To lose oneself in a book is a luxury. It is certainly a privilege and right now – and arguably always – it is a form of therapy, a system of self care. I read books because they allow me to access vivid human experiences that are not my own. They allow me to live other lives and find sisterhood in cultures which are different to mine.
10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World – Elif Shafak
Elif Shafak introduced me to Tequila Laila, the protagonist of ‘10 minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World’ and – I was hooked. Shafak is the author of the much loved ‘The Forty Rules of Love’ and while that’s certainly a work worthy of creating a legacy, I think the strange wonderful ‘10 minutes’ also deserves a place in bookish history.
Read this book if you like narratives that are driven by character. Even though the novel is full of ‘happenings’, it’s the character of Leila that I read for. I just fell in love with her spirit and her fragility. Shafak writes in lyrical prose. She’s a writerly writer, her choice of words is self-conscious, she crafts and sculpts each sentence so that it feels like you are reading a work of art. You feel its ‘writtenness’ from its use of repeated phrases and it’s tongue-in-cheek alliteration.
At first it was a style that I needed to get used to but then when I did, I began to find it quite meditative. A book about death (not really a spoiler alert, Leila’s death is mentioned on the blurb) is perhaps not the book you envision yourself reading right now in our current circumstances, but I have to say that I found Leila’s journey surprisingly uplifting.
Bitter Orange – Claire Fuller
Claire Fuller’s ‘Bitter Orange’ had been languishing in my TBR (to be read) pile for a long time before I finally got around to picking it up.
Upon reading, I was hit with two questions: why on earth had I waited so long to dip into it? How on earth could I make my pages turn a little bit slower so I could savor the experience of reading this book for a little longer? If you love manor house mysteries with tightly spun plots, this book ticks those boxes and more. It’s a little bit like ‘Brideshead Revisited’ on acid or ‘Downton Abbey’ with teeth by way of motherhood, love, loss and unrequited love.
I finished the book wanting to lay my hands on Claire Fuller’s entire oeuvre.
The Confession -Jessie Burton
Jessie Burton made international headlines when she wrote and sold ‘The Miniaturist’. Her subsequent books have garnered less publicity (to be honest it’s hard to top the fanfare surrounding ‘The Miniaturist’) but in my opinion, she just gets better and better.
I loved ‘The Muse’ and I was mesmerized by ‘The Confession’. The narrative is straightforward. Lacking in direction and purpose, Rose – a woman in her mid-30s – decides to look for the mother who abandoned her when she was a baby. In doing so, she meets reclusive novelist, Constance Holden who was the last to see Rose’s mother before her disappearance. But of course, nothing is as it first appears and before you know it, Burton’s prose has swept you away and you find yourself caring deeply for Rose, Constance, Elise (the enigmatic mother) and even for Laura- Rose’s alter-ego.
The dual time line is crafted beautifully. At its very best the novel is a meditation on motherhood and identity with love and loss coming in as secondary themes. Like Elif Shafak’s ‘10 minutes’, this is also a ‘writerly’ book where the author really talks starkly about the pain and the pleasure of writing.
The Alice Network – Kate Quinn
‘The Alice Network’ is electric. Kate Quinn organises the book in two timelines and she does it incredibly well. The readers of the Goodreads reading community are quite sceptical about the WW2 timeline (preferring the first) but I really enjoyed both.
The first timeline, set during WW1, traces out the work and the scope of ‘The Alice Network’ while the second examines the aftermath of WW2.
The world of female espionage has not been much explored and the women who ran these secret spy networks have likewise fallen into history’s margins. Louise de Bettignies, a secondary character in the novel, was very real. The details of her life and her death are truly gripping. Kate Quinn’s prose is unflinching, she doesn’t shy away from exploring the details of how depravedly cruel humans can be to each other and nor does she shy away from tragedy.
I enjoyed ‘The Alice Network’ so much that I’m reading Kate Quinn’s follow-up now, ‘The Huntress’. For now, I will say this… so far, so brilliant.
The Silent Patient – Alex Michaelides
‘The Silent Patient’ by Alex Michaelides is (thankfully) my only dud. I’d read brilliant, glittering reviews and I turned to it with a lot of enthusiasm. In our strange and peculiar times, I’ve found myself craving thrillers and stories of darkness…But there’s something missing. It didn’t quite hold up to its promise. In its infancy, the plot is riveting. I found myself staying up at night to read (which is always a measure of a good book)and I found myself slipping between the pages at every opportunity. But therein lies the rub. Michaelides spends so long building up the suspense that when the denouement finally comes, it feels too rushed and there were structural loopholes as well.
The frame narrative and the unreliable narrator didn’t quite click for me either partially because Michaelides’ prose is strictly okay and sometimes it’s like cardboard that’s been left out in the rain. He doesn’t weave words with magic. He tries to but it doesn’t quite work. There’s a Greek tragedy trope that runs through the novel and while it’s almost very successful, it doesn’t quite make it back full circle. I feel like the publishers knew it would do well as a bestseller and therefore rushed it out but didn’t quite spend the time editing it that they should have. That’s such a pity because it had so much potential.
Where the Crawdads Song – Delia Owens
‘Where the Crawdads Song’ by Delia Owens is a corker! It’s a beautiful, painful book that’s been written with exquisite perfection. I cannot praise it enough. I wandered off deep into Owens’ lyrical prose and I felt a bit of a wrench when I had to say goodbye to Kya. Beautifully written with utterly mesmerizing detail, the book is so well researched and it really is a work of art. It’s worth the hype, it truly is. Delia Owens writes with majesty, she takes no prisoners, she’s almost intimidatingly good. I found myself thinking about childhood and the impact that both books and isolation have on growing minds and hearts. Owens also manages to sustain the suspense of the plot without letting it overwhelm the plot. I genuinely feel that Owens struck the balance between literature and thriller and therin, managed to create an almost perfect novel.
Well, that’s it for now. I hope you enjoy my recommendations. A reader’s TBR list is only really a TBR list when it’s longer than their arm, isn’t that so?
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