The Week in Books #52

7/12 ✅

Another week, another post. Not much happening around here, though Mavis has stopped napping during the day so I have less time to read. BUT she goes to bed earlier now so there’s time to catch up before bed if I’m not too tired… but who am I kidding I’m always tired.

1. Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel. So this one was a bit baffling to me… all over the back are reviews from big names like Zadie Smith and Philip Pullman talking about how funny and amazing this book is, but I definitely didn’t find it funny. It was actually pretty horrible? Alison is a psychic living with the ghosts of her traumatic childhood, literally, trying to process what happened to her as a child, come to terms with her terrible mother, and finally find out who her father was. I know British comedy is dry, but I really didn’t see the humour in this story. It was grim. Al’s assistant Colette is a rude, cold and nasty person. All of the spirits that follow Al around are brutal men who victimized her as a kid. Alison herself is pretty lost, dependant on other people, and shows very little personality. Also, nothing really happens. I know Hilary Mantel is kind of a big deal (she’s a double Booker Prize winner!) but perhaps this is not her best work. I liked the occult and metaphysical aspect of it; there are lots of tarot references and spooky spirit guides, but mostly it’s just an unpleasant read that I struggled to get through.

Alison Hart is a medium by trade. But her ability to communicate with spirits is a torment rather than a gift. Behind her plump, smiling and bland public persona is a desperate woman. Her days and nights are haunted by the men she knew in her childhood, the thugs and petty criminals who preyed upon her hopeless, addled mother, Emmie. And the more she tries to be rid of them, the stronger and nastier they become.


2. Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith. This is a quick little novella that I read in one sitting. The synopsis from Penguin Randomhouse (below) details a story told from one character to another but is not the actual plot of the book; It is about two sisters, Anthea and Imogen, working together at a water company, Pure. Anthea meets a woman writing graffiti outside the building one day and they fall in love. Imogen struggles with the knowledge that her sister is “a gay,” and later with the ethics of selling drinking water when she feels access to clean water should be a human right. It was pretty good but also very brief so there’s not much to really bite into.

Ligdus and Telethusa are having a child, but they cannot afford to have a girl. Ligdus informs Telethusa that she had better hope for a boy. While this decision makes them both sad, Telethusa “must/obey.” She prays to Isis, but births a girl and names her Iphis, a name that “suited male or female–/a neutral name.” She convinces everyone, including Ligdus, that Iphis is a boy.

Iphis matures and falls in love with another girl, Ianthe, and is engaged for marriage, yet s/he is ruled by the sexual norms of the time: 220;[P]ossessed by love so strange . . . no female wants/a female!” but “no learned art–can ever make of me/a boy.” She attempts to reconcile her love for Ianthe against the pressures of “nature.” The wedding day is near, Telethusa is desperate, and prays again to Isis. Iphis is transformed, looking like a boy.

Is Ovid suggesting that what we think is nature is attitude? Does Iphis grow a penis? Or does Iphis, adopting the characteristics of a boy, remain a girl married to a girl, undermining traditional values?

Penguin Randomhouse.
Rotary Club Fundraiser Book Haul

I popped back into the Rotary Club book sale fundraiser on Monday and took a peek at their fiction… so many books! All $3 each. I found a few good titles and even some doubles of what I’ve already got at home but couldn’t resist (I found a hard cover edition of Stay With Me and some pristine copies of others so I could upgrade my copies because I’m a dork). The stack of books I haven’t read yet included Shanghai Girls by Lisa See, The Birth House by Ami McKay, DeNiro’s Game by Rawi Hage, Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles, Black Glass by Karen Joy Fowler, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, Half Life by Shelley Jackson, Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston, If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim, and Out by Natsuo Kirino.

Got bored, made a new stack haha lots of goodies in there!

Happy reading!

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