Book Review

Notes on Four Books I Read Months Ago

notes on four books i read earlier in the year

All of these i read months and months (and months?) ago but got distracted from writing about by my poor mental health and/or working too much slash my phone not working well enough to type and walk at the same time (tho soon it will be too cold to type and walk again lololol in fact maybe it already is, christ christ christ).

The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld

notes typed 17th September

As I’ve probably mentioned before, Evie Wyld is – to the best of my knowledge – the most successful graduate of my MA course. This might be completely wrong, maybe she didn’t even do the course but just had some kind of affiliation with Goldsmiths. Also, there might be other people (like me!) who are kinda doing ok in the literature-as-a-hobby-world who don’t speak about their MA very often-

Wait, I’ll ignore my instinct to silence on this: the fact that I’ve never been invited back to read at Goldsmiths when people who have had much less success than I’ve had does rankle if i’m being honest, even though I’m not certain I’d want to go and also I’ve been living outside of the country since I first started “getting anywhere” with my writing, i.e. when I stopped self-censoring out of a terrifying fear of consequence due to living in a “turbulent”/“volatile” relationship.

I don’t think my writing is “like” the writing of an MA/MFA graduate, and I think when I tried to squash my interests, preoccupations and ideas into prose written to be read by people with like office jobs or whatever, it – rather naturally – failed. It was always going to fail because I am too strange and messy a person to write non-strange and messily.

During my MA year I wrote a full-length, heavily-researched novel about the life and death of John the Baptist. I cast this major Catholic saint as a bitter, murderous, keenly sexually repressed near-villain, with Jesus as basically a grieving widower whose personality was a carbon-copy of my own idealised self (without the careening towards baldness). All the scenes involving royalty (Herod Antipas and his wife/niece Herodias) depicted them as gourmands and abusers slipping from their lofty, moneyed, position as Rome’s eyes on the ground in the Middle East due to their lifestyles being too extreme. It was a mess, full of graphic, often sexualised, violence, long scenes of philosophical debate in weird dialogue that leapt between cod-KJM prose to slang-filled attempts at the language familiar to me from the dusty nightspots and house parties of East London-

OK, those were all the notes I made in September. The Bass Rock‘s title kept making me think of this song:

Tonally, there was no connection, tho.

The Bass Rock is about a house overlooking the sea, and different generations of a family and their involvement with it. I enjoyed it, solid literary fiction. Though I read it fucking months ago (I type this on November 17th) so who fucking knows if I have anything to say on it.

little fish by casey plett

This beautiful, nuanced, mature novel offers an ungilded, but far from nasty, depiction of life as a trans woman in Winnipeg, a tiny city in the middle of Canada.

I read this in the Summer, I think, before my crusade of a birthday reading list (which I – as of the 17th November – am a book and a half from completing) began. It’s about being a millennial, about struggles with romance and money and career etc, about addiction and mental illness, but also about sex (as in the act of sex) and sexuality, as well as gender. It’s a powerful, deeply moving novel and it’s one of the best things I’ve read all year. It’s published by a little indie and I heartily recommend it.

It’s the first book I’ve read in a long time that I could see myself rereading, which is a MASSIVE compliment. I think.

ORDER LITTLE FISH FROM ARSENAL PULP PRESS VIA THIS LINK

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

This massive book I also read in the Summer, and I think the reason why I didn’t get round to writing anything about it was because I was intimidated.

This is, honestly, one of the best novels I have ever read. In terms of its ambition and scope, the way it realises the genuinely impressive things it sets out to do.

It is complex in form and style without losing humanity, it is poetic without being pretentious, it is experimental but not at all shit. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s something that everybody should read.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on here recently, since reading this book I’ve acquired five more books of Lessing’s writing, which is the scott manley hadley/triumphofthenow.com equivalent of “putting my money where my mouth is”.

Highly highly highly recommended.

Briefing For A Descent into Hell by Doris Lessing

I read this one in mid-October, maybe early October, who fucking knows? I’ve lost track of things, I’ve lost control, I’ve lost the thread. I am panicked about the pleasure of regret being read by people and them being mean to me because I am mean about other people in it, I think I’m mean, I think I’m bad, I dunno.

This 1971 novel is similar to The Golden Notebook in its use of multiple styles and settings, but is much less rooted in evocation of a lived reality, rather in the depiction of severe mental illness, i.e. a deep psychosis.

In a brief afterword, Lessing reveals that she sent the manuscript to several psychiatrists/psychologists asking for a diagnosis, but there was no agreement at all.

It’s about a mysterious man found by police, late one evening in London. He seems to have amnesia, and as he lies in a psychiatric ward and various doctors discuss potential treatments, he monologues about a fantastic adventure he had where he was the sole left-behind human after a mass alien abduction at sea and then he was in a magic land with weird, fighting, fantastical creatures and he tried again to get abducted (he wanted to get abducted) and then he tells a long anecdote about being involved in military espionage during the Second World War. There might have been other sections I’ve forgotten about. I’m sorry.

While these imaginary/imagined but felt anecdotes are being told, Lessing intercuts with – presented as script – dialogue between doctors and nurses, as well as letters from the friends and family of the patient (once he’s been – without his help – identified).

It’s a collage, and I suppose it’s evocative and engaging, but even though it’s considerably shorter than The Golden Notebook (maybe as much as a quarter of the length!) it’s less immediate, less grasping, less fresh and less fast.

But, as I said, I liked it enough to continue acquiring more Lessing to read.

Yeah, I suppose, I liked it.

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