Somehow, it’s time for another wrap up already. Throughout April, I read 10 books, bringing my total for the year so far up to 41. Here are some thoughts on each of them, in the order I read them.
Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This book about a secluded, cult-like community that enforces strict gender roles left me with very mixed feelings. I loved the obvious feminist slant and felt invested in the fate of the characters. However, some elements of the narrative felt like unnecessary shock factor that stretched my suspension of disbelief too far, jarring me out of the story. I also felt it majorly missed a trick by exploring gender roles without incorporating even a hint of a queer or non-cis character.
Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This is a fictionalised graphic memoir of Mary Shelley, written in verse. From the off therefore, I admired it simply for how much it defies categorisation. Written in first-person, it has the intimate and immersive feel of a diary, as though we’re reading Shelley’s very own words, and it captures beautifully the emotion-fuelled Romanticism of Shelley’s own work. It offers fascinating insight into her early life and the inspirations behind Frankenstein, and the black-and-white artwork is suitably gothic and atmospheric. Intelligent, original and engaging; I adored it.
The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times by Xan Brooks
[ ⭐ ] My first 1 star read of the year, sadly. Not only was this book not what I expected in a lot of ways, but the handling of sensitive subject matter left me feeling very uncomfortable. It perpetuated harmful stereotypes about people with disfigurements and disabilities, and seemingly excused unforgiveable behaviour. I seem to be largely in the minority, but it didn’t work for me at all.
Sum by David Eagleman
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This is a collection of 40 pieces of flash fiction, each one outlining a different concept of what the afterlife could be. Some are amusing, others are unsettling, and though I found it playful and fascinating as an overall concept, only a handful of the stories will realistically stay with me.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This is a nuanced, understated and yet masterful tale of mounting tension, and a supreme example of the ‘less is more’ approach to horror. The tangible sense of fear and outright creepy scenes punctuate a general tone that is both ethereal and oppressive. Exploring notions of sisterhood, guilt, sexuality, storytelling and belonging, the balance of how much Jackson tells us, and how much she leaves to our imagination, is spot on. This heightens the unsettling nature of the story, and means it can be read as much as a tale of madness as it can a classic of the haunted house genre.
From the Heart by Susan Hill
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This subtle novel was surprisingly effective. It explores big social issues, but does so with sensitivity, avoiding sensationalism or scandal. The punchy prose and swift pace reflected to me the idea of our heroine’s life moving too fast, beyond her control. It is, after all, about the insular pain of not being true to yourself due to societal pressures, and thus becoming a passenger in your own life. Its brevity evoked a sense of supressed emotion, lost potential and quiet reflection on what could have been; with its power lying equally in what is left unsaid.
The Breakthrough by Daphne du Maurier
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] du Maurier does sci-fi? Why not! As always, she is a master at setting the scene and creating an evocative and tangible atmosphere that instantly transports me. The juxtaposition of the rugged beauty of the landscape and the technology of a research facility worked really well. I also loved the moral ambiguity of the story, which called into question an abuse of power, and the murky problems of consent and ethics involved in scientific experimentation. The eerie feel of the story has du Maurier’s trademark of something sinister lurking beneath the surface, and it culminates in an obvious though nonetheless unsettling warning about the danger of pushing science too far and meddling with nature.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This was a perfectly pleasant read that made for some light, easy escapism. It’s essentially about a middle-aged woman learning to break free from the rigid routine of her daily life, and though the ‘scandal’ she finds herself embroiled in is all pretty tame by today’s standards, the heroine is very endearing, and the story itself full of cosy wit and charm.
The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane (writing) and Jackie Morris (artwork)
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This book combines acrostic poems with stunning artwork to celebrate the relationship between the beauty of the natural world and the language we use to describe it – whilst reminding us how important it is to preserve both. The poems are highly approachable, playful and engaging, with each one focussing on a different plant or animal, the name of which is disappearing from every day use in children’s vocabularies; the idea being that we need to reconnect with the wonder of the world around us.
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This sci-fi novel follows a group of female scientists on an expedition into a strange, mysterious environmental disaster zone known as Area X, to try and uncover its secrets. The setting and general atmosphere are the biggest highlights of the book, being both ethereal and absorbing. There were chilling moments and striking images throughout that will certainly stay with me. I also really enjoyed witnessing the breakdown of the group dynamic as Area X got under the characters’ skin. The characters themselves are held at such a distance, however, that I struggled to connect emotionally. By the time we reach the climax, we have no greater understanding of the bizarre goings on inside Area X, and are left with more questions than ever, which was ultimately frustrating.
It was a reading month of ups and downs, featuring both my first 1-star review of 2018, and two of my favourite reads of the year so far, the latter of which being Mary’s Monster and The Haunting of Hill House.
What was your favourite read in April?