Recent reads

Apologies for neglecting this site and you, my dear readers. I’ve been traveling in Spain — will write about that next — and returned home with a massive head cold. First time I’ve been sick since before Covid-19. 

I want to share with you my most recent reads, which again are books by or about women. I don’t choose books that way; it’s a coincidence that my last few reads told the story of women (The Bee Sting is a stretch, but I’m including it. I’ll explain why.) 

Here goes:

Happening by Annie Ernaux, translated from the French by Tanya Leslie. This was a choice, by a man, for the Columbia University bookclub. I’ve read other Ernaux; this is my favorite. It’s Ernaux’s story of an unwanted pregnancy during her university years. It reads like a thriller. Will she get the care she needs? Will she come up with the money? Will the abortionist face charges? It’s 1963; abortion is illegal in France. Doctors are no help. The kitchen-table procedure is described in detail; I’ve never before read an intimate account of the passing of a fetus. In the months afterwards, friends, neighbors and doctors scoff at Ernaux’s ordeal, telling her that a woman in her parents’ neighborhood has been doing abortions for decades. This is a timely read given the bans and restrictions in many U.S. states. This is a short but full read, less than 100 pages. 

The London Train, by Tessa Hadley. I would read a soup can written by Hadley. In short stories and novels, she describes the lives of women outside the norm. I loved her novel Free Love, which tells the story of a 60’s London suburban wife who walks out of a neighborhood party and never returns to her husband and child, choosing a life with a much younger man, and poverty. In The London Train, we meet writer Paul, who lives in the Welsh countryside with his second wife and their young daughters. Paul is pulled into his eldest daughter’s life in London; Pia is 19 and pregnant and dropped out of university and having the baby. The train of the title links Paul to Cora, who has left her husband in London for Cardiff, where she’s restoring her childhood home. Their messy love affair is the heart of this smart and satisfying novel. 

The Bee Sting, by Paul Murray. At 643 pages, this is a doorstopper that starts with a bang: “In the next town over, a man had killed his family.” The girls telling this part of the story are surprised that sort of thing doesn’t happen more often. Welcome to small-town Ireland in the midst of a worldwide economic downturn, which has devastating consequences for the family Barnes. Each tells their story. Cass, a teenage girl and top student who turns to drink; Imelda, her beautiful but flaky mom; PJ, a 12 year old in fear of the local bully; and Dickie, who owns a car dealership that’s gone to the dogs. Imelda’s story is my favorite, and the reason I include this book in a post about women. Imelda contains millions; she is not a flake. Even the bee sting of the title is not what it seems in the course of her life. Folks on social media complain about the book’s ending, but it makes sense because of the novel’s first line. 

I’m reading Lies and Sorcery, by Elsa Morante, translated by Jenny Mc Phee. Another doorstopper. I brought it with me to Spain so I’d always have something to read. I’ve been back nearly a week and still have a hunk more. It’s the book that influenced Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. 

Also in the blog

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