My October Miscellany is going to be much shorter than last months as I really didn’t do too much additional reading. I seemed to have slowed a lot in my reading since late summer – has anyone else noticed that? The brighter evenings somehow seem a whole lot more conducive to reading than these darker nights.
October was a good bookish month though, the best news being Anna Burns’ Booker win. It has been wonderful to see how it has played out in the media and although there has been some backlash in the mainstream press, there is a real sense of pride here in Northern Ireland and a feeling that there will be a greater focus on women writers from this area.
In work I had the pleasure and privilege of hosting the wonderful Paul Muldoon, who came to HomePlace to give a reading. He was charming, funny and read wonderfully as befits a Pulitzer Prize winning poet!
I also attended the launch of Eoin McNamee’s new novel The Vogue. I’m a big fan of Eoin’s writing and am very much looking forward to reading this new one.
I didn’t do quite as well in the RIP Challenge as I had intended, although I did manage to read five of the seven books I’d hoped to terrify myself with. I actually picked a great bunch of books, with Slade House and Foe being the stand outs. I also started watching The Haunting of Hill House this month, but wasn’t entirely convinced, or frightened by it, but maybe I should watch more than two episodes before giving up?
Here’s a round-up of the other books I’ve read in October that aren’t in the 746 or challenge related.
Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile by Adelle Stripe
Playwright Andrea Dunbar is vividly depicted in Adelle Stripe’s wonderful Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile, which is a fictionalised account of Dunbar’s astonishing and devastatingly short life. A playwright, most famous for The Arbor and Rita, Sue and Bob Too, her raw tales of working-class life in a tough Bradford estate brought her national attention, a stint at the Royal Court and entry into the world of film. But Dunbar was never happy with the attention that came with her work; Stripe’s debut novel perfectly captures a young woman who struggled to adapt to life outside of the Buttershaw estate where she grew up. Stripe perfectly captures life on the estate, a world of daytime drinking, teenage pregnancy and the difficulty of getting work. Dunbar is encouraged to write by a teacher and her unexpected success brings its own issues through alcohol and self-destruction. Her need for something more from life is tempered by her fear that the only place she can fit in is the place that she knows.
Dunbar’s story is a tragic one, featuring domestic violence and abuse, but her spirit leaps off these pages, particularly through the sparkling dialogue and bright sparks of humour. This is an affectionate telling of Dunbar’s life, which never tips into sentimentality. Andrea Dunbar comes across as talented, sparky, difficult and altogether lovable. It is a shame she didn’t have more time to show us what she could do.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Otessa Moshfegh
There’s not much plot to My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Otessa Moshfegh’s follow-up to the dark and brilliant Eileen. Set in New York over a 15 month period from June 2000, the novel follows our 20-something narrator who, despite wealth and beauty, is bored with her life working at a stylish gallery and dealing with her on/off boyfriend so decides to sleep for a year courtesy of medication from her rather unhinged doctor.
For a woman who seems to have anything, it is a strange decision, but her ennui with the modern world is clarified through visits from her friend Reva, a bulimic whose life is not turning out the way she wants it to. As she falls into a haze of drugs, sleep and Whoopi Goldberg videos, it becomes apparent that her need to retreat may be the most sensible option.
How much you enjoy My Year of Rest and Relaxation will depend on your tolerance for Moshfegh’s sharp, caustic humour. She is excellent at eviscerating whole swathes of society – the art world, bankers, and the medical profession – with a dark humour that is particularly satisfying. For the seemingly slight nature of the plot, My Year of Rest and Relaxation reveals itself to be anything but, exploring the nature of grief, the emptiness of consumerism and societies bland and blind sense of conformity.
Milkman by Anna Burns
I shouldn’t really be including Milkman as I am not quite finished it yet and a lot has been written and discussed about it already. Just to say though, it is NOT a challenging or difficult read – it is written in a particular voice and once you get into the rhythm of the writing, it really flows. It is also very, very funny, which seems to be getting lost in all the analysis. Granted, it’s quite dark humour and maybe particularly Northern in its outlook, but it has moments of real sharp humour. I’d hate to think that people would be put off reading Milkman with all this talk of it being a difficult book as it is a really important book, particularly in its depiction of life in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles and the effect that had on ordinary people trying to live ordinary lives. Milkman is timely and necessary and Anna Burns is an inspiration.
Have you any challenges lined up this month? Or any exciting reading plans?
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!