A peek inside the current reading lives of Roaring Stories’ staff.
is reading … many books
I almost never read just one book at a time. I’m a mood reader and I need to have a few options to get me through the week! This week I have been reading The Good Turn by Dervla McTeirnan. This is her third novel featuring detective Cormac Reilly, set in Galway. Police procedural is not my usual fare, but I was curious to see what all the fuss was about and to see if I could read the third book in a series and still enjoy it.
I can happily say yea! The Good Turn can be read as a standalone story. It’s easy to read and pretty gentle. Even though there were bad cops and bad guys, the general tone was one of people trying to do their best, sometimes in tough situations.
I’ve just finished The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott and loved it so much I’m not going to tell you anything about it because I want you to discover the pleasure of this extraordinary Tasmanian eco-dystopia for yourself. Arnott’s writing weaves and swoops through beauty and brutality with ease. I was left breathless with wonder, eagerly anticipating his third book.
I’m now reading Rodham, by Curtis Sittenfeld – a speculative fiction that imagines if Hillary didn’t marry Bill. I’m still in the period of time covered by real-life events. Only one marriage proposal refused; two to go. I’m impressed by Sittenfeld’s ability to rationalise Rodham’s thinking processes and feelings. I don’t know how much is based on real life, but it feels authentic, possible and very voyeuristic!
I also have a year-long reading project with some friends: a chapter a day of War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I first read this 20 years ago, but so quickly, I can barely remember it. This time, I am taking my time. It’s such an epic, engrossing read, but it does pay to find the translation right for you. This time I’m reading Anthony Briggs’ translation, which is far less stilted and formal than my first attempt with Princess Alexandra Kropotkin’s.
is reading … Exciting Times
I liked Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times so much that at one point I wanted to hide from it. This is both 1) a completely weird reaction to enjoying something enormously, and 2) the kind of perverse, knotty emotion that maybe wouldn’t be entirely out of place in Dolan’s wry, vinegar-hilarious novel itself.
In her twenties and very adrift, Ava is a Dubliner teaching English in Hong Kong. Her pay is dismal. She falls in with Julian, a rich British banker willing to trade in caustic banter but not emotional intimacy; and then, while Julian is away, with Edith, a Hong Kong-born and similarly Oxbridge-pedigreed lawyer. Edith is a whole new world; she’s earnest, affectionate, and asks Ava for vulnerability and self-honesty. and asks Ava for vulnerability and self-honesty. This, Ava finds, is deeply frightening.
Ava’s narration of her interactions with Julian and Edith (and not insignificantly, with their money), consists of brilliantly sardonic introspection and analysis of the emotional dynamics and power nuances within relationships; of “the personal and financial transactions that make up a life”. Dolan pays particular attention to how language itself shapes these power dynamics – Ava’s (wildly entertaining) lessons to her classes of 10-year-olds on the mechanics of grammar are a springboard for shrewd dissections of English with an eye to class, privilege and politics.
With Dolan being a witty Irish millennial writing an emotionally intelligent novel about millennial relationships, I am legally required to bring up Sally Rooney* (*I am not legally required to bring up Sally Rooney) but I think it’s an actually valid and mutually complimentary comparison. If you liked Normal People, Exciting Times could be its more acidic step-sibling, though it absolutely has a (hyperarticulate, incisive, deadpan comic-genius) voice and vision of its own.
is reading … Latitudes of Longing
Not since The God of Small Things have I encountered a novel so achingly lush and compassionately comic. An odyssey over the subcontinent, where supernatural and tectonic forces are kindred, Shubhangi Swarup alchemises a meeting of mythology and science in this astonishing debut, where ancient spirits and fossils rise up from the lacuna of worlds.
Because I’m the kind of insufferable git who revels in experimental fiction and kicks up their heels when formulas are trashed, I was utterly entranced as Swarup successively snubbed expectations of plot. Latitudes of Longing has no guilt in calmly walking away from the normal flow of narrative lines; the main characters become minor characters and vice versa, and the story splays out like a strange-flowing river, in a swirling drift of centre to periphery to memory to rediscovery and then startling or subconscious refocus. Each encounter leaves an emotional imprint – with the strong-willed clairvoyant Girja Prasad and the harmless ghosts who keep her up at night; with Devi, who has inherited her father’s fascination with the natural world, and the kind-hearted opium trafficker Thapa; with the rebel poet Plato and the old, lovestruck village elder Apo. However brief a time you spend with these idiosyncratic figures, they find a pocket in your heart.
Much research went into the writing of this book, and not just that required to understand the geological processes by which tectonic plates slide and crunch and upheave with slow-moving violence into one another. Swarup traveled to and lived in each of the book’s settings, supporting herself through work as a teacher and journalist. This dedicated immersion is telling. A fecund intimacy is infused in each of the novel’s places – the sensuous Andaman Islands, Indian jails and jungles, the hunger-stretched underbelly of Kathmandu, the warm seas and high plains and glacial cracks.
I am, to my great chagrin, a slow reader (the kind that sounds out the words aloud in my head) but to this book I surrendered and found myself soon at the last page: serene, enchanted, replete, breathless.
Other new releases I’ve poked or thrust my head into this month include Diary of a Young Naturalist (believe the hype; this book is miraculous), the salty and sassy Sad Mum Lady (look to our blog for an upcoming interview with author Ashe Davenport) and the tender literary fiction by Paul Yoon set during the Vietnam War, Run Me to Earth.
Two old releases I have lately sunk into as well: The Human Factor by Graham Greene and The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. Both are depressing, but great.