It’s been nice to have the time recently to sit down and get some serious reading finished! I’ve managed to crack through a good few books this month, hence the two-parter (you can find part 1 here). It’s been great to find some really good reads to review for 3 books 3 points this month. Of course I’ve got a huge pile to read, I think the good thing about autumn and winter drawing in is the treat of spending dark nights curled up with a book!
I’m still getting to grips with Goodreads, but am enjoying it a lot – if anyone else is on there feel free to connect and recommend any books for me to read!
Making the most of the cooler weather and earlier nights, here are the books I’ve read in the second half of this month…
Ghost Wall, by Sarah Moss**
– A slim book that sucks you in completely. Ghost Wall is the narrative of Silvie, a teenager taking part in a Neolithic re-enactment camp, along with her father, mother, and a professor and his three students. The story is told in Sylvie’s voice, the lack of punctuation drawing us into Sylvie’s monologue, enhancing our understanding of her experiences.
-The story begins with a chilling description of an event from neolithic times. We are then immediately transported forwards, the tone changing with the party settling into their roles as re-enactors. Before you know it, a tightness is beginning to build beneath Sylvie’s words. As the summer heat rises, the story itself becomes cloying, close…we feel a foreboding, something picked out in the words, a building of tension that is not obvious but is very real. Foraging events and campfire evenings become something a little more. Divisions become more apparent, the ingrained sexist and racist views of Silvie’s obsessive father seeming to spread subtly over the camp, leaving a troublesome air as events start to ramp up.
-At once an observation on how far a group will push itself in unfamiliar territory, a diary of domestic abuse, a comment on gender roles, but also managing to hint at a deeper undercurrent, Ghost Wall leaves you wanting more, yet still strangely satisfied. Leaving much unsaid seems to speak volumes, allowing you to fill in the backstory with your imagination, which I actually felt made the book have more of an impact with me. I read this book in one go, and reaching the end I felt like I’d been holding my breath for the past hour. The quick conclusion leaves us questioning, wondering… but in this case, it adds to the tension. Ghost Wall leaves us with not quite a conclusion but a jarring feeling, to stay ingrained in memory for a while to come. An excellent read.
RED – A Natural History of the Redhead, by Jacky Colliss Harvey
-As a proud ginger, I was looking forward to reading this book! RED covers the history of redheads, from 50,000 years ago up until the present day, via renaissance artists, superstitions, pre-raphaelites, and modern day depictions.
-I’m not sure what I was expecting from the book, but it is very heavily focused on the arts and the role redheads played in great paintings, where the use of red hair was often used as a metaphor or to say something about the character of the individual portrayed in the painting. Although the book was presented as a broad look at red hair, the focus on Art History tended to lose me – Colliss Harvey’s background is in Art History, so this is understandable, but I felt the book should have been described as such. I found it jumped between personal experience and factual information, so the book as a whole never really gelled with me. I’ve read other reviews from people who loved it, but I found it a bit of a chore to get through.
-The book did cover some fascinating areas, such as the evolution of the read-headed gene, but I felt it was a bit thin on the ground in the factual areas. I found myself wishing there was more content covering scientific and genetic information, as well as wanting more about the societal implications of red hair throughout the ages. Whilst I am sure there are other books covering these areas, the way this one was presented as such made me feel that it lacked depth. The history of redheads in art was very rich in detail, however it is not a subject I am familiar with, and the heavy emphasis tended to put me off. Altogether, I didn’t really enjoy this book – the description on the back didn’t match with the content, making it feel a bit of a let-down.
The Rings of Saturn, by W. G. Sebald
-I bought this with the intention of reading alongside Robert Macfarlane‘s Twitter bookclub over summer, but then life got in the way and I only managed to get around to it this month. But what a treat – it was well worth the wait. The Rings of Saturn is a wander through a human history, beginning with a walk around the coastline of East Anglia. Meandering thoughts take us from this coastal base to learn of varied accounts of great war, Chinese rebellions and the silkworm moth, alongside many others. Reading it seems a dreamworld, where we are whisked away on a whim, but find ourselves lost in fascination and wonder.
-A sense of melancholy suffuses the book somehow; not outrightly stated, but the sort that infuses each word ever so slightly. I admit it took me a while to get into the book, – and even now, I feel as though I have somehow missed something, and must go back and re-read it – but by the end, I was wrapped up in this sumptuous milieu of rumination, regret and by-the-by. A perfect escape into another world, which is this world, but not quite.
-I’m not sure if I loved it. I’m not sure if I even understood it yet. But a surreal, haunting experience. One to definitely be repeated.