October Reading Round Up

Another month goes by in the world of 746 Books and another raft of good intentions fail to materialise.

Yet again, plenty of reading has been happening, but getting the time to review has proven more difficult.

I set myself a target at the start of the year to get the TBR into the 500s by 2017 and I am so very close, so I’m going to do a few round up reviews to keep myself up to date.

No 608 Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson

The stories of the fallen world, they excite us. That’s the interesting stuff Denis Johnson, 2003

This collection of connected short stories, centred on a nameless drug addict, takes place in the 1970s in a variety of locations from Iowa to Seattle. 


Reading a little like a series of confessions you might hear in an AA meeting, the stories, although all about the one man, are not in chronological order, don’t always make sense and often feel like they may just be the result of the protagonist’s drug addled imagination. 

Disconnected as it may be, Jesus’ Son does feel like a novel, as the reader charts our protagonist’s journey from desperate addict, through recovery and on to something resembling normal life – but the inability to focus on a straight narrative line echoes the chaotic and hopeless existence of the drug addict.

And if the darkness just got darker? And then you were dead? What would you care? How would you even know the difference?

The main feeling is one of uncertainty in both life and story-telling. Characters die, then are reintroduced later in the narrative. Women leave and then return, life is transitory and hope is hard to come by.

Williams was in his fifties. He’d wasted his entire life. Such people were very dear to those of us who’d wasted only a few years. With Williams sitting across from you it was nothing to contemplate going on like this for another month or two

Featuring abortions, murder, car crashes and drug deals this is hard subject matter, but the writing is alive, beautiful and often exhilarating.

To catch the bus home each day I walked through a vacant lot, and sometimes I’d run right up on one — one small orange flower that looked as if it had fallen down here from Andromeda, surrounded by a part of the world cast mainly in eleven hundred shades of brown, under a sky whose blueness seemed to get lost in its own distances. Dizzy, enchanted — I’d have felt the same if I’d been walking along and run into an elf out here sitting in a little chair.

Fragmentary, hallucinatory and often poetic, this is a stunning collection where the incredible prose glistens amidst the pain and grime of the narrative.

It was there. It was. The long walk down the hall. The door opening. The beautiful stranger. The torn moon mended. Our fingers touching away the tears. It was there.

Read On: Kindle
Number Read: 139
Number Remaining: 607

No 607 The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing

Last year I loved taking part in Novella November, hosted by the wonderful Poppy Peacock, so I had lined up a few to read this year. Novella November isn’t happening this year, but I decided to read a few anyway and thankfully picked a couple of real winners!
I’ve never read any Doris Lessing before so had no preconceptions going into this taut tale of a family torn apart by the birth of their fifth child. Like a precursor to We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Fifth Child follows the lives of Harriet and David, from the 1960s to the 1980s, where they are bringing up their four children in blissful happiness until the arrival of Ben, their fifth child. 

Violent, unattractive and slow to learn, Ben is everything their other children aren’t and in a house that has known nothing but kindness, warmth and love, a sense of tension and anxiety starts to prevail. Harriet and David’s inability to love their child tears the family apart and Lessing subtly raises the nature versus nurture question as Harriet finds her son more and more unlovable while at the same time becoming more and more obsessed with her predicament.

Harriet watched Ben…and tried to imagine him amoung a group of his own kind, squatting in the mouth of a cave around roaring flames. Or a settlement of huts in a thick forest? No, Ben’s people were at home under the earth, she was sure, deep underground in black caverns lit by torches. That was more like it.

It is hard not to read The Fifth Child as some sort of morality tale, but Lessing herself said that it is a horror story, plain and simple. It is horrific, a lesson if anything, in how a life can change course with no warning and how hard many people can find it to adapt what they see as an unexplained shift in the course of their life.

She said to David, ‘We are all being punished, that’s all.’
‘What for?’ he demanded, already on guard because there was a tone in her voice he hated.
‘For presuming. For thinking we could be happy. Happy because we decided we would be.’

Read on: Book
Number Read: 140
Number Remaining: 606

No 606 The Visitor by Maeve Brennan



My slight obsession with Maeve Brennan continues with this haunting yet precise novella. 

The heroine, Anastasia King, is returning to her grandmother’s house in Dublin where she and her parents had lived when she was a child. She has been living in Paris with her mother, who fled there to escape her older husband and controlling mother-in-law. 

 Both parents now dead, Anastasia thinks to return to the only place she has ever called home. But her grandmother’s reaction at her arrival lets her know that she is no longer wanted. By siding with her mother, Anastasia has made herself an exile, a visitor everywhere with nowhere to turn. Caught always between her mother and her father, she is now trapped in a no man’s land and struggles to find comfort.
The Visitor is a claustrophobic book – taking place as it does mostly in the rooms of Georgian houses in Dublin, or from the outside of these houses looking in. The dark tone suggests that the plight of women is unchanging, trapped as the female characters are within decisions and choices made by and for them many years before. 

As Anastasia comes to realise, looking back provides no respite and the enigmatic, possibly frustrating ending brings little hope. The Visitor is perfectly formed and tautly written by a very sure hand. At times it reminded me of another novella, The Dead by James Joyce, high praise I know, but not unwarranted. It has made me even more intrigued by the work of Maeve Brennan and I hope she will receive a lot more recognition with her centenary next year.

Home is a place in the mind. When it is empty it frets. It is fretful with memory, faces and places and times gone by. Beloved images rise up in disobedience and make a mirror for emptiness. Then what resentful wonder, and what half-aimless seeking. It is a silly state of affairs. It is a silly creature that tries to get a smile from even the most familiar and loving shadow. Comical and hopeless, the long gaze is always turned inwards.

Read on: Book
Number Read: 141
Number Remaining: 605

So, that’s my October reading up to date – I’ve a few more novellas lined up for the rest of the month and am also loving Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White. I hope I can post more this month, but I know that the best laid plans can be derailed very quickly!
My main hope is that I can read 6 more books before the end of the year and get the TBR down to the magic 599!

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33 thoughts on “October Reading Round Up

  1. I’m sure you can get into the 500s, Cathy. You can always read 6 novellas. 😉 I’m determined to read Maeve Brennan next year, since she’s been popping up on my radar repeatedly these past few weeks. It’s a sign, I’m sure, to give her a try.

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  2. Thanks for the reminder of Jesus’ Son! I’ve had this on my Kindle for a couple years and completely forgot about it. If something gets deleted from my Kindle, it slips my memory in a way that print books don’t. I remember liking the writing style, but having trouble on account of how disjointed it is. Your review makes me want to pick it up again.

    Best of luck getting to the 500s! 😀

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  3. OH! I’m so sorry about #NovellaNov – gutted actually but like you best laid plans got totally derailed. Now, if it helps I’ve got Maeve Brennan lined up too – which I will now earmark for March! – and wow! Jesus’ son sounds amazing! Definitely going on the MUST list. Hope your cold is improving xxx

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  4. I have a copy of Jesus’ Son, but as it’s hidden away of my kindle I keep forgetting about it. This is a good reminder to bump it up the pile. Johnson’s prose is wonderful, isn’t it? I recall that poetic quality you mention from some of his other work.

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  5. Good for you Cathy. Don’t use up all your novellas, though, to reach this goal will you, as you have more goals to come!!

    BTW I really enjoyed The crimson petal and the white too. It’s a while since I read it, but it’s a good read.

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  6. Do you know I was assigned the Doris Lessing in high school? As you can imagine, I hated it. I really think it was too nuanced a novel to be reading that young. The only other Lessing I’ve read was The Grandmothers. I really enjoyed that one, but then again, I was well into adulthood when I read it.

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  7. I think we all live in a constant state of disappointment over our to-do lists. Most of the times I get angry and frustrated at myself too, but I’ve learned to see (thanks to other people) that I’m doing my best, and hey! Give yourself a break, Elena!

    Maeve Brennan as come into my life as a rush of fresh, clear, inspiring Irish wind. I first learned of her reading Spinster by Kate Bollock, who took Brennan as her role model, and now you are chanting her talents as a writer. So, it’s a sign! I just added The Visitor to my TBR list and I hope to get it for Christmas. Thanks 🙂

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  8. You can do it, you can DO it. *chants continues, fading into the background*

    All three sound great – the first and last are new to me (titles, not authors – I’ve often toyed with the idea of reading DJ and suspect that if I read more than the couple of stories I have read of MB’s that I would be obsessing about her too). And I love the idea of putting some novellas alongside that chunkster: perfect balancing of energies? Have you read other things by Faber? I”m reading Steven Price’s By Gaslight, which many have compared to TCP&TW, but I’m not sure how apt the comparision is overall.

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  9. My reading and reviewing has slowed a bit this fall because I have so many other things going on in my life (all good ones!). Your lists and recaps have me looking forward to after the holidays when I will have more time to snuggle up with a book!

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