May was… a month. It marked the two-month milestone of staying indoors, along with many government farces and an overwhelming change in emotions. At least it did for me. Towards the end of the month, I really struggled to hold myself together and get on with my daily routine, never mind tasks. I found it hard to get out of bed, to talk to anybody… and I fell ill with a stomach bug. So it hasn’t been the best of times! And with that, reading definitely slipped from my priority list. Nonetheless, I somehow managed to get through four books and I’m halfway through another that I’ll be reviewing due to popular demand. Let’s get stuck in…
A Saint from Texas by Edmund White
Thank you Bloomsbury Publishing and NetGalley for my advanced reader copy!
For reasons I can’t understand, I really enjoyed A Saint from Texas. I requested it on NetGalley, intrigued by the plot, and was completely shocked when I started reading it for it was like nothing I’d read before. I think it’s important to read outside of your comfort zone every now and again, and this was where that paid off. Edmund White’s newest novel chronicles the extraordinary lives of Yvette and Yvonne Crawford, twin sisters born in the humble East Texas prairie, but each destined for far wider prospects.
Whilst Yvonne chooses to find her self in Paris, ascending society ranking, her twin devotes her life to worship and service. The story unfolds from the 1950s to a more recent past. It’s wonderfully told through both sisters’ eyes both in prose and in letter form, and we’re introduced to a host of characters as the plot unfolds. What I enjoyed the most is how much incredible depth each of these characters brought to the story, none were gratuitously placed, and just as well, because White tackles an extraordinary cast of topics throughout. From familial relations to faith, societal status to sexuality, A Saint from Texas includes a lot of ‘content’. It’s definitely more of a family saga-style novel that unravels slowly, so if you prefer bolder books with firmer narratives, this might not be for you.
A Saint from Texas publishes on 4th August 2020.
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
I think I read My Name is Lucy Barton in just a handful of days, for it’s a short little book that’s easy to read. If I’m being completely honest, I was expecting much more from it, but that’s where its beauty lies: in the quietness and truth-baring plot. Lucy Barton is in hospital recovering from a simple operation, when her mother visits. From the offset, we learn that she has an estranged relationship with all of her family, and her mother’s visit becomes the catalyst to spark a series of powerful conversations in which Lucy confronts the tensions that’ve plagued her life thus far. There’s raw trauma, grief, understanding of self, and familial relations, all wrapped up in this 193-page contemporary novel.
Saving Missy by Beth Morrey
After reading The Switch by Beth O’Leary, I was drawn to reading Saving Missy by Beth Morrey next. First off, the hardback version is absolutely dreamy. The cut-out jacket reveals a beautifully illustrated cover within, and it was a joy to pick up and read every day. But onto the story itself, which is just as dreamy. Missy Carmichael is a stubborn and ‘prickly’ 79-year-old woman, whose life has become increasingly small and lonely. Immediately, we learn that she’s grieving for a lively life filled with family she’s either lost or lost touch with; her husband is gone, her son and family have emigrated to Australia, and she is estranged from her daughter. But as she encounters two very different women (and a pooch) in the local park, her life slowly begins to change.
Saving Missy is one of my favourite books this year so far. Missy’s hard exterior slowly begins to crumble, and learning about her past was an absolute joy. Some passages felt a bit overwritten, but for the most part, Morrey’s debut is heart-warming slow-burner that makes you want to believe in the kindness of strangers, neighbours and the community.
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
Another short-but-sweet book (like I said, my attention span was absolutely shot this month!), Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan had been on my to-read list ever since it was mentioned on The High Low podcast. However, it fell short of my expectations, and here’s why. Set in Hong Kong, Dolan’s debut is a deadpan, character-centric peek into the various aspects of relationships. Ava is a 22-year-old Dubliner who has moved to Hong Kong to teach English to privileged children. Julian is her rich, banker ‘boyfriend’ who struggles to commit or seemingly show any emotion. Exciting Times looks at the power games that the pair play throughout their relationship, upon a backdrop of modern social and political issues in both Ireland and Hong Kong.
I found the characters to be the most ‘exciting’ part of the novel; they’re all seriously flawed in different ways, and it’s what casts depth and realness to the story. Ava is increasingly unhappy with the situation she finds herself in; her job lacks integrity or meaning (to her), she’s not paying rent in return for sleeping with Julian, and she seems to dislike her family. It’s when Julian leaves for business that the novel changes traction, but even so I felt the plot lacked a real heart. I enjoyed the Hong Kong-isms throughout, but I largely felt that they were shoehorned in (honestly, four mentions of Hong Kong Island street names in one paragraph?!), and that they took away from the emotion and identity that Dolan was just about managing to build. If anything, I mostly managed to gather that Dolan herself is/was an expat and wanted to highlight that, yes, she had been to Hong Kong and was able to conjure up a story there.
Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez
And now for the book that I’m only halfway through, but want to shout about nonetheless… I only read non-fiction every now and again, simply because I love to read for escapism. Invisible Women by Caroline Criado is a masterfully researched exposure of data bias in a world designed for men. We’re all feminists here at Daisybutter, but this book truly hammers home just how unjust and imbalanced the world is for women. From bathroom size to safety features on cars, Perez unpicks everything with a fine-tooth comb and presents it in a clear, eloquent way. I’ve been taking my time with this one, but it’s an essential read that I think will resonate with much of you in the Daisybutter community.
What have you been reading in May?