Monthly Summary October 2021

This is the month where my abstract anger at the lack of any Covid mitigations in schools in England actually had something concrete to rant against: my son caught Covid from a classmate, I caught it from him, and both of us found out about it from Track’n’Trace long after we had tested positive. Yet, according to the ‘legal requirements’, I could have gone to work in London on the day my son tested positive (because I tested negative) and infected all of my colleagues at work that day, plus an old friend I was supposed to meet at LRB Bookshop/Cafe (plus people working or shopping there), plus the people around me attending the theatre performance I had tickets for that night. Luckily, I ignored government guidelines and self-isolated from the start.

Reading

Although for a few days I thought I might never be able to concentrate enough to read properly ever again, I did in fact finish an extraordinarily large number of books this month. Probably because I struggled to do anything else. 15 books, of which: only 4 by women writers (my lowest ever proportion, I believe!), 9 in translation or foreign language (of which five in Romanian, which was my country focus this month), 7 labelled as crime fiction, one biography, two books for Book Clubs – Constance by Matthew Fitzsimmons and Roxanne Bouchard’s We Were the Salt of the Sea (trans. David Warriner). I also had a record number of historical fiction books this month – or else books written at a time that may almost be labelled historical (8).

Once again, I haven’t quite reviewed all that I’ve read (with the excellent excuse of not feeling quite well enough to do so), but I have written about:

  • David Peace’s Tokyo Redux and compared it to a Golden Age crime novel
  • For the 1976 Club, I was captivated by Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud a Solitude
  • I had great fun with Antti Tuomainen’s latest, a not quite cosy Polish crime fiction writing duo and a biography of Elizabeth Jane Howard
  • I discovered a promising volume of short stories by Bogdan Suceava
  • Absolutely adored the irrepressible energy and fun of Ioana Parvulescu
  • And I could not stop myself writing about a childhood favourite of mine, the Romanian classic La Medeleni by Ionel Teodoreanu: Part 1 and Part 2

I was intrigued by the premise of Radu Pavel Gheo’s Good Night, Children, which was a blend of childhood reminiscing, the challenges of emigration and then the shock of returning to your home country after a long time away, plus a knowing nod towards satire and supernatural elements like Bulgakov. However, the book just couldn’t make up its mind if it was comic or tragic, tried to fit too much in, and ended up not going being enough in any of its categories.

The other book that disappointed me was Magpie by Elizabeth Day: the publishers probably did the book a disservice by labelling it as a psychological thriller with an unforeseeable twist, because I did foresee the twist quite early on, and even the final denouement (although my expectation was that it would be even darker). Some of the characters were quite flat or clicheed, and the most interesting aspect of the book, the lengths people are prepared to go to have a child of their own, rather got buried under all of the attempts to make the book palatable to a wider audience.

One book that I found very intriguing and that I do want to review was Admiring Silence by the newly-crowned Nobel Prize winner Abdulrazak Gurnah, about a man who comes to England as a refugee, builds a life here without every quite feeling he belongs but upon returning to visit his family back home in Tanzania (Zanzibar to be precise), discovers that he no longer fits there either.

Other Activities

Speaking of the refugee experience, I saw the very powerful and yet somehow sweet and wholesome film about asylum-seekers waiting for their status to be clarified, Limbo by British director Ben Sharrock. There is a lot of humour and close observation of infuriating but also poignant absurdities that alleviate the frankly quite hopeless and tragic situation. I was comparing it on Twitter to the other film about economic migrants that I saw recently Oleg, which was much bleaker, a much more violent, dog eats dog world, while here there is a certain solidarity and friendship between the characters which makes it ultimately ever so slightly hopeful. And the music! Music really occupies a prime spot here, in many different versions.

That was one of the few films I watched this month (other than anime, Squid Game and a rewatch of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with my younger son). I have been too listless to engage with anything more challenging than Strictly Come Dancing or the Great British Bake Off, both of which I completely ignored last year.

I have switched to a new (16 month) diary and so had a chance to tally all of my submissions to literary journals or competitions and see what I’ve done with my writing thus far this year: I have submitted 37 times, had 21 rejections, seven acceptances. So by the end of 2021, I will clearly have beaten my previous record in each of the categories. It may not feel like a huge number compared to others, but I am trying to keep it manageable and protect myself from too much disappointment.

I’ve also had the pleasure of attending one of the best short masterclasses I’ve ever heard, run by Lucy Caldwell for Arvon. I listened to the recording again after the class was over and have learnt so much about voice and the use of tenses – fundamental elements, which you think you already know by now, and yet… there was so much still to discover. I was pleased to hear just a week or two after this class that Lucy Caldwell won the BBC National Short Story Award this year.

I also attended another Arvon class (in collaboration with ClassFestival) on Poetry and the Body with Joelle Taylor, which sparked some new ways of looking at my body and how to use it in my poetry (or even prose), and also made me eager to explore spoken word poetry more (as I was planning to do before Covid struck).

Plans for November

My holiday plans for October were thwarted, but here’s hoping that my third attempt at a proper holiday this year will finally come to fruition in November! I have managed to change the dates for my stay at the Westwood Centre, so I hope I will be fit enough to drive all the way there and, once there, go on plenty of walks to admire the landscape, read lots and write something. (I had an ambitious writing plan before, but I will be happy with whatever I can get this time.)

In terms of reading, I’ll be tackling some German novellas, although I use both terms rather loosely. I have a selection to choose from, let’s see how much of it I manage to go through: Arthur Schnitzler’s Casanova’s Journey Home, Marlen Haushofer’s We Kill Stella, Irmgard Keun’s Child of All Nations, Friedrich Glauser’s The Spoke, Jonas Lüscher’s Barbarian Spring and Katharina Volckmer’s The Appointment.

14 thoughts on “Monthly Summary October 2021”

  1. I’m glad that you’re now feeling well enough to rant! It’s all such a mess, and having been down in London for a week, I’m horrified by the masklessness, the crowded trains, the laissez-faire-ness of it all. Congratulations on this immense reading list, and engagement in so much else too.

  2. I really hope November turns out to be a better month for you than October. Fingers crossed that your rearranged holiday will go ahead as planned. Have a good trip!

  3. Very interesting blog, as ever. I hope the upcoming plans can be seen through. You did very well to self-isolate early, but I’m very sorry for all that you’ve had to go through with Covid this last month. Things are looking up?!

  4. It really is frustrating when you try to do the right thing (i.e. re Covid), and there aren’t the mitigation protocols in place so that you can. I am sorry that whole thing happened to you and your son, Marina Sofia. It’s also very good to hear that you’re feeling better. You really have read an impressive number of books, so you got that out of the whole thing. Sorry to hear you didn’t like Magpie better; I’d been interested in that one, but I might wait…

  5. So sorry you were ill Marina Sofia. I totally agree with your rant and I hope you’re much recovered now.

    I also have some German novella’s planned for November, I’ll look forward to your reviews 🙂

  6. I so often find excellent reads through your recommendations, but don’t tell you often enough what a pleasure it is to read your reviews. Thank you for writing so intelligently and honestly about all kinds of books—not just crime fiction, which is how I first met you, but anything and everything worth reading. You put books and authors on my radar I never would have found for myself, and I’m so grateful to you for expanding my world! I hope your wicked bout with covid is soon a dim and distant memory (grrr!) and you get back to feeling genki and living life with your unique enthusiasm and style soonest.

  7. Glad you got through the month and through COVID, Marina – what rotten luck. I could rant till the cows come home about what’s happening in schools (since I work in one, I’m seeing it at close quarters, and it was chaos just before half term with the Local Authority basically having to ignore government regs and issue their own advice and guidelines). What a total farce. But you’ve still managed to read a lot and do a lot, so I hope November is more to your liking!

  8. The unbelievable stupidity of it all is seriously wearing… But it’s wonderful that at least you were able to read. Looking forward to hearing about ‘Admiring Silence’.

  9. From what I hear about Covid, you really are amazing to have achieved so much, and I am very glad indeed to hear that you are on the mend. You are actually the only person in my whole world who’s caught it, and while I never doubted the statistics, it was a horrid shock to think that one of my circle might become very unwell. I’m very relieved to know that you’re recovering.
    I’ll take this opportunity send a shout out to all the bloggers who’ve lightened the pandemic gloom and especially your wonderful Friday Fun which has been a great solace while we’ve been in a long Lockdown here in Melbourne.
    Take care during your recovery!

    1. Ah, clearly Australia has had an easier time of it in terms of Covid (or taken stricter measures). I’m afraid we currently have 5 people at work this week who either have Covid themselves or their children or spouse have it. Nearly every single one of my friends with schoolchildren has had it over the past year, especially this autumn. Sadly, I also know 5 people who have died of it, including a very dear friend. So it’s infuriating that people don’t take it seriously and behave as if it were all over! I’m not suggesting a long lockdown again, but a few sensible precautions would be very welcome!

      1. Oh, that’s very hard, to have friends die of it. Please accept my condolences, it’s a terrible thing to lose friends at any time, but especially at a time like this.

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