Yet again, life has flared up in unexpected, time-consuming, sometimes work but often health related ways, so poor old Eats Plants, Reads Books has been neglected of late. I even let its one year anniversary pass unmarked *shameface* I’ll make up for it with a giveaway later in the year. I’m going to try out combined posts for a while – not just to clear the backlog, but to give shorter reviews a go, because as my lovely subscribers know I am normally a ranter! If you strongly approve/disapprove, lemme know in the comments*.
The Girls – Emma Cline
This was one of the big hype books of summer 2016, and, ever the contrarian, this made me predisposed to dislike it. It didn’t help that press kept breathlessly hailing Emma Cline as the voice of her generation – making me think of Hannah Horvath in HBO’s cult hit Girls “”I think that I may be The Voice of My Generation… or at least a voice of a generation”.
Poor girls. The world fattens them on the promise of love. How badly they need it, and how little most of them will ever get. The treacled pop songs, the dresses described in the catalogues with words like ‘sunset’ and ‘Paris.’ Then the dreams are taken away with such violent force; the hand wrenching the buttons of the jeans, nobody looking at the man shouting at his girlfriend on the bus.
Set in 1960s California, inspired by Charles Manson and his ‘Family’, The Girls is suffused in a sun baked headiness of social and sexual awakening. The book is told from the point of view of teenage Evie Boyd, who becomes embroiled in the cult not because of the cult leader Russell but because of her need to be accepted by his female followers. She sees them as impossibly cool and beautiful, and as her family falls apart Evie’s longing to be loved and accepted by these women is almost a physical need. There is something languid, blurry, and vaguely stoned about the writing that captures the situation and time-period perfectly. In short – it turns out this was an increasingly rare case of justifiable hype. It’s hard to believe this is a debut novel, and I can’t wait to read more from Emma Cline.
Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff
This is another hyped book, that it took me a while to get around to because I couldn’t face another book described as the next Gone Girl. First things first – this book is not at all like Gone Girl. A book with different points of view on a marriage is not automatically like Gone Girl – just as, sadly, my dark hair and green eyes do not make me like Olivia Wilde.
As the blurb would have it – every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. Fates and Furies skips forward and back through the 24-year marriage of Lotto and Mathilde, telling the story firstly from his point of view, then from hers. Gone Girl fans who go in for the thriller pace and big twists are set up to be disappointed, as this book is more about subtle complexity and some truly beautiful writing.
Neither Lotto nor Mathilde are particularly likeable – they are beautiful, rich, privileged white people – but they are interesting, which is better. Reading this book is reading the same story twice, but the different viewpoint recasts everything you think you knew. Lotto is the ‘Fates’ seeing his relationship as a great love story; Mathilde the ‘Furies’ who has a surface that belies her true interior.
Fates and Furies isn’t the easiest read – if you want a turn off your brain thriller, you’ll find it hard work. However, once you get past the slow pace of the start, it becomes extremely rewarding – there is a reason Barack Obama named this his book of the year shortly after its release. It is a dream book for book clubs – holding a mirror up to real life in a way that is bound to get the conversations flowing at your BC meeting. If you have already read it – I’d be interested to hear if you are Team Lotto or Team Mathilde!
The Blade Artist – Irvine Welsh
BEGBIE IS BACK!!! Ok, got that out of the way… but really that was my first, and repeated, thought when I first heard about this book. Franco Begbie is an electrifyingly realised amoral psychopath, undoubtedly Irvine Welsh’s greatest character (and brilliantly portrayed by Robert Carlyle in Trainspotting). But this is Begbie as we have never seen him before… now known as Jim Francis, he is a successful sculptor with a beautiful wife and two adored daughters, living the good life in California. He has had a lot of therapy (he is married to his art therapist from prison) and he has become skilled at anger management. He is also (as ever) played by Robert Carlyle in my head.
Begbie’s past actions are put in the context of being the anger response of the trapped working class with a horrifically violent childhood. As he works on his breathing to push down his anger, as he makes his art over Guns n Roses blaring, Welsh makes us wonder – has Begbie broken free of his conditioning into violence? Or has he learned a veneer of behaviour to hide his true nature? The death of his son brings him home to Scotland, and it is here, in the face of the expectation of those who know him as a psychotic violence machine, not to mention the endless irritation of dealing with Tesco mobile, the Begbie we know and fear comes closer to the surface… if you liked Trainspotting, you have to read this. If you don’t like Trainspotting – you won’t. If you haven’t read/watched Trainspotting – what have you been doing with yourself?!?!?! Rectify that, and then see advice above for The Blade Artist.
Behind Closed Doors – B A Paris
Oh jaysus. This book.
In general, I try not to be savage in my reviews. Books are subjective just like everything else, and even when something isn’t really my cup of tea I try to figure out who would enjoy it so I can pitch it to the correct audience in my review. I’m always very conscious of the time and effort an author put into their work, and small though my sphere of influence is I am always hesitant to be utterly damning. However, since this book is mystifyingly popular, I have no fear my unfettered opinion is snatching bread from the author’s mouth, and so can tell you I loathed it with a fiery passion and resent every second of time I spent between its pages. (I only finished it because it was one of my book club selections, otherwise I would have read 30 pages and then gifted it to someone I hated).
The entire plot is basically summarized in the blurb on the back, posing the question ‘the perfect marriage or the perfect lie?’ What a shocker – it’s the latter. Jack, the psychopath husband, is So Very Villainous I wouldn’t have batted an eye if he started ‘mwah ha ha’-ing into his elbow as he wrapped a cape around himself after a good old mustache twirl. This is not domestic noir, it’s pantomime – and his threats of ‘asylums’ belong in a Gothic novel, not a contemporary setting. This isn’t Gotham City, and besides Millie is a smart, capable girl with Downs Syndrome who attends a prestigious boarding school. Despite the borderline offensive portrayal of Downs in the book, Millie is still clearly more capable of adult functionality than Grace is. Grace, the trapped wife, is in her situation because of such abysmal life choices it’s impossible to pity her. Hot tip – don’t give up your career prospects, your family, your friends to focus exclusively on one person – anyone who allows you to do that, let alone encourages you to, is a controlling ball of negativity, and you will end up regretting it wholeheartedly. Always. Now take this universal advice to Grace’s extreme of choosing someone that you know for less than six months over your beloved sister for whom you are guardian. Then have that person vanish on your wedding night, and rock up the next day demanding you not make a fuss and you hand over your passport to him as you go on honeymoon. Sorry what? What?! “I can’t help thinking it’s a shame he’s such a sadistic bastard, because he has wonderful manners” – classic Grace. Honestly, I have nothing good to say about this, despite the piles of 5-star reviews from other bloggers (including ones whose opinions I usually value). I warn you you read at your own risk – and know before you do that Jack also horrifically kills a puppy.
*hmmm, these aren’t actually that short! Brevity never my strong suit – oh well. I received copies of The Girls, Fates and Furies and The Blade Artist from their respective publishers in return for an honest review.