November Bookshelf: ABCs of Death

“Winter is not a season, it’s an occupation.”

Sinclair Lewis, The Job

That most cold and contemptible of months, November, is at last behind us. Good riddance. I’ve never been able to bear that dank stretch between the glow of Halloween and the sparkle of Christmas. In truth, it depresses me somewhat. November is an uneasy time, and if I could hibernate like a fat bear and miss the whole thing I think I would. But at least the libraries are open.

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I started this month, somewhat unexpectedly, with a Man Booker shortlistee that I somehow missed in 2016, despite being aware of the hype. I am not usually one for crime fiction, which is basically a hangover of me swearing off genre fiction altogether when I began to study ~serious literature~ at university. What a limiting mindset that is. If Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project shows anything, it’s that genre is limiting unless it’s malleable. I read this over a brief sojourn home in Glasgow at the start of the month, and though I usually am too busy to do much reading at home, I kept sneaking away to read a couple of pages here and there. Less a whodunnit than a whydunnit, His Bloody Project is like Serial for the Tartan Noir set. I can’t recommend it highly enough, particularly for those of you who, like me, have genre hang-ups they need to get over.

 

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Continuing on my crime spree [editor’s note: this is not an admission of guilt, and if you’re a cop you have to tell me], I spent some time with Monsieur Hercule Poirot this month. I’ve been really leaning into Christie over the last couple of years – my husband was recently in a production of A Murder is Announced and I, unbelievably, read Murder on the Orient Express for the first time last year – and I truly believe she is one of our greatest ever novelists. The ABC Murders is not as flashy as some of the other Christie mysteries; in fact it almost works better as a character study of the Belgian detective than as a plot-driven murder mystery. But that being said, I enjoyed it. Goodness knows there’s enough Christie to move on to.

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If, like me, you were gripped by Netflix’s adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House last month, then you’ve probably been reaching for your Shirley Jackson ever since. I’d actually never read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which I now regret completely. If I’d known Merricat as an angsty, goth teenager, I’d have had a friend for life. For all the right reasons, the less said about this book the better, but I’ll share the opening lines with you, as they’re absolutely the best I’ve read in a very long time.

“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead.”

Is that prose an oasis in the desert, or what?

 

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I bought Pages for You at the famous Gay’s the Word bookshop last year (and loved it), so it was only correct that I picked up Pages for Her, the sequel, at the new LGBT bookshop in Glasgow, Category Is Books. I initially popped in to do a bit of Christmas shopping – mission accomplished, by the way –  but naturally I had to treat myself to a little something. Folks, if you’re in Glasgow for any reason at all, Category Is is worth a visit. The wife-and-wife bookseller team were able to make a ton of suggestions for the geeky gays in my life, and the in-store greyhound is worth the bus fare alone. They also have tons of in-store events, support groups, and craft sales if books aren’t your thing.

Lest this turn into a review of one of my new favourite bookshops, I should also say that I enjoyed Pages for Her and found it a satisfying continuation of Anne and Flannery’s story. I liked the way their lives turned out so… ordinary without one another, and how strongly they felt one another’s pull. It didn’t grab me quite as vociferously as Pages for You did, probably because there were no torturously erotic descriptions of food. I’d say it’s a nonessential, entertaining sequel to a book that you will absolutely love.

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The sassy pin is also from Category Is Books.

 

My final book of the month, an impulse charity shop purchase, was Ann Patchett’s The Magician’s Assistant. A book of two halves, shall we say: the titular Sabine mourning the loss of her gay husband in Los Angeles (which is a little tedious) and Sabine’s journey to his home in Nevada to meet his family (which, though slower and less dramatic, is much more gripping). I loved the quiet rendering of small affections in this book, between the now deceased gay lovers and the woman who worshipped them, and the family who missed their son but found a daughter. The words really leapt off the page in this one, too, and I took some convincing that I had not, in fact, been recently widowed. A fantastic way to finish an inauspicious month.

My next reads are the final two Neapolitan novels, read in preparation of the HBO TV series over Christmas. Then who knows? Surely Santa Claus will bring me a thing or two to keep me busy, Baileys in hand…

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