It’s been a very mixed month, not just in terms of the weather, but also with reading and life events. I read 15 books, of which 12 were by women authors, a record proportion I believe. Although my reading theme this month was the Far East, only four of the books were in translation, as many of the authors from that part of the world write in English. I was entranced by the gentle melancholy of How Kyoto Breaks Your Heart, and invigorated by the energy of Five Star Billionaire. I was charmed by the historical crime novel set in war-time Singapore The Mushroom Tree Mystery, a serendipitous discovery at Bristol CrimeFest. I was less enamoured of Rainbirds, but intrigued by the first novel I read set in Papua New Guinea, The Mountain.
In addition to the Far East, I also visited Mauritius via the powerful, poignant writing of Ananda Devi in Eve Out of Her Ruins, translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman. I met another group of young people from very different backgrounds but equally directionless perhaps in Kaska Bryla’s The Ice Divers (Die Eistaucher). I also seemed to encounter quite a few women on the verge of a nervous breakdown (or maybe just beyond that point) in several books. Carlota Gurt’s Alone, translated by Adrian Nathan West, was quite a wild ride, although it started off conventionally enough. Baek Se-hee’s I Want to Die But I Want to Eat Tteokpokki, transl. by Anton Hur, is a very candid exploration of low-level but disabilitating depression and low self-esteem – and also fitted into my Far East reading category.
From the remaining books, I was very impressed with Winter Counts, and of course enjoyed Deborah Levy, although this book felt very similar to her recent non-fiction trilogy, to the point where I got confused as to what I was reading. (It also reminded me a bit of the film Tár). Lost for Words about a bookseller and a bookshop was charming but somewhat predictable, while the remaining three books really rather infuriated me. The Cartographers was at least entertaining, if rather full of plot holes, but I could not finish Missing Pieces, which felt completely manipulative (the author deliberately withholding information to make the dual timeline more exciting). And, with apologies to those who loved Sorrow and Bliss, I was profoundly annoyed by Martha and the portrayal of mental illness in that book – as well as the author’s vague and lazy ‘any similarities to real-life mental health conditions are accidental’ disclaimer. Three turkeys and two average reads make for a surprisingly low-scoring month overall, very unlike most of my reading.
Meanwhile, real life started off with a major scare with Maxi, our new cat, but it seems we got lucky and she does not suffer from a major heart defect (although there does seem to be a slight defect which we need to monitor).
My younger son had his final day at school, and has now started his A Level exams. My older son finished his exams and came home – he had pre-ordered the latest Zelda game and has been mostly playing it ever since he got back.
I (or rather, Corylus) was outbid for a book and author I loved – but who can compare with the Big Five publishers? I can’t blame the author for finding the best possible financial deal and exposure. I had the consolation of seeing one of our lovely Icelandic authors Jónína Leósdóttir in action at Bristol CrimeFest, and also find out more about her truly fascinating life and ideas over lunch. Since I only stayed for a few hours in Bristol that Saturday, I missed all the scandal that ensued later that day and the following day, so all I can say is that I hope literary festivals move on with the times and open their gates to a greater diversity of moderators and panellists. There’s plenty of talent out there instead of having the same old faces over and over!
On the translation front, I had to translate a new play in a weekend to be able to take part in a competition, because the play I had translated didn’t meet the criteria. That will teach me to read the small print a bit sooner! I am very excited about the new play, however, as it’s a young female playwright from Romania, and she writes a lot of things that I like, so let’s hope it’s the start of a wonderful collaboration.
Just as I finally got to start physiotherapy this month after my spinal/neck injury in February, I got a new health scare – a sudden itchy, burning rash on my face. The doctor seemed to think it was more likely to be an extreme reaction to an expired face cream (don’t try to save money, throw away your long-opened pots of cream!) rather than shingles, but the antihistamines, ointments and antibiotics don’t seem to be in a rush to work… and my younger son has also reported a rash on his face, although milder than mine. So who knows what it could be? Scabies comes to mind, which makes me feel like a Victorian slum dweller, although apparently it has nothing to do with poor hygiene.
The abundance of Bank Holidays this month has been nice – although from now on I will always have Mondays and Fridays ‘off’, as I’ll be working part-time, so it was just a taste of what’s to come.
Hope your May has been less troubled by sudden showers, mediocre reads and other interruptions! What has been your favourite book this past month? And which one didn’t quite live up to expectations?