It’s hard to believe, but summer is nearly over and it’s back to school time (my favourite time of the year!). Here are some of my cultural highlights from the last few weeks all squeezed in around my final 20 Books of Summer reading!
Despite sitting at Book 19 of my 20 Books of Summer challenge, I’ve read several other books this month on top of what I’d planned.
The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-Eun, translated by Lizzie Buehler
My Women in Translation reading continues with this recent Korean novel by Yun Ko-Eun. Yona works for Jungle, a company that specialises in sending tourists to disaster areas around the world, creating the commodification of real-life pain and tragedy. Following a sexual assault by her boss, Yona is sent to Mui, famous for a sink-hole accident, to assess it’s success as a must-see disaster site. What she finds there will change her mind about her line of work for good. I enjoyed this short and slight novel, whose satire is just subtle enough to be believable. It is expertly translated, creating an enjoyable eco-thriller that explores the way climate change is inextricably emmeshed within the pressures of global capitalism.
Blank Pages by Bernard MacLaverty
Bernard MacLaverty is one of my all-time favourite writers and while I love his novels, I don’t think he gets enough credit for his luminous short stories. Blank Pages is a collection of 12 short stories, each one exploring important moments in quiet lives. Some of the themes include looking after an ailing parent, small acts of kindness that make a large impression on someone’s life and the importance of art and music. The stories all feature a striking attention to detail and the use of vernacular in language.
There are several nods to the current pandemic in the collection. The central and longest story The End of Days: Vienna 1918 is a fictionalised account of the last days of the painter Egon Schiele who died in the Spanish flu pandemic and the final story Blackthorns: Derry, 1942 features the use of a new vaccine, created by Pfizer.
Although three of the stories are set in a particular time and place, there is a timelessness to the collection that makes the themes explored feel universal.
Mrs March by Virginia Feito
Two things intrigued me about Mrs March – firstly, that striking cover and secondly, this great review from Susan at A Life in Books calling it one of her books of the year. She wasn’t wrong, I doubt if I’ll read anything better in the coming months.
I’ve seen Mrs March described as a ‘twisted Mrs Dalloway’ and I can understand why. Mrs March is married to the famous writer George March. His latest bestseller features an ugly and unpleasant prostitute and when someone suggests to Mrs March that the character is based on her, her paranoia grows and her grip on reality starts to slip.
This is a wonderful character study of a mind in freefall and also a chilling exploration of the darkness that so many of us hide underneath a veneer of respectability. The novel references Woolf, Du Maurier, Shirley Jackson and is equal to all of them. Feito has created an unforgettable character and a disquieting and compelling reading experience. It’s amazing to think that this is her debut.
We’ve watched quite a few movies this month, but our August viewing was dominated by two shows – the return of Ghosts on BBC1 and the magnificent The White Lotus.
Ghosts has become such a family favourite in our house that my children now quotes the best lines at me on a regular basis. The story of a young couple who inherit a large country pile complete with a gang of ghosts is the most warm-hearted, funny and perfectly crafted television in years. The hardest thing about watching this show is trying to decide who the best ghost is…(it’s Pat, obviously).
The White Lotus
There’s not much more to be said about The White Lotus than has already been pored over on social media, but I loved this sharp, painfully funny look at a group of rich guests at a posh resort in Hawaii. Featuring fantastic performances all round(and a scene-stealing turn from Murray Bartlett), a genuinely perplexing whodunnit, an unnerving soundtrack and an amusing and often uncomfortable dissection of race, consent and privilege, The White Lotus is my show of the year.
This month I reviewed Love Will be Reborn, the bruising a brilliant new album from Martha Wainwright for No More Workhorse.
I’m also completely obsessed with Aisles, the new EP from Angel Olsen featuring five perfect 80s covers, including the classic Gloria.
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!