Three Things… January 2019


Earlier this month, I read Afua Hirsch’s Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging for my book club; it’s basically the book I wanted Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race to be. It moves beyond simplistic journalism to ask interesting and nuanced questions about race in Britain today. Hirsch, the daughter of a Ghanian mother and European Jewish father, is very good on her own search for belonging in Britain and in Ghana, and how this points to wider issues; the invention of new racial ‘others’, such as Muslims and Poles; the sense that a light-skinned, middle-class, mixed-race woman is somehow unthreatening in a way that Hirsch’s husband, a dark-skinned working-class black man, can never be. Highly recommended, and useful reading for my modern British history undergraduates as well.

Rachel Kushner’s Booker-shortlisted The Mars Room was also a hit, and a pleasant surprise after I struggled somewhat with her previous novel, The Flamethrowers. It’s 2002, and Romy Hall has been condemned to two consecutive life sentences – plus an extra six years – in Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility. Darting between a range of narrators, and from first to third person, it’s Romy’s voice that holds the book together. The novel is inevitably reminiscent of Orange is the New Black, but although there are moments of black humour, it takes on the much more brutal side of life in maximum security, unlike the relatively relaxed regime of minimum-security Litchfield. Hugely disturbing, it ends on a carefully-judged moment of rebellion plus oppression.

I was less impressed by Sonia Velton’s derivative historical debut, Blackberry and Wild Rose, set among the Spitalfields community of exiled Huguenot silk weavers in the late eighteenth century, which joins the club of female-led historical fiction novels with gorgeous covers but overwritten narratives. More of my thoughts can be found on Goodreads. I’m now starting Chibundu Onuzo’s Welcome to Lagoswhich follows a group of five newcomers who want to start a new life in the Nigerian city that has perhaps featured in the largest number of novels, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Death By Black Holea collection of popular essays on astrophysics that I’m keen to get going on after my recent excursion into quantum mechanics.



Knowing my love of fiction set in polar regions, my dad insisted that I try Fortitude, a Sky Atlantic drama set in a fictional Arctic town in Svalbard, when I was staying with him over New Year. At first, I was hesitant, but I was won over by its careful plotting and beautiful, if sometimes grim, landscapes. The town is headlined as somewhere where ‘no-one ever dies’ and where no violent crime is ever committed, so it’s not surprising when the series kicks off with two deaths: Billy Pettigrew (Tam Dean Burn), a geologist who may or may not have been eaten by a polar bear, and Charlie Stoddart (Christopher Eccleston), whose corpse is found bizarrely mutilated in his own home. Fortitude starts off on a solid crime-drama footing, as DCI Eugene Morton (Stanley Tucci) arrives from the mainland to investigate the second incident and is accordingly resented and obstructed by the local police force, especially Sheriff Dan Anderssen (Richard Dormer). However, it ends up in much weirder, gorier and more speculative places. Huge content warning for gore and violence on this one: I can’t watch that sort of thing, so I used the Guardian live-blog to warn me of what was up ahead when watching the first series, as the explicit scenes are intermittent enough that I didn’t miss too much. (My dad had already spoiled the central plot twist, so I didn’t really care!)


screen shot 2019-01-27 at 13.08.06

I’ve been rewriting the Fiction section of this blog to better reflect the projects I’m actually working on at the moment. You can find the update here. In short: a time-travel novel set in fourteenth-century and twenty-first century Cambridgeshire, and a retelling of Beauty and the Beast set in contemporary Antarctica. In other news, my academic monograph is now virtually ready for final submission to its publisher, Manchester University Press. Hooray!

Thanks again to Paula for the Three Things idea! What have you been reading, watching and thinking this month?


20 thoughts on “Three Things… January 2019

  1. Whisper it – I DNFed Sonia Velton’s book. It was the first DNF of 2019 and I can’t tell you how good it felt to just…not. Nothing about it felt historical (and what IS IT with the beautiful covers?!) I’m about to zip over to Goodreads to see your further thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been reading Skagboys by Irvine Welsh. It’s the prequel to Trainspotting.

    I’ve been watching The Great British Baking Show and zoomed through the new season Grace and Frankie.

    I’ve been thinking about tone. My boss had a conversation with me about my tone because a couple of female coworkers complained about me. I’ve been fixating because tone is something a person can misrepresent when telling someone else how they perceived what another person said. My mom was like that. Instead of telling me what someone said to her, she’s repeat their words in the most horrific, witchy voice to convince me the person was awful.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I just bought a copy of Brit(ish), and your review has me keen to read it! From what I read of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book, it felt like an extended article more than a nuanced take on the subject, which was a bit disappointing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d definitely recommend, that’s an apt summary of Eddo-Lodge’s book and while I can see that it would be useful for somebody totally new to the subject, Brit(ish) gave me much more to grapple with, and was also more reflective re Hirsch’s own identity.

      Liked by 1 person

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