Girl Meets Boy, Ali Smith

Rating: ★★

“Like that poem I knew, about how you sit and read your way through a book then close the book and put it on the shelf, and maybe, life being so short, you’ll die before you ever open that book again and its pages, the single pages, shut in the book on the shelf, will maybe never see light again…”

Sadly I was disappointed with this book. As you can see from the image, I have quite an affection for the writings of Ali Smith, and my blog title is inspired by Artful. Girl Meets Boy, however, didn’t seem to meet the standards of those I had read previously and somewhat lacked in the enticement that first drew me to Ali Smith, with my first novel being How to Be Both. I finished it after a couple of hours throughout the day; it’s a short novel with large print.

The novel take its foundation from the myth of Iphis in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, and is essentially a postmodern retelling. The main themes are around gender and sexuality; taking an old story and placing it in the modern age. With a political and feminist agenda, this sometimes feels as though it gets in the way of the narrative. Full of interesting characters and what seems like could-be plots, the book feels as though it has been cut short, and perhaps should have been more extended.

The prose, as usual, was lyrical. Smith’s lack of speech marks gives her writing a stream-of-consciousness feel, and makes the reader pay more attention. Maybe because I was so hyped about Smith’s previous novels was the reason I didn’t feel so strongly about this one. The lack of plot made the book seem more like political agenda, which could have been more at home in an essay rather than a narrative.

Girl Meets Boy was whimsical, short, and sweet, and there’s not much else to say. While it didn’t make my top 5 Ali Smith books, it still managed to hold my attention, so I suppose that says something.

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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

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“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.

 

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.

 

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

Rating: ★★★★

It’s 1969, in Kerala, India. Twins Rahul and Estha visit their childhood 23 years later. The novel flickers from past and present, from when the twins were 7, and to their present day outlook. (Annoyingly I wrote a lot about this book in my journal, but left it at uni. I will insert it when I have gotten back.) Revolving around the ‘twin-ship’ of these siblings, the book is very focused on how they figure out their identity, as ‘them’ or ‘we’ or ‘us.’ As ‘two egg’ twins, their bond is quintessential to the story line. The twins see each other, when they are young, as the same – only to be separated physically. Yet their perspective changes when they grow older, when they begin to see each other as separate entities, due to the events that separate and change them throughout the book.

A novel that ultimately throws you to this deep pit of emotion, The God of Small Things is a beautiful book that toys with your heart. I read it back last Summer when the heat made me feel as though I was living in India and alongside the characters. Boundaries are emphasised throughout the novel – taboos, the class system, sexual freedom. The boundaries that limit women but do not affect men. These are all events that the children must overcome, as they revisit their upbringing. There is a heaviness felt in the novel as you watch events unravel and understand the children more and more in each sentence. The narrative reflects the characters; parts are deliberately repetitive and childlike whilst still deeply poetic and poignant.

There is an overarching atmosphere of melancholy. Roy wants you to appreciate the ‘small things,’ as mentioned in the title; there is a particular affection given to describing lesser important things, which have a greater effect. A fluidity of language makes it easy to read, a flowing of words that run into each other, in such compelling artistry. Sometimes there is perhaps too much description, and too much lulling around, which does become very overpowering.A great deal of concentration has to go into reading, as the past and present merge before your eyes and different characters are changed swiftly. Yet there is an ultimate connection that you feel towards the characters, particularly the twins.

It’s a beautiful, challenging read that will stick with you for a long time.

 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith

Rating: ★★★★★

So my first post! I thought I would start it with one of my favourite books that I read last summer, which has pretty much stuck with me. I was recommended by a friend to read it and it’s definitely the best bit of advice I have ever followed from her. For these first few posts I will be talking about books I have previously read rather than currently, just to get my feet in the water.

With the title based on the real story of a tree that continues growing even through concrete, it becomes an extended metaphor for the protagonist herself.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a brutally honest depiction of a young girl in poverty growing up in Brooklyn. It’s a slow-paced novel with plentiful description that makes you stop and smell the flowers. The harsh reality is not often a kind or pleasing one for the Nolands, who are living in Williamsburg in the slums during the early decades of twentieth century America.

The book is based around young protagonist Francie, an imaginative girl that makes the most of what she’s got. She’s resourceful, trying to find the beauty in things that wouldn’t normally seem beautiful. The book essentially is her story of learning to cope in her environment while she takes the role of a slight underdog in her family – her mother blatantly loves her brother more which is perhaps the hardest part of the story.

It’s a simple yet lucid read. Smith does wonders in description and you really feel the dirt and grit of living in the slums and sometimes even enjoy it. The book is lengthy, a good 500 pages long, yet is definitely worth the read and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys classic or modern literature, as it sits in middle ground.

Overall I felt that whilst very poignant, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a heartbreaker but still a heart-warmer.