I normally write a post about books I have read but haven’t reviewed at the end of the year but I may start doing review round-ups a bit more frequently so I don’t fall too far behind. Here are my thoughts about five books I’ve read in the past three months or so:
Dubbed as a “Facebook thriller”, Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach tells the story of socially awkward Leila, who is approached by Adrian Dervish to impersonate Tess Williams online to create the illusion that Tess is still alive after she has committed suicide. It’s not uncommon for me to have mixed feelings about a book but I usually have some idea of whether I either liked it or disliked it overall. However, the reason I didn’t review ‘Kiss Me First’ around the time I read it back in March was because I genuinely had no idea how I felt about it. The concept was cleverly manipulated but I still felt the implausible elements of the story generally outweighed the plausible ones, particularly the pretence of keeping Tess “alive” online. Either way, it would certainly be an interesting novel to discuss in a book group.
Having got caught up in trying to read as many of the fifteen longlisted books for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, I didn’t have time to write a full review of Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín which was shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards and the Folio Prize earlier this year. It is about a widow’s grief following the death of her husband, Maurice, after a long illness. I had expected it to be in the same level of bleakness as ‘The Gathering’ by Anne Enright – another novel also about grief and also set in Ireland – but it was more rounded than that. While I wasn’t particularly taken with ‘The Testament of Mary‘ which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2013, ‘Nora Webster’ is much more reminiscent of ‘Brooklyn’ which I read not long before I started this blog. Overall, I still prefer ‘Brooklyn’ but ‘Nora Webster’ is a close runner-up.
I’ve been reading a fair amount of non-fiction in recent months and I loved Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime by Val McDermid. I haven’t read any of her crime novels but her book about the history of forensic science and how evidence is collected and analysed is absolutely fascinating. Exploring topics including the process of decomposition, the development of fingerprinting and modern “digital” forensics tracking people through their phone and internet use, ‘Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime’ is an accessible introduction to the subject featuring case studies from the Victorian era right through to the present day. It didn’t surprise me to learn that McDermid used to be a journalist before writing fiction full-time and her accessible style of writing made this a pleasure to read despite the grim subject matter.
Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper tells the story of an eighty-three year old woman, Etta, setting out on a 3000 kilometre journey across Canada by foot accompanied by a talking coyote called James. Although I enjoy some magical realism, ‘Etta and Otto and Russell and James’ was a bit too twee and whimsical for my taste and I admit I put it down after reading about two thirds and didn’t finish it. I still haven’t read ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Joyce which has a fairly similar plot of an elderly man setting out on a long journey by foot but the style seems like something I might enjoy more.
All Day Long: A Portrait of Britain at Work by Joanna Biggs is a collection of interviews with thirty-two people about what they do for a living, organised in categories according to the type of occupation: making, selling, serving, leading, entertaining, thinking, caring, repairing, starting. Biggs has selected a broad mix of occupations ranging from low-paid and high-paid jobs and has spoken to men and women, younger and older, native and immigrant workers from across the country. I could quite happily read a full-length book about the majority of the occupations here which range from legal aid lawyers to call centre advisers to TV quiz show question writers. With thirty-two occupations covered in just 267 pages, Biggs is right to describe her portrait of work in Britain today as “fragmentary, personal, fleeting”. Those looking for deeper sociological analysis may want to look elsewhere but ‘All Day Long’ is a poignant and insightful portrait of working in Britain today.
What have you been reading recently?