I don’t know quite how it got to be 2019 when I wasn’t looking, and I don’t seem to manage regularly reviews any more, but I’m hopeful that semi-regularly round-ups of what I’ve been reading lately might be more doable…
So, January is a good month for reading as there are lovely piles of books accumulated as Christmas presents to work through.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Vintage) – I don’t know how I missed this when it came out back in 2012. Apparently there was a massive hype around it, and it was longlisted for the Orange Prize. But miss it, I did. And I’m glad of that because I came at it without expectations. I’m also glad that the blurb I read isn’t the one that wound up a lot of earlier reviewers for being sort-of accurate yet misleading. Anyway, despite a few irritations with the overuse of certain phrases and shaky period detail, I loved this book. It’s atmospheric and slightly creepy and romantic and swept me up in its spell, leaving me slightly reeling at the end.
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.
Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Mors, tr. Misha Hoekstra (Pushkin, 2017)– this was shortlisted for the Man Booker International and is billed as a “bracing antidote to the cult of hygge.” It’s about a translator of crime fiction who suffers from BPPV – a form of vertigo that I have also experienced – so I possibly identified with Sonja rather too strongly! This style of book that meanders around for a while and then stops isn’t altogether to my taste though. I’d call it wryly amusing rather than hilarious, myself.
Sonja’s over forty, and she’s trying to move in the right direction. She’s learning to drive. She’s joined a meditation group. And she’s attempting to reconnect with her sister.
But Sonja would rather eat cake than meditate.
Her driving instructor won’t let her change gear.
And her sister won’t return her calls.
Sonja’s mind keeps wandering back to the dramatic landscapes of her childhood – the singing whooper swans, the endless sky, and getting lost barefoot in the rye fields – but how can she return to a place that she no longer recognises? And how can she escape the alienating streets of Copenhagen?
Mirror, Shoulder, Signal is a poignant, sharp-witted tale of one woman’s journey in search of herself when there’s no one to ask for directions.
Old Baggage by Lissa Evans (Black Swan, 2019) – I already knew Lissa Evans could tell a story from Wed Wabbit and she is also very strong on characterisation. It’s an engaging look at the Sufragette movement and “women of a certain age” in search of a new cause. Very entertaining and I’ll be looking out for her other books all the more now.
Mattie is a woman with a thrilling past and a chafingly uneventful present. During the Women’s Suffrage Campaign she was a militant. Jailed five times, she marched, sang, gave speeches, smashed windows and heckled Winston Churchill, and nothing – nothing – since then has had the same depth, the same excitement.
Now in middle age, she is still looking for a fresh mould into which to pour her energies. … but what starts as a brilliantly idealistic plan is derailed by a connection with Mattie’s militant past, one which begins to threaten every principle that she stands for.