A Book Haul
Finally – charity shops are open again! Hurrah! My first charity purchase in many months is an old classic, a lovely first edition of Derek Jarman’s angry memoir-cum-polemic ‘At Your Own Risk’. (1992). In it he touches on how his queerness created the artist and how society has treated that queerness. Angry, sexy, poetic and provocative, you won’t agree with everything Jarman says, but it will open you eyes to a time, attitude and place which we – whether within the LGBT community or not – have seemingly forgotten.
‘I still feel that there is no sexual liberation unless it’s personal. Struggle to find out who you are. It’s no good joining a group and making speeches about what you want to be, life is to be lived first and proselytised after. I was in full revolt against life as it was lead by most of my fellow citizens. I couldn’t bear them. I could see nothing of any value in Heterosoc, in marriage, mortgages or family. I was young and attractive and everyone was after my arse. The appalling claustrophobia of Heterosoc could be subverted there.’
And that’s the sum total of my charity shop haul so far – but what treats are lacking there are more than made up by the sheer number of books being published at the moment: I’ve had a number of these ordered for many months now, but corona-delays have meant that they all seem to be coming along at once!
First up is Ottessa Moshfegh’s ‘Death in her Hands’. This is actually the US version of the novel, which isn’t published over here until later in August. However, cover-wise I think it it the superior version AND is in hardback (unlike the UK version). I’m currently reading it and it has definitely been worth the wait: The retired narrator, Vesta, finds a note while walking her dog in the woods: ‘Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.‘, But there is no name on the note, no sign of a body or even a struggle, so Vesta sets about piecing together the story of Magda and her death…
It is also time for the Booker Prize longlist to be published. This year’s includes some unsurprising entries (Hilary Mantel’s ‘The Mirror and the Light’), some surprises: Kiley Reid’s ‘Such a Fun Age’ (which I loved but I wouldn’t have thought the Booker would consider a book with such a light-hearted tone – even if that tone masks a clever, insightful breakdown of black and white race relations) and a lot of books I’ve yet to hear about. One book I have heard about is Douglas Stuart’s ‘Shuggie Bain’ which was published last week. The story of how young ‘Shuggie Bain’ struggles with an alcoholic mother, poverty and issues of his own in a neglected former mining town sounds a bit bleak – but I do like me a bit of bleak every now and again.
A real treat which I have written about previously, Nell Dunn’s ‘The Muse’. I can’t truly describe how excited I am to get my greasy little paws on this book.
Next up are a few books which have all appeared thick and fast in the past week – some delayed by the pandemic, other – I suspect – released to make the most of their Booker Prize long list nomination (and why not!?).
Two up for nomination (as well as ‘Shuggie Bain’, above) are ‘Real Life’ by Brandon Taylor and ‘Love and Other Thought Experiments’ by Sophie Ward.
‘Real Life’ is Taylor’s first novel and concerns a group of US science students, focussing on Wallace, whose father has just died and who feels out of step with his more privileged colleagues: ‘Over the course of one blustery end-of-summer weekend, things come to a head. The catastrophic contamination of his experiment and a series of intense confrontations force Wallace to grapple with the trauma of his past, and the question of the future.’
Ward’s book is also a debut which came out earlier in the year. As the title implies this is a more experimental novel: ‘Inspired by some of the best-known thought experiments in philosophy, particularly philosophy of the mind, (this book) is a story of love lost and found across the universe.’ It even comes with a 5 pages list of ‘Epigraph Sources and books mentioned.’
Next up are a pair of timely Smiths: Zadie Smith’s ‘Intimations’ which is a short collection of essays written during the pandemic and (with the exception of Nell Dunn’s book) the novel I’ve most been waiting for, the culmination of Ali Smith’s ‘seasons’ quartet: ‘Summer’.
Written as near to publication date as possible, it is possibly the first ‘pandemic novel’ but, as I understand, it also refers back across the other novels in the series, bring together a portrait – however idiosyncratic- of how we live now. My beautiful, signed, first edition wrapped, as ever, in a David Hockney is sitting patiently, tempting me like the azure depths of the Mediterranean or the bitter-sweet lushness of finely wrapped chocolate.
I LOVED ‘Station Eleven’ by Emil St John Mandel – a novel set in a world crumbling in the aftermath of ‘Georgian Flu’ – and now comes her latest, ‘The Glass Hotel, which promises to move between the Hotel Caiette, a ‘glass-and-cedar’ palace on Vancouver island, to a ‘Neptune-Avaramidis’ ship , ‘the towers of Manhattan, and the wilderness of remote British Columbia, painting a breath-taking picture of greed and guilt, fantasy and delusion, art and the ghosts of our pasts.’
…and there is still the imminent arrival of ‘Summerwater’ by Sarah Moss, the latest Galley Beggar publication, ‘Mordew’ by Alex Pheby, and the return of another favourite, Andrew O’Hagan, with ‘Mayflies’.
Whatever the autumn might bring in these uncertain times, I’m certainly not going to short of something to read.
I have a holiday booked for the start of September – quite where I’ll end up is anyone’s guess. I’m hoping for Mallorca but the current restrictions might put paid to that. Wherever I end up I’ll need some holiday reading so I’ve been picking up some bits and pieces over the past few weeks…
My first two choices, ‘Magpie Lane’ by Lucy Atkins and ‘British Summer Time Begins’ by Ysenda Maxtone Smith, I wrote about recently
I loved Benjamin Myer’s ‘Beastings’ which I read a few years ago. That was a brutal, cold book but I suspect (hope!) ‘The Offing’ will be a gentler affair and perfect summer reading:
‘One summer following the Second World War, Robert Appleyard sets out on foot from his Durham village. Sixteen and the son of a coal miner, he makes his way across the northern countryside until he reaches the former smuggling village of Robin Hood’s Bay. There he meets Dulcie, an eccentric and other worldly older woman who lives in a ramshackle cottage facing the sea. Staying with Dulcie, Robert’s life opens into one of rich food, sea-swimming, sunburn and poetry. The two come form different worlds, yet as the summer months pass, they form an unlikely friendship that will profoundly alter their futures.’
The next summer read is a more challenging one: ‘The Novel of Ferrara’ by Giorgio Bassanu was originally published in Bassani’s native Italy in 6 volumes between 1958 and 1972 and in set in the town of Ferrara before, during, and after the Second World War.
‘These interlocking stories present a fully rounded world of unforgettable characters: the respected doctor whose homosexuality is tolerated until he is humiliatingly exposed by an exploitative youth; a survivor of the Nazi death camps whose neighbours’ celebration of his return gradually turns to ostracism; a young man discovering the ugly, treacherous price that people will pay for a sense of belonging; the Jewish aristocrat whose social position has been erased; the indomitable schoolteacher, Celia Trotti, whose Communist idealism disturbs and challenges a postwar generation.’
‘The volumes are available individually as Penguin classics but I discovered this volume which collects them altogether in a beautiful, elegant package.
All I need now is the holiday in which to enjoy them all!