I decided to take a break from reading the Women’s Prize longlist, so I picked up Lily King’s new novel, Writers & Lovers. Writers & Lovers follows Casey, a young writer who’s struggling to make ends meet while finishing the novel she’s been working on for six years. Sounds promising, but unfortunately Writers & Lovers was a snoozefest. I almost DNF’ed it because it took me ages to get through the first half.
If you’ve seen the sort of books I review on my blog, you’ll know that I’m the kind of reader who likes the reassurance of a plot, well-drawn characters, and straightforward storytelling. My favorite literary works are those like Tartt’s The Secret History (1992) and Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (2013), which are plotted like mysteries and contain a lot of juicy family or relationship drama.
Weather isn’t like that at all. It doesn’t have a plot; most of the characters are sketches at best; and the storytelling feels like a bunch of poem fragments, bad jokes, fortune-cookie statements, and fun facts strung together. It’s a bizarre and oddly-shaped book with an equally bizarre and odd narrator. By all appearances, Weather shouldn’t be my thing.
And yet… I liked it a lot. I liked it so much that I right after I finished itI got a copy of Offill’s previous work, Dept. of Speculation (2014), and gobbled it up in a day; and after finishing Dept. of Speculation, I realized I still liked Weather more. In fact, while I still think that Girl, Woman, Other is the strongest contender for the prize, I’d say that as of today, Weather is my personal favorite.
I must be the last person to read this since it (joint-)won the Booker Prize, but now that I have, I finally get what the fuss is all about. I haven’t read Atwood’s The Testaments(just The Handmaid’s Tale), but I’ll go out on a limb here and say that it can’t possibly be as good as Girl, Woman, Other. This is just so so SO good. I’d say that it’s probably the strongest contender for the Women’s Prize this year.
Aside from having all the elements I usually love in contemporary fiction (family saga, fairytale vibe, historical setting), The Dutch House was also my most anticipated read from the Women’s Prize longlist, so I’m doubly disappointed at how little I turned out to like it.
Reading Queenie is like watching a car crash happen in slow motion: I was afraid of the inevitable collision, but I was also bored at its progression, and bored is the last thing I want to feel about a novel like this.
In its synopsis, Red at the Bone is said to touch on a number of important issues—namely “sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood”—and while I do see those issues portrayed well in the novel, the heart of it for me is the question of what happens when a mother rejects motherhood and chooses instead to strike out on her own in the world as a woman. Red at the Bone succeeds in exploring this with nuance and insight.
It’s rare to find a novel that can strike a balance between comic lightness and depth of insight, especially one that tackles weighty issues like race and class. Reid, however, achieves that elusive balance effortlessly in her newest book, Such a Fun Age. Here, Reid’s singular contribution is her comic portrayal of the kind of racism perpetuated not through violence, name-calling, or structural snubbing (as we often see in the media), but through an excess of unexamined good intentions. She sheds light on a distinctly liberal brand of racism that can be more pernicious for its lack of visibility, and in doing so, she reconfigures the outdated dichotomous notion of “conservatives are racist” / “liberals can’t be racist” into a spectrum where anyone without sufficient self-awareness—regardless of ideological affiliation—can be guilty of racial prejudice.
Nothing to See Here follows Lillian, a woman in her late twenties who still lives with her mother, works dead-end jobs, and dates unsavoury men, whose life changes overnight when her old high school friend asks for her help in taking care of her husband’s ex-wife’s twins. The catch? The kids spontaneously burst into flames whenever they’re upset. What’s even more surprising than this revelation, however, is that Lillian actually accepts the job, and what follows is an offbeat, heart-warming story about friendship, family, and the bonds we form that transcend genetic and biological ties.
Three Daughters of Eve is an ambitious and multilayered novel that explores the feeling of being caught in between the tensions that plague the modern era – between traditionalism and modernity, between religiosity and secularism, between East and West – and the consequences of being ideologically unmoored in a polarized world. While Three Daughters of Eve succeeds in scaling down these lofty ideas into the ways they shape the everyday life of the protagonist, it also uses the rest of its characters as caricatures of these ideas, turning moments of potentially genuine connection into staged battlegrounds where the clash between dichotomies can play out. The result is the reinforcement of such dichotomies rather than their dismantling. Despite that, I enjoyed the novel for the author’s skill in evoking time and place, and her depiction of the modern existential crisis.