Ok, while I’m on a roll, here are three more round up reviews from my 20 Books of Summer Challenge. This will bring me to 16, so I’m hoping this is the year I read and review all 20!
Each of these three books are ostensibly memoir, but all bring something different and extra to that genre. I enjoyed all of these very much.
The Red Parts by Maggie Nelson
The second of my true crime reads this summer, The Red Parts is a really affecting and honest exploration of the ramifications of a violent, unexpected death on a family.
Maggie Nelson’s aunt Jane was 23 when she was murdered in 1969 by a suspected serial killer. In 2004, while Maggie Nelson was researching the life of her aunt Jane for a book of poetry, Maggie’s mother received a call from a detective to say that a different man was being put on trial for Jane’s murder.
She had never met her aunt but Nelson was aware of the effect her murder had on the family and her wider relations. The Red Parts is a memoir of the trial and a dissection of grief – vividly depicting how painful that grief can be when revisited after 35 years. Nelson excels in bringing Jane to life and showing what a vivid and intelligent young woman she had been. The scene in which she meets with Jane’s boyfriend at the time of her death is heartbreaking but necessary. The whole book explores how family traits echo through the years and how much, as individuals, we are influenced and shaped by our predecessors.
The Red Parts is also a very clear-eyed examination of a murder trial from the point of view of the victim’s family and is as cool-headed as it is visceral.
20 Books of Summer: 14/20
No 560: A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
I’ve long been a fan of Rebecca Solnit’s journalism and this is my first experience reading one of her books. She doesn’t disappoint.
This collection of nine short essays are presented as answers to a question Solnit poses at the start of the book;
‘How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is unknown to you?’
and from there she explores a vast array of topics, from history to art, politics to ecology all the while musing on what happens when one gets lost, how we react to being found and the reasons we get lost in the first place.
Part memoir, part philosophical study, Solnit appears at times in the narrative talking about her family and in particular her father, her dreams and her career but at the heart of the book is the story of Cabeza de Vaca, a Spanish adventurer who was captured in the Mississippi delta by natives and held captive. He got free several times and walked west to get back to his people only to be enslaved several times again. But still he persisted, walking lost until he eventually made it back home.
This idea of freeing ourselves by walking, metaphorically, without a map, without an idea of a destination is what makes A Field Guide to Getting Lost such a moving and insightful work. It is a call to do the unexpected and see what happens, to live without structure and without plan and welcome what comes.
Read on: Book
Number Read: 187
Number Remaining: 559
20 Books of Summer: 15/20
When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Woman by Meena Kandesamy
This summer I have read quite a lot of books from Indian writers, all fantastic, but none quite as striking as Meena Kandesamy’s When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Woman.
Whether a memoir or a novel, it is hard to tell. Kandesamy has written of her marriage before, but in this searing book the unnamed narrator details her abuse at the hands of her older professor husband. What makes the book truly fascinating is the additional issues facing women in India, where a father will urge his daughter to be a better wife to her abusing husband and her autonomy can be so thoroughly stripped away, both by the abuser and by a society that believes a woman shouldn’t walk away from a marriage.
There are some difficult scenes in this book, but somehow what terrifies most is the insidious, isolating nature of what occurs. The narrator’s husband insists they share one email address, then sanctions her Facebook. Her mobile phone is taken away before every connection to the outside world is severed. It is then that she realises that to get out of this situation alive, she must come as close to death as is possible.
This is a poetic, stylistic book – referencing feminist writers who have gone before to take a stand of its own. It is a painful scream of a book, but is also not without humour, insight and self-awareness, which gives it a power beyond the shock value.
20 Books of Summer: 16/20
Right, one more book to read and four more reviews to write in 11 days. I can do that, can’t I?
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!