According to Goodreads, I only read two books in May, which doesn’t seem like it can possibly be right?!?! Goodreads is always putting my books in unexpected places. I blame the app. I’m too much of an oldster for any of this. (Btw, I now have more than four friends on Goodreads! You can be one of them.)
THE DARK CIRCLE by Linda Grant – This book is on the Baileys Prize shortlist, which is another shortlist I have not managed to complete in time for the prize announcement this year. (Once upon a time Sarah liked books…) I listened to this over the whole month. When people asked me what I thought of it, I told them it was “weird”, which I stand by. Lenny and Miriam, two teenage East Londoners, get sent to a sanatorium as the institution’s very first patients paid for by the burgeoning National Health Service. Their rough manners generally scandalise and amuse the residents, providing a little bit of variety in the long, dull days of the rest cure. I really didn’t know what to make of this book, but eventually the characters got under my skin. It’s a book in which little happens, but the non-events change the characters’ lives forever – which is perhaps a true chronicle of illness. It’s a vivid portrait of a momentous time in British history. Without getting all political about it, now seems an excellent time to extol the virtues of the NHS. The great levelling effect of universal healthcare is explored: rich or poor, we all have bodies that sometimes fail us. The Dark Circle is a funny novel about class, sickness and shadows, city and country, and post-war politics. I’m still not sure what I make of it.
THE MONSTROUS CHILD by Francesca Simon – Speaking of shortlists… I picked up The Monstrous Child on the strength of its YA Book Prize shortlisting. I’m familiar with Simon as the author of the Horrid Henry series, but didn’t know she had also written YA. This is a novelisation of Norse mythology’s Hel, narrated by the woman herself, who is just your ordinary half-corpse teenage girl. The narration is sharp and fun, but not enough to carry the book, which really is just a retread of the myth, with very little in the way of suspense or character development. Still, the book itself is a dark and gorgeous thing. More illustrated YA, please!
SPELLBOOK OF THE LOST AND FOUND by Moïra Fowley-Doyle – Thank you to Harriet Venn & PRH Children’s for the chance to read this early in exchange for an honest review. The Accident Season is my favourite book of the past few years, so this was my #1 most anticipated book of 2017. After a summer party in a small town, things start to go missing – or are they being taken? Olive loses her best friend, and isn’t sure who it is she’s found when Rose turns up again. Mysterious teens with botanical names start sprouting up in the most unexpected of places. And diary pages are scattered like clues in the fields and hedgerows… This is a strange, messy book, with tales taking root between the lines of unreality. Moïra’s writing is wonderfully evocative; I’ve never been to Ireland but reading her words, I can feel the rain and smell the soil. (Not to mention the poteen.) Most importantly, her teens are just so real: conflicted, affected, smart, wholehearted. Her characters ground the more fantastical elements of the story in a truth made of injokes, chocolate digestives, eyeliner, and hope. Spellbook of the Lost and Found isn’t as perfect as The Accident Season, but it is its own beast, something meandering and beautiful. I’ll be thinking about it for a while yet.