Some quick recommendations from my holiday reading. Best: Salvage The Bones by Jesmyn Ward. Won an American National Book Award some time ago. Been sitting on my shelf for ages. Beautifully presented hard cover, high quality paper, old fashioned book. An impoverished black family faces Hurricane Katrina just outside New Orleans. Told through the eyes of a young, motherless girl. Clear-eyed, authentic, unsentimental, resilient voice. I wept. Loved it.
Next: Sic, by Joshua Cody, paperback, published to some acclaim in 2011. Another that has been sitting on my shelf for about a year. A memoir about surviving cancer. Another, this time real life, clear-eyed account of living on the brink. Ruthless honesty makes it more than your usual survivor’s tale. On a website somewhere it has attracted sharply divergent responses – all of which have an element of truth. He’s up himself, an ego-centric womaniser, after reading this book, I still don’t know him. But the clarity of the writing was great. It contains the most compelling description of a near-death experience I have ever read. Fell off a bit towards the end, incorporating memories of his father, but a compelling read.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. This was on lots of the best books of 2013 lists. I read it on my kindle. Loved it. Described as a thriller it is really the story of a marriage – and the expectations people bring to relationships. Most powerfully expressed from the wife’s point of view. Alternating his and her chapters – his in the present, hers from earlier, describing their history. It swerves half way through and presents his and her contemporary viewpoints. A disappointing ending in terms of her character. Betrayed a great feminist chapter that I loved about what is sacrificed to be a cool girl.
The Scientists: a family romance by Marco Roth. Another eBook from the best of lists from 2012. Beautifully written memoir. I wanted to underline and quote beautiful sentences on nearly every page in the early parts. A child’s eye view of growing up with a father with full blown AIDs. About the secrets adults keep from children and the effect of continuing subterfuge on family relationships. A sort of thriller – what’s the real story – but you sort of know early on. It is the journey of self discovery that is the page turner. Again, fell away a bit towards the end. But from a very high start.
Love Child: A Memoir of Family Lost And Found by Allegra Huston. Daughter of the film director, John Huston. Or is she? Another exquisite lay written memoir. Fantastic descriptions from a child’s viewpoint. It starts with memories of playing on the floor amongst shoes and legs and voices high above of adults. Being told of a mother’s death and then the peripatetic life that follows. Nurse the only constant. Childhood followed by adolescence, new homes, new family members, nurse discarded. Another ruthlessly honest appraisal of a younger self. Interspersed with glimpses of Hollywood – life with Angelica and Jack. A cameo appearance from Ryan O’Neil and his children. Life in the LA canyons. Penury amidst luxury. Then yet another family. Beautifully written – right to the end.
Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by Artemis Cooper. There’s a link between this book and Allegra’s but I’m not going to reveal it. This describes an interesting life – but ultimately a bit of a sad one I feel. Best in the description of his early travels which he wrote about himself (in more beautiful prose I suspect). But interesting for the content although by the end the different names an relationships (marriages, lovers, feuds etc) were a bit bewildering.
Madame De Stael: The First Modern Woman by Francine Du Plessix Gray. Interesting because of the subject. What a woman! Feared so much by Napolean he was forever banning her from Paris. She exerted much power and influence through the salon. She was there during all the great moments of the revolution. Supporting the moderate, centrist line. Leading an independent, cultured life – as much as society would allow, or a bit more. Friend of the powerful like Talleyrand, and the interesting (avante garde of their time) like Byron.
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