October Reading Round-Up and Picks of the Month

Strange month of business trips, sleepless nights, work deadlines – all of which tend to spur me on to greater reading heights (anything to avoid having to deal with work). But this time I read rather less than in previous months. As for the writing – forget it, I don’t think I’ve written anything new since the 10th of August.

Back to reading, however. 9 books, of which 7 by men (to counterbalance the feminine July and August). 5 crime novels (arguably, Richard Beard’s biblical thriller could have fit into this category as well), plus one very unusual read out of my comfort zone – namely, a YA dystopian fantasy novel. I even managed to reread one book, an old favourite of mine, Jean Rhys. 3 of the books were translations or in another language. Finally, my trip to Canada did bear fruit, as I read two Canadian writers this month.

Crime fiction:

Gunnar Staalesen: We Shall Inherit the Wind

John Harvey: Cold in Hand

Jeremie Guez: Eyes Full of Empty (to be reviewed on CFL, together with an interview with the author)

Bernard Minier: The Circle (Le Cercle)

Alan Bradley: As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust (to be reviewed on CFL)

YA fantasy:

wastelandersNicholas Grey: The Wastelanders

Since this is not my usual reading material, I lack the context and the comparisons to be able to say: this is good or this could have been better. I enjoyed the storytelling ability of the author, and it ends on a cliff-hanger, being the first in a trilogy. I believe it is in the Hunger Games mould, featuring children struggling to survive in a ruthless post-apocalyptic society headed by a dictator and inciting them to fight against the ‘monstrous outsiders’. An allegory of ‘otherness’ and abuse of power, written in an accessible, exciting style which is sure to appeal to boys aged 11-14.

Unclassifiable:

Richard Beard: Acts of the Assassins

Women writers:

Heather O’Neill: Lullabies for Little Criminals

mackenzieJean Rhys: After Leaving Mr Mackenzie.

Here’s what I said about it on Goodreads:

I was attracted to its darkness and nihilism as a teenager, but now I can appreciate its understated drama and writing style more. A small masterpiece of descent into hopelessness from which all the current ‘middle-aged woman in a life crisis’ books could benefit.

And here’s an extract which should give you a flavour:

It was the darkness that got you. It was heavy darkness, greasy and compelling. It made walls round you, and shut you in so that you felt you could not breathe. You wanted to beat at the darkness and shriek to be let out. And after a while you got used to it. Of course. And then you stopped believing that there was anything else anywhere.

I want to write a longer feature about Jean Rhys at some point, as she is one of my favourite writers – you know me and my love for the gloomy! I also feel she is still somewhat underrated. I’ve also discovered there are two Jean Rhys biographies to discover (although so much is unknown about her life).

I enjoyed 5 out of my 9 reads very much indeed, and the rest were quite good as well, although I had certain reservations about a couple (as I mentioned in a previous post). My Crime Fiction Pick of the Month is John Harvey’s Cold in Hand, for its unsentimental, fearless yet very moving description of grief. But my top reads are actually the two books by the women writers, both very gripping, realistic and disturbing reads about those living on the edge of what society deems to be ‘nice’ and ‘acceptable’.

 

 

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17 thoughts on “October Reading Round-Up and Picks of the Month”

  1. I’m glad you found some fine books, Marina Sofia, and I do like the variety. I know what you mean about re-reading, too; I love it when I have the opportunity to do that. And you’ve reminded me that I want to read the Harvey, for which thanks.

    1. I had always heard such high praise for the Harvey, with lots of people saying that it’s just the kind of style I might like, but somehow I never got around to reading him. It’s always a pleasure to discover your literary friends know you better than you do!

    1. You have to be of a strong constitution and in high spirits – and alternate her books with some cheerier stuff… yes, she really is that depressing. But a masterly writer!

    1. You are so right, Guy! I definitely admire her style more now, the deftness of her touch in moving from one POV to another. When I was young it was just ’emo- emo’ all the way and ‘finally someone who understands me’.

  2. I read Rhys in my 20s but haven’t returned to her since – something I really ought to put right because I think I possibly was too young to do her justice (though I did love Wide Sargasso Sea). She’s most definitely ripe for rediscovery, though – some enterprising publisher needs to reissue all her books in lovely editions.

    1. Wide Sargasso Sea seems to be the only one that is still widely available or talked about, which is a shame, as (great though it is) it is quite different in style to her earlier work.

  3. I love John Harvey. I am rationing his books out because I don’t want to come to the end of them. I haven’t read one for about six months now so I think I might treat myself over the weekend.

    1. I believe I noticed a stash of John Harvey novels at one of my local libraries which has an English language section, so I certainly plan to read more! Enjoy yours over the weekend and let me know which one it was.

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