2020

I know that most of us want to completely forget the past year and focus on a possibly brighter year ahead. 2020 was bleak and even though I was fortunate enough to not be affected by the pandemic in terms of loss and work, I still felt the heavy weight of this year on my shoulders. However I have to say that I have learnt a lot about many different things this year and so I really wanted to properly say goodbye to what has been a pivotal year for all of us.

I tend to only broach this topic during my yearly check-ins and I was really hesitant to mention that this year because it is something very personal. But I have mentioned this before and I don’t think anyone should be ashamed of their struggles – we need to speak out more on mental issues. As I said, I have hinted at this before but I’ve been struggling with my mental health for quite a while now, and I started the year in a very bad place. I had been hunting for jobs during the last half of 2019 but couldn’t find anything. I had to accept the fact that I wouldn’t get a great job straight out of uni, and so I applied to literally every entry-level job I saw. I was in a very bad place financially and I’m not someone who copes well with uncertainty and having no purpose, so this was a very difficult time. I then found a job and it was nice to get a little bit of money in the bank but I knew from the beginning it wouldn’t do.

When lockdown started in March, I struggled even more because I felt like my whole life was my job in recruitment and I didn’t even like it that much. In the day, I would look at CVs, cover letters and job descriptions. In the evening, I would edit my CV, write cover letters and look at job descriptions to get a job in publishing. It was all very repetitive, and I think my brain assimilated the two and I started getting very upset when someone would get hired at work because it felt like everyone was getting their dream jobs but me (which I know is completely ludicrous as 2020 has been terrible for many who lost their jobs and struggled to find a new one). I just felt so sad and empty, I couldn’t even sleep properly anymore.

I was on the waiting list for therapy all that time and I finally got assigned to a therapist in the Spring. It helped me so very much – I can’t stress that enough. It sounds silly but being confronted with your own thoughts and words on paper or in someone else’s mouth makes everything sounds completely different. I realised what was wrong and what I needed to do to let go of unhelpful thoughts. I am still working hard at giving up my old thinking pattern, but I already feel so much more like myself – something I hadn’t felt in years. The NHS is a wonderful system and we need to applaud it – not at our windows, but by voting for people that would fund it properly. I would’ve never been able to get the help I needed if it wasn’t for the NHS, and I know this is the case for many, many people in the UK.

In the summer, I’ve also been accepted into the Society of Young Publishers mentorship program, SYP Into, to help people get into publishing. I got paired with the most helpful and lovely mentor, and I’m so glad I got to meet such a wonderful person during such a grim year. I feel a lot more confident that I can get a publishing job and I’ve even had several interviews since I became a mentee. I also learnt a lot about what I want and don’t want in my career, and I think that’s really useful because when we start we tend to accept everything and that’s how we end up being taken advantage of. Publishing is a very competitive industry though, and it’s been even worse this year, but I’m hopeful I will find something for me this year.

Finally, last year I started this blog and photography again – two hobbies that are very dear to my heart. It’s been a joy to share my love of books on here again. I have taken a break recently because I’m still not quite healed yet and I know now that it’s better to just stop and rest, than desperately trying to exhaust myself and go around in circles. I have spent the holidays with my family in France, which was lovely as I hadn’t seen them for a whole year! I’m back in the UK and in quarantine now, so I hope to be able to bring some nice content in the coming weeks.

This was quite personal, but it’s nice to check-in every now and then. I hope you all have a good year, may it be filled with laughter and great books!

Cozy Autumn Book Tag

I took a little break from blogging over the last week or so, and I thought I would come back with this great tag, created by The Book Belle.

What book always remind you of autumn?

I had already mentioned it, but Wuthering Heights is definitely an Autumn book for me. The spirits roaming the dark, windy moors, and just the whole atmosphere of the book is perfect for this time of year.

What is your favourite autumnal book cover?

Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

I honestly don’t remember much about this book at all, but years later I still really like this cover for this season.

What is your favourite autumnal drink to read with?

Chai latte, of course! It’s actually my favourite drink full stop, but the warmth of the spices makes it an especially great autumnal reading companion.

Do you prefer to read late at night or early in the morning?

Definitely on the midnight owl team, I’m afraid. I try to read in the morning, but it’s just too hard… I also love the feeling of staying up late because you just can’t put a book down!

Halloween is coming! What is your favourite spooky read?

Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Black Cat’ is really the spookiest of tales. I love it so much but it never fails to make me feel a little bit afraid! I think I’m just very sensitive to stories in which a character loses their mind, and you just don’t know what’s real or not.

What is the ultimate comfort read for you?

I find Jane Eyre very comforting because I love this story so much and always find something new to it every time I re-read it. I also love revisiting Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but that’s pure nostalgia.

What is your favourite autumnal reading snack?

In an ideal world, I would always have a freshly baked apple tart by my side every time I start reading. Or a cinnamon roll. In reality, I often have some milk chocolate hobnobs nearby! 

What is your favourite autumnal candle to burn whilst reading?

I love candles but never think of actually burning them… lol. My favourite for this time of year is one I got from Muji which smells of orange and cinnamon (which works great for Christmas as well!).

When you’re not reading, what is your favourite autumnal activity?

I love walking around parks and getting a warm cup of coffee. We went to Richmond last weekend and had a hot drink by the river, which was just perfect.

What is on your autumn/fall reading list?

I don’t really do reading list because I never stick to them, but I would really like to read Burnt Sugar and Shuggie Bain this autumn. I’ve also been reading spooky books in October which is a lot of fun! I would love to read Carrie or Misery by Stephen King next.

September 2020 Wrap Up

Just like the month before, I managed to read eight books in September – including three audiobooks. Overall, it’s been a strange month and I’m glad October is here because I am so ready to read all the spooky books this month. However I read some great things last month:

Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies

This is an abridged version of the two first books in Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy. I borrowed this audiobbok from my library via the BorrowBox app. I love the Tudors and especially anything to do with Henry VIII because they took part in such an interesting and pivotal moment of history, so I loved these books as they were very thorough. I’m not sure this is the kind of books I enjoy listening to, though. I think I will properly read them at some point. I will be more immersed in the story that way. But I would definitely recommend this series if you like History and powerful narratives filled with political schemes.

Lana Grace Riva, The Existence of Amy

I wrote a review about this book here. It’s a very eductional novel on mental health that I would highly recommend.

M. R. James, Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories

This is THE most perfect book for this time of year. This book is a collection of James’s most popular ghost stories and they’re a lot of fun to read, because they are exactly what you would expect from an Edwardian ghost story: a little bit over the top, bizarre but chilling nonetheless. This is classic horror.

Colson Whitehead, The Nickel Boys

I don’t want to say too much about this one as I would ike to write a detailed review of this wonderful, wonderful novel. This is the kind of story that stays with you long after you closed the book. It’s a riveting account of growing as a poor Black boy in the Jim Crow south. I cannot recommend it enough.

Stephen King, ‘Salem’s Lot

I love this cover!

I had never read Stephen King before, I guess I thought the films were enough. Obviously, that was a big mistake. I loved ‘Salem’s Lot so much! It kept me awake at night because I just had to know what happened next. Also, this is a novel about a small town invaded by vampires and 1) I love vampires 2) I love reading about small town mentality, coming from one of those myself. King did a wonderful job paiting the inhabitants of this town and gave them so many detailed backstories, that was definietely my favourite part.

Emma Glass, Rest and Be Thankful

This is a very difficult book to read because the narrator is a nurse in a paediatric unit who’s going through some sort of burnout, so I don’t think this is for everyone. But if you decide to read it anyway, you will find a darkly poetic short book that is well worth your time. I found Glass’s writing beautiful and it was hard for me to stop (I listened to the audiobook read by the the author). The ending is very disturbing and I’m still wondering whether I understood it, so if you have any theory I would love to know it!

Anne Tyler, Redhead by the Side of the Road

I really enjoyed this book because it follows Micah, an absolutely normal man who is rather out of touch with other people’s feelings. I like this kind of stories, where nothing extraordinary happens. I often find them very impactful because they really make me think of my own life and whether I am doing what I want to. I also listened to the audiobook version of this one, and thought it was the perfect kind of book to listen to.

Elena Ferrante, The Lying Life of Adults

Another book I would like to review because I have so much to say about it. All I will say is that Ferrante did not disappoint. I just wish the book was longer, and I’m really hoping there will be a sequel because I feel like she is the kind of writer who needs more space to tell a full story. If you loved My Brilliant Friend, you will love this one but I should think you will find it too short as well!

Have you read any of these books? I woul like to know what you’ve read recently! Happy reading x

August Wrap Up

August has been a wonderful month for the very simple reason that I discovered audiobooks. Of course, I knew them and had listened to a couple of audiobooks before but this month, I properly fell in love with them. I borrow them from my library via the BorrowBox app and it’s absolutely amazing! I listen to them when I work, when I cook, or even when I was ill at some point this month. I also have an Audible membership because I had a little discount, but I’m still not sure whether I’ll keep it when I’m back to paying full price. Anyway, all this rambling to say that I’ve read a lot more in August than ever before! Indeed, I’ve read EIGHT books this month! I’m very happy to have been able to surround me with so many wonderful stories this month, and I hope I will keep it up for the next few months.

Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

I had never read this short story before, but I loved the film by Tim Burton when I was little (definitely watched this at a very inappropriate age) and probably still do, to be honest. I don’t know if the problem was the narration (it was a Librivox recording) or the fact that I seem to struggle with classics audiobooks, but I just can’t remember much of it at all! Now, that’s not a good sign but I know I liked it, I just can’t remember the details… I will definitely need to actually read this in the future.

Kiley Reid, Such a Fun Age

I wrote a review on this book, which you can find just here. The premise of this book was so good, but ultimately it was rather disappointing that it didn’t dive deeper into the issues it tackles. It’s still a nice book to read, though, so I would definitely recommend it!

Ian McEwan, The Cockroach

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Bill Nighy, which made the experience quite enjoyable! It’s a strange and surprising book because it imagines that cockroaches have become politicians and they completely change the British economy. I don’t know enough about economics or British politics to talk about this in details, but it was a fun read – very reminiscent of The Thick of It. However, I’m just not sure I will remember it in a year from now so I’m a little bit on the fence with this one. It’s clearly not a story that will stick with me.

Jessica Andrews, Saltwater

My review for this one is coming up tomorrow so I don’t want to talk about it too much, but I absolutely loved it. It’s a beautifully moving book, and I highly recommend it!

H. G. Wells, The Invisible Man

I’m a big fan of old horror films and stories but for some reasons, I had never read The Invisible Man before. I listened to a Librivox recording of it and just like The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, I couldn’t get into the story. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I have a problem with Librivox, on the contrary I think it’s such an amazing resource and I really respect their work. I just reckon classics are difficult audiobooks for me, I feel more comfortable reading them. I will definitely try to read this one soon because I know I will absolutely love it.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

I mentioned my thoughts about this book in this article, but this one had never been my favourite in the series. I love the beginning and the ending, but find the middle a little too long. I am now reading the fifth book which is even longer, and I have such dreadful memories of struggling to read it when I was 11… Nearly 15 years later, and the struggle is still very much real!

Muriel Spark, The Girls of Slender Means

This was such an adorable little book. We follow a group of young women in the London of 1945, and their lives in their club for single professional women. This book will make you travel back in time, and almost make you feel like you are part of the club. I am always fascinated by the links between women and stories about women-only environments. I can’t quite put words on it but there is something so fascinating and powerful between women that I always love to read about it!

Brit Bennett, The Vanishing Half

I intend to write a review on this one very soon so I will keep it short, but not very sweet I’m afraid. This is an amazing book that I would highly recommend to absolutely everyone. Yet, I read it when Jacob Blake was shot 7 times by police officers in front of his three children, and a very similar scene happens in The Vanishing Half. The two main characters witness the lynching of their dad when they’re little, and they can never understand why a group of white men decided to beat their father up and kill him. This created a real trauma for them, and they became aware and scared of the hatred white people could feel towards people like them. We need to look after our children by not attacking their parents for no reason. This has got to stop.

I hope that you will read lots of books that will make you think and reflect on various topics this month, like The Vanishing Half for instance! Happy reading 😊

Mid-Year Reading Wrap-Up

 
I have read quite a few books this year so far, and I’m very happy about it! I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to find the time to read when I started my new job, but to be honest, this is what has kept me sane these past few months. Not all books are pictured as some were borrowed from the library, I am lending some others to relatives, and some I just donated.
 
 
Bill Naughton, Neither Use Nor Ornament (1995)
Bill Naughton was a playwright, his works include Alfie which was made into a film with Michael Caine (it’s really good, by the way, especially if you love the Swinging London era). This book is a volume of his memoirs where he retells a small part of his childhood, growing up as an Irish immigrant in Bolton, Lancashire. It’s a very sweet book and it depicts a very realistic image of working-class life in the 1920s, with endearing portraits of Boltonians.
 
Sophie Kinsella, I Owe You One (2019)
As I have already said, I’m quite partial to a good Sophie Kinsella book when life gets a bit too much. This book was exactly what I needed: a cute romantic comedy peopled with sweet characters that I really grew to love.
 
Candice Carty-Williams, Queenie (2019)
I have mentioned Queenie already, on an article about books that changed my outlook on race. It really opened my eyes on the added difficulties black women face each day – whether at work, on dates or in their daily lives. I didn’t find it particularly funny but Carty-Williams writes her main characters in such a way that you can’t help but feel for them.
 
M.C. Beaton, Agatha Raisin: There Goes the Bride (2010)
I’ve always wanted to read Agatha Raisin as it sounds like a very fun story, however I should probably have picked up the first book of the series… I felt completely lost in who was who, and I didn’t really enjoy the story because of this. Also, I think this is the kind of stories I enjoy to watch on TV after work, rather than something to read. It reminded me of Midsomer Murders, which I’ve always loved – although this is a source of fun for everyone as I’m apparently not the target demographic for this show.
 
Taylor Jenkins Reid, Daisy Jones & The Six (2019)

This book was cool. It tells the story of a fictional band in the 1970s through different interviews of its members in the present day, and the atmosphere in this book is absolutely amazing! I felt like I was around the pool of the Chateau Marmont, enjoying the Californian sun with psychedelic rock in my ears (when in truth, I was stuck on an immobilised plane during a storm). I love this period in terms of music and I was just so sad none of the music was real! But this is a great book, and an especially good thing to read during the summer.
 
Elena Ferrante, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (2014)
I have talked a lot about Elena Ferrante in an article dedicated to the Neapolitan novels, so I won’t repeat myself too much. I will just say that Ferrante’s writing is addictive.
 
Hallie Rubenhold, The Five (2019)

A series of portraits of Jack the Ripper’s victims to give back to Mary Ann, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine, and Mary Jane their voices – which have been long lost amongst various cliches and prejudices. It’s an excellent book that is very hard to put down, and it’s also very accessible – you don’t need to know much about the Victorian era at all to make sense of what’s explained. To be fair, nothing has really changed since the late nineteenth century when it comes to judge working-class women, I think. Something very positive is that there was a mural representing the five women in Whitechapel and Rubenhold is actively seeking to have their memories celebrated to counter-balance the grim appeal of Ripper tours.
 
Elton John, Me (2019)
I listened to Elton John’s memoirs on Audible at the beginning of lockdown, whilst I was working from home. I think this was everything I needed during this strange time as it brought me so much joy! There’s a lot of name-dropping and extravagant displays of wealth, but it seemed to me that Elton John had a very honest look on himself and who he used to be. If you’re a fan, you will love it. I listened to his music for days on end after finishing the book. Also, the audiobook is narrated by Taron Egerton, so it really is quite perfect.
 
Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle (1986)
I first read Howl’s Moving Castle when I was little and I remembered the book to be quite dark – much darker than the Studio Ghibli’s adaptation – which is a masterpiece by the way. So I was a little surprised to see that it was not very dark at all, just rather quirky and all-round lovely. It’s a great story, with absolutely amazing characters and I love them all. Of course, the fact that the main character’s name is Sophie only makes the book better.
 
Elena Ferrante, The Story of the Lost Child (2015)
Did I not say it was addictive? I finished the series earlier this year and I felt so sad to say goodbye to this world. I’m not sure why as the characters are not exactly lovable and it’s all very violent. I think I just loved Elena’s narration so much, it’s still with me months later.
 
Sophie Kinsella, Twenties Girl (2009)
As much as I love Elena Ferrante, I was very much in need of a happy story after that so of course, I turned to Sophie Kinsella. I have to say I was a little disappointed with this one as I didn’t think many of the characters were developed (I love how she writes parents, usually) and it was a bit too far-fetched for me at times. I still had a nice time reading it, but I think Kinsella has written much better books.
 
Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller (1979)
I was so excited to read this book as I love metafiction and thinking about the act of reading and writing. The book starts by telling the reader that they are reading Italo Calvino’s latest novel If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, and what’s happening around them. It was not really what I was expecting as there were less philosophical reflections than strange and funny meta-scenes. Of course, the reader is a man so it all becomes very tricky to relate to him at one point, but it’s still a very enjoyable, clever book.
 
Patrick Dennis, Auntie Mame (1954)

I love eccentric older women from the past, so of course I love Auntie Mame. Little Patrick becomes an orphan at the age of 8 and he goes to live with his aunt, a wealthy single New Yorker. The story starts in the late 1920s and follows the adventures of Mame and Patrick throughout the years. It’s very funny and a very interesting thing to read at the moment because Mame is always standing up for the less privileged and against injustice – which makes her a very liberal woman for the time. I was so happy to find this early edition at Oxfam, because I find the cover absolutely gorgeous!
 
The School of Life, How to Overcome Your Childhood (2019)

I talked about this book in more details already, so you can just click the link if you’re interested in knowing more.
 
Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere (2017)

That’s a strange one. I absolutely loved that book and I couldn’t put it down, but I’m unable to say why. The story is great but it’s not ground-breaking, the writing is also very good but I’m not sure this is why I loved it so much. I’m currently watching the TV adaptation on Amazon Prime, and I might manage to be more eloquent on the topic of Little Fires Everywhere later!
 
Giovanna Fletcher, You’re the One that I Want (2014)
This was a book which had been in my TBR list on Goodreads for quite a while. As I was in need of a cute little romantic comedy, I picked it up and to be honest, I was very disappointed. First of all, I forgot how much I dislike love triangles but here, it was especially strange and the characters’ decisions were questionable to say the least. I’m not sure I understood why they did what they did towards the end, but also, I did skim some passages so that might explain a few things!
 
Yvonne Battle-Felton, Remembered (2019)
I mentioned this book briefly in this article. It’s a rather hard book to read as some scenes are quite violent and graphic, but I would highly recommend it. I think some stories need to be told as they happened, even if they are hard to hear.
 
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)

I’ve been slowly collecting the books in the Harry Potter series (some first and early editions!) during lockdown, and I’ve read the first tome for the first time in English. I decided to dissociate the author from the works completely because Harry Potter is for me a little therapy in itself! I felt so happy whilst reading this book, it was a very Proust’s madeleine moment for me and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series in English, now.
 
Édouard Louis, En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule (2014)
I wrote quite extensively about this one in this article, so please have a look if you’re interested in knowing more about this great little book.
 
Overall, I have read some very good books so far this year. Please, let me know what’s been your favourite book so far this year, I would love to know and find inspiration for my next read!

How to Overcome Your Childhood, by The School of Life

It might come across as a bit of a cliché to claim that everything that we are now is a sum of our experiences as a child, but it is essentially true. This is what this book tries to explain, but endeavours to show that it’s not because this or that happened during our childhood that we can no longer do anything about it. On the contrary, this little book aims to help us find avenues to heal from our childish wounds.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

The School of Life is an organisation which strives to provide people with resources to find calm, resilience and self-awareness in their lives. They have a great YouTube channel, which I would highly recommend as they have lots of short films about different aspects of daily life. They also have very informative videos about key philosophers and intellectual figures, I found them really useful when I was studying Enlightenment thinkers last year! In short, The School of Life aims to make people understand themselves and feel better, but if you had seen me reading this short book (118 pages), you may not have believed I was feeling any better. I cried, and I cried, and I cried – through the whole thing.

As far as I can remember, I have always seen myself as an ugly duckling. I have always tried my best to please everyone and be a good little girl. I am still like this, a desperate people-pleaser who just doesn’t know how not to do things 200%. I still struggle with criticism as I experience it as a rejection of my whole being, and I demand a lot emotionally from people. I always thought that this is how I was born, however, I realised recently that it might actually have been a consequence of my childhood. I have heard the words ‘emotional abuse’ to refer to my own experience, but I am just unable to accept these words for me. I prefer to think I just wasn’t good enough from the youngest age (writing it down, I realise how ludicrous this statement sounds, though!).

With this book, I understood that there were quite a few things that I was deprived of growing up and which prevented me from being a mentally healthy adult. I found it useful to have concrete lists and tabs under my eyes, to really understand what I need now. I need to tackle the bad memories and really try to remember as much as possible. As they say, ‘We need the novel, not the essay’ in order to accept what happened and move on. It sounds fairly easy but when you have tried to bury those memories at the back of your head for many years, going back to them is an actual work of pain.

IMG_8073
Little me, aged 4 or 5, channelling my inner Dorothy

The one concept that they promote and which really stuck with me is that of a ‘bittersweet life’. How every good memory we have is tinged with melancholy and sadness, how nothing is ever all white or all black. This sounds fairly obvious but when we reflect on our childhood, we tend to lose this balance and tend to focus on just one aspect. Equally, when we experience a disturbed development we grow up forgetting about this bittersweet aspect of life and to see all in black – in my personal experience, at least. Yet it is important to accept that everything bad in our lives do not cancel the good things, life is a balance between the two:

‘Bittersweet memories force us to acknowledge that the positive is never far from being devilishly entwined with something more difficult.’

I am not a big fan of self-help books, in general. The ones I have partially read so far have been a little bit too spiritual for me, I just can’t get on board with gurus, higher-callings or revelations, which I realise is a matter of personal taste. However I found this one very useful as a way to start a long process of recovery, in order to understand ourselves better and feel a little relieved that we are, in fact, good people – if only we take the time to nurture our inner child. Of course, professional help will always be the best option as there’s only so much books can do to help someone to heal from their mental wounds.

 

Featured image is a still from Atonement, directed by Joe Wright (2007)

Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels

When her childhood friend Lila disappears in her old age, Elena decides to write their two intertwined life stories. They both come from a working-class neighbourhood of Naples but whilst Elena goes on to study and become an author, Lila remains in the neighbourhood. This is the premise of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, made up of four tomes: My Brilliant Friend (2012), The Story of a New Name (2013), Those Who Leave  and Those Who Stay (2014), and The Story of the Lost Child (2015). The whole series is based on the two friends’ different lifestyles in spite of which they always end up together again, as a constant movement of push-and-pull in which Lina seems to have the upper hand.

my brilliant friend
I am not happy with the original covers of this series. Seriously, it’s not good because it is not a good representation of the content of the book. And personally, I find them a bit ugly – but that’s my opinion. I feel bad because I do like Europa Editions as their work is so important, but I just don’t understand what happened there. I saw that they had released new editions that look quite nice, though!

To me Lila is an embodiment of Elena’s origins, her socio-economic background, and in fact, the Neapolitan working-class neighbourhood which she is desperately trying to escape from, from the youngest age. The movement of push-and-pull between the two friends is Elena’s repulsion and attraction to this neighbourhood she never calls home but always come back to.

new name
This was the most appropriate cover, in my opinion.

Everyone in this neighbourhood is profoundly unhappy and envious of others’ possessions. The unhappiness is transmitted from generation to generation, an inherited burden you must carry your whole life. There is a false sense of social mobility with the Solara brothers, and Stefano Carracci at the beginning, as they have a lot of money and are able to buy new homes outside of the neighbourhood. Except that the new constructions are referred to as ‘the new neighbourhood’ because it is nothing else but a modern extension of the old one. Young people are recreating what they have always known and join the vicious circle of violence and hatred. It’s also interesting to note that Stefano loses his money, which he got from his relatively honest business (even though his father wasn’t really an honest man) because of the Solaras, and so only criminals have access to a comfortable lifestyle – when most characters of the story live in dark and insalubrious lodgings.

In fact, social mobility is just an illusion reserved to women who can fake their backgrounds with the jewels and clothes their lovers gift them. But behind the trendy makeup, they are as unhappy as all the others and they never leave the neighbourhood.

those who leave stay
Spoiler alert: Motherhood is not depicted as a breezy journey, rather, it is a constant conflict between doing what’s good for your children and what your needs are, as a woman.

The neighbourhood is close to the city centre, but seems miles away. It feels like an enclosed space delimited by the stradone. I think it might be why it reminded me so much of where I grew up and my own family history. My mum started to have a look at our family history and since the 1780s, my family have moved in a perimeter of… 35kms. From her side, I am very much an Auvergnate peasant and everyone has lived in the same villages for generations. But when I look at the people around me, I am not sure they’ve ever been truly happy and looked back at their lives with a sense of pride and achievement. I feel harsh writing this words, but when I look back, the adults I had around me as models when I was a child were all deeply unhappy and jealous. Just like Elena, I spent hours wondering whether this was my destiny too, whether I would end up stuck in a place I hate, looking at my wealthier neighbour with envy. Just like her, I went away to study but came back and got caught in the spiral of unhappiness and anger. Finally, like her, I found it hard to leave – physically but also mentally. I’ve been in London for a few years now, but a call to my family brings me right back down to where I was before. I refuse to think about where I come from too much, to talk about it even, but exactly like Elena, I’m always brought back to it when I meet new people, especially in middle class London. But unlike her, I won’t give in to the temptation of the familiar (which I think Nino Sarratore embodies in the novel – he was born in the neighbourhood and left as a child, but Elena kept on loving him for years after that) and I will keep on carving my own path, which I hope will be happy and self-sufficient.

lost child
I’m very sorry for rambling on about these covers, but look at this last one… It makes me question my reading of the books.

I loved, loved this series of books. They were everything the cover doesn’t represent: they were beautiful, complex, thoughtful, and oh so addictive. As this review might suggest they made me reflect on very personal things, and it was sometimes difficult for me to face those thoughts but it’s such a joy to read a book that challenges you on such an intimate level. I realise this is probably just the case for me, but in any case Elena’s story is excellent and relatable at points – no matter where you come from. There is also an HBO show going on, I think series 2 was released recently, I have not watched it yet so I can’t really talk about it but I would be very curious to know how they translated the books for TV!

2020

With the end of the year approaching, I reflected a lot on my year and more generally, on the decade coming to an end. I first wrote a very long post (in bed at 3 am 👍) in which I went over the events of every year, from 2010 to 2019, as these have been the most challenging and traumatic years of my life. It was a painful process and I cried a lot, but it made me feel a lot lighter. Now, obviously, that was too personal to be shared online so I decided to focus on the positive instead, for the start of the new year.

2019 has been a strange year. For most of it, I was busy doing my Master’s degree – busy being an absolute understatement. I feel like I barely lived this year as I was so stressed and nervous about the various essays I had to write and my dissertation due for the end of the summer. I had NEVER written a research essay before this year (in France, we only have finals so if we had to write an essay, it was an exam room for four hours… quite different), let alone a thesis. I felt behind and I doubted myself constantly, undermining my progress and achievements. Writing up the dissertation proved to be especially hard as I was alone all day, behind my desk or in the library. My mood dropped significantly and I found myself in dark places I knew too well. Of course, job-hunting did not make things any easier for me, despite my good results and a whole month of reading and relaxing. Maybe I haven’t really recovered from the black dog, yet. I still have days when I just cry for no reason and feel so incredibly sad and empty. Days when I just cannot leave the house because the world is too scary outside. A full night of sleep is a sweet memory, because I feel so restless at night.

Okay… but where’s the focus on the positive?

Well, I feel more positive than before because I finally decided to face the fact that I am not feeling good and that I need professional help. I also acknowledge that yes, perhaps I’m still not quite recovered, but I am so much better than a few years ago. I am taking back control. I have identified the sources of my problems and although it hurt at first, I’m distancing myself from them. My biggest achievement of the year might be that I’ve finally quit smoking. I feel so proud of me. I bet that most people thought I’d be the last one to quit a few years ago! It makes me feel so much better and happier (and my bank account too is very grateful). My heart feels lighter now. It was just a crutch I used to feel cool and calm. I have certainly embraced my uncoolness, and somehow feel calmer now that I don’t have to plan my whole life around ‘will I have time to have a cigarette? Do they have a smoking area? How am I supposed to not smoke for four hours?’. With regard to my health, I have discovered yoga this year and it is pure joy. I want to practise yoga more regularly this year, for my mind more than for my body.

I’ve also pushed myself recently: I took part in book clubs and went to have some drinks with groups of women I don’t know. It’s hard at first but then, I realise that no one knows me so I can just start with a clean slate. I am Sophie and I’m free to be whoever I am.

I shall be stepping into 2020 with lots of care, I don’t want to get too carried away. I shall put all those negative memories behind but keep the drive that allowed me to go this far. New decade, same – but improved – me.

Oh, and a MA graduate! 🎓

graduate
I look so tense… a natural poser 💁

2019 – A Year in Reading

As I have done for the past two years, I want to take the time to reflect on the books I have read this year thanks to the Year in Books page on Goodreads. Here are my previous posts:

2018 Year in Reading

2017 Year in Reading

I wanted to read 40 books this year and I ended up reading 42 so that’s pretty cool. I have not read so many whole books during a good chunk of the year since I was researching and writing my dissertation. I did reread Villette and Jane Eyre for the occasion as I was working on the portrayal of men in these two novels. I have published an excerpt on here, a paper that I presented to a conference and which is a summary of a chapter of my dissertation. You can find it here: Charlotte Brontë’s Rochester as A Hero of Romance. From April to August, I think I mostly read journal articles so of course, that does not count in a reading challenge but really, I have never read so much in my whole life as I have in 2019. At one point, my eyes got so tired I thought I was going to need glasses! Thankfully, that was not necessary, I just had to calm down and set myself a proper reading schedule – especially of Victorian texts, the font is always too tiny! After my Master, I took a month to completely relax and recover from the stress (and anxiety) which allowed me to read great books I had been waiting to read for a while. Now, I am unemployed so of course, I have time to read but I’ve recently found it hard to focus because I have not been feeling so good in my head. This will be for another post though, so let’s get cracking with the books.

bartleby

The shortest book I have read this year was Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener (1853) with 80 pages. I doubt this result as I have just finished The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892) but as I intend to write a post on it later, I’ll stick with Bartleby. I first read it during my undergraduate degree when we were studying Antebellum American Literature. I hated it. I absolutely hated it and told anyone who would listen that that was the most boring story I had ever read. I found it so boring I could not focus on a paper copy so I downloaded an audiobook which would make me fall asleep very quickly. I can still hear the voice of the narrator saying ‘I prefer not to’… But this time around, I actually really enjoyed it. Bartleby is the new clerk at a law firm and just refuses to do any work. In the 1850s, in a time of industrial revolution and intense activity where the utmost sin was idleness, that could not go down very well. I actually read this novella because I read the Vegetarian by Han Kang (2007) for a class and was reminded so much of Bartleby (he too refuses to eat and speak whilst everyone around him gets angry and even violent with him) that I thought I would write an essay on it. I think I could but it was way too ambitious a project for a 4,000 words MA essay! In that context, I really liked Bartleby’s silent and peaceful revolution against the capitalist obsession with productivity and I find it still quite relevant to this day.

The longest book I read was 922 pages and a combination of Charlotte Brontë’s The Professor (1857) and Shirley (1849) as I have that Everyman’s edition:

shirley and prof

I definitely want to write more extensively on these two novels as I love Charlotte Brontë so much and could talk about her work all day long. To make it short, I loved The Professor and think it deserved more interest as it is such a beautiful way to see the evolution of her writing and storytelling. Shirley however, not such a fan. I would definitely need to read it again but I found it very bland and banal unlike all her other novels. It’s a good book, but there’s no power in it – I think.

friendship

The least popular book I read this year was Friendship: a History, edited by Barbara Caine (2010) and I really wanted to mention it here because it was that good. I used it for research as I wrote an essay on Rousseau’s views on friendship (fell in love with Rousseau btw… only took me to cross the Channel to do that!) and ended up reading most of it out of sheer pleasure and interest. Even though it’s an academic book, it’s very accessible and so fascinating as friendship is a fundamental part of being a human being. Highly recommend if it’s in your library or if you can find it second-hand as I know scholarly books can be very expensive.

I read lots of different varied things this year, and overall it was all quite good apart from two which I can remember not liking at all. Both are going to be controversial because they are well-loved works of literary fiction. The first one is Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) because, in spite of getting the message of the book, enjoying the Spanglish, and loving to learn about Dominican history, it really didn’t work for me. It was too much for me, too rough, too vulgar and I just could not deal with it. It made me angry. I would read it and then violently close the book to throw it at the other end of the bed. I see the point of the book, but I just don’t like that kind of literature.

oscar wao

Second one is, I know, very controversial as it Sally Rooney’s Normal People (2018) aka the book that everyone loved this year. I have very little patience with people who relish in self-destruction and I don’t like to read about unromantic and messy relationships as something good or even okay. I did not find an ounce of love in Marianne’s and Connell’s story, they’re just having sex. Marianne is messed up because of her unfunctional family and she needs help that I don’t think Connell brings her at all. By the middle of the novel, he doesn’t love her, he is used to her; she is familiar and that’s why he feels attracted to her (that’s how I read it anyway). Marianne’s confession that she’s a masochist read for me as a confession that she is definitely not, but does not know how to deal with tenderness because she’s never encountered it. I think it was all too messy for me, and I couldn’t deal with the mess for personal reasons, maybe. I loved the writing, though, so I will try to read Rooney’s other works (past and future) in the hope there is less sex and more actual feelings.

normal people

So as I said, I read lots of good things this year and it’s been tricky to just pick a few of my favourites so here is my top 5 (in no particular order):

  • Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend (2011)

my brilliant friend

Someone had told me this book was not what it seemed and that it was quite bad. They were certainly right in that it is the opposite of what it is marketed as, but immensely wrong with regard to the content of the book. What a powerful story! It is so complex and addictive, I haven’t read many things like that. From the cover, I imagined a romance which would make me travel to Italy. Rather, I was transported to a popular neighbourhood of Naples where everyone is unhappy and violent and where there is very little room for romantic dreams. Instead, the relationship at the centre of the story is Lila’s and Elena’s friendship, which you see grow from childhood. It is a beautiful, awful thing of attraction and repulsion, something very real and very difficult to come to terms with, I think. There are not any really likeable characters in this novel, but somehow, they gripped me and stay with me once the book is closed. This is the first volume of the Neapolitan series and I have read the second one, The Story of a New Name (2012), this Summer and loved it just as much. I really want to read the two other tomes of the series next year.

  • Leïla Slimani’s Chanson douce (Lullaby) (2016)

lullaby

I should start by saying that this is not a book for everyone. The novel begins with a nanny murdering the child and the baby she is in charge of. I don’t think I could read that if I were a mother, and I hope I won’t think of this story too much when that time comes! After this intense beginning, we go back in time to try and uncover the reason for such a terrible crime. The sense of superiority of a middle-class Parisian couple, the isolation of a working-class nanny, a naughty little girl… these do not explain why the nanny did what she did, but Slimani draws a great portrait of different categories of people whilst keeping you on the edge of your chair. The author was interviewed on the High Low last year, which you can listen here (all in English) and I found this podcast really interesting.

  • Ian McEwan’s Nutshell (2016)

nutshell

I was quite interested by abuse on babies this year apparently… But Nutshell is lot funnier. McEwan rewrote Macbeth from the perspective of an unborn baby. His mother and uncle are having an affair and plot to kill his father. It is incredibly funny because the foetus sounds like a middle-aged man rambling about wine and the state of the world, all the while seeing his parents as semi-Gods. In reality, the adults are mediocre at best and none of them seem to actually care about the baby to come. His mother rarely mentions him, she drinks – a lot – and she is just terrible. Her lover never acknowledges the fact that she is pregnant. The father is bad poet who lets his wife basically steal his family home. A strange family portrait but such a great book!

  • Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1869)

little women

It was obvious I would love this novel. Nineteenth century, women, writing, sisterhood and just sheer kindness all throughout – that sounds a lot like me. Yet, I had never really wanted to read it because I remember the TV adaptation being shown every Christmas and my mum complaining about it, saying it was too corny and boring. I can see why some people would say it’s cheesy, but it is also such a cute story of sisterhood! I cannot say too much as I got my copy from a Church book sale and didn’t realise it was just the first part of the story. I got a beautiful edition with the whole thing in it for Christmas so I will start reading it straightaway, and watch the film adaptation by Greta Gerwig which looks quite exciting.

  • Vladimir Nabokov’s Le guetteur (The Eye) (1930)

the eye

Finally, I read Nabokov for the first time, and absolutely loved it. The narrator is a Russian emigrant in Berlin in the 1920s (I think) and after a failed attempt of committing suicide, he thinks he might be a ghost but lives a very normal life nonetheless, amongst other Russians living in Berlin. Up until the end, this novel seems to have no meaning, the narrator lives like a ghost because nothing ever happens to him and he only describes what others do. At the close of the book, you realise you’re dealing with an unreliable narrator and that this is a story about identity, finding who you are and where you belong. I found it all very poetic, beautifully written and as someone who lives in another country and struggled for a while to find myself, this novel really resonated with me.

I hope you too had a great year in books! x

My Sister, the Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite (2018)

sister killer

What an eye-catching cover! I had seen this book absolutely everywhere this year and had been drawn to its memorable cover design with this beautiful yet intriguing face on a black background and neon green font. I finally decided to pick it up and yield to the temptation.

The beginning of the novel was just as gripping: Korede is pondering on different techniques to scrub off blood whilst she is cleaning around the corpse of her sister’s third victim. After reading the first couple of chapters, you would think it’s all in the title; the sister, Ayoola, is a serial killer and this novel is a classic thriller – except it really isn’t.

In my opinion, My Sister, the Serial Killer is a novel about sisterhood and what it means to be the older sister. My sister is much younger than me and I know I would do everything it takes to protect her and make her life easier. Would I cover her every time she murders a boyfriend ? Definitely not. But Ayoola and Korede grew up with a violent father and ‘witnessed’ the death of the latter, which has to damage one’s vision of righteousness as well as strongly increase solidarity between sisters. I say ‘witness’ because I am not sure whether Korede is the most reliable narrator and I am sure there are many voluntary omissions in her story… as you might expect from a serial killer’s accomplice!

This novel has been described as a comedy, but I don’t remember smiling once whilst reading it… I did enjoy the depiction of sisterly help, although Korede’s way of loving Ayoola is rather strange as she is cold and distant, even though she is always here for her in case of trouble. I also found it quite refreshing to read a story set in Nigeria but which is not solely about that setting. Although Korede mentions the corruption that pervades in institutions like the Police and Government, this is not a story about Nigeria. Of course, we need to read and learn about the terrible conditions in which people live in certain parts of the world, but it’s also very nice to have an African country as a regular setting of a story – it normalises such a setting and creates more diversity, I think. Yet, I don’t think I will remember My Sister, the Serial Killer in a year from now. I did not laugh, I did not feel for any character, and I found the writing rather bland. There were many hints at great story lines but they were all given up on very quickly. However, I will keep an eye on what Oyinkan Braithwaite comes up with in the future as I am sure my problems with her writing comes from the fact that she may not have completely found her voice yet.