As an English Literature undergraduate for the past three years, it’s fair to say I go through a lot of books, at a very quick pace. Initially, my main intentions for this blog were to record what I’ve been reading and provide my thoughts in quick reviews. So, I thought I’d start this (semi-)regular ‘Book Club’ feature documenting my latest paperback perusals.
Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye
“And yet it disturbs me to learn I have hurt someone unintentionally. I want all my hurts to be intentional.”
One of the literature modules I’ve been studying this year is ‘Margaret Atwood’ and, since my exam is coming up this term, I’ve been rereading some of her texts.
(Here I must credit some of my other favourites, which I am not reading for the exam: Blind Assassin, in which the exploration of narrative, the concept of writing, familial and gender relationships dominate the text and make for a truly remarkable, inevitably complex novel; and Oryx and Crake, in which modern ideologies concerning gender, science and technology are explored through to their logical yet terrifying conclusion. Next on my list, once I finish with my exams of course, are the two novels which follow Oryx and Crake: The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam.)
Cat’s Eye, however, has undoubtedly been my favourite to study: another frightening narrative, Atwood delves into the complex and horrifying realities of the power dynamics between young girls. Going far beyond the modern concept of ‘frenemies’, Atwood explores the hierarchies and power-plays within school-girls’ ‘friendship’ groups, and the subsequent and damaging effects. The idea of language as societal construct, power hierarchies and the concept of ‘self-hood’ are all de-constructed within this context of school-girl bullying.
Jessie Burton, The Miniaturist
“Growing older does not seem to make you more certain. It simply presents you with more reasons for doubt.”
I finished this book within a matter of days: I honestly could not put it down. Transported to seventeenth-century Holland, we follow the young protagonist through her new life as a married woman in Amsterdam. Although it can be said that the characters often find themselves in implausible situations, this novel is about the exploration of surprising dark magic, hope and ultimately disaster, and is certainly a troubling coming-of-age narrative. A fantasy story in which it seems anything can happen, I’d certainly recommend this as a book to take on holiday, or as something light to read in bed with a hot cup of tea.
Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses
“We carry the ocean within us; … our veins mirror the tides. As a human woman, with ovaries where eggs lie like roe, entering the smooth undulating womb of the ocean from which our ancestors evolved millennia ago, I was so moved my eyes teared under water, and I mixed my saltiness with the ocean’s.”
With beautiful, emotional prose that flows as naturally as “the leaves to a tree”, for me, Ackerman’s non-fiction study of the human senses never fails to impress. The emotion the prose evokes catches me by surprise every time I pick it up, and encourages me to reconnect with my own consciousness and the right side of my brain, returning to the external world with a more sensual and optimistic approach than ever before. A physical, sensory overload more than welcomed when I’m feeling bogged down by essays and exams, I’d recommend this book anywhere and at any time.