Books Read (But Not Reviewed) in May 2016

Cover imageI seem to be adding one each month to my books read (but not reviewed) tally after March’s miserable single score. May saw three excellent novels added to the list, each very different from the other, starting with one that I wrote a post about well over a year ago, prompted by a friend’s experience of reading a review which revealed her current read’s dramatic twist, much talked about at the time on social media, albeit obliquely. The book was Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves and I now realise how difficult it is to write about and not refer to that all important, much vaunted twist. If you’ve read it you’ll know what I’m talking about. So, all I’m going to say is that it’s told from the point of view of a woman whose brother and sister are both missing. She and her sister were particularly close – almost the same age but entirely different. The disappearance of her brother is linked to that of her sister. It’s both funny and heartrending but to do it proper justice I’d need to spill the beans which I’m determined not to do. All of which just goes to show that it’s very easy to sound off about things when you’re not in full possession of the facts.

I’d read and enjoyed both of Janice Galloway’s memoirs – This is Not About Me and All Made Up – but had not got around to any of her fiction until last month. Her first novel, The Trick is to Keep Breathing, was reissued under the excellent Vintage Classics imprint last year. They’re the publishers responsible for rediscovering both John Williams’ Stoner and Thomas Savage’s The Power of the Dog: they know their onions. Written from the point of view of a woman suffering a profound breakdown, Galloway’s increasingly fractured narrative reflects Joy’s unravelling as, failed repeatedly by her psychiatrists, she buckles under the weight of grief at the sudden death of her lover. It’s a harrowing, visceral read – utterly convincing.The Gallery of Vanished Husbands

Natasha Solomons’ The Gallery Of Vanished Husbands is a much more cheerful affair. Juliet sets off one day in possession of enough money to buy a fridge but finds herself wandering down her favourite street, the Bayswater Road, its pavements populated with artists. Throwing caution to the winds she commissions a portrait from Charlie Fussell, beginning a relationship which will eventually see her as a doyenne of the art world. Solomons’ novel takes her protagonist from the uncomfortable position of  an aguna – a Jewish woman deserted by her husband and considered to be neither a widow or a wife – into a very different world. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying journey. Great jacket too!

18 thoughts on “Books Read (But Not Reviewed) in May 2016”

    1. Susan Osborne

      I loved that, Marina. I hope you do to. A much easier read than the Trick is to Keep Breathing.

  1. Susan, I very much admire your determination not to reveal the twist in We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Although I haven’t read it (brilliant by all accounts) I do know the twist, as not all reviewers have been so punctilious. Now that I have written a book myself, I realise how carefully the author chooses when to reveal information; and if the author wants us to read it that way, not knowing things until s/he tells us, that is what we ought to do. But Almost without exception, reviewers tell us information that the author withheld until late in the book, and reading the early part with that knowledge changes the whole experience: it’s not reading the book the way the author intends. It makes me furious!!
    Hope this isn’t hijacking your comments page. Just wanted to commend you on your all-too-rare restraint!

    1. Susan Osborne

      Thank you, Christine. I would have hated to have been commissioned to write a review of the Fowler! I do sympathise with your annoyance when too much is revealed. It can ruin a book for the reader, spoiling the carefully thought out trajectory of the book.

  2. Great round-up, Susan. I bought the Karen Joy Fowler in the US before it was published here (get me) and have never been so pleased to get to a book early. I had no idea what was coming which is how I like it on first read.

    Very pleased you’ve discovered the greatness that is Janice Galloway’s fiction. I discovered her via a late night Channel 4 programme in the mid-90s that covered three Scottish writers – James Kelman, Irvine Welsh and Janice Galloway. I’d only read Welsh at the time but quickly fell for the other two and all three remain favourites of mine.

    1. Susan Osborne

      I had managed to avoid knowing what that twist was by carefully avoiding all reviews however I was still expecting something ultra-dramatic (which, of course, it is) which detracted from the experience somewhat.

      I’ll be seeking out more of Galloway’s fiction. No idea why it took me so long given my enjoyment of her memoirs.

  3. I accidentally read the twist in WAACBO in a BBC website article when it was nominated for a prize. Aargh! I’ve since read it and it’s excellent although I wonder how different the experience would have been if I didn’t already know. Reviewers who give stuff away are my pet hate – a summary of the plot is not a review!
    The Gallery of Vanished Husbands is bubbling up in my TBR – having recently rediscovered Natasha Solomons, I love her writing.

    1. I agree absolutely about being careful what you reveal in a review. Definitely plan to read more of Solomons’ novels – is there one you’d particularly recommend?

  4. Those two covers look gorgeous together with the bright yellow and greens!
    Shallow stuff out of the way, I still have yet to read We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, but have also been careful not to read any spoilers about it, since I do hope to read it one of these days. The other 2 authors are new to me, but sound worth investigating!

    1. Susan Osborne

      I’m only sorry it took me so long to get around to Galloway’s fiction. A hard read but a very rewarding one.

  5. I read Natasha Salomon’s previous novel about a Jewish man wanting to adopt a ‘pure’ English identity after WWII and I liked it, but The Gallery of Vanished Husband’s sounds even more fascinating.

    1. Susan Osborne

      I think that was probably her first novel, Elena – Mr Rosenblum’s List. Looks good but The Gallery appealed more to me with its premise of a young woman moving into a very different world from the one she grew up in, and a much more unconventional one.

  6. I really struggled to review We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves too. It’s so tricky to write about without giving away the twist, and if you can’t talk about that you kind of have to talk around the whole book. I think I just ended up sounding really vague!

    1. I know. Although I’d felt annoyed on my friend’s behalf for having the book spoiled for her once I’d read it I felt sorry for the poor reviewer who’d been commissioned to write 500 or so words on it.

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