May Reading

This month’s reading was awards-shortlist dominated (only two things on it weren’t on a shortlist I was shadowing, and then one of them actually won a completely different award), and largely underwhelming. I complained on twitter that I feel rather like that moment in Mad Max: Fury Road when Immortan Joe drives past, looks upon the violence, and sneers “mediocre”. On the other hand, new Helen Oyeyemi!

 

Sarah Crossan, One: A Carnegie shortlisted book. I’ve written about it here; it’s alright, I suppose. I wish there was more heft to it, but when don’t I wish this?

Robin Talley, Lies We Tell Ourselves: Another from the Carnegie shortlist. I’ve written about this here; it’s a much more accomplished book, but its strengths can’t outweigh my distaste for some of its most fundamental premises.

Helen Oyeyemi, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours: I’m still working through my feelings about this book. I linked in an earlier post to Nina Allan and Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s reactions to this collection of short stories, and I can sort of see what isn’t working for them, but I also keep wanting to yell “but that’s the  point!”, and haven’t articulated for myself why it is the point. But I think the stories are too wry to truly be whimsical, as Bee suggests they are; and I think there’s a … noncommital (?) tone that feels essential to me. As I say, I’m working through these thoughts, but it feels like exactly the collection I’d have expected/wanted it to be. I suspect I’m going to be in a minority there, though.

Nick Lake, There Will Be Lies: The best thing about this (Carnegie shortlisted) book was going to my reading book and discovering that everyone else liked it about as much as I did. I’ll be writing more about it, when I’ve collected my thoughts; at the moment all I have is NOPE.

Mathangi Subramanian, Dear Mrs. Naidu: Look, a book I liked! I’ll be writing more about this; it has just won a South Asia Book Award and is about friendship and activism and community and feeds my desire for more good middle-grade fiction.

Jenny Valentine, Fire Colour One: I’ve written about this at some length here. It’s probably one of the stronger books on this Carnegie shortlist that I’ve read so far. Unfortunately, all that means is that it’s pretty average.

Hannah Rothschild, The Improbability of Love: I decided to join the final stages of a friend’s Bailey’s prize book group, mainly as an excuse to read The Portable Veblen (which I’m currently reading). The Improbability of Love was a surprisingly quick read, and I’d absolutely watch the very highly stylised film, but as a book I’m not a huge fan. It begins with an exaggerated comic tone (presumably why it was shortlisted for, and eventually won, the Bollinger-Wodehouse prize), and perhaps wisely realises it’s unable to sustain such a thing and slips back into a more mundane register–which is fair enough, and the thought of reading over 400 pages in the earlier style is rather horrifying. But then the huge cast of characters introduced in that introductory chapter just wanders around disconsolately for most of the rest of the book until called upon to appear at the climactic scene. They don’t work as characters; they might work as hilarious exaggerated stereotypes (not a form of humour I find particularly funny, but still a thing that can work) but the book has moved into a lower-key sort of satire where they no longer fit. A lonely, murderous Russian billionaire named Vladimir is the worst sufferer here, but he’s not the only one. What does work is the deliciously improbable and ludicrously French voice of the titular painting itself, which takes you on a mini tour of the important figures of eighteenth century France. Only because it’s in small doses, spread out through the rest of the text, though; I suspect 400 pages of this too might be intolerable. What really matters, though, is that there now exists a pig named “The Improbability of Love”, which is an excellent name for a beast.

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