I started August with Dave Eggers’ A Hologram for the King. Neither the title nor the description appealed to me but I like Dave Eggers’ writing and once I started I couldn’t put it down – literally – I read it until I finished at 2am. It is a thoroughly contemporary story and told so cleanly, so without fuss; it left me torn between admiration and gut-churning envy for Eggers’ talent. Earlier this year, I was deeply moved by Madeleine Thien’s novel Dogs at the Perimeter and I was equally impressed with her debut, Certainty which engages with similar issues – war, love, loss – and is told in the same beautiful, lyrical prose.
Ahead of my ‘Morning Reads’ session at Melbourne Writers’ Festival, I read the novels of my fellow panellists. Lucy Neave’s debut, Who We Were, which contributed to my AWW Challenge, was gripping but strangely distancing and I didn’t connect with the characters on an emotional level. MJ Hyland’s This Is How was so disturbing I had to force myself to finish. It is not a book I would recommend, only because the subject matter is so dark, but the writing was, without doubt, superb and MJ Hyland was an amazing presence during the session – initially intimidating but with a surprising dry sense of humour, who seized her bio from the chair, and read it herself, in the third person, with deadpan interjections (e.g. ‘shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize – that means I lost’)
Since reading A Clockwork Orange a few years ago I have wanted to read more Anthony Burgess. I had a crack at Tremor of Intent but abandoned it, upon discovering it was an espionage novel which I would almost certainly fail to understand. Jake Arnott’s The House of Rumour suffered a similar fate, for both its subject matter, and the style, which didn’t grab me.
For the translation challenge I read Touba and the Meaning of Night by Shahrnush Parsipur, a fascinating but exhausting book about a century of unprecedented change in Persia/Iran.
September saw me finishing two trilogies I have long anticipated. The first was Hugh Howey’s Dust, the final part of his Wool series, which was as gripping as its prequels and a very satisfying conclusion, tying up a zillion lose ends of which I am astounded by his ability to keep track. Next up was MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood. What a wonderful book! I think I enjoyed it the most of the three. I had a sense that Atwood was just giving herself absolute free rein to write whatever the hell she wanted. It was funny and compelling and wildly imaginative.
Despite having read many great books in the last couple of months, there was one book that for me stood head and shoulders above all the others and that was The Round House by Louise Erdrich. There was honestly not a single word in this novel that could have been improved upon, and I read it with a reverent awe for her talent, as well as an intense absorption in the characters and their story. It engaged with deep and fundamental issues of race and morality and justice, and was powerful and authentic and deeply affecting. This is the first of Erdrich’s books I have read and I can’t wait to read more.
Here are the books I’m planning to read next:
Your turn: What great books have you read lately? Do any of these grab you?