I don’t have time to write full-length reviews of everything I read but here are some thoughts on other books I’ve read and (mostly) enjoyed over the last few months of 2015.
Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty
While I enjoyed reading Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty last year, I’m less sure of how I feel about ‘Whatever You Love’. Shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award in 2010, it tells the story of Laura whose nine-year-old daughter Willow is killed in a hit-and-run accident on her way to an after-school club. The majority of the novel is a relatively straightforward account of the acrimonious breakdown of Laura’s marriage to her husband David and the aftermath of Willow’s death but it has the kind of shocking and rather implausible ending which changed my whole perception of the book. The last book I read which made me feel like this was Disclaimer by Renee Knight but probably more so with this one. While ‘Apple Tree Yard’ has a similarly unsettling conclusion, I felt it was executed much more successfully compared to ‘Whatever You Love’. Doughty’s latest novel ‘Black Water’ is out next year.
Hotel by Joanna Walsh
Object Lessons is a Bloomsbury imprint which publishes “series of short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things”. Described as “part memoir, part meditation” ‘Hotel’ is Joanna Walsh’s short and fragmentary account of working as a hotel reviewer during the breakdown of her marriage. Although the psychoanalytic digressions about Freud were less appealing to me, it’s an interesting, original and highly unusual study of people’s expectations about hotels and what it means to be at “home”. Many thanks to Bloomsbury Academic for sending me a review copy via NetGalley.
The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
‘The Grownup’ is a short novella by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn which originally appeared as ‘What Do You Do?’ in George R. R. Martin’s ‘Rogues’ anthology. It is a sinister and rather macabre ghost story about a former sex worker who pretends to be a psychic. The unnamed narrator is approached by a woman named Susan who believes that her Victorian house is haunted and is having an effect on her teenage stepson Miles. I wouldn’t say that ‘The Grownup’ is essential reading for Gone Girl fans but it proves that Flynn’s twisted imagination stretches beyond her most famous novel. Many thanks to Orion Publishing Group for sending me a review copy via NetGalley.
King Solomon’s Carpet by Barbara Vine
Before The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, there was ‘King Solomon’s Carpet’ which is set largely on the London Underground and written by Barbara Vine – the pseudonym for Ruth Rendell who sadly passed away earlier this year. I really enjoyed the first Barbara Vine novel A Dark-Adapted Eye and ‘King Solomon’s Carpet is her fifth which was published in 1991. Although Vine is normally billed as an author of psychological thrillers, ‘King Solomon’s Carpet’ is an unusual book which I would find very difficult to categorise or summarise. It features some truly bizarre events and characters mostly centred around Jarvis Stringer who lets out rooms in a disused school building in West Hampstead to a variety of misfits. The structure is as sprawling as the London Underground itself, with the links between the characters’ stories gradually becoming interlinked. Overall, ‘King Solomon’s Carpet’ is an intriguingly odd book which felt more experimental compared with ‘A Dark-Adapted Eye’.
Night Waking by Sarah Moss
I enjoyed Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland earlier this year which was Sarah Moss’s account of living in Reykjavik for a year as a visiting professor at the University of Iceland. Her second novel ‘Night Waking’ was published around the time she returned to England in 2011 and won a Fiction Uncovered award. It tells the story of Dr Anna Bennett, an academic living on the island of Colsay with her husband Giles and their two young children Raph and Moth. After discovering the bones of an infant in the garden, Anna sets out to uncover the mystery behind how they came to be there. Her narrative is interspersed with letters written by May Moberley, a maternity nurse sent to the island to investigate the high infant mortality rate during the 1870s. The descriptions of balancing motherhood alongside doctoral research are both amusing and harrowing and made me wonder how closely Moss based the book on her own experiences. The sequels ‘Bodies of Light’ and ‘Signs for Lost Children’ are historical novels which draw on the characters from May’s story and I look forward to reading these in the future.
What have you been reading recently?