By Astrid Franciszka
Before lockdown began I managed to make a trip to Waterstone’s to pick up a supply of books to keep me going for a couple of weeks. I went around the presentation tables and tried to pick up books that I perhaps would not usually be drawn to.
First, the books I loved:
Girl, Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo
Having won the Booker Prize in 2019, this book certainly deserves the praise it has received: ‘Triumphant’ say the Sunday Times, ‘a must-read about modern Britain and womanhood’ according to the Booker Judges. Girl, Woman, Other follows the struggles and lives of twelve very different characters from the top of the country to the bottom, across more than a century of change. I couldn’t put this book down. The characters swept me up in their narratives and carried me through this truly fantastic read.
Other books about everyday modern lives that I’ve enjoyed recently are Conversations With Friends, Normal People, Queenie, and The Versions of Us
The Vegetarian – Han Kang
The Vegetarian won the Man Booker International Prize in 2016 and you can see why. Not one for those looking for a light read, The Vegetarian is, in Ian McEwan’s words a ‘novel of sexuality and madness that deserves its great success’. Yeong-hye decides to become a vegetarian, prompted by grotesque recurring nightmares and the novel follows the fall-out of that decision. Once I got used to the sexualised, and voyeuristic writing I found that I absolutely raced through this weird book. I loved how uncomfortable this book made me feel.
If you’re looking for uncomfortable and weird reads I can also recommend The Cement Garden and The Wasp Factory
Speaking of Ian McEwan, here’s a book that I didn’t think lived up to the hype:
Machines Like Me – Ian McEwan
I’ve seen lots of people absolutely raving about this book recently. In an alternative 1980s London, Charlie is in love with Miranda, a student who lives with a terrible secret. When Charlie comes into money, he buys Adam, one of the first batch of synthetic humans and together they design Adam’s personality. The novel allows its technical innovations to exist in the 1980s because it imagines Alan Turing had not died. Indeed, Turing even features in the novel as a speaking character which to me felt completely inappropriate considering the way he was treated for his sexuality. The subplot with Miranda’s secret adds nothing to this book and detracts from the exploration of living with a synthetic human leaving both plots feeling half-baked and pointless.
I really enjoy McEwan’s earlier works but think that his recent novels have fallen flat on their faces. Nutshell narrates the story of Hamlet from the point of view of Hamlet as an as-yet un-born foetus (and it’s just as awful as that premise sounds…). I’d recommend reading Atonement, On Chesil Beach, or The Innocent if you’re looking for some McEwan that’s worth your time.