The picture below shows a tremedously impressive pile of books read, but that’s because it is more like 5 weeks rather than a month’s worth of reading (I wrote my February round-up rather too early), plus I was also doing a lot of ‘professional reading’ for Corylus Books. Plus, a few of them were DNF – and of course, my reviewing has not kept pace with my reading. Nor will I force it to!
The themed reading this month was ‘Plays in March‘ and I managed to read five plays, a couple of which I had even seen performed. Penelope Skinner’s Linda is the only recent one, the others are all from the 1920s and 30s: I compared Arthur Schnitzler to Noel Coward (somewhat improbably) and have still to review Horvath’s Don Juan Returns from War (which I thought was his weakest effort) and Figaro Gets Divorced (which I really liked) – which fit into the #1936Club that I intend to pursue throughout April.
I read five Romanian crime novels for possible further translation and publication purposes: one I really liked but the author is dead (a bit of an issue for panels at crime festivals), two are part of a series so I had to decide which one to translate first, and one is a sort of ‘And Then There Were None’ – where someone seems to be killing off authors at a crime festival set in a beautiful mountain fortress location. I’m quite partial to that last one myself, but keep hearing that no one likes reading about writers as characters… except other writers.
I reviewed two translated books I had been sent by publishers, even though I didn’t expect to have time for them, because I really enjoyed them and think they won’t get as much signal noise as bigger bestsellers: The Field by Robert Seethaler and Touring the Land of the Dead by Maki Kashimada.
You are probably wondering which books I didn’t finish. Well, I abandoned both Graham Norton’s A Keeper and Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi. The former was just so ploddingly mediocre, I couldn’t summon up interest. The latter I really, really wanted to love, because I like experimental fiction generally and so many readers whose opinions I respect did love it. However, I found it a real slog. I kept skipping pages to see if it improved at all, but it just felt wilfully obscure and somewhat pretentious. I have to admit I didn’t get very far with Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell either, so perhaps Susanna Clarke is just not the author for me. We all have our blind spots.
Of the remaining books, I have reviewed Swiss Summer and Asylum Road, both of which impressed me in different ways. I thought The Other Black Girl was a cracking read, although there were some frankly unnecessary sci-fi concepts sneaked in towards the end to make it more ‘suspenseful’. I read The Manningtree Witches because someone in our writing group is writing about witch accusations and executions in the Windsor area. Although there is something inevitable about any story of this nature (we all know how this is going to end, don’t we?), there was a bit of an element of surprise, an ambiguity about characters and their motivations, and an earthiness to the women accused of witchcraft which I really enjoyed. Plus, the author AK Blakemore is a poet, and this shows in the way she selects and places each word so carefully.
However, my favourite book this month is by that writer who seems to have cast a witchy spell on me (oh, how she’d enjoy hearing me say that!): Shirley Jackson ‘s Hangsaman. A strange tale of bad parenting, bad relationships, going away to college and failing to find friends, loneliness and despair. One that certainly deserves a detailed review.
18 books, 12 by women authors, 9 originating in a language other than English, 5 new releases.
April will immerse me even more into the world of the 1930s, namely 1936, and the works of von Horvath, Max Blecher, and Karel Capek’s War of the Newts. Also, two different works by Liviu Rebreanu on passion, lust and jealousy (neither written in 1936, unfortunately, although 1934 is close enough).
For May I am planning to take a look at Arabic literature – with an emphasis on Egypt and Lebanon.