The Reading List

Review Of Books: August


The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake

Genre: Gothic Fiction

Logline: The sprawling, maze-like castle Gormenghast hulks over the tradition bound lives of it’s occupants, as the new heir, Titus Groan, is born, and the ambitious Steerpike plots his way out of working in the kitchens and into everyone’s lives. 

Oh man, these books feel long. I mean, the first two are clearly brilliant, but… I think people have less patience than they used to, and maybe this is true of me now too. Or maybe I found that since none of the characters are really likeable, that I wasn’t as gripped as I might otherwise be. I felt like the whole thing was really cynical, which i get, and in places that was really funny, but I also felt like the person writing it hated the society he lived in for being stifled, but also attributed evil intentions and ruthlessness to anyone who tried to improve his lot. The inevitability of it all at first seemed like part of the whole gothic thing… but after a while it just made me stop caring. However, the books are really well written, they are incredible works of fiction, with a cast of characters that Dickens would approve of. The third book is really interesting, because it doesn’t fit at all. The author wrote it towards the end of his life when he was in a nursing home, and it reads like some odd psychedelic fiction, with sci fi, odd dialogue, paranoia and anachronisms thrown in. Of course, after a few chapters, this grated too. The Gormenghast trilogy is an amazing work. The castle is this wonderful, mad place, and the characters are all vividly drawn and larger than life, the plot is never predictable. It’s a work of cult fiction for very good reason. 



The Cruel Mother by Sian Busby

Genre: Historical

Logline: A young woman investigates the circumstances and truths surrounding a family secret that has haunted her family for generations: her great-grandmother killed her newborn triplets.  

So, here’s an interesting story for you: I wandered into a charity shop randomly for something to read on the train to my new job, and picked this up because it looked interesting. On reading it, I found out that the events occurred a few houses down from my new work place… Coincidence. Anyway, this book is tragic and fascinating, I’m really surprised that it’s not more well known. The first couple of chapters the author seems to jump around and struggle to find her feet as she describes some of the events, and puts herself first in her subjects shoes, then shifting back to non-fiction, but she finds her stride, and the facts draw you in. The way she lovingly talks about her family, vividly recalling their characters, and the way the events have filtered down to effect subsequent generations makes the book read like a good novel, and the facts about the social climate and the conditions of the time give you a fascinating insight into the past. It’s a brilliant, brave book, and a heartbreaking story. 


If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous

Genre: Fish Out Of Water

Logline: Marina and her girlfriend met at a grief counselling group during college, and have gone to Japan to teach English. Hilarity ensues as the girls grow together, fall apart and discover their true feelings in a foreign country.

This book arrived in the post for me anonymously one day last week, and was a lovely parcel to open (aren’t books always?). I was halfway through before my gorgeous sister-in-law admitted to sending it. Oddly enough, for a book about a girl who’s father killed himself, this book is a delightful read. It’s really genuinely funny, and real, which perhaps serves to make the sad parts more poignant. It’s about grieving and how that can make us feel more like a foreigner than actually living in another country. It’s also about love, and relationships, and Japan, of course. It was a good gift.  

str2_ma_1901_p14a Shock Of The Fall Costa Winner 2013

The Shock Of The Fall by Nathan Filer

Genre: Drama 

Logline: A troubled young man recounts the story of the loss of his brother when they were children, the grief of his parents, and his unravelling mind. 

There’s something about this book that makes you want to pick it up. It’s not very thick, I read it in a few hours on a weekend afternoon, but the cover is inviting, and as you flick through the pages, the fonts change and make patterns across the page, echoing the narrators state of mind. It’s a nice book. From the first couple of pages you’re drawn in by the way the narrator expresses himself, his humour and insightful turn of phrase, the way he holds back just enough to keep you turning the pages, but also giving you enough to keep you interested. It’s maybe not the most original book about mental illness, but it’s definitely an entertaining read. 



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