A good month for me numbers-wise, though a little patchy in quality - a few five-star stellar reads sprinkled into a morass of a lot of lighter, perhaps mediocre reads. I keep waiting for my reading to drop off now that I've gone back to grad school, and it hasn't yet - so this makes me feel maybe I'm not working very hard at the whole doctorate thing? I am reviewing a lot less, though, in order to keep reading books, which does lead me to suspect that my free time has shrunk and I'm just prioritising novel-reading over everything else in those open windows now.
Good thing I have no friends or social life to speak of!
Ah well. As ever, read on for my full October wrap-up.
Best book of the month: Cloud Cuckoo Land. Easily one of the best books I've read; an absolute masterpiece.
Most enjoyable book of the month: Brexit Romance. A fun, enjoyable read that stuck exactly to what it did well (self-parody! Satire! Silly comedy!) and never tipped into being anything other than pure, silly fun. A very good end-of-week read.
Most 'pleasant surprise' book of the month: Intimacies. This book was not at all on my radar and I did not expect it to find it as movingly beautiful as I did, or even for it to be in contention for my top of 2021 when I picked it up. Very pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up loving it!
Most disappointing book of the month: Mexican Gothic. Started off with a lot of promise; the storytelling lent down the story a bit. Still looking forward to the next book of hers I'll read, though.
Worst book of the month: The Wolf Den. Let us never speak of this again.
Le suspendu de Conakry: Les énigmes d'Aurel le Consul (4.3★/5), by Jean-Christophe Rufin: A fun, easy read about an interesting central character, the type of which I think doesn't get centered in a lot of stories. The mystery ended up being perhaps a bit too easy for him to resolve, and there's a discussion to be had about the white saviourism complex that's way more present in this book than I think Rufin was intending (which indicates that he's implicitly believing in it rather than bringing it into the book to critique it); but I'm still looking forward to picking up the other books in this series for when I need something a bit lighter and easier.
Cloud Cuckoo Land (5★/5), by Anthony Doerr: A magnificent novel that will be in my top of 2021. I am still speechless and blown away by how beautiful and sweeping this book was. Reviewed (kind of) here.
The Wolf Den (1.2★/5), by Elodie Harper: Not a good book. I've reviewed it here.
A Passage North (4.4★/5), by Anuk Arudpragasam: I can see why this was shortlisted for the Booker - it's exactly the type of book that kind of prize-award committee likes; very introspective and metaphysical and experimental with structure. I enjoyed what Arudpragasam does with structure and time in this book, and I liked the philosophy that governs the entirety of the novel; but I would've also liked a bit more dialogue and shorter paragraphs to feel like I had an emotional connection with the central character rather than just an intellectual interest in his musings.
The Turnout (4.7★/5), by Megan Abbott: A very good creepy, spooky book that isn't supernatural. Reviewed here.
Intimacies (5★/5), by Katie Kitamura: An absolutely beautiful book that I am so glad my book club put on my radar because I absolutely loved it - it's the story of an interpreter at the ICC in the Hague, and her relationship with the work, with language, with loneliness, with being an expat, with all of it. A lot of this book really resonated with me and the writing is crisp and beautiful and propulsive while still being very introspective and poignant, and the critique it's offering of the politics of the Court itself is also insightful while remaining faithful to the narrative of the plot and not taking you out of the story at all. In contention for my top of 2021 - I highly recommend.
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics (4.9★/5), by Carlo Rovelli: A beautiful collection of short essays that I expect are stunningly well-translated. I only dock points because books about physics make me feel stupid and I don't like feeling stupid. If I wanted to feel that way I'd play chess more often.
Mexican Gothic (1.5★/5), by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Bits of this I liked, but it came together in a bizarre and a bit messy way. Reviewed here.
A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Murder in Ancient Rome (4★/5), by Emma Southon: I was expecting this to be a straight-shot historical analysis, but it was not! It was much more conversational, and geared very much towards the lay person rather than someone with a grasp of Ancient Roman history. I quite enjoyed this, even though it wasn't what I was expecting - funny, light-hearted (for a book about murder), and I still learned some things. Plus it whetted my appetite for more books about this topic and time period. I recommend, especially for a lazy weekend in a reading nest being cozy.
The Ex Hex (3★/5), by Erin Sterling: An enjoyable if very silly romcom. Reviewed here.
Bewilderment (5★/5), by Richard Powers: I think this one is going to win the Booker. Intellectually I agree with the fact that it's a masterpiece of contemporary fiction and literature. When I initially finished it I didn't think it would be in my top of 2021 list, just because I felt my emotional connection to it was too much at a remove and the book gave me a panic attack because of how much it ended up being about climate change and political upheaval; but the fact that I finished it at the start of this month and haven't really been able to stop thinking about it has bumped it back into contention for me. Would recommend. And, again - the writing is just stunning.
A Quiet Life in the Country (3.9★/5), by T.E. Kinsey: A good, enjoyable cozy mystery that perked my interest in Lady Hardcastle and her lady's maid/accomplice/partner in crime, Flo Armstrong. The three separate threads of the puzzle didn't really fit together in any way that made logical sense, and I'm still not quite sure how it remained a mystery for 250 pages seeing how glaringly obvious it was the whole time, but I enjoyed the book. It was a perfect, post-PhD day train read and I think I'm going to acquire the other books in this series for when I need those kinds of enjoyable, fluffy, easy-to-read, light books that remain entertaining and well-written.
The Collected Novellas of Stefan Zweig (5★/5), by Stefan Zweig, trans. Anthea Bell: Look, it's Stefan Zweig. He's got an absolute grasp of his characters' mental lives and thought processes, and his writing is beautiful flights of metaphor that leave you absolutely winded when you touch back down to earth. I loved every single novella in this book (although A Chess Story was perhaps my favourite), although I could pick up a lot of the traces of early gothic/domestic thrillers in Fear. A must-read as far as I am concerned - and brilliantly well-translated.
Practical Magic (2★/5), by Alice Hoffman: Jesus Christ. Every single character in this book needs to grow up, get a grip and act with some decorum. I'm sorry that your childhood was shit, that really sucks for you and I wish it hadn't happened, nobody deserves that or should have to deal with it - doesn't mean you get to act like a selfish teenager well into your 40s. Go to therapy. Also I hate wilful miscommunication as a trope and that was plentiful in this book. And for a book supposedly about witches, there isn't enough magic! I want more detailed world-building, Alice!
How To Kill Your Family (2.7★/5), by Bella Mackie: A good idea rather sloppily executed. Reviewed here.
God Rest Ye Royal Gentlemen (3.8★/5), by Rhys Bowen: I hope this series lasts forever because it's just the perfect book for an easy, enjoyable read that's lighthearted and funny but doesn't sacrifice quality for it. The mystery is fun (it's an updated take on a famous Agatha Christie murder mystery! I loved it!) and we got a whole book that centered the relationship between Darcy and Georgie, instead of it being an added bonus. This book is a stronger entry than the recent ones in this series, and I'm quite looking forward to reading more of the books in this series with Darcy and Georgie as a fearless crime-fighting duo. More, Rhys! More!
Le train d'Erlinghen, ou La métamorphose de Dieu (0.5★/5), by Boualem Sansal: I have no fucking idea what I just read. I can appreciate that Sansal was trying to play with structure and going metaphysical, but I also don't know what happened - and I have no idea why he got so vitriolic? Would not recommend. Actually left quite a bad taste in my mouth. Not even worth a proper rating. I don't understand why this book is so popular.
Love Orange (4.2★/5), by Natasha Randall: A surprise birthday gift that I really enjoyed! Completely bonkers novel, of course, and I think Randall lost track of what exactly her themes and overarching points were when she was trying to wrap everything together at the end - but the dark humour was very well dosed and I enjoyed the sympathy with which she brought her characters down to the levels she needed for the humour and the tragedy to blend so well into farce. Highly recommend - but be warned, it's a weird one.
Bunny (4.1★/5), by Mona Awad: I am deeply, deeply concerned for this woman's mental state. Like, this book is very creative and original and I very much enjoyed the process of reading it (once I suspended my disbelief and accepted that I just would not, at any point, understand what the fuck was happening) - but I really hope Mona is okay. I'm not recommending this book because of how profoundly and uncomfortably bonkers it is, but it's a well-written exploration and satire of horror and female friendships through an unusual lens. I think I'm just a bit too unoriginal of a reader for this book to be the right one for me, but it's good if you want an acid trip without taking the drugs.
Au service secret de Marie-Antoinette: Le coiffeur frise toujours deux fois (3.5★/5), by Frédéric Lenormand: A better story than the previous one in this series. It was fun, easy to read, enjoyable, light-hearted, and very funny. I'm going to keep reading these regularly! More, Frédéric! More!
Light Perpetual (4.4★/5), by Francis Spufford: A book that grew on me as I read it. I liked the novel itself more than I liked the framing device (that I still maintain was only used to make the novel the type of book that the Booker judges would longlist; there was no payoff for the framing device as far as I could tell as it was not integrated enough into the melancholy that was pervasive enough in the book without needing to be added to!); but the writing was lovely, and I like the collection of vignettes that it ended up being. Perhaps a bit maudlin in the way it brought everything together, but a thoroughly good book in the end. Would recommend.
Brexit Romance (3★/5), by Clémentine Beauvais: A ludicrously satirical romcom that pokes fun at all the romance tropes, and also the middle class of both Britain and France. Very funny; very nonsensical; would make a good movie that would absolutely become a comfort-watch for me. Not high literary quality, obviously, but a good book for the end of a PhD work week because there's a lot to enjoy and laugh at without needing to use any bit of my brain at all.
The Bass Rock (5★/5), by Evie Wyld: A very moving, very dark novel about lots of different things, but mostly about witches and the power of men over women historically and in the present-day. The craft in this book was so finely-tuned a lot of it escaped even me. In contention for my top of 2021; I absolutely adored this book even in the way it kind of turned my stomach in parts. Highly recommend.
So there you have it, folks - all the books I've read and loved this month, and the ones I didn't. Let me know if any of these strike your fancy now!