Recent summer reading

A few recommendations from recent readings:

Spin by Nina Allan

I read this novella in one sitting, perched outside in my garden on a sunny day, which was the perfect place for it. Beautiful, sensory writing which made me want to run off and coast around the Mediterranean, but with touches of darkness (the crushing of the sea snails for ink was a particularly disturbing scene). Something about this reminded me of the stories in Tokyo Cancelled. The SF elements are lightly done, but it’s that suggestion that even in the most technologically evolved world there is room for myths and strangeness – that things can still slip through the cracks – that I loved about this story. Last week I also picked up Allan’s new collection Stardust, which I’m very much looking forward to.

How The Dead Dream by Lydia Millet

Millet has been on my to-read list for a while. I can’t remember where I saw the recommendation, but I spied a copy of How The Dead Dream in Skoobs earlier this year and picked it up. It was a challenging book, in theme (we’re talking mass extinction and dementia, there was a point where I wasn’t sure I could bear to finish it, despite the black humour) and in prose (it’s dense) but I think it’s one that will stay with me. In summary – a child obsessed with money grows up to be an investment/property mogul, but in the wake of a shocking event becomes obsessed with animals on verge of extinction and starts breaking into zoos to sit with those that are ‘the last’. What makes it work is the surreal, sometimes funny, always exquisite language and Millet’s handling of T., the protagonist, whose final journey seems completely plausible, despite his unlikely beginnings. The final section was the knock out for me. A kind of Drowned World / Heart of Darkness descent.

Martian Sands by Lavie Tidhar

A totally mad and very enjoyable book. The closest comparison I can think of is Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 – Tidhar does the same thing of taking a overwhelmingly serious subject (in this case the Holocaust; in Slaughterhouse 5, the bombing of Dresden) and applying to it a surreal and farcical lens – using humour to highlight tragedy, which is of course what the best theatre does. Through the multi-stranded narrative, from sentient bullets to simulacrum leaders (the Golda was undoubtedly my favourite character), weaves the mysterious, never quite defined figure of Bill Glimmung. There are nods to all sorts of things, many of which I’m sure I missed, but I particularly enjoyed the Wizard of Oz moment in the Martian warrior section. See also: a couple of links to Tidhar’s story in The Lowest Heaven.

Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh

Soft Apocalypse was a book I very much enjoyed last year, and I’d been looking forward to McIntosh’s new one for a while (just check out the gorgeous cover art for a start). This is very much an ideas book, fast paced – I raced through it in a weekend – and character based. For me, it’s the engagement with social media that is most fascinating – projecting into a future world where public profile is Everything, and being seen is more important that what is being done – it’s not the event, it’s the story you tell about the event. McIntosh presents a more extreme version of, say, the concluding chapter of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad. The plot centres around the exploitation of women in such a world, and depressing as this was to read, it also rings uncomfortably true. In this sense, and in the public-private debate it explores, Love Minus Eighty is very much a contemporary novel.

Hawthorn and Child by Keith Ridgeway

This was one from last year that went on my to-read-for-2013 list after seeing many people rave about it. And it did not disappoint. Another fragmented, perplexing narrative, another book where you feel like you are looking at the world through a distorted lens, another writer whose prose I am in lost in envy reading. Phrases like (okay, I was always going to love this) ‘drops of neon’ to describe a cat’s eyes. The language has a rhythm, a flow to it. As when I read The Virgin Suicides, I know there are phrases and images that are going to stick with me (there is one obvious parallel with the Eugenides but it would be a giveaway to say what). See also: a blistering invective of Tony Blair, the war in Iraq and our mental health services. As for the final chapter… well. Just read this book.

Current reading: I usually only have one book on the go but somehow at the moment I’ve got four. How, I’m not entirely sure.

The Girl in the Photograph by Lygia Fagundes Telles
The City’s Son by Tom Pollock
The Falling Sky by Pippa Goldschmidt
And finally, about 3/4 through the stories in The Lowest Heaven. And if you’ve enjoyed the Lowest Heaven, here’s a great list of where to find other work by the contributors over on the Pornokitsch site.

This week’s fangirl moment: meeting Evie Wyld in the Review bookshop in Peckham.