Going to Mars in Utah

34661015The first thing that struck me about Meg Howrey’s new novel, The Wanderers, which centres on three astronauts training for a Mars mission in the Utah desert, was its gorgeous hardback cover. The circle in the middle of the dust-jacket is actually a cut-out, so the two floating figures are embossed in gold on the book itself. Along with the scatter of gold stars and planets over the rest of the jacket, I could happily admire this novel’s exterior for ages. It’s a good thing that the text inside is just as brilliant.

The Wanderers is not a high-concept space thriller like The Martian or Gravity (unsurprisingly, as it’s not set in space). While the details of this practice mission, taking place in the near future under the benevolent dictatorship of ‘Prime Space’, are fascinating in their own right, Howrey’s focus is firmly on her three main characters, Helen, Sergei and Yoshi, and their closest family members. While all three are beguilingly written, Helen was especially fascinating. A middle-aged woman, now widowed, with a difficult relationship with her only daughter, Mireille or ‘Meeps’, she has a sharp self-awareness of what she believes are her own emotional shortcomings. The question that dogs her throughout the book is: has she been a bad parent by pursuing her dreams as an astronaut?

Consistently logical, Helen knows that her feelings about her daughter don’t fall easily into familiar scripts: ‘The most stressful, dangerous and fatiguing moment of her life had been an eight-hour spacewalk to fix a tear in one solar panel on the space station, which she would also categorise as the most exciting, satisfying and exhilarating moment of her life. People always say day child was born, or wedding day, and certainly those were wonderful too, but they had not required any unique skills on her part.’ Helen’s fraught relationship with her dead husband, Eric, is unsurprising when we find out more about the roles they played: ‘Eric had assigned her an identity. Helen was logical, rational, didactic, meticulous. Not unlike a robot, a lovable robot… that Eric should assign her a personality that did not seem particularly loveable, and then tell her that he loved her, had seemed significant. She had to think him wonderful. Who else would love the person he described?’ However, by the end of the novel, Helen has found a way to narrate her feelings for Meeps in a way that honestly addresses her central question, and acknowledges how dominant rationality is in her psyche, without denying how much her daughter means to her: ‘You think I only love you in the “of course” way. That I always loved myself more, that my work was always more important. You don’t know how great and terrible the “of course” way is. You are able to accept things without reasons. I do not have that. The only thing I accept without reason is loving you.’

Both Sergei and Yoshi have tense family relationships to navigate as well. Sergei, recently divorced, has two teenage sons to contend with; the eldest, Dimitri, is still hiding his sexuality from the world, pursuing clandestine hook-ups with men. Meanwhile Yoshi cares deeply about his wife, Madoka, but feels distanced from her, the inevitable consequence of long periods away from home. Madoka has her own intriguing sub-plot that gets at a central theme of this novel: what is real, and why does it matter? She’s developed a new robot prototype, PEPPER, which is designed to help with the personal care needs of the elderly and disabled, while also providing companionship if necessary. Her conversations with this robot are another highlight of the novel, as it unwittingly boils down complexities of emotion into simple statements. (After Madoka tells PEPPER about a game she used to play with toy animals as a child, and that she’s sorry she wasn’t more creative, PEPPER suggests that she tell Yoshi ‘about playing with the zodiac animals and how that is a happy and sad memory for you.’) A scene near the end of the novel, where Mireille and Madoka talk to PEPPER, reflects how non-robotic even the most ‘robot-like’ person is. As Madoka explains, a robot can answer ‘yes’ to the question ‘Do you love your mother?’, as Mireille has just done: ‘But it would just be yes, in the end. It wouldn’t be a sad yes.’

With all this material about real and unreal experiences, feelings and emotions, The Wanderers sounds like a heavy read, but it’s actually one of the most genuinely funny literary novels I’ve read for a very long time. Humour is difficult in fiction; I don’t like humourless reads, but I often find that funny moments feel forced, breaking the mood or worse, distorting the characters for the sake of a good line or slapstick comedy. This is absolutely not the case in The Wanderers. Rather than falling back on old cliches about conflict and rivalry between the three astronauts in their locked-room sim, Howrey depicts touching and believable teamwork. All three characters are funny in their own ways, as demonstrated by a piece of black comedy near the end of the novel when they are discussing the protocol for if one of them dies in space:

“I got as far as ‘stick my dead body in the bag and hang me outside,'” Helen says now. “And I remembered the basics of the promession process: after my corpse is frozen, use RoMeO’s arm to vibrate me until I shatter and become a nice powder, then dehydrate my powder until it is dust, then put the dust in a can.”…

It is not in the protocol, but they should add that we take a label and put your name on it and stick it on the can,” Sergei says. “Because it would not be good to confuse you with can of protein powder.”…

“The UN treaty still holds?… We can’t let each other go out the airlock?”

No, it’s still considered littering,” Helen says.

“This is what you do for me,” Sergei says. “You put my dead body in the bag and send it out the airlock. You make fake can of powder for my family, and tell UN that promession protocols were followed and nobody littered in space.”

“Done,” Helen says. “You’ll do the same for me?”

“Yes. Yoshi, do you want the same or do you want us to eat you?”

“If you will permit a suggestion,” Yoshi says. “It is better for the space environment if you do not go out the airlock as a body. You could follow the CPB protocols and then egress as powder.”

Sergei and Helen agree this is an improvement of their plan.

It’s very rare to find a novel that is both so cerebral and so warm, witty and human. I think it’s the best thing I’ve read so far this year.

I received a free copy of The Wanderers for review. It’s out on 6th April.

‘I remember one afternoon when you are five’

61OJetFLy5L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve been trying to read more science fiction lately, but am uncomfortably aware that as a relative stranger to the genre, it’s taking me some time to find my niche, which has led to some disastrous choices (Joe Haldeman’s horribly misogynistic and homophobic The Forever War being one of them). In contrast, Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others is certainly worth reading. These weird, original and cerebral short stories were, on the whole, not quite my thing, but at least I now feel I’m heading in the right direction. Chiang’s stories often engage the mind more than the heart, and while I was impressed by his imagination and invention, I struggled to stop thinking about what I was reading and start feeling. ‘Understand’, which makes a very brave attempt to convey the experience of an ordinary man who starts to acquire super-intelligence, was a case in point – although Chiang’s handling of this topic, for my money, is still far superior to the more famous Flowers for Algernon. Similarly, ‘Division by Zero’, which stars a mathematician who discovers an equation that seems to undermine the foundations of mathematics as we know it, impressed me, but didn’t enthral me. It’s telling that Chiang’s wonderful Story Notes were often better than the stories themselves: for ‘Division by Zero,’ for example, he writes: ‘A proof that mathematics is inconsistent, and that all its wondrous beauty was just an illusion, would, it seemed to me, be one of the worst things you could ever learn.’ He makes a real stab at conveying both the elegance of formal proofs and the horror of their disintegration to those of us who are less mathematically-minded, but I don’t think he quite pulls it off.

One of the key problems I had with stories like ‘Division by Zero’ and ‘Understand’ was that they seemed to be taking place in a white void; there is little physical description to root the reader. But Chiang is absolutely capable of intricate world-building. ‘Seventy-Two Letters’ is fabulously rich in pseudo-historical detail, as he invents a version of nineteenth-century England where automatons are an ordinary part of life. Similarly, his ‘Hell is the Absence of God’ is consistently funny, despite its dark subject-matter, as it imagines a world where angelic visitations are commonplace and Hell is frequently visible. When the angel Nathaneal makes ‘an appearance in a downtown shopping district… sixty-two people received medical treatment for injuries ranging from slight concussions to ruptured eardrums to burns requiring skin grafts. Total property damage was estimated at $8.1 million, all of it excluded by private insurance companies due to the cause.’ Sometimes, Hell manifests itself: ‘the ground seemed to become transparent, and you could see Hell as if you were looking through a hole in the floor.’ For me, the only story that was an unqualified success (partly because Chiang sets such impossibly high bars for himself to clear) was ‘Tower of Babylon’, where Chiang manages to harness another incredibly interesting concept into a satisfying ending.

UnknownBut the story I really want to discuss is ‘Story of Your Life’, which was the inspiration for the widely-praised 2016 film Arrival. [The rest of this review will feature significant spoilers for both Arrival and ‘Story of Your Life.’ You have been warned!] Anyone who has spoken to me about Arrival will know how frustrating I found it. The basic premise is great: a linguist, Louise Banks, is hired to learn the language of a group of aliens who have recently landed on Earth. The film is also great – until the final half hour. I found the resolution of Arrival totally unsatisfying, and to be honest, I’m amazed there hasn’t been a bigger critical backlash. (It rests on the  – to me, absurd – idea that by learning a language, your brain can somehow acquire the ability to see the future. How???) We discover that the ‘flashbacks’ Louise has been having throughout the film to the life and death of her daughter are in fact ‘flashforwards’ – and are asked to accept that, even though she now has this foreknowledge, her choices aren’t going to change. Finally, as Debbie Cameron has argued, the film relies on traditional gender roles; Louise saves the world because of her nurturing, empathetic personality, which is linked to her future role as a bereaved mother.

How does ‘Story of Your Life’ deal with the same basic plot line? On the whole, much better. It turns out that much of the plot that fills the film’s final half hour was added – which means that Chiang completely avoids the gendered implications that Cameron dissects. He also faces the question of Louise’s motivations head on, which made me feel much more convinced that knowing the future wouldn’t necessarily entail changing the future: ‘What if the experience of knowing the future changed a person?’ she narrates. ‘What if it evoked a sense of urgency, a sense of obligation to act precisely as she knew she would?’ This model of how gaining new knowledge might actually alter the way somebody thinks worked much better, for me, than the idea that the aliens’ language confers the power of prerecognition. (Chiang keeps this concept, but – partly because the linguistics in the story is so much more complex than the linguistics in the film – it didn’t feel quite as jarring). I also loved the way he dealt with the ‘flashforwards’, narrating in a mix of tenses that neatly demonstrate on the page how a very simple alteration in language can mess with your head. ‘I remember one afternoon when you are five years old,’ Louise narrates, jarringly, to her future daughter, or ‘I remember one day during the summer when you’re sixteen.’ Like so many of the stories in ‘Stories of Your Life and Others’, ‘Story of Your Life’ bites off a bit more than it can chew – but it’s exhilarating anyway.

***

9781408708231Speaking of language, I have some very brief thoughts about Laura Kaye’s English Animals, which focuses on Mirka, a lesbian from Slovakia who starts work in an upper-class English household and finds herself embroiled in an affair with one of her employers, the bicurious Sophie. Frankly, I hated the novel when I first read it; I thought it was incredibly badly-written, with a very black-and-white morality (Mirka good, English upper classes bad – and while I am hugely sympathetic to this from a political perspective, it didn’t make for very interesting fiction!). I recently read an interview with Kaye which explains why I found the language of the novel so lifeless. She explains that she was imagining Mirka narrating in English, with all the second-language limitations and mishaps that entails. ‘Another concern,’ she writes, ‘was that Mirka might come across as less intelligent with her deficient language, while the English people seemed more sophisticated and educated by comparison. I hope she doesn’t – in my mind she comes across as far more intelligent, brave and imaginative than anyone else in the book’. Unfortunately, I did find Kaye’s stylistic choice alienating, and I think I would have been much more sympathetic to Mirka as a character if she had just been allowed to narrate in the same way that anyone narrates in their own head. Furthermore, while Mirka is clearly a far more admirable figure than anybody else in the book – and it is refreshing to read a novel narrated by a lesbian who is utterly sure about her own sexuality – this is precisely what made her an uninteresting protagonist. I wasn’t surprised to read that English Animals began as a series of scenes told from Sophie’s point-of-view. Sophie is selfish and weak, but I wanted to read about her internal conflict much more than I wanted to read about the idealised Mirka. Like Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wakethis is another novel where complicated linguistic ambitions don’t come off.

I received a free proof copy of English Animals from the publisher for review.

‘They could be footballers’

61uQrBS-olL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_I liked Ross Raisin’s debutGod’s Own Country, narrated by rural outcast Sam, and loved his second novel, Waterline, an utterly immersive and convincing narrative of the downwards spiral of ex-dockyard worker Mick after the death of his wife from mesothelioma. A Natural isn’t quite as compelling, but Raisin delivers another solid series of musings on the lives of modern-day men who, for one reason or another, are caught outside of mainstream society. As with Waterline, his prose doesn’t draw attention to itself, but that doesn’t mean that there are no memorable set-pieces – for example, his description of the out-of-season wild growth and pre-season mowing of a football field works brilliantly as both metaphor and as straightforward observation. And he still has the ability to draw a reader forward even when nothing much, on the surface, is happening.

Given Raisin’s obvious interest in twenty-first century masculinity, its fragilities, cracks and challenges, it was no surprise to me to realise that this novel was about a gay footballer. (Football fans, please excuse any misuse of football terminology in this review – my knowledge of football comes entirely from this novel and The Damned United, and I’ve forgotten most of what I learnt already!) Tom Pearman showed early promise as a teenager but has found himself on a poorly-performing team, ‘Town’, which are facing relegation from League Two, and hence out of the Football League. He keeps himself to himself, spending enough time with his teammates not to arouse suspicion but forming no close friendships. However, when he meets groundskeeper Liam and is drawn into a clandestine affair, the emotions that he suppressed for so long finally start to make themselves felt. Tom’s story is interwoven with that of Leah Easter, the captain’s wife, who spends most of her time taking care of her husband and small son, except when she seizes time for herself doing an art course. William Skidelsky’s Guardian review suggests that Leah’s story is both ‘generic’ and unrealistic, and diverts time from the central narrative. However, I disagree. Leah’s domestic drudgery is certainly familiar, but its juxtaposition with the story of a young man whose life is also being shaped by restrictive gender norms works well. Leah’s actions in the final chapters also rang true to me – and I think it’s easy to assume that paying lip-service to ideas about gay equality equates to true acceptance of homosexuality, an idea that Raisin neatly skewers throughout A Natural.

Raisin’s observations on how football players have to uphold especially strict codes of heteronormative masculinity precisely because they are so touchy-feely and emotionally close to each other are nothing groundbreaking, although he weaves these ideas subtly through Tom’s narrative. On holiday with Liam at a ‘gay-friendly’ resort, for example: ‘He noticed two other couples, as well as a group of five Germans whom he presumed to be gay from the way they play-fought and posed endlessly for photos on the beach, although he wondered if that might just be what Germans were like, and he did not discount either the fact that they could be footballers.’ For me, his descriptions both of playing football and of being part of a struggling, minor-league team felt much fresher. Like Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding or Lionel Shriver’s Double Fault, this book pulls off the difficult task of making a sport accessible and interesting to those who have absolutely no knowledge of it, though of course it’s difficult for me to assess how accurately it would read to fans. As for his treatment of homosexuality, there are glimpses of sharp insight into coming out – for example, Liam exclaiming, while realising the absurdity of it, “So I am really gay,” only after he’s been on holiday with Tom. However, there is very little direct examination of either of the boys’ feelings – Raisin focuses instead on their continued silence about the relationship, on what they cannot say. This works well in the first quarter or so of the novel, when Tom’s sexuality is under wraps even from the reader, but I felt there was more space for interrogation as the plot develops. Nevertheless, A Natural is worth reading.

I received a free electronic copy of this novel to review from the publisher via NetGalley.

Ruth’s story

UnknownRuth Malone’s two small children go missing one hot July day in 1965 in Queens, New York. But it is immediately obvious to the police that Ruth – separated from her husband, working part-time as a cocktail waitress, her flat full of love letters and alcohol – is not the typical portrait of a grieving mother. The press immediately seize upon the salacious aspects of her life to add interest to their stories, and initially, Pete Wonicke, an aspiring young journalist, toes the line. However, as the case continues, he becomes increasingly fascinated by Ruth, and convinced that the accusations that are being flung at her are completely false, even though it is her unconventionality that drew him in.

Little Deaths is cleverly structured. We see rather less of Ruth’s narrative than we do of Pete’s, and so, although we do get glimpses of her thoughts and feelings, we are kept on the outside of the story for much of the novel, waiting to get another look into her psyche. Furthermore, Emma Flint can obviously write. Little Deaths is immensely readable while still being precise and thoughtful; the opening chapter, when Ruth recalls putting on her ‘face’ to get her through the day, is perfectly observed and gripping without resorting to a flashy ‘hook’, although we know that she is narrating from prison.

This book has received rather a lot of attention, and has now been longlisted for the Baileys; when I first read the synopsis, I have to admit I was a little puzzled. The plot-line seemed incredibly familiar, and it seemed unlikely it could have anything interesting to say about gender while moving through the hackneyed story of a woman who is labelled ‘bad’ by conservative mid-twentieth-century norms. I was worried it would be another example of an historical novel that allows us to feel good about ourselves because we are, supposedly, no longer quite so judgemental. To this extent, Flint effectively supersedes her basic material. She gives Ruth an unexpected individuality that makes it difficult for the reader to fit her neatly into a moral framework. Little Deaths is not a surprising novel; the outcome is predictable. But, given that this is a book that is really about Ruth, rather than about solving a crime, it succeeds on its own terms.

Little Deaths, ultimately, is perhaps too well-structured. You can almost see the scaffolding behind each of the chapters, and the ending could be used as a writing-course example of how to tie up a character’s emotional journey while knotting together loose plot threads at the same time. I wanted more of the flashes of uncertainty we see in Ruth’s narration, and less of the tight organisation that keeps the narrative thundering along. For this reason, it’s a difficult novel not to like; but I found it hard to get especially enthusiastic about it. It’s a classic Baileys longlistee, a literary crime novel that delivers, but I’d be surprised to see it on the shortlist.

I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher for review.

Grief collectors and joy destroyers

51oKrJspnEL._AC_UL320_SR202,320_What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky, Lesley Nneka Arimah’s debut collection, ranges between stories that are very good to stories that are truly outstanding. Moving between present-day America to present-day Nigeria to a futuristic Nigeria, Arimah proves she can handle small, domestic moments as well as she manages sweeping speculative fiction. The title story is the most ambitious in terms of world-building, presenting us with a mid-twenty-first century Nigeria where Europe and North America have been so badly afflicted by flooding that western refugees are pouring into African and Central American countries. Satisfyingly, Arimah doesn’t settle for a simple ‘the tables have turned’ narrative, and realistically portrays the continuance of western, white supremacy, even as the governments of countries such as Britain and France become reliant on old colonial possessions for aid. Arimah ominously hints at a darker reality behind ‘the Biafra-Britannia Alliance’, having her narrator, Nneoma, reflect, ‘Better a mutually beneficial, if unwanted, alliance than what the French had done in Senegal, the Americans in Mexico.’ But ‘What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky’, despite these tantalising hints, is not really about a flooded future; it focuses on Nneoma’s work as ‘a grief collector’, relieving people of psychological burdens that are too heavy to bear, and her concern for her missing girlfriend, Kioni. I wished that it was at least twice the length; there seemed so much more to say when the story abruptly ended, and it could have been fruitfully expanded into a novella, or even into a novel.

For that reason, the most perfect short story in this collection for me was ‘Who Will Greet You At Home’, set in a pleasingly inexplicable alternative world where younger women (and the world we see seems to be totally composed of women) fashion babies out of the materials that come to hand then take them home so their mothers can breathe life into their children. However, Ogechi’s babies keep failing; in the marvellous opening paragraph, one of them simply disintegrates: ‘Ogechi snagged its thigh on a nail and it unravelled as she continued walking, mistaking the little huffs for the beginnings of hunger, not the cries of an infant being undone.’ She can’t take her children home to her mother any more because she knows none of them will be seen as good enough, so, in a pleasing inversion of the ‘grief collectors’ in ‘What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky’, she pays an older woman a portion of her joy to bring a string of failures to life. ‘Who Will Greet You At Home’ is one of those stories that’s so incredibly rich in symbolism that I almost don’t want to pick it apart; yes, it’s about motherhood and female identity, childhood and happiness, but, like Ogechi’s yarn baby, it’s best to take it all of a piece.

Arimah, however, also writes strong stories that are fully rooted in reality, although none of these struck me with quite as much force as ‘Who Will Greet You At Home’. A recurring theme is the crushing of female rebelliousness and non-conformity by society. Arimah’s child and teenage characters – all female – are brilliantly unlikeable. In ‘War Stories’, Nwando’s amoral attitude to her classmates is refreshing simply because we are used to seeing little girls portrayed as nice, empathetic, vulnerable and helpless. Nwando is a breath of fresh air (as well as feeling a lot more realistic than most of the female children that I’ve read about). Similarly, our teenage narrator in ‘Wild’, with her antagonistic relationship with her cousin Chinyere, narrates in an instantly compelling voice as she gets Chinyere into more trouble than she knows. Finally, when our unnamed narrator projects her own desires for rebellion onto Mayowa in ‘Redemption’, she learns about the limits the world wants to place on both of them. ‘She wasn’t my friend. She wasn’t here to fight for me. Or love me. She was just as powerless, another daughter being sent back to her mother in disgrace… Girls with fires in their bellies will be forced to drink from a well of correction until the flames die out.’  Arimah presents these social strictures are the real-life counterparts of the takers of joy in ‘Who Will Greet You At Home’, fitting girls into the tidy moulds that are supposed to make them women.

I received a free proof copy of this collection from the publisher for review. What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky is out on 6th April.

January and February 2017, 2

As February finishes, I’ve now read 22 books this year so far, which Goodreads thinks puts me 6 books ahead of my 100-book target – hooray! I don’t have time to write about all of them, but here are a few more on which I had Thoughts.

26804769‘Hard’ and ‘soft’ science-fiction

I’ve been particularly interested in ‘speculative fiction’ or ‘soft’ sci-fi recently because my work-in-progress fits squarely into the category, but I’ve always loved stories that have a magical, high-concept feel but which are still linked closely to our present-day world. I’m also interested in novels that take familiar genres and mix them with elements of science fiction or fantasy. Katie Khan’s debut, Hold Back the Stars, pulls this trick off for romance. It focuses on Carys and Max, two young lovers who find themselves stranded in space with only ninety minutes of oxygen remaining. As they try to get back to their ship, the narrative moves between their race against time and flashbacks of their past on Earth – where their relationship was initially thwarted by ‘Europia’ rules about the age at which you can form a long-term partnership. Before I started Hold Back the Stars, I thought it would be another novel about a dystopian future – but actually, Khan’s vision of Europia, if not perfect, was a lot more positive than I expected, which was intensely refreshing. It’s difficult not to warm to both Carys and Max, and the chapters that narrate their series of smart responses to their life-threatening situation were both fun and gripping.

Hold Back the Stars, I suspect, will be a little controversial, because of its deployment of multiple endings – a device that kicks in about two-thirds of the way through. There was a great discussion of the potential problems of the way this device was employed on Elle’s blog. In short, there’s no in-universe reason for the parallel options, they just happen. Personally, I think this is one of those situations where I agree with the criticisms but where this didn’t affect my reading experience in the slightest. I perhaps have a higher tolerance for magic and mystery than most readers of science fiction, and I wasn’t too bothered that the three threads weren’t explained. From a character perspective, I thought the device was great, complicating both Carys’s and Max’s character arcs as well as untidying tidy gender roles (it can be as restrictive to write a female character who straightforwardly contradicts traditional gender expectations as it is to write one who conforms to them – this twist, as well as Carys’s characterisation as a whole, allows her to do both, which makes her much more interesting). I’m keen to see what Khan writes next.

unknownAlongside Hold Back the Stars, I read the final two books in Ann Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy, which in many ways, are as ‘hard’ sci-fi as you can get. Taking place in a distant future where the imperial Radch has a stranglehold over human civilisation, and maintains a precarious peace with an alien race called the Presger through an important Treaty, the books are narrated by Breq, once the AI mind of a warship, now contained in a single human body. If that wasn’t enough high-concept for you, the Radch has no concept of gender, so all characters, regardless of biological sex, are referred to as ‘she’, causing some confusion when Radchaai citizens come into contact with peoples who do use gendered pronouns. (I’ve written about my thoughts on Ancillary Justice,  and on the set-up of the series, here.) However, the Ancillary novels also challenge the assumption that ‘hard’ sci-fi cannot deal with emotions, only with ideas; they are, like Hold Back the Stars, fundamentally about relationships. I loved seeing the growth of the bond between Breq and its wayward lieutenant, Sievarden, and I appreciated a similarly interesting dynamic that emerged in the second book with the character of Tiserwat. Overall, I found that I didn’t enjoy the second two novels quite as much as the first – being introduced to this mindblowingly ambitious series packed such a punch that the experience was never going to be repeated – but as a trilogy, this is a must-read.

unknown-1Other reading

I also finished the second of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, The Story of a New Name. I liked My Brilliant Friend but found it difficult to understand the hype; it seemed a very familiar, if beautifully-written coming-of-age story about the shy academic friend and the wayward attractive one. The Story of a New Name, for me, took both Elena and Lila off in a completely different direction; I loved it. There’s really nothing for me to say that hasn’t already been said before, but Ferrante is so good on the tense intensity of a certain kind of female friendship. I’m now launching into Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, with very high expectations.

What are my other reading plans for March? I have a number of exciting proofs to get through, namely:

  • Laura Barnett: Greatest Hits
  • Lisa McInerney: The Blood Miracles
  • Ross Raisin: A Natural
  • Lesley Nneka Arimah: What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky

I’ve also recently bought two other books – Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang, and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – which I’m very much looking forward to. I also want to read the Jhalak Prize shortlist – which won’t happen before the announcement of the winner – but then my shortlist reading never does.