The Week in Books #58

11/12 ✅

Another Sunday, another week in books. I got through another two this week which puts me on the last one in this stack at long last! Not much else is going on around here with our restrictions still in place until next month, so lots of reading is taking place.

1. The Book of Night Women by Marlon James. This is a powerful book. Marlon James has a way of writing about absolutely shocking and horrible things but using beautiful words. There were a lot of things about this book that I found really interesting as a reader, firstly that it is written in a Jamaican Patois/Creole that took a bit of time to adjust to, but mostly they had to do with the characterization of Lilith. Without spoiling anything I can say that she was rude and arrogant and did some awful things but was still somehow likeable. By the end her development was complete and she was very complex and nuanced. A devastating read but ultimately unforgettable.

A true triumph of voice and storytelling, The Book of Night Women rings with both profound authenticity and a distinctly contemporary energy. It is the story of Lilith, born into slavery on a Jamaican sugar plantation at the end of the eighteenth century. Even at her birth, the slave women around her recognize a dark power that they -and she- will come to both revere and fear. The Night Women, as they call themselves, have long been plotting a slave revolt, and as Lilith comes of age they see her as the key to their plans. But when she begins to understand her own feelings, desires, and identity, Lilith starts to push at the edges of what is imaginable for the life of a slave woman, and risks becoming the conspiracy’s weak link. But the real revelation of the book-the secret to the stirring imagery and insistent prose-is Marlon James himself, a young writer at once breath­takingly daring and wholly in command of his craft.

Penguin Randomhouse

2. This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga. I was looking forward to this one after seeing it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, so I was a little surprised by how disappointed I was. There were elements of the book I liked but for the most part I wasn’t enjoying it. Tambudzai suffers from a nervous breakdown of sorts and her anxiety manifests for her as the sound of a hyena laughing/talking to her. She spends some time in hospital after an incident and then goes to live with her cousin to complete her recovery and try to get her life back together. A lot of the story was incredibly slow moving and dry so finishing it was a serious struggle, but perhaps in part this was because The Book of Night Women is a real tough act to follow.

Anxious about her prospects after leaving a stagnant job, Tambudzai finds herself living in a run-down youth hostel in downtown Harare. For reasons that include her grim financial prospects and her age, she moves to a widow’s boarding house and eventually finds work as a biology teacher. But at every turn in her attempt to make a life for herself, she is faced with a fresh humiliation, until the painful contrast between the future she imagined and her daily reality ultimately drives her to a breaking point.

In This Mournable Body, Tsitsi Dangarembga returns to the protagonist of her acclaimed first novel, Nervous Conditions, to examine how the hope and potential of a young girl and a fledgling nation can sour over time and become a bitter and floundering struggle for survival. As a last resort, Tambudzai takes an ecotourism job that forces her to return to her parents’ impoverished homestead. This homecoming, in Dangarembga’s tense and psychologically charged novel, culminates in an act of betrayal, revealing just how toxic the combination of colonialism and capitalism can be.

Just three new books this week; Becoming by Michelle Obama, Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, and Childhood by Andre Alexis. I’m waiting on some books I ordered weeks ago from Indigo but our postal system has been struggling with some serious delays so they haven’t arrived yet. Not the end of the world, my shelves are really overflowing right now and I may have to purge some to keep things under control. It will be hard to part with books but things are getting a bit crazy with all the book hoarding I’ve been doing lately 😅

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