What I Have Been Reading Lately #2

 

I really enjoyed writing the last “Books I’ve Been Reading Lately” post and have decided to make it a recurrent feature on the blog where I can gather together all the best books I end up reading over a few months. I’ve been a little late with this post, as I read most of these books in autumn and winter last year but I’ve just had so many other things to write about, too.

Back before Christmas I gathered all my unread books together and made a To Be Read pile. With Christmas coming up and the prospect of getting more new books, I told myself I wasn’t allowed to buy anymore before then but had to pick what to read from the books I already owned.

I did end up getting one book as a gift and another as a prize from a competition I won but I didn’t buy any books myself and it was nice to discover what I already had and to read one that’s been sitting on my shelf unread for years.

 

The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova

“Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters addressed ominously to ‘My dear and unfortunate successor’. Her discovery plunges her into a world she never dreamed of – a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an evil hidden in the depths of history.”

Daniel gave me this book for our anniversary after seeing it on my wishlist and I ditched everything else to read this one first. It’s inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula but can I admit something? I liked this one better than Stoker’s famous novel, which I actually ended up rereading after this one left a void. Like Stoker’s novel it’s a long one but I didn’t ever get stuck with it even though it took me a long time to read. For a month or so I would read a chapter or two before bed, cosying up with it’s Gothic tale.

I really liked the novel’s mix of Gothic athmosphere, history, travel and the search for old documents. The novel made me wish I had been more interested in history when I was younger, like the narrator. It gave me a real urge to visit the old Eastern European countries and cities that is mentioned in the book and to learn more about their history, all places I have never really considered visiting before. I honestly missed all of it, the characters, the historical accounts and the descriptions of the cities, long after I had finished reading it.

|Psst. I have just discovered that Kostova has a new novel out in April called The Shadow Land that I will have to get, too!|

 

The People in the Photo – Hélène Gestern

“Parisian archivist Hélène knows very little about her mother, Nathalie, who died when she was four. In the hope of learning more, she places a newspaper advert calling for information on Nathalie and two unknown men pictured with her at a tennis tournament in 1971.

Against the odds, she receives a response from Stéphane, a Swiss biologist: his father is one of the people in the photo. More letters, and more photos, pass between them, in an attempt to unearth the truth their parents kept from them. But as they piece together events from the past, will they discover more than they can actually deal with?”

I can’t believe how many years it took me to actually pick up this book. I’ve had this book for nearly three years now and I don’t know what’s taken me so long. I still vividly remember picking this one up in my favourite Waterstones across the street from UCL after I finished my last exam, which happened to be for my module in History and Photography.

The book was easy to read and I enjoyed reading something a bit more straightfoward compared to some of the other stuff I normally read. I love novels that take place through letters and I really liked the idea of a story developing around an object such as an old photograph, as I believe we can discover so much just by looking at an image. The ending was perhaps a little predictable, at least to me and I think a more literary fiction version of this would have made it even better.

 

Roadside Picnic – Boris and Arkady Strugatsky

“Red Schuhart is a stalker, one of those strange misfits who are compelled by some unknown force to venture illegally into the Zone and, in spite of the extreme danger, collect the mysterious artefacts that the alien visitors left scattered around. His life is dominated by the Zone and the thriving black market in the alien products. Even the nature of his daughter has been determined by the Zone. And it is for her that Red makes his last, tragic foray into the hazardous and hostile depths.”

I cheated with my own rules a bit and picked one of Daniel’s book from our shelf because I felt in the mood for some sci-fi. At first I didn’t like the overly macho characters in the book and I found the way the characters spoke really annoying, although I wasn’t sure if that was because of the translation. I wasn’t really sure if it was my thing after all but then… then I read the ending.

Like one of my all time favourite novellas I am Legend, this book completely changed from being an ok read to a piece of mind blowing literature after I read the final paragraphs. In the end the characters took me completely by surprise. I won’t spoil it for you (just like I would never spoil the ending of I Am Legend to anyone) but if you are into sci-fi that leaves you thoughtful, you should definitely give it a read!

 

The Little Paris Bookshop – Nina George

“On a beautifully restored barge on the Seine, Jean Perdu runs a bookshop; or rather a ‘literary apothecary’, for this bookseller possesses a rare gift for sensing which books will soothe the troubled souls of his customers.

The only person he is unable to cure, it seems, is himself. He has nursed a broken heart ever since the night, twenty-one years ago, when the love of his life fled Paris, leaving behind a handwritten letter that he has never dared read. His memories and his love have been gathering dust – until now. The arrival of an enigmatic new neighbour in his eccentric apartment building on Rue Montagnard inspires Jean to unlock his heart, unmoor the floating bookshop and set off for Provence, in search of the past and his beloved.”

I had had my eyes on this for a while when Daniel bought me the book this summer along with Sweet Caress (that turned out to be the best thing I read in 2016). I have been trying to find more easy-going books to read, as I don’t always feel in the mood to read the more heavy and serious literary fiction I often buy, so I was really looking forward to read it as my holiday book when I went home to Denmark in September.

I love reading stories inspired by other people’s love for books and about people owning bookshops, because in a dream world I would love to have one of my own. I thought this was a sweet and comforting thing to read. Maybe a bit sentimental and slightly predictable but it still put me in a good mood. A bit like having Mac’n’Cheese for dinner. You know it’s all carbs and empty calories but it still tastes pretty good.

 

The Evenings – Gerard Reve*

“‘I work in an office. I take cards out of a file. Once I have taken them out, I put them back in again. That is it’

Twenty-three-year-old Frits – office worker, daydreamer, teller of inappropriate jokes – find life absurd and inexplicable. He lives with his parents, who drive him mad. He has terrible, disturbing dreams of death and destruction. Sometimes he talks to a toy rabbit.

This is the story of ten evenings in Frits’s life at the en of December, as he drinks, smokes, sees friends, aimlessly wanders the gloomy city street and tries to make sense of the minutes, hours and days that stretch before him.”

After winning a competition on Twitter, Pushkin Press sent me this newly translated Dutch classic. I have been thinking a lot about this book since I read it but to be honest, I still don’t know what to think of it. I was really excited to read it and because the story is set in December, I chose to read it in December, too. I think that was a mistake because my December was very different and more cheerful from Frits’s, so I was in completely the wrong mood and mindset for it.

Frits sort of annoyed me, the same way every real person annoys me when they don’t seem to be taking life very seriously. But and there is a but, it made me think a lot about what it must have been like after WW2 finished and peace returned. How traumatised a lot of countries like The Netherlands were after the war but also how meaningless everything must have felt after all that death and destruction, even as life slowly started to improve. How do you really get past that? I think that is what Frits was trying to tell me. That he was trying, in his own way.

That’s it for now. My next post for this series will be featuring some of the books I got for Christmas. Have you been reading anything good lately? Feel free to leave me any recommendations that you have, I’m always looking for new things to read.

 

*I was sent this book by the publisher Pushkin Press as a competition prize. All opinions are my own.

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