July has come and gone in Denmark without it being particularly sunny and warm this year, which is ‘normal’ for Scandinavia, not that we like it. But, looking at it from an avid reader’s perspective, there was much more time for enjoying books, as the cloudy and rainy weather does not beckon one to spend a lot of time outdoors. So, I’ve read 11 books, which is a record for me. Four of these were short books, read during the #booktubeathon2017, which I won’t discuss here, as I have written a post about it.
Here is the complete list, but as I’ve written I will only discuss the first seven.
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
- The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss
- Stay with Me by Adebayo Ayobami
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
- Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier
- Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
- Cruel Crown by Victoria Aveyard
- The Boy with the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
- Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
- Eszter hagyatéka by Márai Sándor
- The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath was the first book I finished in July. It is a popular feminist book and I read it as part of my TBR of feminism. I wish to say I enjoyed it, I read it with the mentality of ‘this is an important book thus must be enjoyed at all cost’. And I tried but overall I was disappointed by it. I understand that it deals with important concepts and I recognized and appreciated them. It deals with what is expected of young women during the 50s in the USA. How they were supposed to be educated but at the same time not to have a lot of aspirations regarding career and living the life they want but dedicate their lives to their husbands and children. The Bell Jar is a fictional story but Sylvia Plath was inspired by her own life. It is a story of a well-educated young woman, Esther, who wins an internship at a fashion magazine in New York. She has ambitions to write but she is thrown into an environment of partying where her only role is to look pretty. This life is not what she wanted and she gets swallowed by it and from that point forward she starts declining mentally. She can’t cope with what’s expected of her and how she is seen by society.
It is a dark book, well written and the atmosphere too depressing for me to truly enjoy it, but the message is carried out exceptionally. I just wish Esther would have been a bit stronger, would have fought a bit more for what she wanted and not just succumbed under the weight of society’s ‘expectations’. But that’s just me!
For me this is more than a book on mental illness than feminism and after reading The Vegetarian earlier this year, which also deals with mental illness, I feel that this subject is not for me. But if you read and loved either of these books I feel that you would also enjoy the other. (Read about my thoughts on The Vegetarian in my April Wrap-Up).
The next book I finished was The Tidal Zone and it is one I enjoyed. It deals with a family which experiences a tragic episode when one of the children unexpectedly stops breathing while at school. The story is told from the father’s perspective which I found quite unique and it deals with a wide array of contemporary themes, like family life, work life balance, raising children, sudden illness, and the inversion of gender roles. It is beautifully written and it conveys all the anguish these parents feel when their daughter stops breathing without a reason. For more of my thoughts on the book, read my review.
Stay with Me is the most recently published book of this lot. I picked it up because of the great reviews it received on YouTube and because it was shortlisted for the 2017 Bailey’s Women’s Price for Fiction. It is the debut novel of Nigerian Adebayo Ayobami and it tells the story of Yedije and Akin, a couple who met during university, fell in love and married. It is a heartbreaking story of a couple of struggle to have children, but especially Yedije, a woman who desperately wants to belong and feels that children are the only way, as a child is your own no matter what, no one can take that away from you.
There is a lot of heartbreak in this story. We get a good understanding of Nigerian culture, of what children mean for the society, especially boys. There is a lot in here about extended families, and how mothers and mother in laws have a lot of sway in a couple’s day to day life. We have polygamy. We have superstition. We have adultery. We have lies and deceit. We also have love and sacrifice. And it is all beautiful.
This book made me so mad. So mad that some of the practices described still exist. Mad that there can be so much meanness in certain families. Mad that one can go along with things just because others say so. This book made me sad. Sad because of how much Yedije wants to belong. Sad because of what she is capable of doing to get what she wants. Sad because of what her circumstances do to her mental well-being. I also felt anger and astonishment and a host of other feelings too, but above all understanding. This book is so well written that despite the incredulity of certain actions, not just to me but also to the characters themselves, I understood why they had to happen. It is a remarkable read and I would have given it 5*, instead of the 4 I settled for, if not for the overly exaggerated nature of some of the elements in here.
Homegoing is another debut novel from a female author from Africa, Ghana and another great read. I have read several books by women authors from Africa this year and loved them all. (Read my review of Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, which was a 5* read for me.) This is a historical fiction, written in a very unique way. It is the story of two sisters and their descendants from the time the slave trade is established in Africa up to the present day. It is a history of slavery both in Africa and the US. It is a captivating read. Each chapter is written from the perspective of a different character and despite these short glimpses into these lives I felt that I connected to them all. Their whole lives stretched out before me just from reading that single chapter.
It’s beautifully written, but beware, some scenes might be shocking as there is no sugarcoating here. Shit literally hits the fan. I can only recommend it and if you want to read more about what I think about Homegoing, read my review.
I’ve been meaning to pick up books by Daphne du Maurier for some time and in July I finally did and I loved the one I read. Frenchman’s Creek is a typical summer romance, but it’s not one of those you consume and forget as soon as you pick up another one. It’s beautifully written, melancholic, and despite the uncharacteristic ending (for a romance) I loved it. If you’re into romance or just feel like a light summer read I would definitely recommend it, as it has a dreamy and nostalgic character to it.
I don’t even know why I picked up this next book. I read it from my library’s e-shelf probably because the title rang a bell and I was not disappointed. Burial Rites is Hannah Kent’s debut novel (…another debut this month, I swear it’s something I planned), published in 2013 and also shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. This book was so beautiful it blow my mind. It tells the story of Agnes, the true story of the last woman to receive capital punishment in Iceland. I haven’t felt so emotionally involved in a book in a long time.
I still feel my chest constricting every time I think about it. It makes me cry at how unjust the world could be to certain people in the early 19th century. How one was doomed basically from birth. How one couldn’t afford to make mistakes as those mistakes were never forgotten and always rubbed into one’s face. How one is condemned without a second thought to circumstances and character. How hard it was for these people to make a living, how they had to scrap for every penny and every mouthful. How little the had. How bleak that existence was. Read it!
The last book is a library read. I picked it up as I passed by the YA shelf because. I like the Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard and Cruel Crown contains two novellas set in that world. I thought I’d pick it up before reading the last book in the series, King’s Cage, to get back into the world before reading the concluding book. I did not like it at all. I don’t know why I bothered after the first few pages. It was bad! Badly written, basically, and I didn’t feel that I got a deeper understanding of the world nor its characters. This book contains two novellas. Queen Song takes us back in time, and tells the story of Queen Coriane, Cal’s mother, and Steel Scars takes us back into the present and relates one of Diana Farley’s missions before she meets Mare. Not impressed and don’t bother reading it.Follow me: