March was easily the strangest month ever, one that felt like it would never end. Despite the coronavirus crisis only worsening, I took solace from the fact that the books I managed to read during the orders to mandatorily stay at home were all very good.
I read six books and could have read more had I not been incessantly checking my phone for the latest news. Of these, I have reviewed two, and should hopefully write about the others in the coming weeks.
In the meanwhile, here is a brief round-up of what I read in March…
Awkward Hatty Latterly is the protagonist in Isobel English’s superb novella Every Eye. It focuses on two pivotal periods in Hatty’s life – the past when she is a young adult in a relationship with a considerably older man, and the present when she is on a honeymoon with her husband who is much younger to her.
Eventually both the past and the present will merge in an unexpected way. You can read the full review by clicking on the title.
Fate – Jorge Consiglio
Fate focuses on four individuals – or rather two couples – one pair who is gradually falling apart, while the other is seemingly coming close.
Karl and Marina have been together for ten years and have a young son, Simón. Karl is a German-born oboist at Argentina’s national orchestra, and Marina is a meteorologist. On a field trip, she meets fellow researcher Zárate, and begins a fling. Then there is Amer, a dynamic and successful taxidermist. At a group therapy session for smokers, Amer falls for the younger Clara.
By focusing on the minutiae of everyday life, this was an interesting tale which showcased all the characters trying to control their lives or their destiny in some way or the other but not always succeeding in doing so.
A Quiet Place – Seicho Matsumoto
When on a business trip to Kobe, Tsuneo Asai, a hardworking government bureaucrat, receives news of his wife’s death due to a cardiac arrest. This is not wholly unexpected given that she suffered from heart ailments. But yet, there are some aspects of her death that seem out of the ordinary to Asai.
As he delves deeper into the matter, he realizes that his wife – who he thought was shy and mostly by herself – had a kind of a secret life he was not aware of.
This was an absorbing tale where more than the death/ crime, the psychological depth of the characters – notably Asai – carried more weight. The last section particularly had shades of a typical Patricia Highsmith novel (I am a Highsmith fan).
With the coronavirus raging all over the world, I felt the urge to pick up something topical and when I checked my shelves, I felt quite drawn to Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven.
The premise in ‘Station Eleven’ is eerily familiar to what we are witnessing right now. It centers around the Georgian Flu disease that sweeps over America, its aftermath and the events leading to it, all the while focusing on a certain group of characters.
It is a vividly imagined and unique novel with a focus on humanity at its heart. And you can read the full review by clicking on the title.
In Actress, Norah FitzMaurice is narrating her mother’s story in the form of a book she addresses to her husband. Her mother is Katherine O’Dell and we learn of her ascent to stardom, her gradual decline, and her descent into madness further accentuated when she shoots a renowned producer in his leg.
That is the bare bones of the tale, one that explores the relationship between mother and daughter and the price each has to pay for being in the limelight. Enright’s prose shines on every page – intelligent, wise and sensitive and it was a pleasure to lose oneself into the book.
I have read two Enrights now, the other being The Forgotten Waltz, which examined an extramarital affair against the backdrop of the financial crisis in Ireland. Although Actress was excellent, I still much preferred The Forgotten Waltz where Enright’s writing was simply brilliant.
The Wycherly Woman – Ross Macdonald
Here’s what the blurb on the book states…
“Phoebe Wycherly was missing two months before her wealthy father hired Archer to find her. That was plenty of time for a young girl who wanted to disappear to do so thoroughly–or for someone to make her disappear. Before he can find the Wycherly girl, Archer has to deal with the Wycherly woman, Phoebe’s mother, an eerily unmaternal blonde who keeps too many residences, has too many secrets, and leaves too many corpses in her wake.”
This was another excellent Macdonald novel – the ninth in the Lew Archer series – with a tightly woven plot, surprising twists and turns and beautiful descriptions of California as well as the seedy world of blackmailers.
That’s it. I thought all the books were well worth reading but my favourites of the bunch were Station Eleven, A Quiet Place and The Wycherly Woman.
As April begins, I have embarked on my first Shirley Jackson novel – We Have Always Lived in the Castle – and I am already intrigued.