I love to read. In the last few years I’ve made a point to read at least one book per month. Last year, wanting to get a good scope of work in I read a range of classics, modern literature, biographies, non-fiction written by both women and men and loved it. This year I’ve decided to focus solely on female writers – both classic and contemporary.
At the end of April I’ve currently read (in order):
The Girls – Emma Cline
A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
The Nest – Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
These books were either recommended to me, gifts or just something I wanted to read and so far it’s been a mixed bag, both in terms of story content, writing styles and overall enjoyment of the books.
Let’s start with my favourite: A Little Life
A heartbreaking read, focussing on male relationships, trauma, and the family we choose, with an uncomfortably real perspective of fairness and justice (spoiler alert – those who deserve it, for good or bad, rarely get it). Hanya Yanagihara’s simple but emotive language sucker punched me more than once and I’m not afraid to admit I spent most of the last two chapters ugly crying my way to the end. Told from a variety of perspectives and centring around the truly damaged but kind Jude, we follow four college friends from their mid-twenties to middle age, as they navigate relationships, career and family. It may sound like a typical coming of age story, but A Little Life is so much more than this. There are some beautiful and brutal moments and I warn you, each is more disturbing than the last. Each character is incredibly well-defined, which made me feel their hardships even more. I truly recommend this book for anyone and everyone (friends have already started receiving copies as gifts), and if you’ve got half a heart, make no mistake, it will hurt by the end.
Now, the worst: The Girl on the Train
Typical who-dun-it murder mystery and little more. In what is becoming a modern day writing trend, The Girl on the Train is also told from a range of perspectives, including the victim, the civilian detective and a few others. Our protagonist Rachel catches the train every day and creates a fantasy world around a couple who live in a house that backs onto the tracks (Megan and Scott). One day Megan is reported missing and Rachel takes it upon herself to solve the mystery. Rachel is damaged, broke, unemployed and her partner left her for a younger happier woman. Until this puzzle motivates her, she is drinking from morning til night, forgetting who she’s seen or where she’s been, which of course adds to mystery as she believes she was in Megan’s neighbourhood the day she disappeared. Ok, Rachel’s got some issues, but I have to say I just found her annoying, whiny and (like most of the other characters) a complete fucking mess. Yeah she solves the puzzle in the end, but the whole time I kind of didn’t care and just wanted her to sort her own shit out. I know characters with flaws make them more relatable, blah blah blah, but ultimately, I didn’t actually like Rachel, or really any of the characters in this story. They’re all dealing with something or other, but most of them are selfish, untrusting, unfaithful and at times violent, generally shit people. Maybe this made them more real for some, but I would’ve been happy if the entire town of Witney got swallowed into a chasm of mirrors and therapists.
I’m a big believer in the power of women, and by total coincidence most of these books have been about women, or at least from a woman’s point of view, but I did not care for the representations of women in this book and maybe that’s why I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.
And the rest…
The Girls follows Evie Boyd, as 14 year old, drawn to a cult-like group in 1960’s California (Manson-esque in style and eventual carnage) and masterfully depicts the gender imbalance still rampant today. Evie is desperate to grow up, so when she meets the captivating Suzanne and is eventually initiated into life on “The Ranch”, she believes she’s found her people and a new world in which to flourish. She reflects on this in middle age, her young experiences paralleling to another teenager whose path crosses with hers.
“I waited to be told what was good about me. I wondered later if this was why there were so many more women than men at the ranch. All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles that taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you—the boys had spent that time becoming themselves.” If (as a woman) this doesn’t resonate with you at least a little, then you’re either incredibly naïve, or incredibly lucky.
The book itself it easy to ready, well written and great at depicting the new and old worlds which Evie finds herself straddling. Cline’s ability to depict 1969 California without cliché makes this a refreshing coming of age story for anyone to enjoy.
Jane Eyre, a classic for the ages: the orphan girl, plain but intelligent who navigates her way through cruel relatives, a strict boarding school, career as a governess and of course – love. Jane Eyre, a ground-breaking character for its time is a multi-faceted women who works hard to find her own way in the world. She is humble, can be manipulated but also stands her ground when necessary. But there was something about this story that didn’t quite satisfy the modern woman in me. Jane’s love for Rochester (while being based on a connection of intelligence and compatibility instead of looks – bravo) is anything but fair and balanced. I know, it was a different time, I get it, but the guy has few (if any) redeeming qualities and his means to an end involve constant lying, manipulation (of predominantly women), emotional guilt-tripping and physical dominance. Worth a read to make up your own mind about it.
The Nest is an interesting, quick read about the dysfunctional Plumb family all waiting on a trust-fund payout, when one sibling fucks up so badly that “the nest” is drained and the remaining three siblings suddenly find themselves without the monetary buffer they were expecting and relying on. It’s an interesting look into family and money, two concepts that never pair well – and none of the Plumb siblings seem to want to take responsibility for their mistakes. Again, we get a variety of perspectives, not only from the siblings but also their kids, partners and other affected characters, creating a lovely tapestry of life, which is surprisingly easy to follow despite the range of characters to whom we’re introduced. While they can be selfish and frustrating at times, they’re also incredibly relatable in a way The Girl on the Train just wasn’t. A good read with a satisfyingly realistic ending.
Well, that’s all for part 1, let’s see what the next four months brings!
BTW – open to suggestions for the rest of the year!