re:View – The 2015 Bookshelf
October: Back on track

I’m finally catching up on my neglected bookshelf (as well as my mile-long reading list). Here’s October’s batch: a random mix of wonderful and dreadful classics, graphic novels and new-ish authors to watch.


The Lola Quartet by Emily St John Mandel
After discovering Station Eleven at the beginning of the year I absolutely breezed through Mandel’s other books, each as beautifully written and soul-piercing as the last. The Lola Quartet follows the four members of a high school jazz quartet, scattered across the American continent in their early adult years, who find themselves reluctantly reunited after a seemingly unimportant everyday incident uncovers a deadly mistake that was made in innocent school days. Mandel has such an ingenious way of mixing up thriller and literary drama, creating a page-turner that explores human fragility and failure and subtly comments on the impact of modern-day economic struggles on our minds, all the while pulling you deeper into a noir-ish tale of crime, betrayal and a life spent on the run.
Pens: 5 out of 5

Sin City, Vol. 3: The Big Fat Kill by Frank Miller
I read Sin City when I want something fast, dirty and fun and this one certainly delivers. I’m not a big fan of Dwight as a lead character, but I love the girls of Old Town, and this crazy hunt for a politically charged severed head just makes a great story. On balance not my favourite, but a very entertaining volume full of stunning graphics.
Pens: 3 out of 5

City of Glass (The New York Trilogy 1) by Paul Auster
I bought the New York Trilogy in a random indie bookshop because I loved the design of the edition. And being a fan of noir and mystery and detectives, I so wanted to love this. Bit it turned out to be one of those love it / hate it things. To me City of Glass seems a lot like the kind of pretentious book that was written with the purpose of being “different” in a random enough way to get pretentious literature critics to celebrate it as “turning the genre inside out”. If you like literary nosense that sacrifices the plot in a bid to be subversive, or are stuck in the middle of an existential crisis, this may be the right kind of thing. If you’re looking for a good mystery detective novel, look elsewhere.
Pens: 1 out of 5

Ghosts (The New York Trilogy 2) by Paul Auster
So after I finished City of Glass and had a rant about it, some people suggested I should read on and I would “get it”. Seeing as I had all three parts in one book anyway, and Ghosts is about 100 pages long, I thought I might as well. But, nope, sorry. This trilogy still doesn’t work for me. After reading Ghosts I was still as unmoved as I was by City of Glass. Might try the third part one day just for the sake of finishing if, but I’m not getting my hopes up.
Pens: 1 out of 5

The Eyes by Edith Wharton
I’m forever trying to get into the ghosts story of Henry James and Edith Wharton’s era, although with mixed results, and since I’m planning to (eventually) read everything my favourite author has ever written, I bought this little story when I found it as a tiny standalone book(let). It’s full of the clever, witty observations I love Wharton for, but it didn’t really scare or move me very much otherwise. It’s a bit like, guy who’s a bit of a dick gets what he deserves when his conscience catches up with him – but I’ve seen that done in more memorable ways elsewhere.
Pens: 2 out of 5

The Touchstone by Edith Wharton
This is quite a moving little novella about a man who sells out a former lover to fund his future happiness. The central characters are beautifully conflicted in classic Wharton fashion, behaving as unreasonably and erratically as humans generally do, which drives you a little bit crazy as you alternate between rooting for them and wanting to punch them at the turn of every page. I guess it could have had more depth as a full novel, as I found myself wanting to know more about the characters’ backgrounds, but for a read this short it certainly leaves its mark.
Pens: 3 out of 5

High Rise by J.G. Ballard
Oh god, I have found a new obsession. Ballard is writing with incredible foresight and digging ferociously into the depths of the human mind. I found High-Rise particularly terrifying: As a Londoner, living my life crammed into a huge city with too many people, I feel Ballard’s near-future vision of a tower block going feral hits just a little too close to home – in my head, I could just see it all playing out in the tower blocks of Canary Wharf. Dystopian enough to be entertaining and fascinating, but also plausible enough to make my skin crawl. An absolute must-read of its genre.
Pens: 5 out of 5

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi
While Persepolis was all about Satrapi’s childhood in Iran, the second part chronicles her teenage years spent in Europe. Sent to Austria by her parents to stay safe from the war, she soon sees her life falling apart by her desperate efforts to fit in and to cure her immense loneliness with excesses of all kinds. This graphic novel is a brilliant comment on the consequences of a war for those who are displaced, trying to build a new life in an unfamiliar place while dealing with people who just don’t understand where you’re coming from. I love how Satrapi has channelled her painful past into a work of artistic beauty and literary value, that educates you about a lot more than just the facts of history.
Pens: 4 out of 5

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
I read this because a friend pestered me continuously, and I’m glad she did. ADSOM, as it is known among its growing fanbase, is a wonderfully imaginative fantasy tale about a young man with unique powers travelling between different versions of London, trying to fend off dark forces and keep the peace between the rulers of these very different worlds with the help of a feisty adventurer. This book stands out in the very crowded young adult fantasy genre thanks to its cast of mould-breaking characters, primarily the cross-dressing Lila, who chooses a life of crime and danger because her Dickensian version of London doesn’t really offer any exciting options for a woman. It’s a surprisingly dark and bloody tale, filled with great sacrifice and suffering, but also with a good dose of beautiful magic – so really, it has everything you could possibly want from a fantasy adventure.
Pens: 5 out of 5

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