Time for a book update. I had been thinking that all I wrote about was books, but it isn't quite true. I had been thinking that all I thought about was books, which may have been slightly more correct, but mostly I thought about books I want to read (Booker longlist) and moving books. When it came to actual reading, July was very light.
Three books. Three very different books, but I enjoyed every one of them.
I've discovered something else as well. Remember how, in the last post, I stated I would surely discover something that should have been brought to the apartment but got stored instead? Well I stored all my journals, including my reading journal, up to the most current (new) one, and most of my notes, the passages I copied out, are in storage. I shall have to rely on memory.
Mohsin Hamid: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.. I loved Exit West, and thought it would be good to read some of Hamid's earlier work. When I saw this at McKay's books, I snapped it up. Obviously the same author, writing about one thing, while pretending to write about another. The book is very witty, at times sarcastic, and very wise, and I can see how it could be off-putting to some. It is written under the pretext of being a self-help book, but it never quite achieves that goal, nor is it meant to, it is a parody of a self-help book. There are no proper nouns in the book, and two parallel narratives. The protagonist, "you" is both the narrator, who rises from poverty to great wealth, and the reader. The other main character, the "Pretty Girl" runs a parallel but different course. The book appears to be about how to achieve great success, but it is actually about the way achieving success and the path to that achievement corrupts us, and what is lost in the end. Although the books take place in Asia, in a world that appears quite corrupt, and we in more developed western countries may think it does not apply to us, Hamid's lessons are universal in that the pursuit of power corrupts, and money is also power, but what the heart really wants is to love and be loved. In the end it is a love story, a love story in a time of seismic social change, and this reader found herself in tears.
Deborah Levy: Hot Milk. Deborah Levy's Hot Milk was short-listed for the Booker a couple of years ago but I just now got to it. I enjoyed the novel, but I think there is a lot I didn't get, a lot going on beneath the surface. I can see how it is the kind of novel that people who dislike literary novels would despise. Half-Greek British girl goes to Spain with her disabled, controlling, hypochondriac confabulist of a mother. The prose is vivid, and sometimes hallucinatory. It does not tell the story directly. But it is still a great novel, about coming of age, about what we gain, but also what we lose, when we unloose chains. Through beautiful and often intensely metaphoric prose riddled with parallels to Greek Tragedy the author throws in Brexit, economic disaster, a warm Spanish paradise that is a horror of toxic waste, sexual freedom, dependence and independence. A lot is made of the themes of those who serve only themselves, vs those who serve others, male and female, and the dangers and traps in both extremes. I found the novel to be at times cryptically elusive and yet easy reading and entertaining, often even quite funny. I could read it again. Perhaps I should read it again. But I probably won't.
Caitlin Macy: Mrs. If I picked up this novel in a bookstore I would probably think of it as one of those quick reads about the imperious and overly arrogant one-percenters who are due for a fall, and I am certain there are readers who chose this book for that reason. They would be disappointed, because there is very little action and no really shocking upset. I read it slowly and thoroughly enjoyed it. I think the writing rewards attention, as the author is deft at subtle detail, the kind of thing you would miss if you were skimming through quickly. The beauty of the book would be lost. Yes it is about the one-percenters, parents of children in an exclusive pre-school in Manhattan, and yes there is some cultural upheaval. But the book is more than that. It is a satire, but a satire with an undercurrent of humanity. The story is almost an illusion. What is important here is the characters, and the stories they tell themselves, both the primary characters, and those in the backdrop, deployed here as a kind of chorus. Actually, although the story occurs in a specific socio-economic setting, the characters, and aspects of their mores and their behaviors, their assumptions about each other, can be found in any place, in any group. Perhaps I have a soft spot for the book because I have known too many women like these women, but I suspect we all have, if we allow ourselves to look beyond the superficialities. The settings may be different, the level of privilege, but we are not so different. Macy is a deft observer of humanity, and she tells the story through the voices of her characters, interleaving their stories and their perspectives. Each character is portrayed tenderly, with understanding, and yet also witheringly. Each character, in telling the story, reveals themselves inadvertently, showing that weakness or darkness that is meant to remain hidden, often even from themselves, with a subtle turn of phrase. I found this to be great satire because it slips in so quietly, catches one by surprise, if one is paying attention, and therefore hits directly like a needle to the heart. It was an enjoyable read, with some really great lines and a few truths.
I don't know what August will bring, reading-wise. I don't have any of the Booker novels yet, so I can't make predictions about what I will or will not read. I will however, look back, and come up with a list of the books I read in June. Leave no rock unturned, after all.