and absurd (in the best possible interpretation of these words).

When I was done, my main preoccupation was the burning question: “But WHY?!” Why did he turn into a cockroach, why?! Good thing I didn’t study English Lit., at Undergraduate level.

The Witches by Roald Dahl
Story: 5/5 Narration: 5/5

Delightful. And properly spooky too. Some things in this book would definitely have gone over my head when I was a child.

Firewall by Henning Mankell
Story: 3/5 Narration: 3/5

A good distraction of a book. I wanted to know what all that Scandi noir hype was about. Still not fully convinced but getting there. Kurt Wallander is an interesting character (very atypical for my repertoire) – it felt like sitting through a story told by your grumpy, bad tempered but still rather cool and intelligent uncle that rarely comes to visit (once a year if you’re lucky).

Selected Stories Vol.1 by Philip K. Dick
Story: 4/5 Narration: 3/5

A bit on the fence with this collection. I was not a huge fan of the changing narrators. Some did well, others less so.

I wanted more Philip Dick in my life because, back in my UG days, I really enjoyed Do Androids dream of electric sheep? And although I still revel in some of the premises and concepts behind his stories, this outburst on my Facebook page pretty much sums up my attitude towards his work:

I’m sure there is a saying for this, something along the lines of “as you name a ship so it shall sail”.
Although Philip K. Dick has some savvy stories he really can be a Dick sometimes.
Some notable examples include evil First Ladies that control the world and create dude’s Oedipal complexes, token female characters, cardboard cut out female characters, “look, there’s that one single negro” moments.

 

All of the stories in this collection have outstanding philosophical and futuristic ideas behind them, these left me more awed than others:
Progeny
The Exit Door Leads In
The Last of the Masters
The Preserving Machine 
The Electric Ant

This month I’ve read: 

Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay – 4/5

This month I finished off Kay’s autobiography. Thinking back I believe this is my first, fully finished biography and I am struggling to comment on it. There is no doubt I enjoyed it. But how does one comment on someone else’s interpretation and record of their life’s experience? It is a very candid, open-hearted account of meeting one’s biological parents. Of reconciling one’s biological heritage and cultural heritage (how do you separate these when, growing up, you stand out so plainly from your peers). About the true meaning of family and love. And, above all, about the capacity of another human being’s heart for love and compassion. Jackie’s is a gem – she approaches he life’s story with humour and heart, even at the tragic and clearly painful moment. You can’t help but love her.

(IP) Human Acts by Han Kang – 5/5 

The Vegetarian, the author’s first book translated into English by Deborah Smith, really struck me hard. The prose, as always, is well paced and carefully thought through. Not simplified, it retains and supports the sophistication of it’s subject. I’d like to imagine that it honours the native Korean (I wouldn’t know, I don’t speak the language).

I’m currently only 1/4 of the way through. And despite the ‘easy’ prose, I’m finding the subject matter so harrowing that making it through a page is a struggle. The intensity of human suffering, the carnage of it, the physicality of it all is soul shattering. Now, I am not one to cringe away from body-horror or gore; this is a whole new deal. The visceral minutae with which the author/translator describe the way the bodies decompose, the casualness with which people are murdered etc. is all too much – the immersion power of the text and narrative together with the injustice of it all makes me recoil.

With every page I feel like I am developing as and, at the same time, distancing myself from humanbeing .

I can’t recommend this book enough. But be warned that this is no light reading. Hats off to whomever can power through it in one long read. [to be continued in May] 

[eBook | Netgalley] Flesh of the Peach by Helen McClory – 4/5
The review.

[eBook | Netgalley] Blood Stained Tea by Amy Tasukada – 2/5

I was intrigued by the title, premise and cover. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t to my liking. I really wanted to like it but found myself guessing the characters’ next steps with ease. The violence of the book seemed gratuitous, the characters’ inner apparatus opaque – despite the introspective narrative one doesn’t really get a good grasp of their motivations. And the Japanese setting, which I was so looking forward to – fell short, it doesn’t really feel truly lived in. I’ve read and seen my fair share of Japanese literature and film. This work, I could tell as I progressed, was heavily inspired by anime and manga. And although I appreciated the nod of acknowledgement to the issue of Japanese racism towards Korean immigrants, it just didn’t pull through in depth. The book passed my 3 chapter test – so there is definitely skill there (despite my critique) but it did not pass the 1/4 test. I let it go at 27%. Not a book for me, but I am sure others, not as embroiled in Japanese culture, will enjoy it.

CURRENTLY READING | RTF

[eBook | Netgalley] Juliet Takes a Breath by Gaby Rivera | 5/5
We, the Children of Cats by Tomoyuki Hoshino | 4/5
The Good Immigrant collected essays ed. by Nikesh Shukla | 5/5
[Audiobook] The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Flesh of the Peach: A dense and intricate dessert by Helen McClory

I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler free.

Flesh of the Peach by Helen McClory

@HelenMcClory | Author’s Blog

Published by Freight Books, Glasgow

9781911332251
RD: 20th April 2017

I first discovered McClory’s writing through her debut collection of flash fiction, On the Edges of Vision – which won Saltire’s Debut Award. A prize well-deserved.

This, on the other hand, is the author’s first novel. I approached it rather tentatively. McClory’s writing is dense, detailed and evocative – a natural fit for short stories, snapshots and poetry. I wasn’t sure if I could handle such intensity in a novel-sized narrative. But I gave it a try.

To be frank, even after having awarded the book 4/5 on Goodreads (it’s more of a 3.5/5 for me), I still have mixed feelings about it. Most of these feelings are positive.

The prose is dense and poetic, it conjures up a myriad of feelings and landscapes (both physical and mental), that at times you really want to swat away in order to get to the meat of the plot and character. The barrage of language and imagery is so intense, in fact, that it took me a month to read. There are no fly-away sentences. Every. Single. One. Is. Packed. To. Maximum. Capacity. This is definitely not a ‘light’ book, not a so called ‘beach read’ (whatever that means). Whilst the language and imagery are the strongest aspects of this novel – they are also, often, it’s shortcoming. The language sometimes desensitizes the reader from the leading characters and from the plot, to a point where it becomes difficult to understand not only Sarah (the main character) but the story as a whole.

To draw a comparison: Flesh of the Peach is like an indulgent, rich and complex dessert – a dark chocolate melt in the middle with a ganache center spiced with smoke. You can only eat so much before the taste overwhelms you to the point of becoming bland in its intensity. It is a work to be chipped away, bit by bit, made to be savoured – each and every chapter, paragraph, sentence, phrase, word, syllable…not to be hoovered down in one go.

The characters in this novel are earthy (at times they ground together like sand on your back teeth), the sketches we see of them through Sarah’s eyes are brief but full of texture – there is no single flat surface in this book. Everything and everyone is brimming with detail, colour, depth. Nobody is likeable but you will find yourself slowly but surely relating to their imperfections, they are broken (in familiar ways) and human – just as we all are. “Hell is other people” – the name of a contemporary horror film, but also a fitting description of Sarah’s world. I would go as far as to change that to: “Hell is me, you, us.” Sarah is complex, I was often perplexed by her behaviour (even though, looking back, I feel like we have finally found an understanding). I kept dipping in and out, often losing my connection with her character. She did make a comeback (for me, personally) at the very end, where she felt more lucid and grounded (and so did the prose) because, it seems to me, she connected with her body (and the present tense) – almost like she decided to finally occupy it, for real. Unlike the beginning of the novel, where much of our time was spent in her memories and reminiscences. It felt claustrophobic. Sarah is no simpleton. There is no solution for her kind of trouble and there doesn’t need to be.

I will need to return to this book a second time to understand Sarah’s character better. It will be easier then, since I will not have to deal with the initial shock that the prose had caused me. As I read I kept pulling the novel apart for quotes, at times bookmarking entire chapters. Chipping away – bit by bit.

Good to know that, before making my mind up, I will have to re-read Flesh of the Peach again. The wait for McClory’s next book will be that much less painful when I have a re-read to look forward to!