Another month; another wrap up. Throughout September I read 12 books, bringing my total for the year so far up to 96. Here are some brief thoughts on each, with links to my full reviews on Goodreads, in case you’d like to know more about the books themselves, or how I got on with them.
The Silence by Tim Lebbon
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Given that this is a horror story centred around the idea of sensory deprivation, it gave me a lot of vibes of Bird Box and A Quiet Place, both of which I loved. Though admittedly not a perfect novel, it was a fun and thrilling read, with some genuinely chilling and breathless moments. The sense of mounting panic and claustrophobia as the threat closed in around the characters worked well, and I liked that the story included menace from both the plague of creatures wreaking havoc on humanity, and people pushed to the brink, desperate to survive.
The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This is a subtle though surprisingly thought-provoking little read, which focusses on a young girl following the disappearance of her friend. The story itself is deceptively simple, but Vesaas incorporates a lot of metaphor to explore several themes, including the intoxication of youthful friendship, the letting go of guilt and grief, and the damaging effect of holding on to secrets. There’s also an undertone of queerness that runs throughout, adding another layer of interpretive meaning. The quirky nature of the prose reflects the sense of awe inspired by the book’s ethereal Norwegian setting, but also the youthful sense of wonder that lies on the knife-edge between childhood and adolescence.
Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This anecdotal memoir is at once brutally honesty and hilariously self-deprecating. Fisher moves deftly from poignant reminiscences about addiction struggles, electroconvulsive therapy, and the complex relationship she had with her father, to laugh-out-loud, stranger-than-fiction insights into the bizarre nature of Hollywood life and gossip culture. Another great read from Fisher that showed her evident skill as a raconteur.
N or M by Agatha Christie
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] I love seeing the progression of Tuppence (who is amazing) and Tommy throughout this series; the duo having grown from ambitious youngsters to middle-aged retirees. It allowed for a great thread throughout this book about society being dismissive of people’s worth as they age. The plot itself was as intricate and deftly handled as I’ve come to expect, with elements of political intrigue, war-time racial tension, action and excitement, and even some surprising pathos; topped off, of course, with a heavy dose of mystery. It was as clever and readable as ever, with well-placed twists, and an incredibly satisfying conclusion that made this a perfect case of cosy crime.
The Last Witch by Rona Munro
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] A brilliant, rousing, intelligent look at the struggle for power between the sexes; othering; and the inherent hypocrisy of misogyny. Munro packs a punch with this powerful and atmospheric dramatization of the story of the last woman to be executed for witchcraft in Scotland, in 1727. Our heroine is fascinating, complex, and skilfully constructed, with the level of ambiguity retained allowing for moments that are both unsettling and melancholic. I also saw an adaptation of the play on stage this month, which I reviewed here.
Skein Island by Aliya Whiteley
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] I adored The Beauty, also by Whiteley, and whilst this didn’t enthral me as much, I still found it very rich from a thematic point of view. The narrative – about an island that women can visit for a week in exchange for a story from their past – explores gender, storytelling, fate vs free will, and the various roles we inhabit throughout our lives. Drawing heavily on mythology, there is an element of mystery at the book’s core, but with such a heavy emphasis on imagery and deeper meaning, I found I was unable to lose myself fully in the story itself.
Womankind #17 edited by Antonia Case
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] I wouldn’t often include a magazine in a wrap up, but having a literary edge, being bulkier than average, and being completely ad-free, Womankind is packed with quality content. This issue was themed predominantly around Scotland and mythology, with short, easily digestible articles touching on the likes of history, culture, psychology, art, nature, and health. Aesthetically, the whole issue is beautifully put together, with the highlight for me being stunning full-page examples of Jessica Roux’s artwork. Though I enjoyed some articles more than others, the overall tone was peaceful, contemplative, and engaging.
The Corset by Laura Purcell
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] An intricately plotted and thematically rich gothic chiller; this was just the kind of read I was in the mood for. We follow Ruth Butterham, a young seamstress accused of murder, who claims to possess some kind of supernatural ability. Is she telling the truth; is she lying; or is she simply mad? Perhaps more importantly, if she is a killer, what could have driven her to it? At face value, this is a real page-turner, at equal turns poignant and horrifying, but it also explores the bleakness of poverty, and the notion of trauma and survivor’s guilt, whilst also criticising the class system and lack of female autonomy. Purcell maintains the perfect amount of ambiguity to leave the reader satisfied, without losing the sinister tone of the book at large.
And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This take on the story of Moby-Dick is an unashamedly strange little book that offers no apology for its frankly bizarre fantastical elements. I felt it was too short to allow proper adjustment to its oddity, and that it lacked the kind of emotional gut punch I have come to crave from Ness’ work. Still, it is a timely cautionary tale about the destructive power of hatred, and how rumour can birth the ugliest of truths. I admire Ness’ willingness to defy genre, and Rovina Cai’s dreamy illustrations worked well to enhance the timeless fairy tale-esque tone.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
[ ⭐ ⭐ ] I’m very much in the minority here, but this one sadly didn’t work for me. Turton undoubtedly has some great ideas, and I flew through it despite its hefty size, so it’s certainly very readable. I felt, however, that there was just too much of everything; be it characters, plot threads, twists, or otherwise. This meant the whole thing became a bit of a tangled mess that stretched my suspension of disbelief too far. The elements that provided the greatest opportunity for plot or character development were glossed over, so that ultimately, I just couldn’t immerse myself in it the way I’d hoped.
The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This is an incredibly charming and heartfelt graphic novel about Prince Sebastian, who enlists the help of a talented seamstress so he can live out a double life as Lady Chrystallia. I love that it’s unapologetic in its embracing of queerness and freedom of expression, and yet not once are labels used to define any of the characters. It’s a wonderful story of friendship, loyalty, identity, gender fluidity, and love. Admittedly, things work out a little more neatly than they would have in real life, but we can all indulge in a ‘happily ever after’ every once in a while. Wang’s art is suitably delightful and expressive, capturing the vibrancy, colour, and decadence of aristocracy and high fashion in late 19th century Paris.
Sliver by Ira Levin
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] My 4th Levin novel, and another very satisfying read. This one follows a woman moving into a new apartment, unaware that it’s rigged with cameras, and someone is watching her every move. It’s a bit of a slow build at first, working to establish a creeping, seedy atmosphere befitting of the unsavoury subject matter, before reaching a breathless climax with some brilliantly sinister poetic justice. Given that we’re now in the age of social media and reality TV, the book’s themes of technology posing a threat to our privacy, and the addictive nature of voyeurism, have aged incredibly well. Its increasing relevance makes it all the more unsettling.
There we have it! My favourite reads of the month were The Last Witch and The Corset; what were yours?