Books Read (But Not Reviewed) in December 2015

Cover imageFour novels read but not reviewed this month, all very different but all fine books in their own way, beginning with Rebecca Hunt’s Everland. It’s taken me a while to get around to this novel which follows two expeditions a century apart, charting their progress on a tiny Antarctic island. The second is in commemoration of the first, which we know from the start ended disastrously, and to some extent the parties mirror each other: one member inexperienced, apparently weak, there because of nepotism; one young and a little arrogant; both led by a seasoned leader whose heart is firmly tethered to home.  The shifts and realignments in relationships between the characters are sharply observed and Hunt captures the natural world beautifully with poetically descriptive language. I enjoyed it very much but Andrea Barrett’s The Voyage of the Narwhal with its vividly evocative writing and perceptive characterisation remains my benchmark for this kind of novel. A click on the title will take you to Naomi’s excellent review at Consumed by Ink.

I came to Deirdre Madden’s Time Present and Time Future after reading the lovely Molly Fox’s Birthday which follows a woman’s thoughts over the birthday of the friend who has lent her the house she is staying in. This one was not quite the match for Molly but Madden excels at that subtle understatement and exploration of family in the way that so many Irish writers do, examining how our past elides with our present as Fintan Buckley’s newly awakened interest in photography changes his perceptions of those around him. Nothing much happens but it’s thought-provoking and beautifully written.

I very nearly gave up Thomas Christopher Greene’s The Headmaster’s Wife but there’s a magnificent twist about half-way through which made me sit up straight and carry on. Arthur Winthrop is found wandering naked in snowy Central Park. Dull and somewhat stodgy, he’s the headmaster of a Vermont school, following in the footsteps of his father. Arthur tells the first part of his story to the police, a tale of scandal and betrayal. Halfway through the book a lawyer appears and suddenly, like a twist of a kaleidoscope, an entirely different picture appears. The second part of the book is written from his wife’s Cover imagepoint of view, neatly putting into perspective everything Arthur has told his captors.

My last book of 2015 was NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names, the second Zimbabwean novel I read this year. Bulawayo’s debut begins in 2005, the year Robert Mugabe bulldozed tens of thousands of houses, leaving families without shelter at a time when the economy was in tatters. Told through the strikingly vivid voice of ten-year-old Darling who roams the shanty town where she now lives with her friends, no longer at school now that teachers are not paid, it’s very different from Petina Gappah’s The Book of Memory but equally as good. How nice to end the reading year with such an excellent book!

10 thoughts on “Books Read (But Not Reviewed) in December 2015

  1. BookerTalk

    Glad to hear you enjoyed We Need New Names. I loved the first section in Zimbabwe more than the one where she got to America but still rated the book highly.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Yes, I’d agree – definitely the stronger of the two parts. Writing through the voice of a ten-year-old made the horrors of the situation so vivid.

      Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      I haven’t, Jacqui, but I think I will after Everland. It’s a very different subject matter, for sure.

      Reply
  2. Naomi

    Thanks for linking to my review, Susan. Everland sounded like a good one to add to my list, but then realized that it was already there! I have no recollection of putting it there. I’m glad you have reminded me of it!
    I have We Need New Names on my shelf – I hope to read it soon…

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      You’re welcome, Naomi. Hope you enjoy them both when you get around to them. I’ll be interested to know what you think

      Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      I’ll be interested to see what you think, Tanya. I had hopes that something was in the offing otherwise I suspect I would have given it up but hadn’t guessed quite what the twist might be!

      Reply
  3. Catherine

    First of all, read a more recent post and…Vienna?! Write more about that soon- I’m jealous!

    I am so glad you stuck with The Headmaster’s Wife! AT midpoint I was ready to throw the book against the wall- the protagonist seemed like such a stereotypical midlife male and then, boom! And another twist after that! The fact that Green pulled off both and that it was touching and heartbreaking made it one of my favorite novels the year it was published.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Wasn’t it brilliant? Pulled the rug right from underneath you. The Vienna post will be up within the hour!

      Reply

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