Well, it’s been yet another sluggish reading month. To be fair, I am deep in dissertation hell now, but also I completed Pokémon Moon yesterday, so at least part of the problem is about how I’m choosing to spend my free time.
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Moving swiftly on to books I’ve read this month, then.
BONE GAP by Laura Ruby – This had been on my radar for a long time, and I was pleased when Faber picked it up in the UK. Not pleased enough to get round to reading it, though, obviously. Finally I saw it in the library a few weeks ago, and thought, “Why not here? Why not now?” Bone Gap is a strange, dusty town in America where everyone knows everyone’s business, though business is often a little odder than you might be accustomed to. Finn and Sean are missing Roza, the beautiful stranger who brought nourishment back into their lives after their mother left them for a new life of her own. Finn saw her being kidnapped, but no one will believe him. He doesn’t know where she is – and neither does she. Offbeat and lovely, this book is fantastic in every sense. Bone Gap is a small town full of quirky characters and full of a sense of strangeness. Reality is hushed by the waving corn. The plot is clever, the atmosphere skewed somewhere between a sleeping nightmare and a living one. The situations the characters find themselves in are the stuff of fantasy, but the magic intrudes on lives that are real – especially when depicting the violence we do each other, physical or not.
THE PEARL THIEF by Elizabeth Wein – Readers might be familiar with the indefatigable Julia Beaufort-Stuart from Wein’s (deservedly) beloved Code Name Verity. Here we find her fifteen years old, already yearning for adventure, and in the middle of selling off her recently deceased grandfather’s estate. It doesn’t take her long to get into trouble even on home turf, but when she wakes up in hospital after a bang on the head, she is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. Who attacked her and why? And is the other developing missing person case actually a murder case? The atmospheric setting and compelling mystery are propelled along by a charming main character. Code Name Verity is stuck in my heart, and knowing what’s ahead of Queenie and what’s behind her gives both books an extra layer of bittersweet beauty. There’s plenty to enjoy besides the adventure of the stolen pearls; the prejudice faced by the “tinkers” is a significant plot point, which I found particularly interesting as I’ve not encountered many Travellers in fiction. I also loved the gentle exploration of Julie’s burgeoning sexuality, which she approaches with the same curiosity and sense of play as she does the rest of the world. The twisty plot wasn’t too predictable, and the whole book is suffused with the nostalgic ache of the last of the summer holidays.
HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE by J.K. Rowling – I’ve reread Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire fairly recently, and I’m listening to Order of the Phoenix at the moment, but I haven’t read this book for at least six or seven years. It’s markedly less complex as the later books, so I expected to be bored, but it’s charming and supremely readable. The series develops in maturity so organically along with Harry, one of the iconic protagonists of children’s literature. I got quite upset about his treatment at the hands of the Dursleys, which is a little ridiculous because in this book at least, they are so cartoonishly awful. The level of abuse is parodic, but having grown up alongside him, Harry is just psychologically and emotionally very real to me. Other stray thoughts: It’s striking how little Dumbledore features in this book. Hermione’s character development is rapid – perhaps too rapid – and as always when I read these books, I wonder how different everything would be if she had a female friend. There’s a weird recurring anti-library motif: Harry doesn’t get post, not even rude letters from the library asking him to return books, Madam Pince is not at all helpful, Ollivander’s is like a strict sort of library… ALSO sending 11 year olds into the Forbidden Forest for detention will never not be a bad idea, McGonagall’s the boss, the Norbert subplot is pointless, and there’s way too much aimless wandering the castle at night. Overall though, I adore these characters, this world, and this book.