2019 Book Favourites
As an English Literature student, reading books of my own choice has ironically turned into quite the novelty! Without further ado, here our 2019's most treasured novels that stayed with me long after I read them:
1. The Women's Room by Marilyn French
This came highly recommended by mum and my god I don't know how I have never heard of it before. A must-read for anybody who identifies as a feminist, it is regarded as a modern classic that "awakened both women and men". The Women's Room is set during the era of Second Wave Feminism as it swept across America, following the lives of several housewives who, in middle age, rebel against social norms and attend university to receive the education they know themselves worthy of and create their own female American dream. The novel is deceptively simple, dark and uplifting all at the same time and offers a piercing challenge to society. Although set in the 1960s, Susan Faludi depressingly points out in the 1992 afterword "I had hoped for signs of outmodedness, but the same damn problems French identifies are still with us". Personally, I finished the novel feeling incredibly grateful for the education I have taken largely for granted and the career opportunities that are on offer to me without question of my sex. We have certainly come some way since the 60s. Just not far enough.
"the rule of the game is that men win as long as they keep their noses comparatively clean, and women lose, always, even extraordinary women"
2. My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
A very Killing Eve-esque novel with its refreshing diversity and easy wit and charm- I read it in two hours! Set in Lagos, Nigeria in an oppressively patriarchal society, Korede's sister Ayoola has the unfortunate habit of killing her boyfriend's in "self-defence". Effortlessly beautiful and completely psychotic, she is nonetheless an endearing character and ultimately leaves you gripped to the bitter end! Ayoola's actions weigh heavily on her sister as she confesses to Korede after each killing, even asking her to assist in cleaning the crime scene of her murders. The relationship between the sisters is complicated further when Ayoola starts dating the very man Korede has been in love with for years and Korede begins to worry he will meet the same fate as the others. A satirical celebration of sisterhood; the girls must rely on each other to survive.
“The most loving parents and relatives commit murder with smiles on their faces. They force us to destroy the person we really are: a subtle kind of murder.”
3. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
I doubt I will ever read a Margaret Atwood novel and not adore it but this is surely Atwood's finest. It's 1843 in Canada, and Irish immigrant Grace Marks has been accused of murdering her employer and his mistress in cold blood. Having been imprisoned and saved from execution due to "clinical insanity" a group of spiritualists hire a charming mental health expert to unlock her forgotten memories and find out if she is truly guilty of murder. The book is a heady mix of sexual and class politics and based on a true story. Atwood has a distinctive writing style that I can only describe as brilliant. She manipulates archaic words so they are made brand new again and creates images that are either beautiful or terrifying - sometimes both. Often the story will pause for a witty anecdote, Atwood is intellectual but never ostentatious. The book has even been adapted by Netflix and the show is also a must-watch.
“Murderess is a strong word to have attached to you. It has a smell to it, that word - musky and oppressive, like dead flowers in a vase. Sometimes at night I whisper it over to myself: Murderess, Murderess. It rustles, like a taffeta skirt across the floor.”
4. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
I read this for a modern literature module and fell in love. Since her first novel White Teeth was released, Zadie Smith has been hailed as a literary genius and I can only agree. Smith is part of an entrepreneurial, multicultural Britain - she is young, she is half-Jamaican and she wrote the novel in quiet moments while revising for finals at Cambridge. White Teeth is refreshingly honest about issues of family, displacement and history. The characters Smith weaves into her story are heartbreakingly misunderstood yet comedic moments of everyday life serve to lighten the mood of Britain on the edge of change. The trauma of adolescence is especially acute for Irie Jones, a half-Jamaican, half-English girl growing up in Willesden as she learns to embrace her blackness and learns about her heritage from her eccentric grandmother. At the heart of the novel is the unlikely friendship between Englishman Archie Jones and Bangladeshi Samad Iqbal, former soldiers of the Second World War, whose families become agents of the "post-racial" new Britain. Flitting between an imperial past and the present, this book is hilarious, intelligent and expertly crafted for the modern day. A joy to read.
“Where I come from," said Archie, "a bloke likes to get to know a girl before he marries her." "Where you come from it is customary to boil vegetables until they fall apart. This does not mean," said Samad tersely, "that it is a good idea"
5. The Rose of Tibet by Lionel Davidson
I had never heard of Davidson before I picked up this novel but a quick search has him pegged as the author of "high end espionage thrillers" which had me sold. Following the adventures of Londoner Charlie Houston as he travels to Tibet illegally to find his missing brother only to find that his arrival had been prophesised a century earlier and he is no less than a local God to the Tibetans. Events are complicated by the arrival of the Chinese Red Army, as the year is 1950 and China and Tibet are on the brink of war. Charlie is accompanied on his travels by an Indian boy Ringling and the two form an unbreakable bond in the sub-zero climate and devastating altitudes of the Tibetan mountains. Shortly after arriving at the monastery of Yamdring, Charlie and Ringling are forced to flee with the monasteries treasures and prized among them is a certain she-devil abbess who infatuates and shocks Charlie in equal measures.
"And did you love me truly?"
"Yes, I loved you truly"
"And do you love me now?"
"Now and always, poor yidag. There is no help for me"
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- Ellie x