Hasn’t this been the longest month ever? Cold, dark, busy at work, but not quite as miserable as the months preceding it because at least we have all been healthy. I’ve mostly snuggled in my burrow and read – even more than usual, now that I’ve decided not to worry about reviewing every book. 18 books this month, of which 7 fit with the January in Japan challenge (although one of the seven was not written by a Japanese author, but was a non-fiction book about the Japanese criminal world). Nine books in translation, three non-fiction books, ten by women writers, four that could fit under the crime fiction label. A good mix that I can live with.
Here are the books that I have reviewed this month (I am putting the Japanese author names in the Japanese order – surname first):
- Onda Riku: Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight and Matsumoto Seicho: Tokyo Express
- Kawakami Mieko: All the Lovers in the Night, Miura Shion: The Great Passage, Miyashita Natsu: The Forest of Wool and Steel, Lee Wei-Jing: The Mermaid’s Tale in one post on loneliness, alienation and finding connection through a passion for something
- I don’t usually rush after the hyped books, but I was intrigued by Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus and the ‘acceptable’ picture of female anger that it presented
- A comparison of the Tokyo Vice book and TV series
- Retellings of fairy tales by my favourite author Dazai Osamu
And here are very brief thoughts on the others I read:
Charlie Higson: Whatever Gets You Through the Night – entertaining, madcap, quick read, made for the screen – as so many current thriller books seem to be. This one is perhaps slightly funnier and slyer than most, fits a bit into the Knives Out/Glass Onion universe.
Percival Everett: The Trees – this one I regret not reviewing properly, as it is a quite unforgettable, excoriating view of the South of the United States and its history of lynching. By taking an almost absurd premise and bringing in lots of fierce humour, it brings this dark story to a wider audience. A surprising novel, with moments of true poignancy, although perhaps a few too many repetitive descriptions of crime scenes (deliberate, no doubt, and I can understand why).
Robert Thorogood: Death Comes to Marlow – my son goes to school in Marlow, so I go there nearly every day and I can see a big splash being made with this book in the local bookshop. I’m always going to read a book set in a place I know well, although I was disconcerted to discover that I know the real vicar’s wife (the mother of one of my son’s best friends) and she is nothing like the one featured in the book. Although I appreciated having three middle-aged women investigators, I couldn’t help feeling that their quirks are being exaggerated for comic effect, that the secondary characters are rather one-dimensional, so all the book really has going for it is the puzzle element. Of course I will continue to read this series, even if I complain about it, simply because of its familiar location.
Elin Cullhed: Euphoria, transl. Jennifer Hayashida – just like I will always read something about Sylvia Plath. This novel is a fictional account of the last difficult year of Sylvia’s life, sticking quite closely to the known facts and trying to combine elements of Sylvia’s real voice from the letters and diaries with a speculation of what must have really been going on in her mind. I am familiar with this kind of fictional recreation of an artistic life from France, where this is a much more common type of literature, but I am not sure what it adds to our knowledge of Plath. Instead, I see this more as the universal portrait of a marriage and a clash of two very strong and creative personalities, two tremendous artistic egos, particularly at a time when it seemed harder to accept equality within married couples.
He loved me as a motif. He loved the picture of me. He loved the type. The American, the emotional one, the poet. He loved my high demands (and hated them). He loved having a thinking wife. He loved having a wife. He loved that I was thinking and grinding my own thoughts, then there was nothing left of them later in teh writing. He loved that I tried by failed. That I got up and was stabbed, like a goat. That I was not who I wanted to be. He loved my imperfections, and I stood in the middle of it and tried to be perfect.
Fiona Spargo-Mabbs: Talking the Tough Stuff with Teens – trying to educate myself and not talk too much, yet encourage a rather silent teenager to open up. An encouraging, non-judgemental book, with many real-life examples.
Bec Evans & Chris Smith: Written – I’ve been following the authors on their Prolifiko website and subscribing to their newsletters, and this is a book about finding the writing routines and habits that work for you, instead of slavishly imitating others. Encouraging, friendly, with lots of good exercises and suggestions for further exploration.
Sara Gran: The Book of the Most Precious Substance – impossible to categorise this book, no wonder the author struggled to get it published and so created her own publishing house for it. It is not as chilling as Come Closer, but you can see elements of anger and grief here too, as well as the quirkiness and humour of the Claire DeWitt crime series. Although touted as a sex magic book (and it certainly contains elements of eroticism and supernatural), it probably won’t fully satisfy fantasy or erotica fans. I like the underlying ‘normalness’ of it, which keeps it somewhat grounded even when we are off travelling in a world of unimaginable luxury. Basically, it is a story of grief, of clinging to a sense of injustice, of the wisdom (and ability) to move on, and the hunger for power and money.
The trick isn’t to protect yourself. It’s to accept life. Not push it away when it gets messy.
The past is over and done. You have no choice but to live with it. There’s no getting over, there’s no making up for. But there;s a chance to see and create something new. That’s the only chance…
…a wall I’d built around something too broken to trust the world with it. But that wall had never kept me safe. It only locked me in with my pain, leaving it to fester and spoil. I’d locked out all hope, all pleasure, and now, with a force like th eocean, the wall had crumbled, and my protection had gone.
Antoine Wilson: Mouth to Mouth – a story within a story, with a supposedly neutral account of the wild tale told by an acquaintance. Another novel about the hunger for power and money, full of self-justification. Quite clever but nor terribly memorable. On the plane to Switzerland I read another book like it translated from French (not featured above, as I will present it as part of my personal French February reading initiative).
I read Balzac’s Lost Illusions for the winter long read for London Reads the World Book Club, and will review it of course during my French February. I still haven’t seen the film, which apparently is only available to stream in Canada. However, I have watched (and rewatched) quite a few good films this month – more than usual by my standards, partly because my older son the film buff was around for 9 days at the start of the month.
I really enjoyed rewatching My Neighbour Totoro for the nth time (especially after seeing the very innovative, delightful staging of it at the Barbican) and the beautiful, warm Portrait of a Lady on Fire, although I was perhaps somewhat less mesmerised by The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction this time round. I was moved by the Korean film Memories of Murder but even more so by the very recent Aftersun (which cut a little too close to home, so there were floods of tears). Stellar performances by Paul Mescal and young Frankie Corio.
By the way, I’ve had some friends asking who is hosting the #FrenchFebruary initiative – and the answer is no one, I just created this personal challenge for myself because I like alliteration and reading French language books. But if you would like to join in and read some books from France, Switzerland, Belgium, Quebec, French-speaking Africa etc. then please do! The more the merrier! Always happy to expand my understanding in this area.
24 thoughts on “January 2023 Summary”
I read the Trees Marina and it reminded me of when I was growing up in the 60s and learning about the murder of freedom riders in Mississippi. Quite an emotional read for me. Your son goes to school in Marlow, the site of a WEA class where I once taught. I wonder if it’s still going…
Regret to say, I can’t seem to find any in Marlow – nor in Maidenhead, where I live. It’s all further afield, in Slough, Reading, Wokingham…
Yes, I taught a lot in Slough and Reading, a course called Helping in Schools which was ‘magical’. I gave up when I’d been out of the classroom too long to be credible. Literature took over but unfortunately now seems to be dying a death.
The Trees is a hard hitter, for sure. I was very interested in reading The Book of the Most Precious Substance, although now I wonder if I’ll find its genre ambiguity frustrating or enjoyable!
My advice would be: don’t overthink it. I knew nothing of its plot when I started reading so had no particular expectations.
You did have a productive reading month, Marina Sofia. I’m happy for you, too, that you’re all staying healthy. I’m glad you reminded me of The Trees. I want to read that, and I should read that. It needs to move from the wish list to the TBR…
The Trees is really worth reading, although it’s quite hard-hitting (in spite of the very dark humour).
It has been a looooooooooooooooooooong month hasn’t it Marina? But you’ve read some wonderful books (I had a good month too!) I may try to join in with your French initiative for February, especially if I can find something French from an indie press… ;D
Well, I could suggest Little Rebel from Corylus Books, if you haven’t read it yet… And it’s very short, can be read in a day. Would you like me to send you a copy?
Well, that’s most kind! It might be a bit fierce for me in places, but I’m happy to give it a go!! 😀
I’ll second the recommendation : read Little Rebel, it’s excellent!
Thanks for the extra recommendation! 😀
Always amazed at how much you do…
I may join you for French February too.
Please do – you always bring a fantastic different perspective to it!
Will try. French or francophone lit?
Francophone, bien sûr!
If you’re reading French books in February Marina how about Annie Ernaux The Years. An absolute masterpiece and an excellent translation.
I am currently staying at a friend’s house in Switzerland and, since she translates from French, she has a lot of French language books here to choose from. Alas, I’m only here a week, so have to choose really slender ones to have any hope of finishing them. But I have a big pile at home too, as you can imagine!
I think you’re right about the use of repetition in The Trees as it feels entirely deliberate for very valid reasons.
What did you think of the Kawakami, All the Lovers in the Night? How does it compare to Heaven (the only MK I’ve read to date)?
It was my favourite of the four books I read on loneliness. There is a poetic streak to Kawakami that heightens even the grim and banal. This was far less hard-hitting in subject matter than Heaven, although I have to admit I found the narrator a bit annoying and whiney at times.
I’d wondered about the Thorogood as I’m definitely in a cosy crime mood at the moment. Not sure, although if it was set where I live I would snap it up!
It’s entertaining enough if you’re in a cosy crime mood – in a Death in Paradise sort of way.
Looks like you had a great reading month. Do you feel pressure is lifted now you’ve decided not to review everything?
Oh, absolutely! I may regret later not having longer reviews to go back to, to remind myself of certain books. But you can’t fit everything in, can you?