Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Recent Reads #9

I just haven't been in the mood to read. Ever since finishing my exams, I've been fidgety, fed up with spending long days sitting still, and can't quite seem to get stuck into a good book. That, combined with my total lack of interest in reading following revision days, means that I've basically not read very much at all in the last couple of months. But that's ok, because I'm progressively filling up my Kindle ready for my trip to South Africa, and all the time spent travelling which will give me plenty of time for reading. I'm getting back in the game. The last three books I've read have been varied: one new, one that's been sitting on my bookshelf for 6 months, and an oldie - but one of my absolute favourites. 

Acts of Contrition - Jennifer Handford
I got an email from Amazon, and I downloaded it because I thought it sounded like quite a good holiday read. And I was right. I picked this up on the plane back from Copenhagen, and finished it later that afternoon, unable to stop turning the pages. As I've mentioned before, I love a novel with multiple narrators, and this novel tells the story of Mary and Tom, and their marriage, from both their perspectives. It is somewhat 'Mary heavy' but I think that was ok, and it felt like the most natural way for the story to be told. It's a novel about family, marriage and secrets, and what happens when the three are all too closely intertwined. Does a marriage make a family, and what happens when it can break a family? What is a marriage when its corrupt with secrets? How can secrets destroy a family? When Mary is forced to tell her husband a secret which has trapped her, bearing a burden on their marriage since the beginning, it all goes topsy turvy. The story is about the couple's negotiation of the secret, and whether they're able to to live with it and turn it into part of their lives. The novel wasn't complex or difficult, but it was gripping. I always wanted to know what was going to happen next, and there were twists and turns at every corner. A read for the plane, the train or the beach. 
4 / 5

A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini 
When your days are spent reading about women who've been sex trafficked and the prevalence of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa as part of your revision, A Thousand Splendid Suns perhaps isn't the ideal bedtime read. But I read it anyway. This is the third time I've read this book, and it's one of my favourites: one of the most powerful novels I've ever read. The story is about two women in Kabul both, unwillingly, married to the same man. Mariam, struggling to conceive, let alone carry a son, becomes useless and Laila is introduced as a more productive wife. The women become friends, planning an escape together, but limited by and fearing the Taliban regime which imposes harsh restrictions on women. It's a story about abuse, and it's a story about women - women who are strong in the face of men who constantly try to break them. Historically and politically it's fascinating. Culturally it's disturbing, but truthful and heartbreaking. It is one of the few novels I could read over and over, touched and tortured by something new every single time. 
5 / 5

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight - Alexandra Fuller
A Christmas gift that's been staring at me from my bookshelf ever since, I was keen to read it before embarking on my African adventure. A biography, following Fuller's own life, growing up in sub-Saharan Africa - the movement from the UK to Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) to Malawi and Zambia. Fuller, known as Bobo, grows up throughout the novel, detailing the effects of the Rhodesian Bush War and the hardships and constant illness faced by her family. Her mother's battle with alcoholism and depression, fuelled by the death of Bobo's siblings is by far the most challenging and absorbing theme of the novel, but written about in a confusingly detached way. For me, it was particularly interesting since I'd not long been learning about post-colonialism and Zimbabwean land laws as part of my degree, and understanding individuals' stories within the politics and geography was really insightful. However, I found the novel quite hard work. At times it felt really quite slow, with very little progression nor any real emotional response to the history. I didn't love it, I didn't hate it, but I was interested by it. It's a good insight into that time and place, but be prepared for lots of death, disease and difficulty. 
2.5 / 5

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