Good bye August and goodbye summer! I complain a fair bit, but here is one thing that I absolutely loved about this summer in Seattle. We only had maybe three days all told when it got above 90°. The majority of the summer was in the mid-70s with dry, sunny days and chilly nights. My kind of weather.
I wish I could be as upbeat about my reading, but this year continues to be a challenge. I’ve acknowledged part of it could be my current attitude (submerged outrage and very little patience), but in looking back on previous years I’ve not had so many DNFs or books that were OK, not great. It’s making me sad! Is anyone out there slaying it with their reading?
With that less than enthusiastic lead-in, here’s the reading I did in August:
The Dakota apartment building opened in 1885 and was hailed as one of the greatest innovations of its time—all the amenities and opulence of a fine hotel. Apartments were a new concept. It’s fitting then that Fiona Davis uses this landmark as the basis for her new novel The Address. The novel is narrated by two young women—Bailey in the present day and Sara in the late 1800s. Sara is the manager of the Dakota—responsible for everything and anything that goes on in the building, including dealing with all the hired help for each apartment, most of whom also live in the building. Bailey is an interior designer fresh out of rehab after blowing her bridges sky-high. She is saved from homeless and jobless ness by her rich cousin who needs her apartment redecorated in…wait for it…the Dakota.
It’s no secret, I have a thing for fiction about independent working women, especially in a historical context when it was such an anomaly. That plus the setting of one of the most iconic apartment buildings in NYC? Slam dunk. Davis does well with both Sara and Bailey’s stories—Sara’s involves the boundaries between personal and professional and Bailey is desperate to shed her party girl image and get back to work. This is all good, but as The Address progresses Davis keeps adding ballast to her plot so that by the end it tips over from its own weight. The manufactured drama left a fascinating story, rich in detail, smothered by plotlines that were not needed.
See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt: Reviewed
The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory: Reviewed
The fact that Gravel Heart is set in 1970s Zanzibar means it is already steeped in mystery for me as I had to look up where its located (an island off the coast of Tanzania). From the very opening the plot itself is intriguing, with Salim, a young man, being offered a chance to emigrate to England to stay with his much loved and charismatic uncle Amir. Amir will pay for everything, he will study business and become a success. The choice is an easy one as Salim does not have much of a life in Zanzibar. His father left him and his mother when he was a little boy and it isn’t until he is a teenager and his mother his pregnant that he realizes it was because she was having an affair. That his father is shamed and now his mother has agreed to be a second wife, makes leaving easy for Salim.
Except that once in London he finds adapting difficult and decides that business is boring. He wants to study literature. This enrages his uncle who cuts him off and leaves him to find his own way. For the rest of the novel Salim does just that, including going home to try and find answers to the things he never understood about his mother and father.
The circumstances of Gravel Heart are the sort that make for powerful reading—a foreign place and culture, the immigrant experience, and the many layers to family relationships. Abdulrazak Gurnah has a gift with words, but there is a layer of detachment in the novel’s telling that, while it may be cultural, made it hard to connect. Despite the title, it felt more like a novel of the head than the heart.
Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta: Reviewed
Whereas the dryness in Gravel Heart made it difficult to stay engaged, it had the opposite effect in Quicksand, a courtroom drama set in Sweden. A teenage girl, Maja, is being tried as a participant in and accomplice to a school shooting with multiple fatalities. One of the dead is her best friend and one is her boyfriend. The novel covers the three weeks of the trial with Maja narrating from her jail cell, ruminating about her life and explaining how she ended up there. Whether it is because of the natural reserve of the Swedish or author Malin Giolito’s choice, Quicksand is predominantly cerebral. And yet, it holds a tight grip on the attention.
Giolito acknowledges the emotion implicit in murder, but then strips it from the process by setting the novel during the trial. Without any understanding of the real Swedish judicial system, in Quicksand it is laser focused on the letter of the law. There are none of the histrionics, graphic forensic evidence, cameras, or dramatic reveals found in the U.S. Making this fascinating is no small task, but with tiny, precise sentences Giolito does just that. More importantly, she uses the same strategy in the process of fleshing out Maja, who is not particularly likable. She’s actually a bitchy, rude, rich white teenager. Giolito wastes no space in trying to change the reader’s mind about Maja, but gets inside the mind of an eighteen-year-old and in doing so, provides context for the unimaginable. A good choice for a goodbye-to-summer thriller reading fling.
How was your August? Loaded with great reading or were you too busy wringing out the last of summer?