I took up An Exacting Life’s challenge: to read the books languishing on my shelves.
The first book is one such book – it’s been in my shelf for a while, and thus was on my read it down list. This novel is at once compelling and stupid. A Victorian gothic, with modern twists (ie more sex), there’s fear of ghosts, a brooding castellated house, spiritualism, lies, family secrets, evil goings-on that all impact on the narrator, an innocent, powerless girl to whom things happen.
The compelling nature stems from the narrative drive of this novel. So many things happen, and the descriptions of places are so visual, that you want to keep reading to find out “what next?”. But stupid: I mean the confession in the dark to the narrator is so unbelievable! And why the incestuous sex?
For my book club I read The Cooked Seed by Anchee Min. In her memoir, Min, author of many best sellers set in China, tells the tale of her escape to the US, her constant struggle to earn income and a green card, her writing and raising her daughter. It’s a very interesting book, not least for the perspective it gives on aspects of Western culture that we take as our norms. In classic Western irony, I read her tales of long, hard work while I was lazing in bed one cold and windy Saturday, eating chocolate. A day well spent.
People Like Us by Waleed Ally, a Muslim born and raised in Australia, was very interesting, addressing the Muslim/Western divide and misunderstandings. I like a book that challenges me intellectually and challenges my beliefs. An insightful review is here. I mean how could I ever compete with Mungo MacCallum?
I started skimming bits – too much political history of which I have no prior knowledge so can’t place it in my schema, and frankly didn’t/don’t care enough about to put in my head. I found the chapter on perceptions of women wearing the veil most interesting, though I don’t necessarily agree with it.
Unfortunately, I borrowed this book as a digital copy from my library. Unfortunate, because I had one chapter to go but the dastardly electronic Big Brother deleted my version on the due date. No overdue fines OK, but no allowance to finish the book and be just one day late. You get four weeks when you borrow a real book, but only two when it is electronic. And my library won’t fine you if you are a couple of days late with a real book. Just more reasons why real books win.
My last book of the month was truly moving. So haunting, parts that are so sickening, dealing with the worst of human nature and acts – it took me days to process. And as soon as I finished the book, I skimmed it again looking for a specific quote (which I didn’t find). But the novel was also uplifting, promising hope and redemption.
And the writing!! So lyrical. (I want to wave this novel at the publishers of The Goldfinch and say this is what good writing and good editing does – gives us so many characters, so many back stories, and has so much that happens, and makes us question so many things – the death penalty, redemption, can people change, once evil are we always evil – and all in less than 250 pages.)
The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld, read it!!! I don’t say that often, bossy as I am. But even if you hate the elements of magic realism, or do not like the technique whereby characters are not named, or don’t like reading about what makes children/humans into monsters, this book will have you thinking and will move you.