As England was put into lockdown 2.0 on the 5th November and I’ve been put on furlough again, I set myself the goal to beat my previous reading record from May when I managed to read 8 books.
I only managed 7 books in the end but I’m still pretty happy with that, especially being able to tick off a couple of books that had been on my to-read list for quite some time.
1. KISMET – LUKE TREDGET (2019)
With a big birthday just around the corner, an important new project at work, and a long-term boyfriend, Anna should feel like her life is falling into place. But somehow, she just doesn’t feel sure about, well, anything. So, she decides to download the dating app Kismet, just as a test, of course. But will she embrace the life she has, or risk everything for the life she imagines?
The description of this book sounded right up my street, what with my 30th also coming up next month, and having had my fair share of time on dating apps which keeps you wondering if there’s someone better suited for you out there. Also, the reviews on the book that compared it to ‘Black Mirror meets Bridget Jones’ and Fleabag reeled me in.
I read a review on Goodreads after finishing the book that summed up my thoughts on it exactly: “It isn’t Black Mirroresque, because it isn’t as stunningly clever, and it isn’t Bridget Jones because it isn’t nearly or at all funny.”
Kismet is an all-encompassing dating app that offers you potential matches rated by compatibility on a scale of 1 to 100. If you were in a relationship with a 70 but then met an 81, what would you do? Although I found the idea of this book interesting, I felt that the protagonist, Anna, lacked personality which made the story quite unenjoyable to read. I guess her behaviour wouldn’t make her a likeable character, regardless of whether there’s more to her though. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting insight into the impact that technology can have on the decisions that we make.
The only quote I liked from this book:
“’What’s wrong with people in this country?’ she says, louder than she expected. ‘How can thirty be considered too old to change career? When are we supposed to make our minds up on what we want to be? When we’re straight out of university? Or maybe sooner, before we decide what to study. Or even what we do for A-levels. That sounds about right – lets have our sixteen-year-old selves decide on our future. And what’s the worst that could happen if we did change career? Even if we went back to school of did another degree? All we’d lose is a bit of income for a few years. So what? Who cares? We live in the one of the richest countries on the planet, all with families and friends backing us up. Why not take risks? I’m telling you: if dead people could hear you saying that thirty is too old to change career they’d worry for your sanity.’”
2. HER BODY & OTHER PARTIES – CARMEN MARIA MACHADO (2017)
A prize-winning, genre-bending collection of short stories that is unique, unsettling and totally original. Carmen Maria Machado demolishes the borders between magical realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. In this provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.
As with any collection of short stories, there are always some that you like more than others. My personal favourites were ‘Inventory’ where a woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity and ‘Eight Bites’ where one woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest.
I can see why this book has achieved cult status as the plotlines and writing style are unique. However, most of the stories were a little too abstract and bizarre for me.
“I keep thinking I can see the virus blooming on the horizon like a sunrise. I realize the world will continue to turn, even with no people on it. Maybe it will go a little faster.”
3. THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR – SHARI LAPENA (2016)
Your neighbour told you that she didn’t want your six-month-old daughter at the dinner party. Nothing personal, she just couldn’t stand her crying. Your husband said it would be fine. After all, you only live next door. You’ll have the baby monitor and you’ll take it in turns to go back every half hour. Your daughter was sleeping when you checked on her last.
But now, as you race up the stairs in your deathly quiet house, your worst fears are realized. She’s gone. You’ve never had to call the police before. But now they’re in your home, and who knows what they’ll find there.
If you’re looking for a quick and easy read with lots of twists and turns, I’d highly recommend this!
4. ABOUT A GIRL – LINDSEY KELK (2013)
Tess Brookes has always been a Girl with a Plan. But when the Plan goes belly up, she’s forced to reconsider.
After accidently answering her flatmate Vanessa’s phone, she decides that since being Tess isn’t going so well, she might try being Vanessa. With nothing left to lose, she accepts Vanessa’s photography assignment to Hawaii – she used to be an amateur snapper, how hard can it be? Right?
But Tess is soon in big trouble. And the gorgeous journalist on the shoot with her, who is making it very clear he’d like to get into her pants, is an egotistical monster. Far from home and in someone else’s shoes, Tess must decide whether to fight on through, or ‘fess up and run…
When I’m in the mood for a chick lit, Lindsey Kelk or Sophie Kinsella’s books usually do the job. Having read most of Kelk’s ‘I Heart’ series, I decided to give another of her series a go. I won’t lie to you, the premise is pretty similar to the aforementioned series in that it also features a protagonist in her late twenties who is fed up with her life, flees to another country, makes lots of mistakes and eventually gets the guy.
I found Tess’ flatmate, Vanessa, incredibly one dimensional (it’s unrealistic that someone is THAT horrible) and her best friend Amy was really immature for a 28-year-old. Also, I guessed the ‘twists’ as soon as they were brought up. However, it did the job of being a light, easy read between a thriller and The Testaments.
5. THE TESTAMENTS – MARGARET ATWOOD (2019)
Margaret Atwood’s sequel picks up the story more than fifteen years after Offred stepped into the unknown, with the explosive testaments of three female narrators from Gilead. It is narrated by Aunt Lydia, a character from the previous novel; Agnes, a young woman living in Gilead; and Daisy, a young woman living in Canada.
Whilst I loved the concept of the Handmaid’s Tale, I didn’t properly feel gripped by it until about halfway through as I didn’t love Offred as a character or storyteller. I found her quite bland, to be honest. However, I adored The Testaments from start to finish. The characters were much more interesting with strong individual voices and captivating, interlinking stories to tell. Well worth the 34-year wait for the sequel!
Side note: I’ve also finally gotten around to watching The Handmaid’s Tale series and am loving it so far. Elisabeth Moss and the writers of the show have done a much better job of making Offred a more likeable, three-dimensional character.
“You’d be surprised how quickly the mind goes soggy in the absence of other people. One person alone is not a full person: we exist in relation to others. I was one person: I risked becoming no person.”
6. WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR – PAUL KALANITHI (2016)
At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.
When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student in search of what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity – the brain – and finally into a patient and new father.
I managed to finish this book in a day, which is quite a rare occurrence for me; it is well written and interesting to read. Paul was an undeniably smart and hardworking man in one of the most challenging professions out there. I’m always simultaneously happy for and jealous of people who have found their ‘calling’ and work really hard towards it – I’m still not 100% sure what mine is but I hope I’ll get there one day.
Although I had hoped that the book would have included the views of some of his patients and what their thoughts were on what makes a virtuous and meaningful life, I’m glad that I finally got around to reading this. It is a huge loss that someone who gave their life to treating the dying went on to die so young and it is brilliant that his book managed to be published posthumously so that his legacy can live on.
“Years ago, it had occurred to me that Darwin and Nietzsche agreed on one thing: the defining characteristic of the organism is striving. You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.”
“Grand illnesses are supposed to be life-clarifying. The way forward would seem obvious, if only I knew how many months or years I had left. Tell me three months, I’d spend time with family. Tell me one year, I’d write a book. Give me ten years, I’d get back to treating diseases.”
7. THE POWER – NAOMI ALDERMAN (2016)
In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who lounges around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.
This book has been sat on my bookshelf for quite some time and I’m so glad that I finally got around to reading it. A fascinating insight into what the world could be like if women were the ones in power. Alderman unflinchingly holds up a mirror to the horrors of the society we live in now by creating a novel that has turned society on its head.
I read a great review that echoed my thoughts exactly: “The idea of a society in which one sex is systematically oppressed through the threat (or use) of physical and sexual violence infuriates me. The concept of one sex being disproportionately raped, killed and restricted sickens me. But I don’t need to go and buy a book about the situation being the other way around because THAT’S THE WORLD THAT WE LIVE IN. However, Alderman rebuts the notion that women are somehow naturally more kind and caring than men. It shows that power is power, and the way that power is used should always be scrutinised and controlled.”
“The world is the way it is now because of five thousand years of ingrained structures of power based on darker times when things were much more violent. But we don’t have to act that way now. We can think and imagine ourselves differently once we understand what we’ve based our ideas on.”
“One of them says, ‘Why did they do it?’
And the other answers, ‘Because they could.’
That is the only answer there ever is.”
I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading recently or if you’ve read any of my November picks and what you thought of them!