Mid-read Reviews: April 2020

One of my resolutions going into the New Year was to read a lot more which I think I am definitely doing; although I don’t have many books to show for it since I seem to, unfortunately, read at a snail’s pace. Of course, I try not to get bogged down in hitting arbitrary goals because that does tend to suck the fun out of leisurely activities like reading.

I thought I would talk a bit about the books I am reading and my thoughts on them – although they are yet to be completed (so no spoilers, please.)

So my current reads are:

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Blurb: racial tensions rise in a small community when Atticus – the father of the To_Kill_a_Mockingbird.jpgprotagonist Scout- takes on a rape case, defending Tom Robinson – the black man falsely accused of the crime.

I started to read this a few years ago but never completed it because the copy wasn’t mine and I had to give it back. This read is, therefore, technically my chance at redemption. The part I am currently at is the trial; which I believe the whole book is technically meant to build up towards. It goes without saying that this book is considered a classic, although I am probably reading it more critically and with higher expectations because of that.

It’s hard not to view the protagonist Scout really fondly; I love her curiosity and brave spirit. She also seems to be amazingly intelligent for her age and in many scenes holds her own in conversations with her adult counterparts. Part of me does suspect this is due to the fact she is looking back on childhood events using language natural to her as an adult, as opposed to how she truly spoke as a child.

It would have been interesting to read this at a younger age and compare it to what I know now. Lots of people I speak to about the book mention fondly that they studied it at school; so it appears I must have attended schools that were statistical anomalies in that regard.

One profound part I recently read involves Scout’s friend Dill who runs out crying after witnessing how Tom is questioned on the stand. As Jean consoles him one of the adults observes them and says Dill shouldn’t worry – he may cry now but when he gets older he won’t get as emotional when he witnesses any racial injustice. That scene really does make you realise how desnsitised we easily become overtime to the struggles of others. Most of the time it’s a protection mechanism but it’s rather the fact it happens without us noticing which makes it more insidious.

My Dark Vanessa cover

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell.

Blurb: The book centres on Vanessa who at 15 years old was abused by her English teacher Jacob Strane. Vanessa, – adamant Jacob was her first love – now in her 30s struggles to come to term with past events in the light of the #Metoo movement.

This book is a recent release from HarperCollins but even before then, it has been making the rounds on social media; for some good reasons, and some less so. I was no doubt excited to delve in – the cover alone looks fantastic. From the blurb it goes without saying that this is not an easy or light read; it also does mean I have to take it small doses.

One thing it does make you realise is that victims of trauma come on a spectrum and the road to recognition and peace is not an easy one. Vanessa was ultimately deprived of normal teenage years – instead of giggling with friends at corner shops or gossiping about crushes – she was weighed down with the responsibility of keeping her ‘relationship’ with Jacob a secret. He’s honestly a despicable character; frequently using emotional blackmail to maintain the secrecy of the abuse. The book switches between past and present quite seamlessly; so we are able to witness how the abuse started and its present effects on Vanessa as an adult.

Vanessa as a protagonist isn’t the most likable of people but I don’t think that’s the important thing about this book.  As pointed out skillfully in this article; a lot of well known narratives on abuse revolve around the  perpetrator –  most notably, Lolita; which is referred to often in this novel. Narratives like these then are about women taking ownership of the narrative and finally having the space to share their story.

So there you go – a nice mix of modern and class I like to think.

If you’re looking for more detailed thoughts/ exploration of themes of My Dark Vanessa I would recommend this fantastic round table discussion on The Book Slut – a site I also write for.

Please do feel free to comment & share any thoughts you have about either book!

Memories come, memories go…

I was watching a K-drama recently and the male protagonist Jun-yeong said something interesting. Something along the lines of

‘Memories are scary because you can’t control them.’

The more I pondered on it the more I found it to be true. We create memories but over time they can become like muddy waters that were once clear. We see elements of what makes the original thing but can’t grasp or remember the bigger picture. On a more logical note, even things like dementia, Alzheimers and amnesia take away the human ability to rely on our brains to store our memories like living room cabinet’s store china. Untouched, in one piece and always there for reference. I’ve always thought this is what fuels our addiction to various forms of technology- we love those phones and cameras can capture moments with crystal clear clarity that will remain over time. In this way, they have an added advantage the mind does not.

I was thinking about this [the unreliability of memories] as I read Michelle Obama’s Becoming and the sceptical voice in my head kept asking ‘how on earth does someone remember their childhood with so much clarity?’ Even when I look back to when I was such an age I can’t remember everything- which saddens me slightly- as if my mind’s once-tight grasp has loosened on these precious jewels whilst life turned my attention away.

But I am encouraged by what I do remember. The shine of the sun recently for example, randomly reminded me of the Sunday evening rush to the street outside so we could be first in line when the ice-cream van arrived. (You could always hear it before you saw it.) My siblings and I would always order a flavour called ‘lemon ice’ which captured the two-sided sweet-tangy nature of lemon perfectly. And although we may obsess over the specifics, it’s the feeling of happiness such treasured memories give you which is even more priceless.

Free with flowing thoughts…

On the day I should have been writing this post I had been sitting in an Itsu cafe in South London. It was desolate and peaceful. And in my head as I savoured the peace I congratulated myself for finding my little haven in the bustle. Even though I only had half the day off [of work] I really didn’t know what to do. I had piled on my tabletop the various options I had considered; Bible study booklet, current reading book and notebook for creative writing. It’s quite weird having even just a relatively small amount of time on your hands if you’re used to being on the go non-stop. It’s almost like your mind has to (with a lot of effort) tell your body to chill so you properly relax; embrace the moment of stillness.

As I adjusted and became more comfortable I people watched. In the back of my mind, I imagined being in a small and chic Parisian cafe watching busy folk curry across pavements to the sound of sipping coffee.

It was quiet in the shop but a customer sitting by the door inspired this:

 

Mr Anonymous

He plots world domination

one click at a time.

Liking tweet after tweet

twiddling with his headphones and

smiling out of the window

before swiftly disappearing onto the street,

melting into the crowd.

 

 

 

Book Review: ‘With Malice’ by Eileen Cook

The blurb describes this book as a ‘chilling psychological thriller’ and to be honest, that was enough for me to grab it off the shelf. I’m assuming the title ‘With Malice’ is almost an antithesis of the term ‘With Love’. Although it could refer to the legal concept of malicious intent too; both of which would be very relevant to the novel’s plot.with-malice-book-cover

The narrator and protagonist is Jill Charron an 18-year old student who describes herself as being quite shy but very intelligent and academic-focused. Upon first impressions she is pretty likable and honest. I personally, find her relatable too since she is very academic and intellectually curious. An example of her honesty shining through is when Jill moves in to a treatment centre and assumes her room mate Anna Lopez goes to a school with metal detectors. Thus, indicating to the reader these assumptions are likely due to Anna’s implied Hispanic background.

Cook puts us in an interesting position where we follow Jill’s train of thought as she gradually pieces together details of the accident that caused her injuries. In each chapter along with Jill’s narrative we gain access to police interview transcripts, applications etc.  This is clever, allowing the reader to play detective but also avoiding the issue of the reader being forced to trust an ‘unreliable narrator’ by giving us a second source of information to compare to Jill’s version events. In  addition to this, each chapter ends with something important Jill learns within the chapter; and as cliche as it sounds, it really does make you want to read on!

Nevertheless, despite these positive points, I found that by the time I had nearly reached the end of the book Jill STILL hadn’t remembered much about the accident. I understand the author was maybe trying to be realistic since I’m sure it takes ages for patients in real-life to recover from amnesia. However, this is a book and we don’t have ages. Even the way the recollection of events (when it finally happened) was done was quite annoying because after waiting for so long we don’t even know for sure if its a true memory, a dream or a ‘fake memory’. Suspense is good but by the end of this book I didn’t really feel like it was effective, I was just annoyed and wanted answers. This alone dropped my rating from a 5 to a 3.5/5.