Wednesday, February 17, 2016

January Round-Up: Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of my January round up! I actually thought I'd posted this, like, a week ago, but I must have hit 'save' instead of 'publish'. Oops. Better late than never. Here's the rest of the books I read in January.

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

I'll preface this by saying that Middlemarch is one of my favourite books. It's so, so good. Please read it, if it even at all sounds like it might be your jam. Don't be intimidated by the size of the thing- I was, and I used to actually use it as literal door-stopper in my old flat. Anyway, I thought it was about time I read some more George Eliot, of the slightly shorter variety.

There's something nice about reading classics that while still famous, aren't so famous that nothing in it is a surprise. Like, everyone's heard of Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Eyre, but Maggie Tulliver doesn't ring any bells for most people. As a result I went into this more or less blind, which was nice. There's something to be said for the free kindle editions that don't have so much as a blurb attached to it.

Pretty much the only thing I knew about this, actually, is that it's supposedly Eliot's most autobiographical work, which just makes it even more heartbreaking. There's the Family-Going-To-Ruins bit which you see in so many Victorian novels, but more than that for me was the gender stuff. Maggie gets told repeatedly that she's just a girl and couldn't possibly understand things, and her brother gets educated even though he's... not the brightest, while she is super smart and curious about the Latin and stuff her brother's learning and totally bored with but she can't have any of it. I don't know, that's really stuck with me for some reason. I know George Eliot maybe didn't experience this so much since her father was apparently awesome and encouraged her education, but you have to wonder. Also everything I've read about George Eliot seems to emphasise that the only reason she even got an education was because she was considered ugly by everyone and therefore not likely to get married, which is a whole other level of depressing, but there you go. Nineteenth century, you were crazy and as much as I love you, I'm thankful I was born when I was.

So, Maggie and Tom are miller's children, and there is Trouble At Mill, as you might expect, and things go downhill for the family, which is the basic plot. There's some interesting brother-sister dynamics- which you really don't see often enough in literature, and Maggie gets involved with a sort-of enemy of the family without it being ridiculous and Romeo and Juliet-y. I liked this book a lot. It's no Middlemarch, but few things are.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson 

Look at me reading hyped books two years after they were published! In case you've managed to escape this one, it follows Ursula who dies and comes back many times throughout the book. It's quite hard to explain, but it makes sense in the book- so there's all sorts of 'what if' moments, little things that end up killing Ursula and little things that end up saving her. Ursula is born in 1910 and the book follows her life (not always in chronological order) up to after WWII, and when I realised this and read the first chapter I was worried this was going to be a clichéed 'would you kill Hitler if you could' thing. But that part was fairly minimal. I was more interested in the details of her lives- it reminded me of Jo Walton's My Real Children in a way, all the little choices you make in life that lead into bigger things. This was also superbly written- I'd never read any Kate Atkinson before but I'm encouraged to track some of her other stuff down.

Every Day by David Levithan

I was intrigued by the premise of this book- every day, 'A' wakes up in a different body and lives a different life for the day, never forming any connections or continuity. Then one day they fall in love with their host person's girlfriend. The actual science behind the body-swapping is a bit ropey- conveniently, they're always a sixteen-year-old in roughly the same geographic area, and the change happens every night at midnight when A is asleep (seriously, what if they can't be asleep at midnight?!)- but I didn't really mind. More important to the book is the actual emotional consequences of being a different person and being in love with the same person, and trying to make that work. There's a lot of queer subtext- A is constantly changing sexes, genders, races, body types, personality types... It was an interesting read and one that I got through very quickly.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson 

I'd been meaning to re-read this, and then I spotted a copy for just £2 in my favourite second-hand bookshop at the end of a day hunting for university texts- hey, if I'm spending money on books I might not even enjoy, I might as well treat myself! This is a sort of companion book to Oranges are not the Only Fruit, Winterson's own memoir of her childhood. The reality is much stranger and sadder than the fiction, it turns out. Like the protagonist of Oranges are not the Only Fruit, Winterson was the adopted child of a fervently religious mother who threw her out for being a lesbian. Winterson then lives in a car, reads lots of books and somehow ends up at Oxford. I loved this; the drive to just live your life the way you want and the influence that your parents have over you, no matter how much you try to escape them. This also reminded me that I really need to re-read Oranges- I've only read it once, when I was still in school. So, I need to get to that.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

So like a lot of people, I loved the crap out of Gone Girl and am always trying to fill the void that book has left, and Dark Places was the remaining novel of Flynn's that I hadn't read. Libby Day is the sole survivor of the horrific murder of her mother and two sisters. Her evidence led to the conviction of her older brother for the crime. Twenty-five years later, she meets a group of crime enthusiasts who believe her brother is innocent and she is, well, forced to confront her past, but in a less cheesy way than that. This was a good read- I admit I'm a bit like those crime enthusiasts in that I love a good unsolved murder- don't get me started on JonBenét Ramsay, for example. This book was also clearly influenced by the Satanic Panic and McMartin Preschool Case, another thing I find endlessly fascinating. This book keeps you guessing, and I definitely didn't see the ending coming- but perhaps it is just a little, well, unrealistic? That didn't bother me much though, and if it doesn't bother you this is definitely worth a look.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell 

I loved Fangirl but I was surprised when Rowell released Carry On, a book set in the fictional universe Fangirl's Cath writes fanfiction in. Simon Snow to me always seemed like just a surrogate for Harry Potter, but I still wanted to see what Rowell could come up with. And that's actually kind of a lot, it turns out. Yeah, Simon and Baz are basically literally Harry and Draco, but that's sort of the point. The universe is actually surprisingly well thought out, and Rowell totally needs to write more fantasy, if just so I can have little things like merwolves and worsegers (like badgers, except worse). This is a fun, unapologetically indulgent read and I actually really loved it and consider it my favourite of the year so far. My fangirl crush on Rainbow Rowell has increased even more, if that were even possible!

That's my January! 15 whole books. February will probably not be so prolific, what with university starting up again. Then again, my master's requires me to about 3 books a week, so in theory I should have an equally full list, albeit with a bunch of 19th century texts. We'll see!

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