The bedside bookstack – February 2023

What’s teetering on the bedside bookstack this February.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, Windmill Books, 2015

Whoa! I’ve never read any Lauren Groff before. Will need to look up her back catalogue. This is dense and intense and amazing and intricate. It puts Mathilde and Lotto’s marriage under the microscope, exposing the stuff of entwined lives – the dynamics, habits, secrets and lies.

Read this! It’s magnificent – her casual asides during narration, her watertight characters and the care and details she gives the reader. But it tapped back into my fury at reading The Wife by Meg Wolitzer, that ol’ story of a woman facilitating the life of a ‘creative genius’. Lotto doesn’t have to pay a bill or make a meal or clean a bathroom. He has an attic room and is left undisturbed. One day, I’d love to read a book about the man who offers himself up so completely in service to his wife’s creative endeavours. If it’s already been written, please let me know.

Joan by Katherine J. Chen, Hodder & Stoughton, 2022

Somehow, we all know about Joan of Arc but in my case, not much. She fought. She was burnt at the stake but I don’t know the why and when of any of it. I certainly had no idea she died at 19!!

Katherine Chen’s Joan is fascinating. She’s a scrapper and an underdog formed by trauma and grief. The story starts with her as a child then moves on to her adolescence and continues as she leaves home and eventually ends up at court with the Dauphin. Her early family dynamics are as interesting as the court politics and military campaigns. This is a real epic!

Smart Ovens for Lonely People by Elizabeth Tan, Brio, 2020

I’m loving dipping in and out of these short stories and I love how often I just sit there staring into space after a certain sentence has just sliced right to the heart of it. It being us, humans, modern life, consumption, relationships, internal worlds, insecurities, just all of it. And she’s so effortlessly clever about it too. In other writing, the slightly off-centre is the focus. These stories however, are so sure of themselves that the unusual is just an aside for everything else which is at play.

Denizen by Hames McKenzie Watson, Viking, 2022

No one ever said a thriller was going to be a comfortable read but I wasn’t expecting this to be as unnerving as it was. I was completely creeped out reading this at night. You start with a remote location, you add in an act of abject violence, let the guilt simmer, suppress it, ratchet up the paranoia and mix in some hallucinations but wait, maybe they’re not hallucinations….maybe they are. This is the seesaw you get as a reader, unsure who to trust or what you’re seeing. The past never stays put and James McKenzie Watson does a very good job of bringing it all back.

I also recommend his podcast on writing with Ashley Kalagian Blunt James and Ashley stay at home. Not scary at all! And for those of you in and around Newcastle, he’s coming to the Newcastle Writer’s Festival in April.

The Luminous Solution by Charlotte Wood, Allen & Unwin, 2021

This book of essays is about the creative life, inspiration, process and our inner worlds. I’ll never tire of reading about writers’ thoughts on writing. Not every essay resonated for me, but they don’t all have to. There’s plenty to take away when you glimpse someone else’s practice and are open to ideas. Particularly interesting if you enjoyed her novel The Natural Way of Things to read about process, intentions and her experiences of writing it.

Bear Woman by Karolina Ramqvist, Manilla Press, 2021

I so wanted to love this. The cover beckoned with the words Myth. Motherhood. Hidden History. The blurb talked of Marguerite, a French noble-woman who was abandoned, pregnant on a small island in what is now Nova Scotia and the Swedish writer who is wrestling with how to write the story.

I thought there would be interesting parallels and linkages but instead it’s a detailed catalogue of research and its frustrations. I would have put it down by now but I still want to know what happens to Marguerite and all we’ve been given so far is allusions. I think this might be a skim-til-the-end situation.

Ariel by Sylvia Plath, Faber, 1968

Thought it was time I dipped into a bit of Sylvia Plath. I read the Bell Jar in high school and some of her poems then too and always interested to see what I’ll make of reading it as an adult. Well, it’s another one I won’t make it to the end of. I always feels like the failure is mine when I don’t ‘get’ poetry, find a way into it and have a feel for it. So, I’ll do a quiet retreat and won’t open another poetry book until I’ve forgotten all about this and start thinking, ‘I should really read some poetry again’.

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