Part of my masterplan was to redevelop a reading habit. I used to read voraciously. But then teaching happened and I became one of the many mentally-exhausted minions who no longer picked up a book unless it was "Danny Champion of the World" to read to my S1s. During lockdown I've made a conscious effort to improve. (I've read twelve books since school closed!) This month I read 4 books. Here are my thoughts...
Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng
This was recommended to me by a colleague and has lots of different elements that I love. I'm a huge fan of multiple POVs done well (Liane Moriarty is also excellent at this, in my opinion) and this book absolutely delivered on this, equally allowing me to care about the characters and see their many, deep-seated flaws.
The story is about the seemingly perfect Richardson family who live in a very affluent, American-Dreamy part of Cleveden and how their lives begin to reshape and unravel when matriarch of the family, Elena, rents an apartment to an artist and her daughter who lead very alternative lives. Elena's youngest son Moody falls in love with Pearl and befriends her, bringing her - and consequently her mother, Mia - into the Richardsons' lives. Both families have secrets and Ng paces the book well, creating intrigue and revealing the truth in layers, like a game of pass the parcel.
In addition there is a racially driven subplot surrounding baby Mirabelle or Ming Li. Abandoned at a fire station, Elena's friends took the baby in and are looking to formally adopt her. After attending her birthday party, Elena tells Mia the story and Mia realises that the baby is her friend Bebe's daughter who she has been desperately searching for. The ensuing custody battle creates a very pertinent dialogue about white families who adopt babies from other cultures. What I found most thought-provoking about this book as a white reader was the way that characters like Elena - affluent, white women - responded to this dilemma, unable to see the importance of a child growing up in their own culture or even understanding that bringing a child up with a sense of their cultural heritage takes more than taking them to a Chinese restaurant (this is a plot detail, just so we're clear. Mirabelle's adoptive mother was just awful! A painful mirror image of the ignorance that exists in white communities.). This part of the book made me really face my white privilege and the way white women can be so dismissive of racial problems in the name of being 'colour-blind'.
Couldn't put this book down! I gave it 5 stars on Good Reads!
Room by Emma Donoghue
I actually read about this book in Save the Cat Writes a Novel. It was on sale for 99p on Kindle and I read it in one sitting. I could not put it down.
In case you didn't know, Room is told from the perspective of 5-year-old Jack who lived his whole life in a tiny room with his Ma. Ma tried to give him a fantastic life and education - she teaches him Phs Ed to keep his strength up, only lets him watch an hour of TV in the morning and evening and hides him in the wardrobe when her attacker - a man Jack calls "Old Nick" - comes to see Ma in the evenings. Jack has lived his whole life believing that Room is the only real thing in the world - everything else is just TV. But all that changes when Ma finds out Old Nick has lost his job and begins to fear what will happen to her and her son.
This story was both tragic and compelling. I absolutely loved seeing Jack's view of everything in the world for the first time. It de-sensationalised a story we are horribly familiar with and flipped it around to be about life and recovery rather than about a horrible man who has done horrible things.
Another 5 Star rating on Good Reads. Seriously. Could not put the damn thing down.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Okay, confession. I've tried to read this book at least five times in the past and always given up because of the overwhelming size of the thing. I added it to my "want to read" shelf on Good Reads and must have clicked a rating on it by accident, because my lovely friend Emily messaged me to say, "You gave The Book Thief 1 star on Good Reads YOU MONSTER."
I had to right this wrong. This time I read it on Kindle and it was much less overwhelming. It tells the story of Liesl, a little girl growing up in Nazi Germany who is fostered by a poor family living in Molching near Munich. The story is narrated by Death, who first meets her when her little brother dies on the train to Molching and notices that Liesl steals a book which has fallen from a gravedigger's pocket.
At her new home, her new Papa painstakingly teaches her to read and she becomes and notorious book thief. She makes friends, helps to hide Max, a Jew who she grows to love dearly, steals from local farmers and gives the reader a glimpse into a perspective on the Second World War we rarely see.
Just a warning. I blubbed like a baby at the end. But I am no longer "A MONSTER" because I gave this five stars also. Wow I was nice this month!
A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
The Trojan War retold through the eyes of only the female characters. I've been on a bit of an Ancient Greek retellings bender recently. I read The Silence of the Girls and Circe in May and the same friend who I mentioned above recommended this book to me.
There were parts of it I absolutely loved - particularly the Calliope chapters, her voice was sassy and strong. And the story of Clytemnestra's revenge on her husband Agamemnon. Excellent stuff. But other parts were just a bit...meh. If you know the story of the Trojan War then you know where this is going. It's also not in any kind of specific order, with stories just told seemingly at random. I understand that this is the nature of Greek poetry - the stories are told across different works. Not everything is neatly contained in the Iliad. However, as a novel I think this really would have benefitted from being rearranged in chronological order.
Beautifully written, but not my favourite. (Although significantly better than Silence of the Girls). I gave this three stars on Good Reads.