review: ‘The Sport of Kings’ by C. E. Morgan

C. E. Morgan - The Sport of Kings

3 stars

Thank you to Netgalley and 4th Estate for providing me a copy of this ebook for review.

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I have never experienced such a turbulent combination of (or at times the lack of) emotions as I did whilst reading this book. I still can’t really tell you whether I liked it or not.

Firstly, let me prelude my lukewarm review by saying that I can totally see why a lot of people are really liking this book. I thought I would be one of them. Morgan is undeniably a very talented writer, and you can tell a lot went in to this novel. In fact, I even think it has a good chance of winning the Bailey’s Prize this year (of which I only have ‘The Dark Circle’ left to read from the shortlist!) I’m also big enough to note that this book is probably too clever for me. This is probably one of the most ‘literary’ fiction novels I have read. So take my opinions with a pinch of salt, as always.

‘The Sport of Kings’ is a well written tale spanning several generations of the thoroughbred racehorse raising Forge family. The novel is deeply seated in it’s Kentuckian setting, the Forges’ as dynastic as Southern families come. Luckily, it isn’t actually that much about sport at all, and thankfully so, as I bloody hate horse racing and may have liked this even less.

Anyway, the book is actually quite important. It looks at the history of racial tensions specifically in Southern America, the importance of recognising privilege, and is otherwise just a fairly well crafted read about a mostly despicable family and a father’s obsession with leaving a legacy.

At around 35% of the way through this book I was all for abandoning it. I’ve gotten a lot better at DNF’ing books I just can’t gel with, and I was on my way to doing just that. The problem was, I hated all the characters I’d encountered up to that point. They were a bunch of entitled, rich, racist, sexist assholes basically. Now, usually I am quite partial to reading about horrendous characters doing questionable things, it can often make for quite delicious reading. But in this case, each character had little to no redeemable qualities, so much so that I just didn’t find myself wanting to continue reading in order to avoid hearing about them. The book is mostly written in third person, and I think this actually deepened the issue I had. Although the writing is often rich and descriptive, we get a look at the characters only really at face value. We are never privy to their innermost thoughts, their true feelings and motives. This just further distanced me from people I couldn’t empathise with in the least.

Then along comes Allmon Shaughnessy, a young black man (with an absent, white father and a criminal past), who is hired by Henrietta Forge to work on their estate. All of a sudden, I was intrigued. It genuinely felt like I’d stumbled into a different book. An encounter with a character I liked, a character I began to feel for. Up until this point I felt the writing was impersonal, I constantly felt held at a distance by the story, but it grew to be full of emotion. Allmon even helped me warm to Henrietta, as the tension between them quickened the pace of this (in my opinion) overly long novel, I wanted to read on as these characters were finding something in each other. However, a while after that, the plot takes a sudden turn, it starts to get a little bit Shakespearean tragedy, and it started to go downhill again for me.

Having finished the book now (it only took 5 days but it felt a lot longer), I can say that the actual bones of the story, I loved. I just think Morgan was being overly ambitious with what she was trying to cram in. All the individual stories fighting for a place on the page felt murky. There are only 6 dense chapters split up with interludes between each one that I thought were pointless and just over complicated an already crowded narrative. So much didn’t need to be there. I’m all for showing your skill but strip it back and you’d still have a really clever and important story, the characters could have been nuanced and I might have actually given a shit or two.

I want to end with mentioning that I still feel pretty uncomfortable with a white writer featuring the ‘n’ word in her story this many times, no matter what the context. Black voices need to be heard, and we need more of them in fiction no question, but I would rather read about them from the perspective of people of colour. Maybe it’s just my white guilt making me feel uncomfortable about this, but still.

Essentially, I’m very conflicted about this book. I’m glad I finished it, but it was never a book I would have persevered with if it hadn’t been on the Baileys shortlist.

Have any of you read it? I would really like to hear your thoughts on this one.

sign off heartJess

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mini review: ‘Harmless Like You’ by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

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5 stars

Looking back on reviews I’ve written, it’s clear to me that for some reason I find it hardest to discuss books I enjoy the most. Either I don’t want to give too much away, and hope people enjoy the beauty for themselves. Or – I wish to remain completely blind to any faults and don’t wanna talk about them. Let me harmlessly float in literary ignorance goddammit!

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‘Harmless Like You’ is a book that I won through a giveaway on Goodreads, which was rather marvellous, but I wouldn’t let that influence my review. Luckily though, I adored this book.

I would find it very hard to articulate why I loved this so much without revealing too much about the plot or the characters, and I don’t want to do that. Part of the beauty of this read for me was going on a journey with the characters as I read it, and that’s something this author does particularly well. Her characterisation is so skillful, so brilliant, I loved it even when I didn’t love the characters. Each character is deep, flawed and authentic, and there was a tragic beauty in each and every one of them.

Sometimes its hard to pinpoint exactly why you like a book, especially when you don’t want to spoil the content for any future readers. All I know for sure is that this book just clicked with me, and the character of Yuki I felt deep in my marrow, and she’ll stay with me for a long time. The strength of this book is definitely in its emotive writing, rich characters, complex relationships, and a quietly confident narrative.

Please do read this book if it sounds like something you would enjoy, I would love to chat to someone in depth about this – I’m having a lot of feels right now.

Exquisitely done. I will read anything Rowan Hisayo Buchanan publishes. It’s mindblowing to think this is her first novel. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

sign off heartJess

mini review: ‘Monsters’ by Emerald Fennell

Emerald Fennell - Monsters

4 stars

Throwing it back for another review I haven’t posted before. Read this towards the end of 2016 and clearly really enjoyed it. I have only now noticed that what I thought were rocks covered in algae at the bottom of the cover, is in fact a washed up dead woman. Noice!

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Very nearly a 5 star! This one genuinely surprised me. Sinister, original, and creepy as shit.

A young adult story centred around a troubled, spiteful child, witnessing a string of murders whilst spending the holidays by the sea with her aunt and uncle. This book is hard to categorise as although I guess it’s aimed at older children, it’s almost adult in its execution.

I really enjoyed the writing. The fact that such disturbing things are thought of by a young girl, but are written about so nonchalantly, really worked in this books favour. The characterisation of our protagonist was very well done. Her relationship with Miles – a similarly troubled boy of the same age – added a whole lot more depth to the already eerie narrative.

Honestly, even though I was enjoying the story, I thought I had the mystery all figured out – but the twist at the end was a good one. Having said that however, I still feel like the ending was wrapped up far too quickly, it felt rushed and could have been developed a little more for greater impact.

Especially loved the quiet English seaside setting, and pleasantly surprised by this read regardless!

sign off heartJess

review: ‘First Love’ by Gwendoline Riley

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2 stars

Wow, a book I actually read this year. Can’t promise this is a favourable review though. In fact, the more I think about this book the more it winds me up. That can’t be good. Also, it’s on the shortlist for the Bailey’s Prize, and some books that I loved are not. I am sad.

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This started off as a three star read but in retrospect it really was just ‘ok’. I didn’t get anything out of this, and even though I only read it mere days ago, I’m struggling to remember quite how it left off.

I got the feeling I was meant to be feeling sorry for someone, but for the life of me I couldn’t work out who. None of the characters were likeable for me. I’ve also heard it said more than once that Riley writes very natural dialogue. If she does usually, this wasn’t such a good example in my opinion. I sometimes felt like her characters were more caricatures of who she wanted them to be. That being said, I guess it’s hard to nuance a character and warm to them if you only get 200 pages to do so. At least, it wasn’t possible in this one.

I don’t want to sound like a victim blamer by any means, and abusive relationships are never ok, and are never the fault of the one being abused. But having said that, I just got annoyed at the protagonist with how she reacted to being spoken to so disgustingly. Which was, she kind of didn’t react at all, she seemed blasé, nonchalant more than anything else. It just had me questioning her motives for being in this relationship. On the surface, I feel that the writer was pushing a quite obvious ‘daddy issues’ archetype onto the character, but it just felt too obvious, very forced.

I also quite struggled with the timeline, and in which point in Neve’s life are we hearing her speak from. For instance when the novel first opens, I thought she was estranged from the abusive Edwyn, but then maybe it could of been a snapshot of her life before she met him, before she moved in with him… I honestly couldn’t tell. Maybe I should go back and read certain parts but I shouldn’t have been this confused with such a lack of active plot.

Didn’t get the point of this one.

sign off heartJess

mini review: ‘Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine’ by Diane Williams

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2 stars

Did a little sweep of my shelves today and decided to get rid of this one, was the reminded that I kinda reviewed this, so here are my thoughts.

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This one is a hard one to review for me.
Rather than short stories, at least in the sense that I am familiar with, these super short stories are more likely to be considered flash fiction, maybe even vignettes.
Whilst I did enjoy the quirky writing style, the often curious imagery, and the blunt dialogue I encountered whilst flicking through this, I can’t say that anything specific about this read has really stayed with me.
I finished this collection with the same feeling I often get when I’ve completed a poetry collection. Whilst I can appreciate the writing in a cosmetic sense, I don’t feel that I have fully understood what I have read, or taken anything real from it that others might.
Although I would still pick up some more Diane Williams if I came across a book of hers in a charity shop or something (as I’m intrigued as to whether her style is consistently this experimental), I can’t say that I’m rushing out to find more by her on the basis of this book.
sign off heartJess

review: ‘London Lies Beneath’ by Stella Duffy

Image result for london lies beneath stella duffy

3 stars

Yet again an ‘old’ review, but new to this blog. Surprised this wasn’t on the Bailey’s Longlist this year actually.

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A quick disclaimer – I won an arc of this in a Goodreads giveaway, but that has no influence on my review and all opinions are my own.

Weirdly, I ended up enjoying this book about as much as I expected, although for different reasons than anticipated. I expected this to be quite an adventurous tale set against a gritty historical backdrop. Instead I got a rather simple yet tender story, without much action at all (to the point that it did lose me for a little while about a third of the way through), but full of heart, grief and humanity.

Characters are something Duffy does well and I enjoyed most of them. However, there is a vast array of characters in this and I didn’t feel they all needed to be there. Duffy tries to nuance each of them, and there just isn’t enough room for this, despite the sparse narrative. I would have much preferred less characters, and for her to really shape a few rather than brush over many. The character of Ida specifically called out to me and I feel she could have been explored more to better connect me to her story as a whole. Without giving any spoilers, there is a spiritual quality to her character that was barely touched on, and I would have loved more of that.

Weaving atmosphere into the setting is also another thing that I felt was done well. I really got a feel of a London gone by and the strength and resolve of the working class community. A couple of times crass language was used and it felt unnecessary to me, just added in to make a point and this took me out of the story a bit. However, the tone really did change for the better as the tragedy unfolded, and that pulled me back into the story after the lull I felt a little way in. Knowing this was inspired by real events makes me even more curious about the story, and I’m not sure I got quite enough from what the synopsis promised.

All in all, I really did enjoy this book but I still have mixed feelings about it because I feel that too much was attempted and that hindered my overall connection to it. Maybe more of a 3 and a half star rating, but I definitely want to check out more from Stella Duffy.

sign off heartJess

 

 

mini review: ‘Everyday Sexism’ by Laura Bates

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4 stars

Again, read this last year, but to me this book is timelessly relevant.

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This one doesn’t get a four star rating for enjoyment. This book is not enjoyable. The real life stories spread throughout this book are wrath inducing, heartbreaking, often shocking, but sadly for me, not at all surprising. How awful is that? That this onslaught of violent, damaging sexism is part of everyday life.

I guess that’s the whole point of the book though, to open more people’s eyes to it. So, the four star rating is for importance. I already consider myself an ardent feminist, and this book just solidified that fact. I urge everyone to read this book, especially men, and women who think we don’t need feminism, that it is redundant.

‘Everyday Sexism’ features accounts from people of all ages and does not discount the stories (and the importance of acknowledging these factors) of women of colour, those who have a disability, those in the LGBTQ+ community…. etc – as many books like this often do. A must read.

sign off heartJess