Monday Post #13

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s a chance to share News. A post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up for the week on our blog

You can find the original post here.

I think this will be a good week: I found a pound coin outside my front door yesterday, and I think that this is a nice sign. Every little thing, right? Last week was really stressful at work, and not for the good reasons. I did have a lovely weekend though! We made homemade burgers, and I baked some pecan chocolate chip cookies that we ate while watching Parasite – a film definitely worth the hype.

Currently Reading

Queen – Radio Ga Ga

Have a great week, and happy reading! x

Book Review: The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein

The Lying Life of Adults is the much awaited latest book written by Elena Ferrante – the first one after the last volume of Neapolitan quartet. It tackles similar issues to her previous works, for instance class, beauty, adolescence, studying, etc. This is not a plot-driven novel and Ferrante focuses more on the evolution of the heroine, Giovanna, as she goes through turbulent changes in her teenage years.

When the novel starts, Giovanna is an adult who is looking back at her 12-year-old self hearing her dad referring to her as ugly, and comparing her to his estranged sister who he thinks is as nasty as her looks might suggest. This comment leads Giovanna to become interested in this aunt, Vittoria, whom she is supposed to look like. Raised in a middle-class neighbourhood of Naples, she goes to meet her aunt down in the working-class area of the city and meets people who are completely different from her wealthy, quiet, and educated friends. It’s tricky to sum up this novel because it’s not so much about what the characters do but rather how they interact and evolve.

It took me a while to write this review because if I’m honest, I have been clueless about this book. It’s haunted me for a while after reading it, but I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I think I felt very frustrated only having access to Giovanna’s growth on such a short period of time. I really hope that there will be a sequel to this book, because I feel like Ferrante is the best at creating character development over the course of a few books – she needs space to say all the things that she has to say.

Even though Giovanna is recalling what happened during her teenage years, she still conveys the feelings of adolescence vividly. Everything is changing around her – her body, the way people look at her, her family… and all her emotions are heightened, especially anger. That makes her sometimes really annoying, but that’s what you get when following a teenage heroine. It is such a strange time of life and I think Ferrante is excellent at portraying this. She’s especially good at depicting the changing body of a girl and how it impacts everything, and also the fear of looking like an older relative because she feels so ugly and awkward. There is also this new way that men have to look at you, and it creates more discomfort but also an ambivalence between hating this new body and using it to gain a certain power over men. Being a teenage girl is to feel a constant angst towards your body and to wish you were anyone but yourself. It might not be the same for everyone, but it certainly was for me and I think this ambivalence of the changing body is beautifully portrayed in The Lying Life of Adults.

And of course, adolescence is the time of first love interests. I won’t go into too much detail, just because I wouldn’t want to ruin anyone’s pleasure in discovering this story, but love in this book is very reminiscent of the Neapolitan series. There is a clear distinction between the interest Giovanna receives from most boys and men, who are all like animals in the sense that they only expect sex from her. On the other hand, there is the educated young man who transcended his class through studies; he is more spiritual, and pushes Giovanna to better herself on an intellectual level. This figure resembles Nino in Ferrante’s previous series, but we also know later that Nino was in fact not much better than other men in that regard. In this novel, Giovanna falls in love with the idea of this man, his goodness and his kindness – almost like a religious idol. I thought that this was very relevant with the theme of adolescence because we all have this one person that we are obsessed with when we grow up to the point of adoration (whether an actual person or a celebrity).

I would love to be able to read Italian and read Elena Ferrante’s words as she thought them. Ann Goldstein does an amazing job at translating these beautiful novels, but I also know that you always lose something in translation. I remember when I first read Jane Eyre in French and then read it in English – it was like a completely different work and the writing flowed much more beautifully in English. It would be interesting to know what someone who read both the Italian and English versions thinks of The Lying Life of Adults (but that’s also because I’m a bit of language nerd).

If you’re already a Ferrante fan, you can just go ahead and read The Lying Life of Adults; you will find everything you love about about this author’s books. If you’ve never read Ferrante before, it might be a good place to start because it’s rather short and involves a little bit less commitment than My Brilliant Friend and its three following instalments. It’s a fantastic book that will get you hooked on Giovanna’s thoughts, but please be aware that you too will cry for a sequel at the end of your reading. PLEASE, give us another book – I beg!

Have you read this book already? What did you think of it? And as usual, happy reading!

Sunday Post #9

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s a chance to share News. A post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up for the week on our blog

You can find the original post here.

I mentioned last week that I had a second interview for a publishing job and unfortunately, I didn’t get it. The feedback was very positive, though so I guess that’s a good thing. I’m a little bit pessimistic because I always get positive feedback from job interviews and I’m informed that ‘it was hard to come to a decision’ but I always lose the job to the experimented candidate. It makes perfect sense but it’s also quite frustrating to know that there’s nothing I can do apart from getting experience. But how do you get experience if you can never get the job? That’s the eternal question. It’s also extremely annoying to hear such positive feedback when I’ve been rejected to the same job for the same company (just a different division) earlier. How can my CV and cover letter be good for one hiring manager but not the other? Ugh. I hate job hunting. But I also feel unhappy with my current job so I need to keep going. Sorry about my rant, but it feels good to let it out!

I’ve read and finished

Currently Reading

Palace – Heaven Up There (This is such a beautiful song!)

Have a great week, and happy reading! x

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

Sunday Post #8

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s a chance to share News. A post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up for the week on our blog

You can find the original post here.

I had a very important job interview this week, and I stressed so much for it that I spent there rest of the week feeling like a deflated balloon. I think it went well, and I hope to have a positive update for you next Sunday!

Autumn is truly here in the UK, it was so cold this weekend I had to wear a big jumper. I’m really happy about this as autumn is my favourite season. Unfortunately, we also heard that the Government were enforcing some restrictions for at least the next six months. I’m really worried I might not be able to spend Christmas with my family this year… They are healthy and this is what matters, but I really miss them. Oh well, fingers crossed!

I’ve read and finished

Currently Reading

Parquet Courts – Tenderness

Have a great week, and happy reading! x

Let’s Talk Bookish – Reading Seasonally

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme, created and hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion, where we discuss certain topics, share our opinions, and spread the love by visiting each other’s posts.

You can find more details about it here.

That’s such an interesting topic (like every week, really) and I actually never thought about seasonal reading before. I’m a little bit of a spontaneous reader as I never plan what I read ahead because my choices are mostly influenced by my mood. In short, my reading pattern is all over the place. 

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

That being said, I tend to experience low mood in the summer and around March (that period where you just can’t take grey weather and darkness anymore!). During those times, I tend to read books that cheer me up and/or make me escape from my daily routine. I love Sophie Kinsella for summer because it’s just too hot to focus on serious texts, and she makes me laugh and feel for her characters. I also love to read romance novels during winter, but I usually prefer to escape to magical worlds during this season. Everything looks so dull and grey at the end of the winter that I need to dream of more colourful and fun things!

I also like to read and watch spooky things in the run-up to Halloween, because I love this holiday. I don’t attach a religious meaning to it, though – I only take advantage of it because I love ghosts, witches and vampires. That being said, I don’t necessarily like my spooky books to take place during Halloween because this is not a tradition that really speaks to me. In France, people only started celebrating Halloween because of American films but it’s not a tradition at all and I never went trick or treating. Again, I just love Halloween because I like autumn and creepy stuff!

As I was trying to think about my opinion on Christmas books, but realised that the only one I could think of was A Christmas Carol… I guess it really shows how much of a non-seasonal reader I am. To be honest, I thoroughly enjoy reading books set in winter or in a cold climate in summer because it reminds me of my favourite season – I’m really miserable in summer, as it happens. I can’t even think of seasons in my favourite books! But I guess if I had to attach a book (or series) to a season, it would be something like:

Summer

Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend

Of course, being set in Italy, this novel (and the whole series) remind me of warmer weather, but the story really feels sticky and sweaty, and overall as stifling as a hot day in the city. Besides, pivotal events in Elena’s life happen during the summer – we can think of her holidays on Ischia for instance.

Autumn

Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

Can you think of anything more breathtaking than the British moors in Autumn? I think it’s the perfect book to read when it starts getting dark early and you can wrap yourself in a blanket with a cup of tea.

Winter

Christelle Dabos, A Winter’s Promise

It’s in the title, isn’t it? I absolutely love this book series and it’s an amazing world to escape to when it all gets a bit too much.

Spring

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (how adorable is this book cover?!)

Jane Austen’s novels are fresh, funny and filled with sweet love stories so there’s nothing better to read in spring!

Do you read seasonally or are you, like me, a bit oblivious to seasons in books? If you do too, you should definitely check Rukky’s and Dani’s posts to find out more.

Sunday Post #7

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s a chance to share News. A post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up for the week on our blog

You can find the original post here.

This week was a little insane as I came back from a ten-day holidays (that’s why there was no Sunday Post last week) and I had so much to catch up on at work. I’m kind of the only one in my team so that means that taking time off work is always tricky… I wish I had someone else with me. It was such a crazy way to come back that I felt so incredibly tired and had the biggest nap ever yesterday! I had planned a nice ‘Stacking the Shelves’ post but by the time I woke up, it was too dark to take pictures of my lovely new books so I have postponed it for next week instead.

Speaking of work, now that I’ve let my manager know I can officially say that I’ve been very busy lately applying to jobs in publishing! It’s super exciting and nerve-wracking, and it keeps me well busy during the week. The job market is crazy at the moment, and publishing is even more competitive than it used to be: a lot more people are applying to jobs but there are very few of them. I’m applying to entry-level roles so there are often 500+ applicants (if not 1500+!)… I’m focusing on jobs that match my Operations experience and hope for the best!

This week and the last*

I’ve read and finished (over the past couple of weeks)

Currently Reading

Sly & The Family Stone – Family Affair

Have a great week, and happy reading! x

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!

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!

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