Close to the Finish – Books 17 – 19 of #20booksofsummer

Well, we are close to the finish line, with only 5 days left until the end of 20 Books of Summer.

I am cutting it very fine with still 200 pages of The Group by Mary McCarthy to read, but I think – I hope – that I will complete the challenge.

How are the rest of you doing?

For yet another year, reviews have taken a back seat, so in order to finally catch up; here are three more mini-reviews to get me on track. It is unlikely that I will review The Group before 3 September, so that review will be slipped in after the deadline.

Please don’t judge me…


No 511: The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall


The Electric Michelangelo begins in the early 19th century on the shores of Morecambe Bay, where Cyril (Cy) Parks lives with his mother Reeda in their boarding house, which caters almost exclusively for people who are dying.

Following an encounter with the mysterious and cruel Riley, he embarks upon a career as a tattoo artist. His skill at freehand work allows him to create art on others bodies, finding a way to tell their stories through the images they chose. When one by one he loses his ties to Morecambe, his vocation takes him all the way to Coney Island – another seaside resort on the other side of the world. Here amongst the crazed boardwalks of the Depression-era theme park he meets Grace, a woman who needs Cy to fulfill her performance dream.

The Electric Michelangelo is a world of the senses and of sensuality. Reading it is like eating a very rich meal. The prose is dense and lyrical, occasionally overly so, but Hall perfectly captures that essence of seaside towns, be it Morecombe or Coney Island, and the misfits and outcasts that such places attract.

Her goal is to celebrate the weird, the odd and the unusual and for the most part, she succeeds, mingling moments of quiet beauty and happiness with the pain and hardship that exists in the world. However, some of the novel is overwrought and overthought– Cy’s mother moonlights as an abortionist and it is a storyline that adds little to the overall plot.

Cyril himself is a cypher of a character, never really dominating his own narrative, but as he is mainly a conduit for the stories of others, which is what a good tattoo artist is, the lack of definition can be forgiven.

Read On: Book

Number Read: 236

Number Remaining: 510

20 Books of Summer: 17/20


No 510: Amongst Women by John McGahern


While I was reading Amongst Women, I got to thinking about what I consider my favourite books of all time and I noticed that most of what I would say are my favourites, were first read around twenty years ago. By favourite, I often think I actually mean most formative.

The reason for this is because Amongst Women is a book that, had I read it twenty years ago, would be one that I would class as an all-time favourite.

Amongst Women is a deeply affecting family drama centring on Moran, an aging IRA veteran who is facing death in the company of his second wife and his three daughters. Set in a mostly patriarchal Ireland that is all but vanished, Amongst Women looks back at Moran’s life and his influence on his children, particularly his daughters. It is a moving and elegiac study of family life, where really, very little happens, but all of human nature is here.

McGahern writes intimately about the minutiae of daily life and how the importance of ritual and routine to someone like Moran can feel stifling to the next generation.

Amongst Women is a beautiful book, tracing the imperfections of paternal love, the pull of history and the indomitable nature of the human heart to love against all odds.

I wish I had time to write more about this brief compelling masterpiece, but safe to say I plan to read a lot more of McGahern’s work in the future.

Read on: Book

Number Read: 237

Number Remaining: 509

20 Books of Summer: 18/20


No 509: Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton


Hangover Square is a book about moments in between, empty spaces in time where events can go either way.

Set in 1939, just before the outbreak of WW2, Hangover Square is the story of George Harvey Bone, a lonely, awkward man in his thirties who has fallen in with the wrong crowd and spends his days drinking amid the bars and boarding houses of Earls Court. Bone has fallen hard for the enigmatic and scheming Netta who simultaneously uses George for her own amusement and for his ability to spend money on her. George, at heart a decent man, cannot seem to tear himself away from Netta and their spurious friends, despite knowing that he is being used and is wasting his life.

George has other problems. He suffers from ‘dead moods’ when his brain ‘clicks’ and he loses his grasp on reality. During these dead moods, he has he innate knowledge that he must kill Netta and move to Maidenhead in order to make everything all right.

Hangover Square is a stunning character study of a lost and lonely man who is struggling to find his way out of the endless cycle of alcoholic binges and hangovers. Netta too is a wonderful creation – a scheming actor with little talent but a lot of ambition, not caring whom she uses to get what she wants.

Set against a backdrop of a country, which is also in a fugue state, hovering between peace, and war, Hangover Square builds its tension slowly and incrementally to a truly chilling yet moving conclusion.

For more in depth analysis, check out Jacqui’s review, which is excellent and led me to add the book to my 20 Books of Summer pile in the first place.

Read on: Book

Number Read: 238

Number Remaining: 508

20 Books of Summer: 19/20

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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!

38 Comments Leave a comment

  1. In an ideal world I would have participated. I still thing it’s a wonderful challenge. There’s always next year. I know what you mean about favourite books. Most of mine I also read at least twenty years ago. I’m looking forward to reading Amongst Women. It’s somewhere on my piles.


  2. I picked up a copy of Electric Michelangelo from a library book sale not long back, and look forward to reading it (especially knowing it’s Naomi F’s favourite book). I’ll be cutting it fine with my last three books as well — I hope to finish them by Sunday and write them up on Monday to post Tuesday. Whew!


  3. Amongst Women is extraordinary, isn’t it, although a tough read particularly given McGahern’s family background. I remember reading That They May Face the Rising Run and feeling that it had been written by a man finally at peace with himself. Good luck with the rest of the challenge, Cathy!


  4. Hi Cathy

    Good to see you’re so well on track, with reading if not the reviews – well it’s the reading that counts isn’t it? Congratulations!

    I have read nineteen, reviewed 17 and will be able to do both of these outstanding reviews by 3/9 the final review may well have to slip further into September. I see no reason why I won’t finish reading the final book with five days still left. I did change a couple of books. I also read another book but it was a ‘short’ so didn’t feel it should be included (although it may well have done/may still do if I didn’t/don’t finish the twentieth!). Not bad since I originally went for 10 books this year – I’m thrilled.

    Thanks for another wonderful year of #20BooksofSummer, Cathy. Congratulations to you and everyone who took part. Here’s to next year and another #20BooksofSummer! 🍻


  5. It’s a fail here. Ive read 10 and might be lucky to read one or two more. Unfortunately I’ve been reading other books — from the library or ones I’ve purchased — so while I haven’t conpleted 20 books of summer I have, indeed, read 20 books (and then some) — they just haven’t been from my TBR


  6. I’m so glad you liked Hangover Square, Cathy. Was this your first Hamilton? If so, you might want to bear The Slaves of Solitude in mind for the future. If anything, it’s even better!

    The John McGahern is definitely on my list for the future. It sounds a little like some of William Trevor’s work. Would that be a fair comparison, do you think?


  7. hasn’t the summer gone quickly!! 2 books to go for me – i think! I’m losing track haha! Hopefully I can squeeze them in and then worry about the reviews later! Thanks again for hosting such a fab challenge!


  8. Among Women sounds excellent – I will be adding that to my TBR pile. I have seven unread or half-read books left in my summer list, so I doubt that I will be finishing (even though one or two or them are pretty short) – though I do have an entirely free weekend coming up, so maybe I’ll still make it!


  9. Like you, I enjoyed The Electric Michelangelo but I had a few reservations. Its certainly very evocative of the seaside. Hangover Square has been in the TBR forever – I must get to it! Amongst Women sounds stunning, I’ve not read anything by McGahern but it sounds hugely powerful. I hope you completed the challenge Cathy but I think you should class it as a victory even if you didn’t – you’re so close!


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