A Dinner Party in The Home Counties by Reshma Ruia

Reshma Ruia’s poems often tell stories of significant moments, shine light on the little things that prize open people’s sense of security or identity: the exhaustion of family life (‘The Beginning’); the lazy, seemingly good-natured stereotyping of people with different heritages (the title poem); how a failure in pronunciation, or effort, to say an unusual name creates a whole new person severed from their old self (‘In Which Mrs XU Becomes a Sally’); memories of partition (‘1947’); deportation (‘Mrs Basu Leaves Town’) and so it goes on. Here are people contemplating or sitting at critical moments in their lives, who often struggle to definitively claim one geographic identity. In some ways this exploration of race and cultural confusion is at the heart of Reshma Ruia’s work, but there are other themes of identity at play. What it means to be on a journey to becoming a mother (‘Egg’), or the complexities of the maternal relationship (‘Biography’) where a child must 

Hold on tight my love, she says.

A gentle nudge is all it’ll take.

Away we’ll go, spilling and spluttering,

desires and dreams drip-dripping fast

through tightly shut fists.

But then the mother throws them in the air herself and folds her arms as she watches her child fall.  Continue reading

Apeirogon by Colum McCann

Apeirogon isn’t a book you can read lightly. This isn’t a reflection upon its style, which is clear, eloquent, at times haunting, but instead upon the subject matter. I feel I’ve been reading a lot of books recently that play with the idea of what a novel is, that dance over the line of fact and fiction. Apeirogon is one of those books. Continue reading

Motherhood by Sheila Heti

Motherhood is one of those books that will enthral some and, perhaps enticed in by glowing reviews, dispel others. It mixes a sharp intelligence with a reliance on a less complex I Ching style dice rolling for critical enquiry. It easily slips into the self-absorbed misogynies about women and their hysteria, and yet, it remains compelling and most importantly, honest. For there is no point in attempting to explore the pressures for women to become mothers and all the societal gesturing, comparisons and petty rivalries that go with it, without being honest about how much time can go into the exploration. And for that, Motherhood must be commended.  Continue reading

In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

I loved this book. I’m excited about the way it takes memoir in new directions, directions that feel necessary to the ways in which we contextualise and envisage our own lives as part of the wider social and historical setting. This is non-fiction in its most creative and fictional sense, for every form of expressing experience requires a shape and this is something Machado is brilliantly skilled at unpicking and reweaving. Continue reading

Poverty Safari by Darren McGarvey

The full title of this book is Poverty Safari: Understanding the Anger of Britain’s Underclass. Written by a man whose own story of deprivation – growing up on the wrong side of Glasgow with an addict for a mother who abused and abandoned him and then committed suicide – he claims has gained him a voice in the established middle class media, the title alone explains the complexities, difficulties and necessity of addressing class. In order to be given a voice, Darren realises he needs to talk about his own suffering, he needs to give the middle classes their poverty safari, their grand tour through the deprived estates of Britain, because if he doesn’t no one will listen to what is an essential message – that no one is listening to the deprived lower classes and if no one listens, nothing with change apart from a growing sense of anger and disaffection.

It’s refreshing to read a political and social commentary that challenges the standard responses of left and right. It’s refreshing to read an honest, personal account that puts political opinion in a personal context.

The book is at once autobiography and a call for social justice that suggests changing poverty requires radical changes in everyone involved.

It’s not easy reading – it is sometimes depressing, sad, upsetting – but it is important. Change involves dialogue, but before we can speak, we need to learn to listen.

I don’t usually review or read much non-fiction, but my sister recommended I read this book and I’m really glad she did. It has something to say to everyone in Britain.

I’ll be reviewing In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado next.

I Remember by Joe Brainard

Before I start my review, I should apologise for not posting for a while. I was ill in February and it seemed to push everything out of alignment. I don’t imagine many of you missed your weekly instalments of my thoughts on books, but if you did you are in for a treat as I try and catch up with a few posts all blogged close together. In addition to I Remember by Joe Brainard, Poverty Safari by Darren McGarvey and In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado, I did also read another Witcher book – Time of Contempt – but I’m not going to blog about that one as you’ve already got a review of my thoughts on The Witcher by Andrezj Sapkowksi. So, here we go…

 I Remember is one of those extraordinary books that sounds boring, repetitive and gimmicky, and yet is anything but. A collection of memories, that never span more than a few paragraphs, which each begin with the words ‘I remember’, Joe Brainard uses this pattern to build up a portrait of his life in the 1950s and 60s in America, as well as the complex movement of the mind through memory.  Continue reading

Feebleminded by Ariana Harwicz

How do I write about Feebleminded? The stream of consciousness narration has not been simplified into overtly signalled shifts between present, past, dream, or reality. Instead, we are presented with a bombardment of visceral impressions and thoughts that express an intensity of existence, forcing the reader to find their own sea legs in the ebb and flow of this young woman’s mind, slowly understanding that she was forced into an early sexualised adulthood by her single, alcoholic mother. 

Though her life might give the impression of someone feebleminded, her language won’t allow it. She describes her mother’s face as ‘The face of a zealous alcoholic, of someone caught in between, body tingling with desire, granted neither death nor satisfaction’. She describes a day in which her mother runs off – it’s suggested this is a fairly common occurrence – and after hours of looking she finds her under a bridge: ‘I move closer, she looks at me then walks off to finish filling the lake with her vulva.’ These aren’t the words of a feebleminded woman. They are full of careful observation and precise detail, buzzing with a longing for things to make sense in a way that drags meaning from taking a piss in a lake.  Continue reading

The Witcher by Andrzej Sapkowski

Not surprisingly, the Netflix series put me onto The Witcher. I have never played the video game and wasn’t really aware of this massively famous writer, Andrzej Sapkowski, often referred to as the Polish Stephen King, but once I’d started with The Last Wish I found myself quickly rushing on to the Sword of Destiny and Blood of Elves with very little pause. It was too much fun to delve into this world filled with faery tale motifs – princesses in towers, wizards, magic wishes, elves and gnomes – and the customary fantasy reflections upon our world through the mirror of this invented magical world busy looking back on the old days with sentiment and looking on at encroaching war with a mixture of incredulity and fear.  Continue reading

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Little Dog is twenty-eight, a Vietnamese American who suddenly decides to write to his mother after rereading Roland Barthes’ Mourning Diary. The novel that follows unravels his life in fits and starts, moments and memories awakening from each other into a work unafraid of shifting forms, exploring what it is to live as an immigrant in small town America. 

But Little Dog isn’t just an immigrant, isn’t just an outsider whose family came to America to escape the burnt remnants of their life in Vietnam, whose mother and grandmother never speak clear English and work in nail bars until their lungs give out with the fumes. Little Dog is also gay and the novel, the work he writes to his mother, is his way of coming out to her, even though he knows she can’t read.  Continue reading

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

The girl of the title is Adunni, a young Nigerian from a small village whose mother has just died and who must face new realities now that there is no one fighting for her to stay in school. Her mother was the one who believed in education, who believed that Adunni should become a girl with a louding voice. But with her mother gone, her alcoholic father needs money to support himself and Adunni’s younger brother. He wants to marry her off to an older man. An older, rich man who already has two wives. 

I could describe the entire plot of the book – because Adunni’s journey is both gripping and memorable – without spoiling the real heart of the novel, Adunni’s beautiful, clever, and thoughtful voice, but I won’t. It’s simpler to say that this is a book you fall in love with because it is almost impossible not to fall in love with Adunni.  Continue reading