Archive for January 7th, 2015

January 7, 2015

December Reading

Late, because I went on holiday without my laptop and consequently did a reasonable amount of reading. I have left out my ritual Christmas eve reading (The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, A Child’s Christmas in Wales, a bit of The Sword in the Stone) because my feelings on these are known. I’ll be doing a round-up post about my year’s reading at some point in the next few days.


Tan Twan Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists: For work, and I really didn’t like it. It’s almost tick the boxes literary fiction: war, memory, nostalgia (thesis: the presence of nostalgia is what makes litfic litfic?), a postcoloniality that doesn’t feel very challenging, and that annoying thing where it keeps telling you what it’s doing. My students also did not like it, but for very different reasons.

Alan Garner, Elidor: Still really powerful. I happened to attend a paper on haunted technology a few days after I read it, also, which made me read the static electricity sections in a completely new light.

Sylvia Townsend Warner, T.H. White: I’ve been planning to read Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk for a while now, and thought a good way to do this would be to also read T.H. White’s The Goshawk and STW’s White biography first. I don’t know whether these are really going to affect Macdonald’s book for me, but this is a good biography of a writer who fascinates and confuses me.

T.H. White, The Goshawk: This made me cry, as it always does.

Leslye Walton, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender: I came to this after a couple of people who I trust raved about it. It’s a little bit Chocolat-era Harris, a bit Angela Carter, and is odd and lyrical and whimsical and it … did nothing for me. I’m missing something, clearly. Meanwhile, I’m waiting for someone to write the essay on Maleficent’s sheared-off wings and Ava Lavender’s climatic scene.

Karthika Nair and Joelle Jolivet, The Honey Hunter: This is gorgeous. I read the earlier version; it seems in the wake of the Sunderbans oil spill the authors are reworking the book. And that is fascinating in itself.

Janice Pariat, Seahorse: A thing that Pariat succeeds in capturing both here and in her earlier Boats on Land is this sort of hazy, adolescent-ish atmosphere that I find really compelling. I have other thoughts about this book–its use of the DU English syllabus (did Nem only do the third year modernism paper though?), its use of myth, its cast of multiple bisexual characters; I liked it a lot, in short.

Niveditha Subramaniam and Sowmya Rajendran, Mayil Will Not Be Quiet: I suspect other people have spoken about this book in great detail, and I haven’t got much to add, but it is SO good.

Niveditha Subramaniam and Sowmya Rajendran, Nirmala and Normala: Will write about this at length soon. It is hilarious, but surely there has to be a happy medium between literally living a movie-star life and having to settle for a Chetan Bhagat-reading engineer?

Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake, Michael Rosen’s Sad Book: My grandfather died a couple of weeks ago, and this was one of the things I turned to (other things: poetry, though not complete books’ worth of it, some Terry Pratchett, which features heavily in my January reading). It’s quiet and truthful and I love it.

Judith McNaught, Almost Heaven: I was on a plane, it was okay.

Himanjali Sankar, Talking of Muskaan: I am not really in a position to review this, as Himanjali’s a friend and former colleague, but I did write a column about it and Payal Dhar’s Slightly Burnt, which I’ll be putting here on the blog soon.

Payal Dhar, Slightly Burnt: (see above)

Helen Oyeyemi, Boy, Snow, Bird: I love Oyeyemi’s work, but I did not love this. Of the three main characters Boy was the only one that really worked for me (the first part of the book, narrated only by her, is excellent); the climax is massively problematic (a character is revealed to be transgender; Boy does not react well, which might be understandable, but the real problem is in the book’s portrayal of this character–his transition is a response to rape, and his belief in his own masculinity becomes an enchantment that needs breaking.), but also structurally throws the book off balance to me. I’ll be discussing this at length elsewhere, but it was deeply disappointing.

Katherine Addison, The Goblin Emperor: Partly because of the column, partly because of other things, I rarely read genre fiction that isn’t doing something unusual or spectacular, but I’d heard good things of this particular book. I genuinely enjoyed it- towards the end I was worriedly checking how many pages were left because I was having a good time and didn’t want it to end.

Jai Undurti and Harsho Mohan Chattoraj, Hyderabad: A Graphic Novel: You know how when you’re a teenager and discover Foucault’s Pendulum and the world is full of all this cool stuff and you want to know all of it and talk about all of it? That is this book. It’s me at sixteen, it’s every quiz-attending, funda-loving boy I ever had a crush on, and I suspect what it would have benefited most by would be a cynical friend to occasionally ground it a bit. Some of the art is gorgeous, though.