Time for another wrap up already? Slow down please, 2018. Anyway, throughout March I read 12 books in all, bringing my total for the year so far up to 31. As always, here are some thoughts on each of them, in the order I read them.
The Falconer by Alice Thompson
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] The several strong homages to Rebecca (perhaps my favourite book of all time) instantly drew me in to this strange, dark tale. It follows a young woman trying to learn the truth about her sister’s mysterious death whilst working at a remote manor house. As with all of Thompson’s work, the narrative she creates straddles the boundary between our world and something decidedly more dreamlike. There’s lots going on beneath the surface allegorically, which can be very rewarding if you’re able to suspend your disbelief somewhat. My fifth novel by Thompson, it wasn’t my favourite amongst them, but its ethereal atmosphere did linger with me.
Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This book follows a man’s search for his long-lost son in the aftermath of the war. The emotional depth of the protagonist is fantastic, with our hero torn between his paternal duty to find and save the child, and his fear that the boy in question will indeed prove to be his son. Having suffered great loss, he has become emotionally shut-off from the world, and fears the potential pain that comes with human bonds. In trying to find his son, he must also try to find his capacity to love again. The tension of post-war France trying to rebuild itself after Occupation makes for an excellent and fascinating backdrop, and the story had me utterly compelled throughout. I loved it.
The Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer
[ ⭐ ⭐ ] A slightly harsh rating, perhaps; I did get through this book very quickly, and Hamer’s prose was indeed nice in places. Overall, however, I felt the book tried to be too many different things at once, and in doing so, became a bit of a meandering mess. I just couldn’t buy into the story, which meant I had no emotional investment in the outcome by the time I reached the end.
The Bird King by Shaun Tan
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] I’m a big fan of Tan’s art, and this book provides a fun glimpse into his creative process, featuring a random selection of his doodles, ideas and early drafts.
The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] A classy, well written and tightly plotted read, The Blank Wall centres around a woman who becomes embroiled in the death of her daughter’s suiter, who will go to extreme lengths to protect her family’s honour. The focus is less on the crime itself, and more on the psyche of the book’s heroine, whilst also making interesting commentary on several social constructs prevalent at the time, including the position of women, the expectations placed on mothers, the pressure of class, and race relations.
House of Spines by Michael J. Malone
[ ⭐ ⭐ ] A down-on-his-luck writer inherits a manor house from a distant relative, and soon becomes convinced it’s haunted. This book promises to be dark and atmospheric, but I found it underwhelming and reliant on clichés, sadly. It also sets out to be like a love letter to gothic literature, but by making so many references to the classics of the genre, it inadvertently suffers by its own comparisons, by highlighting its own shortfalls. I also wasn’t happy that it demonised medication and perpetuated the harmful stereotype that people with mental illnesses are dangerous.
Matilda by Mary Shelley
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This melancholic novella from the author of Frankenstein epitomises the Romantic era of literature, exploring the notions of love, death, suicide and grief. It follows a young woman horrified to learn that her father (absent throughout her childhood following the death of her mother) has developed inappropriate feelings for her. It’s very melodramatic in tone, and not largely plot-focussed, but Shelley’s prose is beautiful, capturing her heroine’s woe and the moodiness of the heaths very well. Written whilst the author was mourning the deaths of two of her children, it’s no surprise the story wallows in sorrow and grief, and explores the idea of holding on to love and familial honour, no matter how much pain it may cause us.
The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This was my 8th Christie novel, but my first from the Marple series. It was another fun, escapist read, with great touches of humour, an excellent set-up, and an enjoyable character dynamic. There is definitely some suspension of disbelief required where Marple is concerned, however, with the amateur sleuth making a few implausibly accurate guesses at convenient moments. Not my favourite Christie by a long shot, but an enjoyable read nonetheless.
Saga Volume 7 by Brian K. Vaughan (writing) & Fiona Staples (art)
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] It’s been ages since I read Volume 6, so it took me a little while to get back into the swing of everything that was going on, but I did so soon enough. As always, I love the wonderfully diverse cast of characters and the relevant themes this series tackles, all wrapped up in an epic, fantastical saga (pardon the pun).
The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This is a quiet though thought-provoking look at parenthood and the danger of pushing science too far. It also ruminates on the longing desire for family, and a life lived with guilt. Speculative, with a hint of the dystopian about it, the plot looks at a world in which babies are now grown externally in artificial wombs, eliminating the physical risks of pregnancy and birth, and granting both parents equal opportunities in terms of work and care duties. it looks at the ethical, moral and societal implications of chasing physical equality between the sexes, and I really appreciated the intersectional commentary touched on, and that Sedgwick presented fleshed-out, flawed and sympathetic characters on both sides of the moral argument, not sitting in judgement of any of them.
The Missing Girl by Shirley Jackson
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This little volume contains three short stories. They all have an elusive feeling of the sinister lurking just beneath the surface, blending the strange with the mundane to great effect. All three were excellent in concept, intelligent in execution, and incredibly readable.
From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This is a quietly heartbreaking character study that weaves together the lives of three seemingly disparate men. In structure, it’s a fantastic achievement, and as always, Ryan’s characters feel fleshed out, flawed, emotionally charged and highly believable. It’s ultimately about the harsh reality that we all suffer to a greater or lesser extent, and the need to accept this fact if we are to be able to move on, and perhaps even find happiness again.
March was another very enjoyable reading month overall, with my favourite read being Little Boy Lost. I look forward to seeing what books April will bring my way.
What was your favourite read in March?