Sunday, 12 August 2018

Summer Reads





Though it feels like Summer is beginning to come to an early end, we've had many sun-soaked days over the past few months. I've enjoyed lazily reading whilst sunbathing on the beach, or at the park, and thought I'd write a few mini-reviews of some of my recent reads. If you're lucky enough to have an upcoming Summer holiday, or fancy recommendations ready to cosy up in Winter, hopefully this might give you an idea of what to read next!



Call Me By Your Name - Andre Aciman

Call Me By Your Name is the ultimate Summer read. It's six weeks of Sepia-toned forbidden romance on the Italian Riviera between teenager Elio and his father's house guest, 24 year-old student, Oliver. Elio nostalgically relays their story years later, giving the reader an intimate look into the mind of a seventeen-year-old boy experiencing a sexual awakening.

CMBYN lingers in the heady lust of the chase. Elio spends his days lazing by the pool, longing for Oliver and seeking excitement. The novel will remind you of falling in love, as Elio notices every move Oliver makes. The smallest touch; a brush of the arm, a hand to his shoulder, is electric. The novel is unique to the film adaptation in that we really get to know Elio and the way that he thinks. His obsession with Oliver is intense, greedy, and at times can be sinister.

This is no glossy, rose-tinted love story, but a bold tale of the reality of human relationships that doesn't shy away from their fragility and ugliness. Too often, same-sex relationships are portrayed in literature and film as two dimensional and lack depth. The best part of CMBYN is the very human, well-developed characters. So naturally their relationship is complicated, and their intimacy both tender and all-consuming.



"I’d lie on my bed wearing only my bathing suit, my entire body on fire. Fire like a pleading that says, Please, please, tell me I’m wrong, tell me I’ve imagined all this, because it can’t possibly be true for you as well, and if it’s true for you too, then you’re the cruelest man alive.”





Calling a Wolf a Wolf - Kaveh Akbar

Calling a Wolf a Wolf is Kaveh Akbar's compelling debut poetry collection. It is deeply personal, centring around Akbar's battles with addiction and recovery. We get to know his hunger, his wavering faith and the ways that addiction changes how he views the world. His willingness to be open and vulnerable makes for a powerful collection. It asks questions, without demanding answers, but seeking to explore life and its fragility.

His poetry is strange and beautiful. Creates surreal, vivid images in excerpts such as 'I used to slow / dance with my mother in our living / room spiritless as any prince I felt / the bark of her spine softening I became / an agile brute she became a stuffed / ox I hear this happens / all over the world'

These poems are surreal in the way that addiction is surreal; lines are fragmented and splatter over the page, their rhythms grow to a fast pace and slow back down again. I admire the way the collection experiments with punctuation and form, whilst consistently keeping every line concise and effective. As each poem flows so well, it all seems effortless, which is testament to Akbar's skill.
 

"Most days I try hard to act human, to breathe 
like a human and speak with the same flat language, but often 
 my kindness is clumsy - I stop a stranger to tie his shoe and 
 end up kissing his knees."







A Girl is a Half-formed Thing - Eimear McBride

McBride's stylistic approach to A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is a key element that makes the novel work so well. Sentences are snappy and cut short in a stream-of-consciousness style, plunging us firmly into the mind of our unnamed protagonist as we follow her life. This style reflects the chaotic and and intense nature of the content of the novel. It tackles a lot, exploring themes of family, religion, sexual assault and death. We see the girl fall at life's hurdles repeatedly, experience the gritty trauma of a having an younger brother struck by illness, abusive male family members and a strict Catholic Mother.

The interesting title is what hooked me into this novel, which I feel centres around the girl's desires to become a 'formed woman' and grow out of being a 'half-formed girl.' Even if the protagonist's experiences completely differ from your own, you feel a connection to her, particularly as a female. She is inherently flawed; she lashes out, is self-destructive and invites in things that will cause her pain, these characteristics make her all the more real and relatable.

The novel can be uncomfortable, graphic, and its style might read as jarring for some. But for me, these elements contribute to its beauty. It is a reminder of the fragility of the mind, of the body, the make ups of faith and family. If you're looking for a more challenging read, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is definitely for you.

“I am tired. Too full of stuff I've done. Where my legs hurt where my scalp hurts. I'll not fight the thing inside me anymore. Let it eat me up. Please God. I want it to.”





Who Is Mary Sue? - Sophie Collins

Who Is Mary Sue? is unlike anything I've ever read before. It's political, takes a stance on the inequality between men and women, particularly regarding the treatment of women in the arts and the way their work is received by both the author and their reader. The title is derived from the 'Mary Sue' of fan fiction, an idealised female archetype which it is said author's use as their protagonist to narcissistically create their ideal version of themselves. 

Collins challenges authority and the objectification of women in society. She explores the idea that it is men who are seen as the 'inventors' in literature, whilst women are viewed as only capable of 'reflecting.' On this view, Collins writes that 'A woman who tries to invent in literature will fail, whereas a woman who succeeds in writing is believed to have done so to the extent that she has been able to accurately portray the details of her own life.' This view is, of course, untrue, and puts female authors in a small box, restricting their creative freedom.

A fusion of poetry, prose, lyrical essay and reportage, the debut collection makes for an interesting read. Collins is inventive, she switches between forms and is creative with the blank space on the page. This is a challenge for the reader, as this at times goes against everything we have been taught is the 'right' thing to do in a creative piece. But this is what makes Who is Mary Sue? so effective and original, when reading it, you must let go of the expectations you have of a collection.



"The village is always on fire.
Men stay away from the kitchens, 
take up in outhouses with concrete floors,
while the women - soot in their hair -
initiate the flames into their small routines."


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