My Year in Books: 26-30

Five BooksThese reviews are quite the eclectic bunch. Jumping from Italy to former Rhodesia to Japan to Ireland and to England. It shows oh the places you can go by never leaving your front room. Call me the accidental tourist.

Yes, I know, I’m the last person on this planet to read Elena Ferrante. I really don’t know why I waited so long. My Brilliant Friend (2011) follows Elena and Lila from their childhood through their adolescence in a town just outside Naples. The narrative is produced by Elena writing from some point in her later life and is imbued with the childish mischief of Truffaut’s Les Quatre Cents Coups and the provincial ambiance of Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso. The mystery around the author’s identity is just one of the many factors that makes this such a satisfying read. Many have speculated that the work is highly autobiographical and that is why “Elena Ferrante” has remained such an enigma. However, one of the main reasons why this series has been making trails throughout the literary world is because of its (and I apologise for my use of this word) unputdownableness. I got through this book in a day because, in my spare time, I just had to pick it up and learn what was happening with Elena and Lila. The constant picking up of this book became like a physical tick. I simply cannot wait to pick up the second novel and discover how the tale continues. This must be like what my mother feels when a new Danielle Steel comes out. I’ll buy the badge and wear it with pride: I am a Ferrante fan.

When I’m told to read a book, I never enjoy it. This happens a lot with books I read for university. Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions (1988) was assigned reading for my Woman and Literature module this semester. The novel is narrated by Tambu and follows her young life growing up in Rhodesia (when that was still a place). Her strive for education acts as the main incentive for the novel and is the crux of tension throughout the work.  I can instantly tell why this novel is on the curriculum, it’s absolutely crying out for a postcolonial reading. From the obviously contentious setting of Rhodesia to the repeated use of the word “Anglicised” throughout the narrative, this novel is plastered about every postcolonial course in practically every university in the Western world. I’m not sure what that does to a novel. For me, it makes it lose the one that I look for in a book – enjoyment. I’ll probably revisit this one in a couple of years when my vision isn’t hampered by the fact that it was required reading and then I’ll truly know what I think about it. However, for now, it’s a thumbs-down from me.

Japanese literature (and Asian literature as a whole actually) has always been on my radar but I’ve never actually made the effort to read any of it. One of my dear friends likes to sing the praises of Banana Yoshimoto and Haruki Murakami whilst I sit there and read my Elena Ferrante. However, in a bold move, I was gifted a copy of Banana Yoshimoto’s most famous novel, Kitchen (1988, Eng. trans. 1993) as an early birthday present and therefore I had no excuses. And I loved it. Kitchen is essentially a novella which follows Mikage at a moment in her life when she is dealing with the powerful grief of losing her grandmother. We read on as Mikage attempts to piece her life back together bit by bit. This novel has everything: death, ramen, transgender issues… Yoshimoto’s prose style is succinct and almost minimalist. Her sentences are a bare number of words and she isn’t afraid of that dreaded full stop. She captures the zeitgeist of 1990s Tokyo in a way that almost felt homely and inviting. The book also come with a short story at the end, Moonlight Shadow, which deals with similar issues but doesn’t hold a flame to Kitchen. Well, I’m off now to go buy everything Banana Yoshimoto ever wrote. Bye!

Maeve Binchy is an inescapable name in Irish literature. Her works are so abundant in this country that most second-hand bookshops have a whole shelf just for Maeve Binchy novels. Many relegate her to a mere “woman’s writer” (I’m not even going to get into the vile sexism at play in that phrase) but yet she’s more widely read than Joyce, Wilde, Beckett, or Shaw. Seeing her as a glaring omission on my bookshelves I picked up her first novel, Light a Penny Candle (1982). The novel begins during WWII and the Blitz in London. Elizabeth White is sent off to Ireland, away from the bombs of London, to live with the O’Connors of Kilgarret. Aisling O’Connor and Elizabeth are the same age and they become fast friends. The novel follows their friendship for a period of twenty years, through their teens and their twenties. I really enjoyed Light a Penny Candle. The plot is thoroughly engaging and I practically flew through its 824 pages. The drama, the twists, oh! I devoured it all. Maeve Binchy knows how to weave a narrative and trap the reading in her web. It now makes me sad that I never made the effort with her when she was still alive. She now has pride of place on my bookshelves.

Jamaica Inn (1936) is an early novel by Daphne du Maurier, the famed writer of Rebecca. I’ve read books by du Maurier before, The Birds and Other Stories and Don’t Look Now and Other Stories, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed but I had yet to read a novel by her. Jamaica Inn reads like a Brontë novel. Our protagonist, Mary, loses her mother and is sent away to live with her aunt in Jamaica Inn, a Cornish inn. However, strange things are going on in Jamaica Inn. There hasn’t been a guest in months, stage coaches gallop passed, and many locals fear even talking about the place. It’s quite hard to believe that this novel wasn’t written in the 19th century. Du Maurier writes with such authority and authenticity that, in many scenes, it out Brontës the Brontës. I’m glad I read this before Rebecca because I’ve heard literally so many amazing things about that novel that I fear every other du Maurier novel that I read after it will be unfairly compared. Thankfully my edition of Jamaica Inn is actually part of a bind-up which also includes Rebecca, Frenchman’s Creek, and My Cousin Rachel which is basically block of literary cocaine. Lucky me.



  1. yes!! Banana Yoshimoto is amazing! Unfortunately, most of her work isn’t translated -_- I’ve read Kitchen, NP, and Lizard, and Kitchen is by far my favorite


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