Girl, Woman, Other – Bernadine Evaristo

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A story of modern Britain and black womanhood told through the eyes of 12 different women

⚑ “This is a beautifully paced novel which at first I thought was a collection of separate stories. However the links and interwoven threads soon became apparent and we dive deeper and deeper into the characters’ lives. Learning about a character from multiple people’s perspectives gave a richness and layering that often isn’t achieved when a story is told form a single point of view.

“We also go back and forth and in time and start to get a better understanding of the trajectory of certain characters and an empathy for their motivation and decisions. Their was a lovely rhythm to this book and I was sad when it came to and end.” – Suzy

⚑ “Girl, Woman, Other does what few other novels do by giving black, gender diverse, women a chance to speak. It sounds moralistic but it is not. These 12 stories are not about colour or sexuality, they are about people, flawed and complex people, who have struggles and successes. It’s about their loves, their triumphs, their identity and family connections.

“Each character has a chapter dedicated to them, but the stories overlap slightly to provide links, and more of a novel rather than 12 short stories. I have not read Evaristo before, but can see she is a master of characterisation. The women and their families are so well formed. The book is written in a poetic style, with ideas or simply words being dedicated their own line with limited punctuation. As such it flows nicely and is beautiful to read.” – Rachel

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Published 2019
Hamish Hamilton
464 pages

Quichotte – Salman Rushdie

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A modern re-write of Don Quixote that broaches traditional elements as well as the current state of the world. 

⚑ “Confession time: I have not read Don Quixote. While I know the premise I don’t know its intricates nor how cleverly Rushdie has played upon them in Quichotte. But I imagine quite well. Confession number 2: I have never finished a Rushdie book. So I was thrilled to discover how readable and enjoyable Quichotte was, despite the sometimes absurdist occurrences and delusional ramblings.

“The main character, an old man named Quichotte and his imaginary son, Sancho, traverse a United States that is in moral decline and encounter racists, opioid-addicted celebrities, people who turn into mastodons, crickets who speak Italian and guns that talk. They watch copious amounts of telly and trash Trump. During their travels they address all the big ticket items: racism, media, politics, addiction, greed … serious stuff but actually the book is quite funny. Plus also weird, poignant and annoying. But the world is these things. And so are people. Story telling and literary references are rife, tying together all the abstract ideas. Despite, or perhaps because of, all this craziness, I really enjoyed this book and I think the characters will stay with me for some time.” – Rachel

… to live inside fictions created by untruths or the withholding of actual truths. Maybe human life was truly fictional in this sense, that those who lived it didn’t understand it wasn’t real.

⚑ “Before this year’s Bookerthon got underway I boldly stated there was NO WAY I was going to read Quichotte due to having absolutely no success with reading other Salman Rushdie books. However, Rach gently persuaded me and I decided to give it a go.

“I’m so pleased I did as it was a damn good read! I enjoyed the book-within-a-book structure and the parallels between the two stories. I have read other reviews of Quichotte that said it was a bit too silly, but I was all for the silliness. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to give Midnight’s Children another crack.” – Suzy

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Published 2019
Jonathan Cape
393 pages

An Orchestra of Minorities – Chigoze Obioma

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A Nigerian chicken farmer sells everything he owns in order to win over his girlfriend’s wealthy family.

⚑ “An Orchestra of Minorities is about a Nigerian chicken farmer who falls in love with a girl from a wealthy family. The family do not accept Chinonso due to his lack of education so he seeks to address this in order to be able to marry his love. However, things do not eventuate as planned and the book is a whirlwind of events and agonies for him.

“Chinonso is well written and as such I cared about him deeply – I was desperate for things to work out. The book has no human narrators, instead the chi of Chinonso relays the story as he justifies his human’s actions to a panel of spirits on a divine jury of some sort. This provides a narration language which is rich and magical.

“Obioma has written only two books. Both have been shortlisted for the Booker. That gives you some idea of what a phenomenal writer he is and how worthwhile this book is.” – Rachel

They were the minorities of this world whose only recourse was to join this universal orchestra in which all there was to do was cry and wail.

⚑  “I was a bit apprehensive about this novel as I’d read it was based on Homer’s Odyssey which I know nothing about (and have to say I have no intention of finding out). I thoroughly enjoyed The Fishermen by this author though, so I tried to put aside my doubts and jumped right in.

“Narrated by a spirit guide, there were plenty of twists and turns and I don’t think I have wanted a fictitious character to succeed as much as I wanted Chinonso to. If you know anything about Homer’s Odyssey then maybe you can guess whether or not he did? I am pleased that it was a total mystery to me anyway and I was happy to be along for the ride.” – Suzy

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Published 2019
Little, Brown
448 pages

The Testaments – Margaret Atwood

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The sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale in which the republic of Gilead is taken down.

⚑ “I haven’t anticipated a book as much as this one since Go Set a Watchman was released (side story: when I bought Go Set a Watchman the shop assistant said at the counter ‘oh have you read the first one?’. No, I am waiting outside your shop until it opens and rushing to your display of this new book on the day of its release and I’ve never read To Kill a Mockingbird).

“Was I disappointed with Go Set a Watchman? Yeah I was actually. So bearing that in mind, and despite the genius of Margaret Atwood, I went in to The Testaments with low expectations. Just because I cared so damn much and couldn’t bear the disappointment if it wasn’t amazing. It was an absolutely thrilling read, but The Testaments wasn’t what I expected and I really feel like I can’t say much more than that because anything else feels like a betrayal of the sisterhood.” – Suzy

⚑ “All other Handmaid’s fans will understand how very long and dearly I have wanted this book to be written. I was desperate to know what happened to Offred, Aunt Lydia and the Waterfords. I have pondered their fates many a time. 

“Now, finally, I know. My initial thoughts? I did not want to know after all. I realise I was better off wondering, to keep the intrigue. I have never needed all the answers, or a sewn up conclusion so why did I think I needed it this time? Don’t get me wrong, I devoured the book in no time flat, there’s no denying it is a page turner. Atwood, the genius, has again produced prophecy-style fiction by using events and ideologies that really exist #legend. But at the end I felt a sense of disappointment rather than exhilaration like I did with The Handmaid’s Tale.

“Reasons: First of all I have the mini series imagery stuck firmly in my mind. Secondly, I read The Testaments not as a stand alone book, nor even as a sequel, but as an ending to The Handmaid’s Tale. I couldn’t help it. Thirdly, let’s face it, no sequel is ever as good as the original concept. You’d think I would have learned my lesson after Go Set A Watchman, but apparently not.” – Rachel

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Published 2019
Chatto & Windus
422 pages

10 Minutes & 38 Seconds In This Strange World – Elif Shafak

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A dying prostitute’s brain lives on for 10 minutes & 38 seconds during which it recalls her life’s troubles.

⚑ “Tequila Leila is a Turkish woman with a traditional but disturbing upbringing and a adulthood full of expectations and sadness. It is hard to bear sometimes but the humanness that Shafak creates is important as she details how so many people in the world are taken advantage of and dehumanised. We know from the opening pages that Leila is dying and, unconventionally, it is her death that lifts the story into one of hope and camaraderie. Five of her friends, each with their own imperfections and trouble being accepted into normalcy, come together to ensure her life was not without meaning. This book was a huge page turner for me, despite its grimness. I enjoyed the rich detail of Turkish traditions and the complete feeling that Leila existed outside of these pages. I felt I learned a lot by reading it.” – Rachel

⚑  “This novel was strangely uplifting despite there being one tragedy after another in rapid succession. The events that occurred lost a bit of their horror when the pieces were picked up by a strong and supportive group of friends. I liked the insight this novel gave into various historical events and we also learned how brutally life can pan out for people in Turkey who don’t fit with society’s expectations. Despite the strong storyline and enjoyable characters I would never recommend this novel. The brutal sexual violence was awful to read about and if the author’s intention was to disturb her readers then the goal was certainly achieved with me.” – Suzy

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Published 2019
Viking
312 pages

LaRose – Louise Erdrich

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Chosen by Rachel

A man offers his son to another couple after accidentally shooting their child

“Landreaux Iron is a native American man who accidentally shoots his wife’s half-sister’s son while hunting. As means of reparation, Landreaux and his wife Emmaline decide to follow an old Native American custom of atonement and offer their own five-year-old son, LaRose, to the parents of the dead child.

.”The resulting story is a multi-layered, nuanced drama in which families are brought together via tragedy. As a woman with Ojibwe ties, Erdrich writes about this extended Indian family with a knowledge that adds a deep believability to the stories, the traditions and the reactions. The language is pensive and lyrical and therefore reflective of the book’s tragedy.

“As well telling of the boy’s life, the novel moves back in time to relay the stories of the boy’s namesakes, all the other LaRose’s in the family genealogy and how each suffered but also survived. This provides a nice symmetry to the young boy’s story of living in two families and his power to heal them both.

“A focus on good and bad is apparent, along with the message that a good person can do bad things and that one who commits evil should not be given up on. As such the theme of redemption comes through strongly as the two families rebuild not only for the loss of Dusty, but also connections with other family members.

“La Rose felt like a whole and complete work where all features tied together and issues were raised and settled without ever appearing twee or predictable. For the second month following, the free rangers all concurred in our feelings for the month’s book. And that was that this book is touching and poignant and certainly worth reading and recommending.

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Published 2016
Harper
372 pages

Less – Andrew Sean Greer

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Chosen by Becks

A 50-year-old failed novelist avoids his ex’s wedding by attending a series of obscure literary events

“There are two important facts any potential reader should know about this book:
1. The author – a gay, middle-aged, white man – writes about a a gay, middle-aged, white man who is writing about a a gay, middle-aged, white man who is writing about a a gay, middle-aged, white man.
2. It won the Pulitzer.”

“Arthur Less, the central character, is a struggling novelist who, in a bid to miss his ex’s wedding, accepts every trivial literary invitation that comes his way. His  journey through several countries is intriguing, with various Odysessian and Joycean references. Less attempts to re-write his latest novel, Swift, but the tragic hero he was hoping to capture turns out to be a comic fool instead. Much like Less himself. And what we all agreed upon, in the Freerange bookclub,  was that Arthur Less’s disappointing persona made him lifeless, a character we neither loved nor loathed. Connecting with him and his story of woe was difficult.

“What was interesting however was that while debunking the characterisation of Arthur Less we recalled his antics with laugh-out-loud amusement. ‘I didn’t laugh when it happened in the book, but now it’s funny when we talk about it.” Jo mused. And no one could offer an explanation why.

“So the book became a tale of contradiction for us all. Was it boring? Was it genius? Could it be both? Was that the intention? It was hard to tell. Even the ending encapsulated this confusion with both an interesting twist and a predictable conclusion all in one. None of us was sure how to truly capture how we felt about the book, other than we’d all struggle to recommend it to a friend. And I guess that says it all.”

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Published 2017
Lee Boudreaux Books
273 pages