mini review: ‘Sight’ by Jessie Greengrass


2 stars

If you like either Rachel Cusk or Gwendoline Riley, I’d take a punt that you’d enjoy this. I don’t particularly like Cusk from what I’ve read, and I certainly didn’t like ‘First Love’ by Riley, so this is unfortunate. This is at times insightful, and the writing is consistently ‘good’ – it just isn’t my type of novel. I felt a instant disconnect from our nameless narrator, and whilst I feel this is intentional, it made it hard for me to see the point in this book. Our narrator ruminates over different times in her life where she is a young child with a strange relationship with Grandmother ‘Doctor K’, a young woman caring for her ailing mother, a nervous expectant mother and a cautious first time mother. Interspersed throughout her musings of her life, our narrator also ponders on the lives of Freud and his daughter Anna, x-ray pioneer Wilhelm Röntgen and distinguished surgeon John Hunter. The inclusion of these real life’characters’ are intended to serve the narrative, but for me just highlight how week the real bones of this story are.

Thank you to John Murray and Netgalley for providing an eBook of this for an honest review.

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mini review: ‘Catalina’ by Liska Jacobs

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5 stars

Five stars is maybe a little generous, but this debut took me by complete surprise. An almost Greek tragedy set against the scalding and scandalous backdrop of contemporary LA, we follow the instantly unlikeable Elsa hitting a downward spiral. Sparked by being fired from her swanky New York museum job, she’s bitter and wistful for the married boss who is the cause of this sudden predicament. She’s a freshly dyed redhead, popping a cocktail of pills, and hooking up with bad boys on the beach. We know how this story goes right? But as it turns out, we don’t. This gets gritty and claustrophobic and takes unsettlingly compelling turns. Nauseatingly readable, this book is as hot a mess as Elsa herself. A brilliant novel.

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mini review: ‘Her Body and Other Parties’ by Carmen Maria Machado

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3 stars

2.5 stars.

I’m almost heartbroken I didn’t enjoy this as much as expected. I bought and read this in hardback, I was so certain. I was also provided with an ebook copy from Netgalley and Serpent’s Tail for review.

Great concepts, and undoubtedly beautifully written. I felt these were somber in nature, and the surrealism used in crafting them took away from the importance of the stories being told. Essentially, I think this should of been a more realist collection, because the topics deserved it. I don’t think the quirkiness did this collection any favours. Style over substance? Maybe.

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mini review: ‘A Line Becomes a River’ by Francisco Cantú

a line becomes a river

3 stars

Whilst I was continually intrigued by the premise of this book, and eager to hear from the unique standpoint Cantú speaks from, I’m sorry to say that I felt the first half of this rather dry and detached. Rather like the desert landscape and laddish culture he starts work among.

However, as Cantú begins to fall deeper down the rabbit hole that is his job, I began to get sucked in behind him. When he speaks from personal experience there is emotion there for sure.

Still I feel this occasionally gets bogged down in the facts and legalities, which are obviously very important, but it makes this quite a dense read.

Definitely would recommend this though. It’s a fascinating look at border relations from an informed and honest standpoint.

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mini review: ‘Riot Days’ by Maria Alyokhina

Riot Days by Maria Alyokhina

4 stars

4.5 stars. Punchy, frank, and unapologetically angry. This is a big ol’ feminist middle finger and I loved every word. Riot Days is structured fairly chaotically for a piece of non fiction, but rather than feeling disorienting, this works in its favour. Not neat, nor necessarily ‘eloquent’, it’s arresting and compulsively readable. Urgent, illuminating, and strangely poetic. Go read it!

Thanks to Netgalley and Allen Lane for providing this ebook for review.

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review: ‘Sing, Unburied, Sing’ by Jesmyn Ward

sing, unburied, sing

4 stars

This was my first encounter with Jesmyn Ward, and on the basis of this beautifully written novel, it certainly won’t be my last.

Sing, Unburied, Sing is a story told by three central characters: mixed race 13-year-old JoJo, his black mother Leonie, and Richie – a friend of JoJos’ Pop ‘Riv’ who he knew as a young man whilst serving time at Parchman, a nearby penitentiary. Coincidentally, the same prison that JoJo and his little sister Kayla’s white father, Michael, is currently serving time.

When Leonie learns of Michael’s release from prison, she packs herself up with friend Misty, and her two reluctant children, to go meet him at the gates. They leave Pop and Mam behind, Pop who is struggling with his own demons whilst looking after Mam, who is dying of cancer.

What follows this decision is a journey filled with the truth of race in America, the bonds and battles of family, of drugs and visions, of the struggle between mother and a son coming of age, of ghosts, of memories most would leave forgotten, and somewhat, of magic.

The way Ward writes is so raw, so emotive, and her depiction of the bond between JoJo and Kayla was both heartwarming to experience and heartbreaking to see challenged. Whilst Leonie is unquestionably a terrible mother, and absent father Michael is no better, Ward does well in showing us how these characters come to be this way. We aren’t meant to like these characters, but in looking at their backgrounds and personal challenges, by the end we are well on our way to somewhat understanding them.

Such a great novel, and one that I would definitely recommend. Not an easy read at times, but an important one that’s beautifully told.

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some thoughts: ‘Days Without End’ by Sebastian Barry

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2 stars

Got over 100 pages in, but I’m putting it down for now.

I was really expecting the relationship to be at the forefront at this novel, and although I’m told it begins to develop as you read on, the actual war aspect is very much dominating the novel at this point. I’m not really a fan of the brash, very testosterone filled narrative, and our protagonists voice isn’t sitting quite right with me for some reason.

I appreciate that a romantic, sexual relationship between two men would be very much kept under wraps during this time period, and especially in this setting. But I can’t help feel that as a reader I should be privy to more of the nuances of their relationship. Especially as it’s the main character recounting his experiences to us personally. Just being told that this man is the love of his life isn’t enough, I need to see it.

The initial reveal of them being lovers is written in very casually, and whilst I appreciate this blasé approach, at the same time the line ‘and then we quietly fucked and went to sleep’ seemed quite crass. The blunt language appears purposely chosen to shock the reader, and jolted me out of the story a bit. I would have felt exactly the same way if this phrasing was used in regards to a heterosexual couple. It just seems to me that in trying to not make a big deal of a gay relationship being portrayed in this story, we’re actually not given enough and it’s hard to buy into this intimacy.

A few of my colleagues have read this one and have really enjoyed it, and maybe I’m missing out of some gems as the book goes on. But I think I’ve read enough so far to assume I just don’t have that much invested in this particular story. I guess I’m not doing the best job in articulating why I’m not feeling this one right now, but regardless, I’m setting it aside.

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