June Round Up! – #20booksof summer

The curse of 20 Books of Summer has struck again!

For yet another year, my reading is going really well, but the reviewing is falling by the wayside.

I swore I wouldn’t do mini-reviews, but I have to face facts. We’re one month in and by my calculations, I should have 6.66 books reviewed. I haven’t. I have managed to review the grand total of three. So, I’m going to do quick reviews of the two books I have read and while they both deserve a full review in their own right, I am afraid they are going to have to be disappointed in me.


No 588: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Norwegian Wood is not at all what I expected from my first Murakami. I anticipated something weird, futuristic and challenging, but instead got a beautiful, languorous meditation on youth, love and the power of memory.

When he hears the famous Beatles song as he touches down on an international flight, Toru Watanabe recalls his first love Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki, who committed suicide. The song transports him back almost twenty years to his student days in 1960s Tokyo, a world of faltering friendships, obsessive love, loss and passion, He recalls his consuming relationship with Naoko, conducted mostly at a sanitarium where she has chosen to stay and how their relationship is threatened by Midori, an impetuous and passionate young woman who forces Watanabe to choose between the future and the past.

The novel is set at a time of student unrest and volatile demonstrations, but this only serves as the background to a more delicate love story as Watanabe tries to recall all the details of this emotional time in his life.

What if I’ve forgotten the most important thing? What if somewhere inside me there is a dark limbo where all the truly important memories are heaped and slowly turning into mud?

If this were just a straightforward tale of a love triangle, Murakami would give answers, relationships would be cemented. What he presents instead is not a rose-tinted love story. It is an honest, beautifully written coming of age story that explores the difficult transition between adolescence and adulthood, where sanity and self-preservation are constantly under threat and ‘ordinary’ love is anything but ordinary.

”I once had a girl / Or should I say, she once had me,” are the opening lines of the Beatles song and they are an apt summary of this lovely, questioning book. Murakami gives us no resolution, but then this is a book of memory with all the shadows and whispers that memories contain.

Read on: iPad

Number Read: 159

Number Remaining: 587

yellow wallpaper

No 587 The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

I did cheat slightly by including The Yellow Wallpaper in my 20 Books, given that it is really a short story. But what a story it is and I would argue, it packs more emotional intensity and vivid imagery into its 30-odd pages than a lot of novels I’ve read.

The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing.

The Yellow Wallpaper has become a classic of feminist fiction, a pioneering portrait of the trauma of postnatal depression. Written with a barely concealed fury, this autobiographical horror story scandalized readers on its publication with its portrayal of a woman who loses her mind because she has literally nothing to do.

A century on and The Yellow Wallpaper has lost nothing of its unsettling power. The first person narration, in the form of a diary, gives it an urgent immediacy, and the fact that it was born out of Gilman’s own experience of mental illness, makes it undeniably prescient. The narrator is a nameless young woman who has recently had a baby. She is suffering from a ‘temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency’ as diagnosed by her husband and her brother, both doctors. Treatment for her illness is rest. She is confined in an upstairs room of a large country house and it is in this room, with a lack of anything else at all to occupy her, that she becomes at first disgusted, then enthralled and finally obsessed with the yellow patterned wallpaper.

I never saw a worse paper in my life. It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide – plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions… The colour is repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.

Studying the wallpaper becomes her only self-chosen activity. She is not allowed to look after her child, see friends, read or write – so the examination of the wallpaper becomes a kind of freedom. Before long, she begins to see women trapped within the pattern, jailed just as she is. When she starts to see these women from her barred window, creeping in the garden below, her madness is complete.

I don’t like to look out of the windows even–there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all come out of that wallpaper as I did?

The lack of mental stimulation has created a situation where she is literally bored out of her mind and Charlotte Gilman Perkins captures perfectly the eroding of her mental faculties brought about by the actions of the very people who were supposed to care for her. This is an incredibly well-written story, paced perfectly with a growing sense of paranoia and terror. It would be powerful enough without knowing the biography of its writer and as it stands is a stark rejoinder to the treatment of post-natal depression and the repression of the female mind.

Read On: Book

Number Read: 160

Number Remaining: 586

So how is everyone else doing in the challenge now that we are one month in? I am three-quarter of the way through THREE other books, so if I could just get them finished, I’d be close to be on track with my reading.

Do let me know how you are all getting on!

20 books




20 Books of Summer The 746

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

35 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I’m a tiny bit behind in my challenge but taking comfort in the fact that two of the six books I’ve read were also the longest ones on my list. And pleased that this challenge has delivered my second 5-star read for the year (The Glorious Heresies).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Yellow Wallpaper is one of those books I feel like I’ve read because (a) it’s mentioned so often by C19th historians (b) I’ve read lots of summaries (c) I think I read the first few pages as a teenager, but your review reminds me that I’ve never read it cover to cover. I must get round to it!

    I’ve read five of my 20 Books, but only reviewed one…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great review of The Yellow Wallpaper! I read it in college and it has stuck with me. I can’t hear the word “smooch” now without cringing. It amazes me that one unsettling use of a word a decade ago still echoes. Especially since it’s such a cutesy word in day-to-day conversation. The Yellow Wallpaper is such a powerfully written story.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think you did a marvelous job with the mini reviews! I’m going to have to write a few of those if I have any hope of finishing my #20. I’ve read five and reviewed four, so I’m behind too! But I’ve enjoyed all of my reads so far. That’s the most important thing!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m about to review Book 8 and to start Book 9 and I have most of the larger ones out of the way, with some easy novels and non-fiction then some more heavyweight Persephones to come next month. But going off-list at the weekend as have bought some novels set in Cornwall to read on the way to … Cornwall!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s been too long since I read any Murakami. I was at a bookstore this weekend and they had an entire two shelves full of his works! I definitely need to pull one off my shelves soon.

    I also haven’t read The Yellow Wallpaper since high school, I feel like it’s one I need to go back to and see how it is as an adult.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I loved The Yellow Wallpaper – it definitely should count as a book!
    I also think your mini-reviews are far more detailed and thoughtful than “mini-review” makes them sound. You have done the books proud. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Norwegian Wood was allegedly the novel that took Murakami to his fame, but like you it wasn’t what I expected when I read it. He is so adept at leaving his books without a resolution, which really troubled me at first (many years ago), but I was comforted by a quote of his that says we should be “wide open to possibility.” That somehow gives me permission to interpret his work as it applies to me, the reader. I do love this line of yours, “…this is a book of memories with all the shadows and whispers that memories contain.” So beautifully said.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Great post. I particularly liked your entry about ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’. It is such a great short story and it is so terrifying to think that the ‘rest cure’ was something that was actually enforced on women- not just a gothic form of torture!

    Liked by 1 person

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