“I think that it is perfectly normal to talk to oneself occasionally. It’s not as though I’m expecting a reply. I’m fully aware that Polly is a houseplant.”
Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
What a gorgeous May! What a completely excellent specimen of weather! I did so much reading outdoors this month that my skin tone has gone from ‘uncooked bread dough’ to ‘undercooked bread dough’.
I started off my month with the last of my Christmas present books. We briefly lived in Largs when I was a child, and the town’s cultural attachment to its Viking history was the beginning of a lifelong interest in Norse mythology, so it’s lucky that Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology fell into my stocking. Gaiman is one of my favourite writers, but I found his humour to be a slightly odd addition to the mostly traditional phrasing of these myths. The book is also a lot sparser than it looks. I don’t know why I find the padding of excessive blank pages and isolated chapter titles so irritating but I do! This is a nice book, but I don’t see it replacing my old favourite Norse mythology book I got from The Works when I was about ten.
I knew nothing about Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine except for the fact that it had shown up on the #beachreads posts of everybody I follow on Instagram. Good enough for me. I get the hype. It manages to balance an acerbic humour with a challenging level of empathy, for the most part. I found Eleanor herself to be painted in perhaps too broad strokes, and if last month’s Sweetbitter cocaine binge was excessive then Eleanor’s vodka habit might have finally done me in. But as #beachreads go, it’s on the smart, accessible, and thoughtful side.
I also treated myself to an iPad this month, an entirely frivolous purchase which, to be fair to me, I have used every day. Including to read Stephen King’s Insomnia, recommended to me by my mum. At 900 pages, Insomnia is not the most hand-bag friendly book. I probably wouldn’t have read it at all if not on a tablet. I really loved that the protagonists were older people – it’s not often you get to read adventure-based thrillers with any diversity in the characters. That said, if a novel largely involves people communicating telepathically and analysing auras, it probably isn’t necessary to have every other observation justified with “I saw it in her mind” or “I can tell from his aura.” Cut those justifications and the book might run at a cool 500 pages.
Incidentally, I’m not really interested in the whole e-book vs paper book debate because to me they serve different purposes. I travel a lot, so the convenience of a very portable library is great. But a book never runs out of battery and I’m not afraid to take them into the bath with me. They both have merits.
This was a last-minute pickup in Easons having finished my other book at work. Robert Seethaler’s The Tobacconist was my favourite book of the month. It is about a young tobacconist’s apprentice in early Nazi-era Austria, struggling to reconcile the changing world with his own empathy and sense of responsibility. I’m always interested in how translated fiction reads in English and how idioms are preserved, and this was a great example of it being seamless. I can’t wait to read more Seethaler.
This one I finished up just today! Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire is a much-lauded contemporary retelling of Sophocles’ Antigone in which a family of British Muslims coming to terms with their Jihadi brother. It’s the kind of raw, brutal story that I’m so glad is being told. I liked the drip-feeding of information told one character at a time, and I loved the characters themselves, whose pain felt so prescient and vital. I can’t recommend it enough.
There was one more book I read this month – Tiphaine Rivière’s Notes on a Thesis, pictured here with my own thesis. I got this for Christmas 2016 (!) but felt too superstitious to read anything about the difficulties thrown up by PhD research until now. I’m going to write a more detailed review this week, because Notes on a Thesis is really, really great.
June is my birthday month, and my friends and family know that my birthday is very easily sorted with a trip to Waterstones (and maybe a stop off at Thorntons if they’re feeling generous) so I’m looking forward to seeing what surprises await me. For the time being, I’ve just started Elena Ferrante’s The Story of a New Name. As always, I welcome recommendations!