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From a luminous and funny book about canine companions and grief, to a very grisly tale about every fathomable horror under a hot medieval sun. Here’s what our Balmain bookshop staff are reading this month.

Sylvia is reading…
Why We Are Here

I’ve been thinking a bit about both grief and dog parks lately; so, Briohny Doyle’s Why We Are Here has done that weird, luminous thing for me where a book finds you at precisely the right time. I’m only halfway through, but I’m very smitten with it.

Following the deaths of her partner and her father, Doyle’s protagonist BB has moved into a glamorous, condemned apartment building by the sea with her (telepathic) dog, Baby. The novel follows the drift of her days– seeing friends, training neighbours’ problem dobermans, trying to figure out what it means to live in The Aftermath of her annihilating loss. I love what Doyle’s done with this kind of temporally loose, reflective structure – with the presence of BB’s partner close against the skin of all her perceptions; her thoughts turning and returning to memories of him, and what he would’ve said or thought or loved about any given situation.

Doyle’s pitched the surreal edge and philosophical bent of the novel perfectly; it could’ve landed in vague and dissociative, but the characters feel specific and personal, and the sense of searching feels real and important – so do the flares of joy.

Anyway, so far it’s very sad, very funny literally all the time, and I think I’m looking for a word that’s something like ‘piercing?’ Something is happening to both my heart and brain for sure. Strange and tender times!

Things I am very excited to read next: Tissue by Madison Griffiths, which is both a critical and personal examination of the many facets of abortion; it sounds like it’s a sharp, nuanced, and compassionate exploration of our discourses around choice, guilt, motherhood and agency, and like it’s going to be fantastic. Also: I’d Rather Not by Robert Skinner, which sounds like it’ll be very funny (it has a monkey on the cover).

Kate is reading…
Moshfegh and Woolf

Long sentences can be exhausting. Or, in the right hands, exhilarating. I’d read Virginia Woolf’s The Waves and Mrs Dalloway, but not her most popular and acclaimed book, To the Lighthouse – until now. Rubbing up against the minds of the Ramsays and their guests in the garden, by the shore, at the dining table and (in the very last section) in the small boat to the lighthouse was such a pleasurable and piercing experience. Somehow Woolf is able to make a whole exquisite world out of the minutiae of ordinary human life. Deftly and gracefully, she opens up the riches of the subliminal psyche; plumbs the depths of human motive; and gives loving shape to the intricate dance of human relationships.

There’s such a light and piquant energy to her writing, too. She’s the sort of author whose work I have to put down sometimes, I just get too excited by a turn of phrase, or by the triumphant landing of an observation or scene.

A favoured passage:

Not as oneself did one find rest ever, in her experience (she accomplished something dextrous with her needles), but as a wedge of darkness. Losing personality, one lost the fret, the hurry, the stir, and there rose to her lips always some exclamation of triumph over life when things came together in this peace, this rest, this eternity; and pausing there she looked out to meet that stroke of the Lighthouse, the long steady stroke, the last of the three which was her stroke, for watching them in this mood always at this hour one could not help  attaching oneself to one thing especially of the things one saw; and this thing, the long steady stroke, was her stroke. (p.70)

So good!

In contrast to the mannered grace of Woolf, I am now dug into the grotesque horrors of Lapvona (also written about by April in a previous ‘What We’re Reading’). Set in a medieval village, it is a riot of the putrid and profane. Incest, rape, cannibalism, murder, a deformed redhead, a blind crone who suckles grown men from her milkless flaps and inserted a horse’s bulging eyes in her own sockets, a corrupt and delusional lord… If any of these things turn your stomach a bit, you may not be the ideal reader for the award-winning author’s latest.

I myself am sickened but devilishly entertained. I have about twenty pages left to go. The ending, I’ve been warned, is of another order of quease entirely.