May Superlatives

I only managed seven books in May, but given that I started a new job this month and have been sorting out commuting logistics, I don’t think that’s so bad. More importantly, they’ve all been excellent in their own ways. Links to reviews where applicable. (I didn’t manage many of those, either. Whoops.)

oddest effect: The Electric Michelangelo, by Sarah Hall. I loved Hall’s latest novel, The Wolf Border, and wanted to see what some of her earlier stuff was like. This was her second book, released in 2004, about a boy who apprentices to a tattoo artist in Morecambe Bay, and who becomes a tattoo artist in his own right on Coney Island, in New York. It simultaneously draws you towards the protagonist and brings a veil of opacity over him; I never felt quite sure that I knew who he or any of the characters actually were. A beautiful book, but a disorienting one.

most physically nauseating: The Beginning of the End, by Ian Parkinson. This book is full of descriptions of horrifying sex, rotting food, physical illness and decay, and it’s amazingly good. Not for the faint-hearted, but if you aren’t thoroughly revolted by it, it will reward you.

most drop-dead gorgeous: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard. Dillard writes sentences like she’s stroking a wildcat with the back of her hand. I can’t describe her prose better than that. The rhythm of it is part Shakespeare, part incantation, part sex. It will undo you.

most thoroughly engrossing world: Grits, by Niall Griffiths. Never before, and never again, I imagine, will I find Welsh skagheads so endearing, so funny, so terribly sad, and such good company. Grits is totally gripping and is very unfairly compared to Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting; personally, I think Griffiths is better.

most gut-wrenching: A return of this category, the honour of which goes to Tender, by Belinda McKeon. It’s her second novel, and chronicles the friendship between Catherine and James, two eighteen-year-olds in ‘90s Dublin. James is gay, and suffers the agony of having to hide his sexuality; Catherine, equally agonizingly, falls in love with him, and makes terrible decisions. Very powerful, very honest, and reviewed by me in Quadrapheme on 4 June!

most unabashedly comforting: Neither Here Nor There, by Bill Bryson. Bryson’s irreverent musings have been standard comfort-reading fare since pre-adolescence, and this one, an account of a journey around continental Europe, is particularly wonderful. I read it in one sitting over a bank holiday weekend chez les Revered Ancestors.

most pleasantly surprising: Tightrope, by Simon Mawer. A Quadrapheme read, detailing the WWII and Cold War espionage adventures of Marian Sutro, a survivor of the Nazi women’s concentration camp, Ravensbruck. Mawer was Booker Prize-shortlisted for a previous novel, but I had no idea this book was going to be so good. His  female protagonist is an actual individual—very damaged but very real—which is rare, especially in historical novels. Totally gripping; my hopes that it was going to be like a cross between Graham Greene and John Le Carre were realized.

next up: I’m almost finished with Gillian Flynn (of Gone Girl fame)’s debut novel, Sharp Objects, which is amazingly disturbing. And if the Bailey’s Prize winner isn’t one I’ve already read, I’ll have to take care of that too…

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4 thoughts on “May Superlatives

  1. I love Trainspotting so I wonder if I would like Grits more too, or maybe not, if it’s quite different apart from the subject matter. It is written in impenetrable slang? I don’t think I could have read Trainspotting without watching the movie first, to help me with the words…

    • You probably would like Grits–it’s written in dialect but not difficult to follow, really, especially if you sound the words out in your head as you go along. It took me about a week. I only say it’s better than Trainspotting because I think it takes a more humane angle on the issues it engages with! You’d probably like it, if you were into the Welsh.

  2. I am waiting for my copy of ‘Tightrope’ to arrive. I enjoyed the earlier book, ‘The Girl Who Fell From The Sky’ in which Marian first appears, but didn’t think it was a patch on ‘The Glass House’, the novel that was short-listed for the Booker. It would not be impossible for one of the characters from that to appear in ‘Tightrope’ too, so I am very much looking forward to it’s arrival.

    • I had no idea there were overlapping characters! That’s really cool. I haven’t read The Glass House, but know that it was highly regarded. Would certainly recommend Tightrope, especially if you enjoyed Mawer’s other stuff.

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