Every year I say that each of my 20 books of summer will get its own full review and each year I renege in that promise.
Life gets in the way and suddenly I am six reviews behind with four weeks to go and a post of mini-reviews looks enticing.
So here it is, three of my 20 Books of summer in one fell swoop.
No 518 Carol by Patricia Highsmith
Published under a pseudonym in 1952 as ‘The Price of Salt’, Carol is both unlike anything else Patricia Highsmith ever wrote and simultaneously unmistakable as her work.
Carol tells the love story between a nineteen-year old set designer Therese Belivet and Carol Aird, a suburban mother and wife in her thirties. It is unapologetically romantic as it charts their affair after Therese falls for Carol while serving her in a department store a few days before Christmas.
I see her the same instant she sees me, and instantly, I love her. Instantly, I am terrified, because I know she knows I am terrified and that I love her. Though there are seven girls between us, I know, she knows, she will come to me and have me wait on her.
Carol is a youthful, somewhat hopeful novel of a lesbian romance but contains some of the recognisable aspects of Highsmith’s work. Her taut, precise narratives usually feature protagonists who have become obsessed with someone else, like Tom Ripley and Dickie Greenleaf. So too with Therese and Carol. As their relationship intensifies and they take a road trip together, noirish thriller elements invade the story – motel rooms and stiff drinks, shadowy detectives and guns in suitcases.
And yet there is no violence in Carol, besides the violence of emotion and the trauma of trying to live with a forbidden love. As Carol is faced with losing her child in order to continue her relationship, the reader sees what Therese doesn’t – a mother torn by her emotions. Even as the book resolves itself into a happy ending, there is a hint that as happy as things are in this moment, the future for Therese and Carol will be anything but smooth.
Read on: Book
Number Read: 229
Number Remaining: 517
20 Books of Summer: 10/20
Fame by Daniel Kehlmann
Fame by Damiel Kehlmann is billed as a ‘novel in nine episodes’ – a lofty title for what is essentially a collection of interlinked short stories that explore the alienating nature of living life in the public eye. Each of these stories is an entertaining slice of meta-fiction, at turns comic and frightening, but always sharp with ideas.
In each story, the protagonist’s existence is entirely reliant on how they are seen or heard by an audience. A woman on a conference trip becomes lost in a desolate place, perhaps Central Asia, with no mobile and no ability to communicate. A wealthy writer of self-help books find that his own trite aphorisms are no use for his own malaise; while a man starts to receive calls on his new mobile phone meant for someone else and finds himself sucked into the possiblity of an entirely new life.
Two of the strongest stories here explore the illusory nature of self. In The Way Out, an actor, tired of the celebrity circuit, starts moonlighting as an impersonator of himself, only to find that his identity is even more fragile than he thought. In Rosalie Goes off to Die, the terminally ill character of the story fights back against her creator to demand a different ending to her literary story.
Through sparkling language, Kehlmann cleverly explores how each character in this amusing collection believes only in themselves as construct – as the image that they have presented to the world. When communication fails and the true nature of reality becomes evident, then the characters crumble. In a world that seems to value image over everything else, Fame is an enjoyable yet often disturbing read.
Read On: Book
Number Read: 230
Number Remaining: 516
20 Books of Summer: 11/20
The Inheritance of Loss by Kirin Desai
For me, The Inheritance of Loss is a book to be admired more than enjoyed. It is a sprawling, kaleidoscopic narrative, spanning generations and continents.
It is 1985 and in a crumbling mansion in the foothills of the Himalayas, an old judge lives with his beloved dog and his 17-year-old granddaughter Sai. In a nearby shack, their loyal but put-upon cook has focused all his hope in his son Biju, who is working in restaurants in America.
Both Sai and her grandfather have spent their formative years in the West, speak in English and feel like ‘estranged Indians’. This mental isolation is compounded by their physical isolation and has made them insular and self-absorbed.
The judge sends Sai to some local women, Loli and Noni for education, but their lack of scientific knowledge means that a young man, Gyan, is brought in to be Sai’s tutor. With her lack of experience and contact with society, Sai falls for Gyan and a tentative relationship begins. Their courtship is delicate and threatened both by the judge’s reaction and by Gyan’s ethnic loyalties, which lead to the house being attacked by young Nepali-Indian militants.
The book continually shifts perspective, the narrative structure emphasising the dislocation and fractured existence of its characters. It explores the judges time in London as a young man, and Biju’s unhappy experience as a migrant in America. It is beautifully structured with impressive prose but left me oddly cold. It is a sombre, serious book – lifted occasionally with flashes of humour when Sai’s eccentric teachers are featured. The strongest parts for me were those featuring Biju and his father, where the heart-breaking wish for your child to have a better life than you have had can mean that your child has no meaningful life of their own.
Read on: Book
Number Read: 231
Number Remaining: 515
20 Books of Summer: 12/20
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!