Sunday, 1 February 2015

A Month in Books: January

This was a pretty good start to my 2015 reading year, as I read four books, so I'm currently on track with my Goodreads challenge.

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P by Adelle Waldman (2013, William Heinemann)
Nathaniel Piven is probably one of my least favourite characters that I've ever read, and in this novel we're pretty much in his head. He's a 'nice guy', living in Brooklyn, becoming a fairly recognised writer. He knows stuff about feminism and general equality issues. Buut he doesn't think women have written that much; is surprised to discover that some women are pretty and smart; zones in on women's physical imperfections when they bring up his poor behaviour and is an all-round not-that-nice guy. Waldman kept me reading, mainly because at no point does she attempt to make us feel sorry for Nate; and because Hannah, the main love interest, is a pretty great character. I would only recommend this is you don't mind unlikeable protagonists, otherwise I'd probably skip it.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (2013, Granta)
The Luminaries won the Man Booker Prize in 2013, making Eleanor Catton the youngest winner (she was only 28 when she won). The novel is huge, almost 900 pages, and is set in 1800s New Zealand during the gold rush. The story opens with a group of men who have met to discuss three events; the death of a local recluse, the town prostitute appears to have attempted to kill herself and a wealthy man has disappeared. The novel continues to try and unravel the mystery between these three characters. Catton excellently builds character and place throughout the novel. The final part of the novel build to a great denouement, but the first 400 pages is just a lot of men talking so does drag a little. This is recommended if you have the time to really invest in the book, as it is a striking achievement.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014, Picador)
Station Eleven was possible one of the most-raved about books of 2014, and so when I spied it in paperback in WHSmith it became mine. And this novel definitely lived-up to expectations. It's set in a world that has been decimated by a super-flu and has the tone of The Walking Dead. St. John Mandel has a wonderful style of prose, and her ability to talk about some very present worries (will we be remembered? are we all performing?) in an extreme situation was incredible. Just probably don't read it on a plane.

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittmore (2014, Borough Press)
I'm not entirely sure how Bittersweet ended up on my Amazon wishlist, I think I probably saw it mentioned on Book Riot and the idea of rich people secrets sounded kind of appealing. The novel follows Mabel Dagmer, who shares a dorm at university with Ev Winslow who she becomes fascinated by. Ev invites Mabel to spend the summer at Winloch, the family estate, where Mabel becomes obsessed with uncovering a family secret. This is a book that would probably be great adapted into a trashy television series, but on the page was just pretty overly dramatic, and pretty ridiculous (especially the ending). Beverly-Whittmore was clearly inspired by Donna Tartt's The Secret History but her writing doesn't quite live up to Tartt's wonderful style and just felt unnecessarily flowery.

I'm currently struggling a little through Doctor Zhivago, which I want to love but am really struggling with the writing style at the minute. What did you read in January? Have you read Zhivago and have any tips for getting through it?