Bingeing on Books

This summer holiday I binged on books. I just read and read and read. And then read some more. Bingeing and gluttonising and craving for more and more and more – a heavenly  addiction like an opiate of the gods.

I could almost go so far as to say that reading is the cure for all evil, all depression, all listlessness, all … well, everything. Unless you’re illiterate. Reading is my saviour, pure and simple. Even more than writing. Because although writers’ block is quite a common ailment, I’ve never suffered from readers’ block. Especially during long and languorous summer holidays, when I manage to consume about three times as many books as during other times of year.

So, if you’re a fellow reading addict, here are some books I’d like to share with you from my gluttony of the past two months. Not necessarily in order of preference or stars.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion – a brilliant and hilarious portrayal of an academic guy with Aspergers, who somehow manages to fall in love and cope with the conundrum of the experience by the skin of his brain cells. In many ways, this novel felt more authentic than Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I’d be hard pushed to decide which of the two I preferred. Both are brilliant in their different ways – so can it be a draw?

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng – a thoroughly good read. Although the underlying mystery throughout is who started the fire that destroyed the protagonists’ family home, it’s much more than a straightforward thriller. Lots of sensitive writing and deep thoughts, though a bit preachy in parts, especially towards the end. At the end of the day, it’s one of those books that I enjoyed while reading, but soon afterwards pondered the question, ‘Hmmm …would I take this to heaven with me?’

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Bert Dugon – a touching and unusual story of a boy born with red eyes and how this genetic anomaly affected his entire life. I was thoroughly engrossed right until the last quarter or so, when the novel suddenly turned into some kind of Christian homily and made me feel that I’d been duped.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – a deeply moving portrayal of the trials of young love and marriage when put to the test of incarceration. The plight of black Americans is powerfully depicted, allowing the non-American white reader into a world they would not normally have any idea of, other than via occasional media coverage. One of my favourite reads this summer. Powerful stuff, and a very satisfying ending.

Normal People by Sally Rooney – after reading the first few chapters of this novel I found myself thinking, hang on a minute, is this Young Adult fiction? But no, once I got further into the storyline and the protagonists developed from high school kids into university and post-university adults, I soon became totally caught up in their complex, addictive relationship. A sensitively written novel and an all-round compelling read.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris – based on the true story of a Jewish prisoner whose allocated camp job was that of tattooist, and who fell in love with one of the new female arrivals. The feeling was mutual and, by what seems like nothing short of a miracle, they both survived their Auschwitz ordeal and married after the war. Morris’ writing style and characterisations were far from perfect in my humble opinion, but hey, how can you criticise a novel with as noble a theme as that?

The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn – a taut and very noir psychological thriller about an agoraphobic woman who spends her days spying from the windows of her solitary home and inadvertently witnesses what she believes to be a murder in the house across the road. But with her psychological instability, who is going to believe her? A bloody brilliant read – just could NOT put it down! Can’t wait to see the film, which I hear is coming out in the autumn.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides – another pretty taut thriller, though I didn’t enjoy it as much as The Woman in the Window. This one is about a woman who lost her voice after murdering her husband and subsequently being institutionalised. Then along comes the male protagonist, a psychiatrist who is determined to crack the mystery behind the silence of his recondite patient. A great premise for a thriller, and certainly very clever; however, I did find the writing rather clichéd in many parts. The sheer intrigue alone kept me turning the pages right until the totally unexpected ending.

The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth – absolutely loved it! Ah, families and all their strife … where would be without them? And where would be without mother-in-laws? Although this novel is essentially a domestic drama (somewhat in the style of Joanna Trollope), the underlying thread throughout the storyline is who killed the mother-in-law? The denouement is both unexpected and satisfying.

Miracle Creek – this one very likely tops the list for me. An all-consuming courtroom drama that centres round the gripping hook: who set fire to the experimental medical treatment device (colloquially known as the ‘miracle submarine), burning alive two people in the process? The writer skilfully weaves together elements of crime, culture clashes, immigration, prejudice, and disability. A powerful concoction which kept me guessing right till the end, and after the last page made me ponder for days to come: how do some people survive the life and circumstances they’ve been allocated?

So there it is, then. My reading list for the summer of 2019. Quite an undertaking. Not just in the number of books I read in close proximity, but also in my increased awareness of just how weird and complex, and very often horrible, this crazy world we live in truly is. That’s the power of good literature – it educates as well as entertains, enabling you to experience the unknown, and relate to people and situations that make your life all the richer, all the more empathetic.

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