2017 involved a whole lot of writing: from very formal speeches to medical interviews and pregnancy-related articles, the need to read fiction became much more of a ‘need’. In my lowest and most stressful periods, a few minutes of offline reading brought me back on track.
I guess we’re getting a hang of the parenthood thing a bit more as I managed to fit in more books this year. Here are the ones very much worth a read:
The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
“The twins were too young to know that these were only history’s henchmen. Sent to square the books and collect the dues from those who broke its laws. Impelled by feelings that were primal yet paradoxically wholly impersonal. Feelings of contempt born of inchoate, unacknowledged fear – civilization’s fear of nature, men’s fear of women, power’s fear of powerlessness. Man’s subliminal urge to destroy what he could neither subdue nor defy.”
I could quote the whole book – that’s how much of it is quote-worthy. Roy’s prose is stunning, each word beautifully placed, it’s weight well-measured. The God of Small Things is a reminder of how much of a fine art writing is.
The story follows two fraternal twins, twisting time, love, and the mess that family can be. The twins are wrapped up in their own imaginative life where love is measured and humidity reigns. When their cousin visits Kerala, their life right next to the river changes forever.
A Palace in the Old Village – Tahar Ben Jelloun
“I’ve succeeded, yes, I’ve made a success of it – proof that a man can go abroad and return to his village unchanged; it’s wonderful. Me, I figured it all out: to work and save money we needed LaFrance, but LaFrance is good for the French, not for us.”
Translated from the French by Linda Coverdale, A Palace in the Old Village is the book teenagers and adults alike should be reading. Its a timely work – now even more than when it was written.
Ben Jelloun opens up the world of North African economic migrants in Western countries, specifically in France. It’s a journey into identity and lack of it, belonging and just existing, change and a desire to keep things as is, hope and resolution about death.
Mohammed has just retired from a life of routine as an employee in a factory in France. He finds himself lost, his children grown up – all of whom embracing French culture whilst other teenagers are putting cars on fire and going against the country that gave Mohammed work and a salary. His existence in France was just that – an invisible existence of appeasement, with a well-planned yearly trip back to Morocco carrying presents and by time reluctant kids. Retirement made him realise that he ‘wouldn’t like to leave [his] body in a French hole’. Instead, he left for home again, intent on building a palace in the poor village with enough rooms for all his children and their families. But his children will not come.
Plum and Jaggers – Susan Richards Shreve
I used this paperback as my summer beach book – bad idea. It’s no light read, especially due to the very sensitive subject it tackles. Terrorism has become table-talk as Europe and beyond experienced a turbulent year of senseless deaths. Having dealt with the subject from a policy perspective a while back, the book is for me a stark realisation as to the long-term impact of events we’re witnessing today.
Plum and Jaggers follows four siblings orphaned by a terrorist attack on a train in Italy. The eldest child, Sam McWilliams is the only one who really remembers the catastrophe. He collects newspaper clippings of every single terrorist attack, in the process becoming obsessed with safeguarding the rest of his family. Headed by Sam, the siblings create a dark series of comedic sketches following a family where the parents are never at home. The result is a heartrending and somewhat disturbing account of life after the attack.
Lust – Roald Dahl
I gained a new appreciation of short stories thanks to Dahl’s Lust. I loved most of the stories – Dahl has a unique understanding of human nature. Having journeyed into his creativity throughout my childhood, I found myself smiling – and at times grinning, at his mischievous, almost-innocent observations of lust and all that even remotely connected to it. And with Hugh Hefner’s demise to bunny heaven earlier this year, it’s interesting to note that some of the short stories were first published in Playboy in the 50s.
The Woman in the Window – A. J. Finn
The Woman in the Window is a psychological thriller and a crash course in film noir. It’s a total of a hundred super-short chapters that prevent you from leaving the sofa and getting on with life.
The story follows a child psychologist suffering from agoraphobia, at the time having been housebound for ten long months. She spends her time looking out of her window into other people’s lives – knowing every single detail about her neighbours – or so she thinks.
Living on wine, medication, and film noir, a scream and a scene she was not supposed to see throws her into a web of truth and untruths, including her own.
What are your book recommendations from 2017 reads?