I should have known not to start the celebrations too soon. After what I called “a cracking start” in January, things went downhill in February. “Real life” got in the way of reading and blogging. I started many more books than I finished, struggling to find a novel that gelled with my mood, and found it hard to summon up the enthusiasm to write blog posts of any kind let alone reviews.
I’m hoping the enthusiasm returns in March.
February Reading in Brief
I read just four books this month and haven’t got around to reviewing any of them. So the links below take you to the Goodreads synopsis.
An Exquisite Sense of What Is Beautiful by J David Simons was a delight from start to finish. It’s set largely in Japan at a mountainside inn where an esteemed British author wrote the novel that made his name. After an absence of many years he pays a return visit. It’s much more than a trip down memory lane however, this is a man who is in retreat, attempting to escape from a past that has caught up with him. If I had to choose one favourite for the whole month, this would be it.
Snow by John Banville: I’ve enjoyed Banville’s literary fiction, especially his Booker-prize winning novel The Sea. But I’ve never read any of the crime fiction he writes under the name of Benjamin Black. He’s rigorously maintained a separation between those two personas: he writes his literary output in long hand with a fountain pen and his crime novels on a typewriter. Snow breaks down the division resulting in a detective story that is more engaged with showing the social and political atmosphere of 1950s Ireland than it is with the question of who committed a murder.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston was the book club read for February. We all struggled with it initially because Hurston’s narrative is largely written in the dialect and colloquialisms of the African-American rural poor. It was worth persevering with however; a memorable novel of a woman’s determination to find true love and her own identity in a society where women are often treated as little more than chattels.
You by Phil Whitaker is the kind of quiet but very effective type of fiction that I’ve learned to expect from the independent press Salt. This one has an unusual style, a monologue from a father who is travelling to Oxford in the hope of a reunion with the daughter from whom he’s been estranged for seven years. As he journeys, he flies through time and space with her, dropping off at locations from her childhood and from the history of her parents and grandparents. Underpinning all of this is the major theme of how children are used as pawns when marriages breakdown.
On The March Horizon
March is all about Celtic authors since this is Reading Ireland Month and also Reading Wales Month. I shared my list of possible reads here. Amazingly I’m actually reading one of the books I highlighted (usually after making lists like this I go and choose something completely different.) So now I’m reading A Time To Laugh by Rhys Davies — a misnomer of a title if ever there was one. There’s little to laugh about in this novel of industrial unrest in the South Wales coal communities of the 1890s where miners scramble to make ends meet and resort to riots when their demands for a wage increase get squashed.
Coming up later this month will be the book club choice — Sacred Country by Rose Tremain. I’ve had mixed experiences with Tremain in the past but I’m going to try and keep an open mind about this 1993 novel about a boy growing up in a girl’s body.
Beyond that, who knows……
Bookshelves Ins and Outs
The TBR is now down to 285; nine down from the tally at the end of 2021. I wish I could say this has been achieved by reading more of the books I already own but in reality it’s because I’ve been giving books away unread. One of the upsides of my lacklustre February reading month has been a clear out of books that, after a sample of about 30-50 pages, I decided didn’t interest me any longer.
I’ve tried to be restrained with acquisitions so just four books came in this week; two are review copies and two bought from the National Trust second hand shop where I donate my unwanted books (seems only fair if I take some in, I should also come away with a few purchases myself).
How was your February? Any stand out novels that you would recommend? I would love to know what you’ve been reading, and what you plan to read in February.