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