As #20booksofsummer nears its close, here’s a few words on some of the books I’ve recently read. I’ve managed to finish 14 of the 20, and am ambitious enough to believe I can make that 15 by the 5th September deadline, as I’m speeding through Go Set A Watchman at the moment. If only I hadn’t been distracted by so many newer, shinier books…
Burley Cross Postbox Theft: Nicola Barker
I’ve heard so many good things about Nicola Barker – and have had this book on my shelf for six years. So it’s embarrassing to admit that it became my first, and so far, my only abandoned read of the 20 Books list. The novel is composed of twenty-seven letters written in almost identical, crazed-Archers-style voices, detailing the frustrations, rivalries, grudges and secrets of the village of Burley Cross. Unfortunately, I soon tired of the lack of differentiation between the voices and the incessant and exaggerated humour – I’ve never been good with books that seem to only be concerned with prose or with jokes, and Burley Cross Postbox Theft ticked both boxes. Perhaps I’ll be brave enough to try something else by Barker in the future – Darkmans received such praise – but I’m not sure that will be for some time.
Everything is Teeth: Evie Wyld and Joe Sumner
This is the first graphic novel I’ve ever read, and I only picked it up because I loved Evie Wyld’s All The Birds, Singing so much. It’s absolutely brilliant, even if I finished it over the space of a bus journey. The story of Wyld’s childhood obsession with sharks, paired with Sumner’s clever illustrations, somehow perfectly conveys the instability that lies under the surface of childhood; the sense you have, when you are a child, that there’s something about life that you can’t get at. Sharks chase little Evie everywhere; they follow her home from school, hover over her bed at night; she sees them in the reflection from a dark window. But, outside her imagination, there are also hints at what those more turbulent realities might be. Everything is Teeth could easily have become heavy-handed, but somehow manages to pull off what it’s doing perfectly, even in the last few pages where the parallels are drawn most explicitly. Good for anybody who thinks they hate graphic novels.
The Round House: Louise Erdrich
Joe’s mother, Geraldine, is raped one evening as she travels home from the store. She withdraws into her bedroom for weeks, while Joe tries to make sense of what is happening by trying to find out who raped her. But the story is complicated by the fact that Joe and his parents live on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota, and as Joe’s father, a tribal judge, tells him, the complicated array of laws and jurisdictions that carve up the land makes it impossible to know whose responsibility it is to bring Geraldine’s rapist to justice. While the symbolism is occasionally heavy-handed – the novel begins with father and son pulling out seedlings that have lodged in the foundations of the family’s house, with Joe left to finish the job – The Round House is a compelling read. Joe, who at thirteen is only just into adolescence, is strongly characterised, and his relationships with his friends, rather than his mother’s ordeal, are at the centre of his story. The throwaway remark at the beginning of the novel about his friend Cappy’s death on the highway loops by its end into an inconclusive but completely satisfying climax. The setting is fascinating, but Erdrich handles detail well, not allowing the story to be overtaken by its context – although the statistics in the author’s note at the end, including the fact that one in three Native American women will report being raped during her lifetime, make grim and important reading.
I’ll aim to review the remaining completed books – Closure, The Eustace Diamonds, J and Go Set a Watchman – soon.