Too Much and Not the Mood, Durga Chew-Bose

img_9117

“A nook person finds the dog at the party; drinks wine from a mug; sits on the floor and braids carpet tassels only to become self-conscious and unbraid them.”

Rating: ★★★★★

I finished this book about ten minutes ago and felt such a need to review this and put my thoughts out there. Too Much and Not the Mood was everything I needed and more. Taking influence from Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary, Chew-Bose has seamlessly sewn together several essays exploring culture and identity.

The first (and longest) essay, ‘Heart Museum’ was one that particularly struck a chord with me. I had never found a text so relatable before. I found myself rereading sentences, memorising quotes, and read parts so slowly as to absorb every inch of new information I had received. Having read Joan Didion’s Blue Nights, I had assumed this would be comparable. But it exceeds and extends every preconception I had of personal essays. The writing was extremely cinematic and essays merged into poetic prose. Chew-Bose manages so tenderly to portray such thoughts that do seem inconceivable, and impossible to put into words.

I did feel, at times, that Chew-Bose was actually writing about my life, because it was so extremely personal. She is able to combine quite intellectual thoughts and weave them into everyday life narratives that are so easy to emphasise with. Such a fluidity to her writing allows you to read it at ease, and there is no force for understanding. It seemed to me that I needed this book at the precise times of reading it, and I read it slowly so I could take it in with such a depth that I could carry it forever.

I will admit that the essays following ‘Heart Museum,’ whilst still beautiful, I did not gain such a strong connection with. They were shorter, and I recommend reading one essay at a time, because they do merge into one. Chew-Bose talks about small, seemingly unimportant things in big ways. Her writing is new and she takes the subject of nostalgia and moulds it into something you have not read before. This was a book that I have spent late summer evenings, lazing in the warmth of the sun, pondering about. It was the book that I was so indulged in while sitting on the train, that I almost missed my stop. It was a book that makes me question what I was before I had actually read the book, and the book that made me realise who I was and what I need. I was different before I read this, but I can’t quite put my finger on the change.

It’s honest, stimulating and heart-warming. If you need a new, refreshing touch to prose, this is the book to read. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Advertisements

There but for the, Ali Smith

“Think how quiet a book is on a shelf, he said, just sitting there, unopened. Then think what happens when you open it.”

Rating: ★★★★

Primarily due to feeling quite awful about rating Girl Meets Boy so terribly, I thought I would review another of Smith’s books to show her writing in a different light because she is my favourite author and perhaps this time I will do her justice.

What I love so much about Smith’s writing is her blurring between boundaries. With the lack of speech marks, there’s often confusion between what is said and what is thought, and who is saying what. This sounds really confusing but its actually extremely clever in that it makes you think more in depth about the text. The title. There but for the what? There but for the grace of God go I? – A saying that essentially means you avoid the mistakes that others have made, yet understand them. Smith also wants us to view these four words as separate sections. There. But. For. The. Four different chapters of the novel.

Opening with a dinner party, Miles Garth takes himself upstairs and locks himself in one of the rooms, and doesn’t come out for months. The consequences of his actions are catalytic for the prose, and we see how he affects those around him. A character who is at first quite opaque, Miles Garth is shown to us through other characters, particularly Anna K. The novel is not entirely present, and we go back 20 years or so ago. It’s about communication, relationships. How you can lose contact so quickly with someone who meant so much to you before. There isn’t much plot. We are missing the last word of this sentence; for the what? More importantly – WHY? Why did Miles Garth lock himself in the guest room during this dinner party? Why does he eventually leave the room? The novel poses a lot of questions that are left unanswered, this lack of core in this story is what the prose evolves around. Miles is merely the connection between the four parts of the story. He has a relationship with all four of these people, and thus he is more of a pivotal point within the novel rather than the protagonist.

I find it incredibly difficult to know what to write or what to think about Ali Smith’s work. All I know, is that I loved this novel. It is hard to review because I’ve nothing to compare it to, and not a real plot to consider it a real story but rather a mixture of narratives and timelines, that have, at one point in time, crossed over. Her prose, as always, is lyrical and beautifully put. Such indulgent language is intellectual and filled with wordplay. It is a rewarding read and although at times confusing, I highly recommend.

The Passion According to G.H., Clarice Lispector 

Rating: ★★★★

“Real life is so secret that not even I, who am dying of it, have been given the password, I am dying without knowing of what.”

I am not quite sure what I have just read. To be frank, I’m still processing the hazy, surreal thoughts of my subconscious that this book stirred. If you’re into a novel that has a distinct plot and narrative then this isn’t for you. A book that stays almost entirely in stream-of-consciousness prose, Lispector enables the reader to reflect on the protagonists’ own thoughts, requiring a focused and open mind. The only thing that could have made this book better was if I were able to read it unfiltered through translation.

The sculptress, known only as G.H, which are the initials monogrammed on her suitcases, is going through a metaphysical and existential crisis. Upon entering her maid’s room, she discovers a cockroach in the dark crevices of a cupboard, which triggers a sort of revelation inside her. Attempting to kill the cockroach by slamming the cupboard door, this moment is pivotal and climatic in the novel, opening up an entire new attitude toward her perspectives and notions of humanity.

To get things straight, this is all of the action that happens in the novel. The rest, is entirely thought. Whilst sometimes harsh and often unpleasant, the book is somewhat reminiscent of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, although whether this is deliberate I am unaware. Sentences are short and thought-provoking, and often I had to backtrack due to such heavily in-depth language – you definitely have to be in the right mindset to read this one. You ask questions you have never thought about before, such beautiful and descriptive language awakens something inside of you – I have such an urge to read more of Lispectors’ work.

An attempt to evoke the unsayable, Lispector has written something of a miracle. Its mesmerising prose feels almost audible; I forgot I was reading at parts because I was so invested in the novel. Its hypnotic effect was a feeling I had not felt so strongly from a book before. Existential aspects were familiar of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, which also took place over a short period of time, and also similarly (but a lot more violently) killed a man which triggered his thoughts. It seems apparent that perhaps deliberately parts of this novel seem so incomprehensible to the reader – as if Lispector is suggesting the power of language cannot even translate such universal thoughts and feelings.

The complexity of this novel still has me confused over a few aspects, and I hope to read it again to gain a new understanding; I have so much to say on this book and would love to write a second review. If you have the patience, and want some strange new thoughts hovering in your mind, this is the book to read. Filled to the brim with non-stop monologue and existential questions of life and death, The Passion According to G.H is a heavy, but rewarding read.

Hot Milk, Deborah Levy

img_8298

“I confess that I am often lost in all the dimensions of time, that the past sometimes feels nearer than the present and I often fear the future has already happened.”

Rating:  ★★★

I bought this book on a whim when I was browsing the Waterstones ‘new releases’ last summer, yet it became a sort of ‘meant to be’ decision that tied in with fate. I began the novel last summer in a rented car, driving down the southern coast of Spain alongside my two loud sisters and underneath the scorching sun. Coincidentally, this was where the book was set. Andalusia is a beautiful region of the country and to be able to visit the places while immersed in the prose was a kind of surreal experience, making the narrative feel extremely personal and real. Think white-washed buildings, deep blue skies and seas – the romantic scenery is harmonic and gives an atmosphere of serenity.

The novel depicts young woman Sophia, her mother, and a lot of Medusa jellyfish. Sophia has halted her Anthropology doctoral thesis to look after her sick, hypochondriac mother, with a mysterious illness and their last resort is to visit a specialist doctor in Spain. There’s a relaxed energy to the novel; Sophia spends much of her time waiting for her mother’s illness to be discovered. She is essentially free in her current position, yet feels trapped by her mother’s illness. Hot Milk seems a particularly relevant title, referencing the femininity which is so central to the text. Hot milk signifies the bond between mother and daughter, and perhaps the more sensual aspect of the female breast. There are several androgynous aspects to the character of Sophia, and we see her attracted to both a young male and female.

The story is dreamy, drifting from reality to the imaginary – Sophia often questions what is real and what is not, while the reader feels so vividly the breeze of the ocean and the smell of the sand. Sophia has lost focus in her life, and Spain becomes a sort of ‘in-between,’ serving as a kind of disconnected point in reality and out of sync with the world. The novel perhaps serves more as a journey, for a meaning of consciousness. Sophia wants to find her place, and a reason for her life. The prose is fresh, and the stream of consciousness aspect works well with a narrative that focuses primarily on the inner world of the protagonist.

The novel is bizarre and hypnotic, yet fluffy at times – there is a lack of plot to bite into. I feel there was perhaps a deeper meaning that I might have missed; I just wish I could have connected to it more than I had.

 

Also, I don’t know whether anyone would be interested but I am considering featuring a few posts on my journals and how I approach the art. If you like the idea please hit me up!

Strange the Dreamer, Laini Taylor

“Sometimes a moment is so remarkable that it carves out a space in time and spins there, while the world rushes on around it. This was one such.”

Rating: ★★★★★

Feeling a little nostalgic after coming home for a short break from university last month, I wanted to read a book that reminded me of the magical worlds I lived in during my childhood. Having seen this new release featured on several Instagram feeds, I decided to check out Strange the Dreamer for myself and was quickly intrigued by the idea that ‘the dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around.’ On arrival, I was taken aback by the beautiful stark blue cover embossed with a moth and gold lettering, and instantly knew that this magical novel was exactly what I needed to feel like a child again.

Lazlo Strange is an orphaned young man raised by monks, later becoming a junior librarian. His fascination of the Unseen City and its mysterious past, with the name ‘Weep’ taking the place of a stolen name, features in his several unpublished, and unread books. With the opportunity granted to take a magical journey to find Weep’s secrets, Laslo’s world soon collides with Sarai’s, a young godspawn who is living incognito at the Citadel in Weep.

Now, I don’t want to spoil this treasure for anyone, so I am not going to talk about the plot. What is most striking in this novel is the incredible prose. I was expecting a YA novel, and was given a book that is so much more than that. The switching of narratives between Lazlo and Sarai adds such an intense perspective to the novel, much increasing when they meet for the first time. Remarkably lyrical writing creates a beautifully whimsical aspect to the story yet each sentence could quite simply stand on its own, and seemingly purple prose in this novel has a purpose. Complex characterisations enhance the poetical directions of the storyline; each character is so complete and full of life that you almost can’t decipher between dream and reality.

I am anticipating the release of the sequel, however this book can definitely stand alone. The novel is emotional, cathartic and overall fascinating once you are emerged in Taylor’s prose. She takes you on a journey leaving you with a sense of wonder. Strange the Dreamer is funny and heartbreaking and wonderful, and I couldn’t ask for anything more in a book.

 

Blue Nights, Joan Didion

“I know what the fear is.
The fear is not for what is lost.
What is lost is already in the wall.
What is lost is already behind the locked doors.
The fear is for what is still to be lost.”

Rating: ★★★★

Over Easter I had the pleasure of reading my first Joan Didion novel. Blue Nights was written as an ode to Didion’s daughter, Quintana. Not quite sure was I was expecting, I delved into a prose that seemed comforting and familiar; a lyrical, subtly poetic verse that transfers you directly into Didion’s world. Perhaps it was the easily readable text that enabled her words to imprint into my mind, loitering for days later, these sentences that appeared so relevant to me.

In Blue Nights, most notable is Didion’s stylistic methods which pose questions to the reader and create a tighter bond and deeper connection between the reader and writer. In some ways, the book seems too private for publishing. I felt invasive when reading about her daughter’s hospitalisation, and personal experiences dealing with age, sickness, and death. But ultimately, she talks about the truths that are rarely spoken about, which come about in an invasive manner. There is a fluidity from abstract and concrete; universal questions are put in the midst of everyday scenarios much like the thoughts come into our heads.

The flexibility of narrative, expanding from intellectual thought to internal processing of her struggles much reflects a train of thought, or our subconsciousness. The universality of the book, while Didion sometimes appears strangely disconnected to the prose, creates an elusive outlook into her life. Profound is the use of the colour blue, which has so many different meanings. Blue can be dark, it can be grieving, and death. It can have such bright qualities, with melancholic undertones.

I wasn’t quite sure what I would get out of this book. I did not realise how biographical it was, and often this is a style of writing that I am not fond of. Yet, I came away with this passion for Joan Didion. I felt as if I had seen into her life on a personal level, a feeling which is usually absent between the author themselves, and the reader. While realistically, I cannot relate to Didion’s lifestyle or circumstances put forward in this novel, I felt so deeply connected to her. There is definitely a self-medicating aspect to the prose as she overcomes death and loss, and the reader feels a sense of healing whilst reading it.

(I apologise for the hiatus. I’m currently in the middle of exam period, and should solely be focusing on them but I haven’t stopped thinking about this book since I’ve read it.)

A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, Eimear McBride

Rating: ★★★★★

This book is something else. Taking on an internal narrative of the protagonist, we live through a young female narrator whom we never learn her name. Set in Ireland around the 1980’s, we are placed directly into the mind of the narrator through the stream of consciousness style of text. The title couldn’t be more perfect.

The young narrator is living in a kind of turmoil that reflects 1980’s Ireland. With themes of incest, rape and death. The use of such halting prose really strikes a chord with the reader, and you feel as though you are experience these events with her. The book is unconventional and a demanding read but definitely worth the struggle. The majority of the novel makes you experience things you would rather not know about, such as sexual abuse. And yet you want to read on because the prose is so addictive.

The novel itself seems very half formed. It takes a while to get used to the style of narrative which doesn’t flow like you wish it would, and the fluidity of text is very different to those of other authors. Yet there is a strange process that happens as you get further into the book, where you don’t notice your brain trying to figure out the rhythm anymore. The words flow into each other, paragraphs become like tidal waves and there’s a sense of bliss. Yet the events that take place quickly pull you under the current. The raw and broken sentence structure reflects the brokenness of the characters. With a mum struggling mental illnesses, a brother with a childhood brain tumour and a perverted Uncle, there is not much in the book that gives you a forgiving sense of hope or relief. Such trauma is brought on to the reader, with an evocative sympathy toward the narrator. We only see her side of the story, as we are in her mind, which is why the book is all the more traumatic. It is strangely relatable when you realise that the way McBride writes is a direct reflection of how we do think; disjointed, jumbled, lucid.

Originally, I wasn’t going to give this book five stars because a lot of the time I felt uncomfortable reading it. But the novel wasn’t intended for comfort; McBride presents this narrative in the precise way she wanted it; thought-provoking whilst deliberately disturbing. This is a book that leaves you breathless. She wanted to shock her readers.