I have reduced my blog post frequency to monthly round-ups of what I have been reading instead of the weekly posts I was writing before. A consequence of taking a bit of a step back meant that February was a slightly slower month for me in terms of how much I read, but I recommend all of the books below:
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize last year. Set in Nigeria, it tells the story of Korede who keeps coming to the aid of her sister, Ayoola, whenever she bumps off one of her boyfriends, always claiming self-defence each time. Grimly deadpan and satirical, it’s easy to see why the setting, tone and plot of this provocative debut all stand out for their originality. However, the paciness means it lacks a bit of depth, so I’m not too surprised it didn’t progress further in the literary prizes it was nominated for.
Recently shortlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize for small presses, Patience by Toby Litt is set in the north of England in 1979. Elliot has cerebral palsy and lives in a Catholic orphanage, confined to a wheelchair and unable to move, speak or eat solid food. He befriends Jim, a new arrival who is blind and mute. The way they manage to communicate through songs is brilliantly done and they slowly begin to hatch a plan for freedom. Their final rebellion against the authority of the nuns who look after them is very uplifting. Elliot’s perspective is focused on the sounds, smells and taste of things and his playful monologue makes for a very humorous and touching novel.
I enjoyed reading Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich in January and recently read another piece of contemporary US undercover reportage which Barack Obama listed as one of his favourite books of 2018. American Prison by Shane Bauer is an account of the investigative journalist’s four-month stint as a guard in a private prison in Louisiana. He used his real name to get the $9 per hour job and his experiences are woven in with the wider history of mass incarceration which has its roots in slavery. This helps place into context why profit continues to be prioritised over both rehabilitation and punishment in the modern system and how problematic this stark conflict of interest is. I’m not sure this book is widely available in the UK at the moment (I found a US edition by chance in a charity shop) but it is well worth a read for those who can get hold of a copy.
Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues-Fowler was shortlisted for last year’s Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award and came highly recommended by Rebecca and other bloggers who follow the prize. It’s a semi-autobiographical novel which tells the story of a young half-English half-Brazilian woman living in London and how she navigates her different identities and cultures. Despite fragmented narratives not really being my preference, the poetic prose style definitely works well here.
Naomi Alderman won the Young Writer of the Year Award in 2007 for her debut novel Disobedience and I recently read her second novel The Lessons first published in 2010. James Steiff is a first-year undergraduate at the University of Oxford who falls in with a charismatic crowd of rich and privileged students. It brilliantly captures the intensity of student life and I found it very engaging overall despite some less satisfying subplots.
Finally, I went along to the announcement of the Rathbones Folio Prize shortlist last week, one of the few multi-genre literary prizes for which short stories, novels, non-fiction and poetry are all eligible. I am keen to read Constellations by Sinead Gleeson – a diverse collection of essays and one of three works of non-fiction nominated this year alongside three novels and a poetry and short story collection (I read Grand Union by Zadie Smith a few months ago but wasn’t particularly taken with it). The winner will be announced on Monday 23rd March.