What I Read In August

 THE PAYING GUESTS by Sarah Waters ****
Set in 1922, Frances and her mother are forced by their economic situation to take in lodgers. Lust, intrigue and drama intertwine in this novel of interwar domesticity. There are all the elements that you would expect of a Waters novel – crime, murder and lesbian relationships. But alongside the sensational events is a reminder of everyday ordinariness. Mundane daily activities underpin the plot and at a few times in the book I was reminded of Virginia Woolf’s writing. The scenes in which characters are walking alone through the London streets are very Mrs Dalloway-esque. I really enjoyed this novel and the way it dealt with the changing times and attitudes towards class and sexuality.

ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT by Jeanette Winterson ****
I was given a reading list at the end of sixth form by my English teacher and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit was on it. It’s been a long time coming but I’ve finally read Winterson’s semi-autobiographical novel. It is a coming of age story in which Jeanette finds her own voice and forms her own opinions. She challenges all she has been taught by her Pentecostal mother. This is a difficult book to read at times, but Winterson’s prose is poetic and witty. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.

THE TESTAMENT OF MARY by Colm Toibin *****
I’m always enchanted by Irish authors and the way they write about the family and memories. Toibin’s writing is so beautiful and I was deeply moved throughout. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a given a voice and human sensitivity. She is brought to life through the account of her grief. This contrasts greatly to the stark and silent representation of her character that I have been used to. This very short novel is absolutely stunning and I would highly recommend it.

BURIAL RITES by Hannah Kent ****
Agnes Magnusdottir was the last woman in Iceland to be executed. In Burial Rites, Hannah Kent imagines her last months. The imagined tale is a gruesome, atmospheric snapshot of a country in the grip of patriarchy and historic superstitions. The narrative is split between three characters and Agnes’ sections are brilliantly haunting. I found myself re-reading the beautiful sentences and becoming more and more attached to the story with every turn of the page. This is a fantastic debut novel and I’m eagerly awaiting news of a second.

  MIDDLESEX by Jeffrey Eugenides ****
Eugenides is a master of story-telling. Although worlds apart from The Virgin Suicides, I thoroughly enjoyed Middlesex. It tells the epic journey of three generations of the Stephanides family, Greek immigrants now settled in Detroit. Greek history and mythology mixes with the aspirations of the American Dream in conveying to the reader how our narrator, Cal, is now living as a male despite being brought up as a girl. War, desire, family, sexuality and gender are all themes that jostle for attention in the novel. They mingle together so well that the book made me laugh out loud one moment and be desperately sad the next. Despite having a few issues with the ending, Middlesex is a book that I’ll find hard to forget.

STANCLIFFE’S HOTEL by Charlotte Bronte ***
The Bronte siblings had invented imaginary worlds as children and written about them in teeny tiny books. Charlotte extends on her and Branwell’s world of Angria in Stancliffe’s Hotel. The writing is witty, political and has a certain masculinity about it. It’s interesting to see into the Bronte’s private life – these writings were intended for the enjoyment of the family alone. I really want to read more of these early writings having seen the originals at the Bronte parsonage in Haworth earlier this year.

I really don’t know how I feel about this one. Although it’s well written and funny I felt uncomfortable reading it. The control Miss Brodie has over her six favourite students is disturbing and I just wanted to be finished. I do want to give Spark another chance and have my eye on A Far Cry from Kensington.

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