Readers! Autumn is well and truly here, and I am frolicking delightedly in the rain and wind and leaves. Okay, to be entirely candid with you, I am currently in bed, looking out the window at the rain and wind and leaves. But it’s much the same effect.
More importantly, I have REMEMBERED HOW TO READ! Yes! In September, I read more than two books. Let’s take a look at them all, shall we?
THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt – Back in August, I spent 30+ gleeful hours listening to one of my favourite novels, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. “Golly, what am I to do with myself and my Audible account after that?!” I thought. The answer was obvious: listen to another of my favourite novels. I love love love The Secret History. Narrator Richard is a working-class California boy who decides to attend a small college across the country on a whim. There he encounters a group of weird, if stylish, kids who he for some reason becomes obsessed with: affable twins Charles and Camilla, mysteriously attractive redhead Francis Abernathy, braying loudmouth Bunny, and the aloof genius and leader of the pack, Henry Winter. He finds his way into their group, and has a marvellous time studying Greek and Latin and drinking too much, but there is something they are hiding from him… (Murder. It’s murder.) The prose is languid, hypnotic, beguiling; the characters are all desperately terrible people and I am awfully fond of the lot of them; the whole story is fuelled by repressed sexuality and reverence for beauty. It is the perfect campus novel. It’s also, although your mileage may vary on this, really funny. Bunny’s essay on metahemoralism literally made me laugh out loud. As I said, I love all these characters and think about them a lot. They are all just so… fascinating. You end up seduced by them all as much as Richard is, despite the fact that if you take a step back it’s immediately obvious that they are all Really Awful. On a semi-related note, it is also important to me that you all acknowledge Richard Papen is bisexual. Obviously, I love to give everything the queerest reading possible, but Richard is so attracted to Francis and so in denial about it. Anyway, The Secret History! Even better this time around, which is a relief because I’ve been citing it as a fave based on a single reading. Now I can confirm: definite fave, still great.
THE WITCH’S KISS by Katharine and Elizabeth Corr – This enjoyable YA fantasy centres around Merry, grumpy teen and reluctant witch. A spate of knife attacks in Merry’s town has everyone on edge, but surely it has nothing to do with magic, or the dreams she’s been having? Merry finds herself embroiled in the family prophecy, fated to end a centuries-old curse – but she is going to have to kill. Before that, though, she’ll need to learn to control her power, not to mention her heart… I really liked Merry as a heroine: she is flawed and has made mistakes in the past. She’s a little selfish, but it’s refreshing to meet a Chosen One who isn’t nobly self-sacrificing from the off. It’s also a nice change to have a sporty heroine – there’s nothing wrong with bookish-teen-saves-the-day, but Merry actually has extracurricular interests and fencing skills! I also liked her relationship with her brother Leo, who is definitely the standout supporting character. I would have swapped some of the modern timeline for more Anglo-Saxon stuff, but The Witch’s Kiss is overall good fun, especially in the last act where things start kicking off.
STAY WITH ME by Ayòbámi Adébáyò – Yejide is a childless woman, a tragedy in Nigerian society. Her community insists that the barrenness of her marriage must be her own fault, and so she goes to extremes to try to get pregnant. Her relationship with her husband, Akin, undergoes profound strain as they suffer through all the many things that can go wrong when we decide to bring new life into the world. The children she does manage to bear have sickle cell disease, and childlessness becomes child loss. Grief takes its toll, and we begin the novel with Yejide alone. This beautiful, heartbreaking novel was nominated for the Bailey’s Prize, which I usually shadow but did a useless job of this year. I’m glad I read this one, though. 1980s Nigeria is vividly evoked, peopled by lively, warm characters. Stay With Me is a book resonant with love and life, for all that it is a story of grief.
LINCOLN IN THE BARDO by George Saunders – And speaking of stories of grief… President Lincoln buries his young son, dead of a fever, but returns at night to hold his body and to remember him. However, Lincoln is not alone. His appearance – and his son, Willie’s – is of great interest to many in the graveyard. These are the souls stuck in the bardo, unable to move on as they are yet to accept their state or learn from their mistakes in that previous place. As the night draws on, this Greek chorus of ghosts narrates a strange sequence of events, as well as sharing their own troubles and obsessions. First of all, the audiobook cast is FANTASTIC. I think the listening experience is very different from the average audiobook and I would recommend it highly. I liked this strange book a lot. It’s a bizarre, virtuosic performance of a novel, incredibly moving, original and memorable. There are many images of the afterlife that will stick with me for a while. It’s a powerful meditation on life, death, and grief, the persistence of the human spirit. It’s also a historical novel about Abraham Lincoln. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before, and it moved me to tears pretty much constantly.
THE SPACE BETWEEN by Meg Grehan – This debut published by the brilliant Little Island Books is a novel in free verse about Beth, who has decided on a year of solitude, and Alice, who crashes into her world with freckles and sundresses and a dog called Mouse. It’s a sensitively told and lovely story, mostly light but touching on some heavy topics. The format allows the reader complete intimacy with Beth’s thoughts, which are often difficult to read, but if her anxiety is intense then so, too, is the gentle blossoming of her love for Alice, for Mouse, and for the potential of the world outside her front door. Quirky, sweet, and beautiful.
And that’s your lot for September. Check back at the end of October to see what more delights I’ve been reading. (They might be… SpOoOoOoKy!)
Quick news notes: I’m in an anthology of essays on bisexuality, which has been fully funded (hurrah!) but you can pledge for another 13 hours (sPoOkY) here. I’m at #DeptCon3 in Dublin next weekend, which I feel Strangely Nervous about – I don’t fly very often, and I think the last time I flew solo might’ve been 2012! Also, what the heck is Ireland? I’ll be darned if I know, but I guess I’m about to find out. Finally, you should check out my Instagram where I’m posting something ~autumnal~ every day this month because OCTOBER, WOOHOO!