Throughout November, I managed to finish 9 books (5 novels, a short story collection, a novella, a poetry magazine and a Little Black Classic), bringing my total for the year so far up to 116. Here are some thoughts on this month’s offerings, in the order I read them.
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Though I was always enjoying the complex web of secrets and lies, I felt sure this wasn’t going to be amongst my favourite Christie novels, convinced it relied too heavily on convenience and suspension of disbelief. I should never have doubted The Queen of Mystery, however, with the fantastic twist and brilliant ending catching me completely off guard, making me re-evaluate the whole book, and continuing my love for Ms Christie’s work.
The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] I had huge expectations for this, as it sounded on paper like it could be my perfect read. Though it suffered from some pacing issues (a brooding, atmospheric first half then near constant action, death and drama in the second half that threatened to bog it down), it was a thoroughly enjoyable read, ideal for lovers of literary horror with an old-school, sinister and gothic vibe.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This highly allegorical work is all about being ‘different’, and the fear and misunderstanding levied at those who are bold enough to be open about their differences, particularly where mental health is concerned. It’s a critique of society’s tendency to ‘other’ what they don’t understand, and though bizarre and hypnotic (therefore not for everyone), it does have a lot to say for those willing to delve beneath the surface.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Based on an old Russian fairy-tale, the real strength of this book is the vivid and immersive way in which Ivey describes the frozen landscape, perfectly capturing a sense of beauty, magic and power in the natural world. Plot wise, it’s deliberately predictable, with the ending being inevitable from early on due to the way it mirrors the classic tale, and so for me, I would have liked a bigger emotional hit or unexpected twist of some kind at the end to make the investment of time feel entirely worth it, or else the book could perhaps have been a little shorter.
A Pair of Silk Stockings by Kate Chopin
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] A small collection of five short stories, I found this quite mixed as an introduction to Chopin’s work, with a couple of the stories being very forgettable. My two favourites, however, The Story of an Hour and A Pair of Silk Stockings, are both deceptively simple, being quiet yet effective commentaries on the way in which women often sacrificed their own happiness to please their families and adhere to society’s expectations. So, whilst I wasn’t wowed by her writing, I was certainly intrigued by the themes she explored.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
[ ⭐ ⭐ ] This is another one that is described using a lot of my buzzwords (fairy tales, whimsical, dark, a cold and snowy setting, etc.) but sadly it failed to live up to my high expectations. I couldn’t immerse myself in the story and found it confusing trying to keep up with who was who, plus the heroine made some questionable choices towards the end of the book. Overall, I suspect this one was hurt by my own hype.
The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night by Jen Campbell
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] The stories in this collection are rich and layered, and steeped in the tradition of storytelling as an artform. At times dark, at others strange, and yet often beautiful, they feel in many ways like modern day fairy tales, with fascinating concepts and themes at play that are sure to be interpreted in different ways by different readers, including commentary on the likes of deformity and othering within society, and women’s lack of control over their own bodies. The imagery throughout is vivid and arresting, from plants emerging from people’s skin, to coffin hotels where people go to feel close to death.
The Rialto – Issue 88
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] As with any anthology of work, there were of course several writers’ voices in here that didn’t gel with me personally. However, having read a fair few editions of The Rialto (a tri-annual poetry magazine), this is probably the one with the most individual gems that made it very much worth the time, hence the high rating.
Cove by Cynan Jones
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] A story of survival that is also an understated yet powerfully effective allegory about struggling through grief, this novella follows a man’s disorientated attempts to return to shore after he is badly injured during a storm whilst at sea to scatter his father’s ashes. Jones’s writing style is stark yet lyrical, with every word feeling as though it has earned its place. Short and arguably simple on the surface, there are a deceptive number of layers to be explored here.
There we have it. It was definitely a strong reading month overall, starting and ending with the two biggest highlights – Murder on the Orient Express and Cove. I look forward to seeing what books December will bring my way (and to picking up some festive reads, of course).
What was your favourite read in November?