Books of 2020

January


The Wave
Morton Rhue

Starting small with a powerful novella. My German friend said it was required reading at school, and to be honest that should be the same for the UK too. A demonstration of a demonstration at how herd mentality and blindly following orders can have disastrous results. I remember waiting excitedly for the 2008 film release based on the same true story this book took its material from.



In The Dream House
Carmen Maria Machado

This beautiful, heartbreaking book. Told in flashes and snapshots, Machado recounts a two year abusive relationship in glorious prose and I would have read it in one sitting if it wasn't so painful to do so. I did cry when I finished it though, which was awkward because I was at work. I'm going to be recommending it to people for the rest of the year.



How To Disappear
Sharon Huss Roat

This is definitely for teenagers, and I wish I'd read it when I was one because Roat captures the irrational panic of anxiety. Vicky is both sympathetic and frustrating; you just want to shake her out of her freeze/flight responses. It's also a good story of how social media can help us hide, help others and entirely tangle us in its web.



Nothing Good Can Come From This
Kristi Coulter

I'm never one to pass up a book about a woman quitting drinking, but this book of essays didn't do it for me. A lot of it feels like filler, and some chapters are just lists and fake 'interviews'. It gets repetitive, like the author wrote three good articles and then ran out of steam.




I Who Have Never Known Men
Jacqueline Harpman

Wow, is this the bleakest book I've ever read? Sure, McCarthy's The Road and Saramago's Blindness are horrific, but this book manages to pack in a tonne of existential despair without anything much happening. How could walking for twenty years manage to evoke such poignant feelings? Read if you can cope with unsatisfying conclusions.



This Is Pleasure
Mary Gaitskill

This is a polarising little novella about an aging professional who is accused of inappropriate behaviour and sexual harrassment, and his longtime female friend who struggles to reconcile their relationship with this claims. It's seems to challenge the #MeToo movement, asking "are these creepy old dudes just caught in the crossfire of changing attitudes?" Well, too bad. Q isn't eccentric; he's manipulative. We've  all known the type to manipulate and leverage power over us through putting us in uncomfortable situations that tread on the wrong side of sexual where we're forced to laugh it off. The novella was an interesting character study, but provoked no asympathy from me.


Eileen
Ottessa Moshfegh

This is a slow-burn story; intentional, teasing. It's a depressing look at a depressing life, and Moshfegh just keeps feeding you these extra little hints of awfulness. Eileen isn't a hero; she's actually a pretty gross person to follow, even if you can understand why she is the way she is. You can argue that nothing especially happens until the last handful pages in the book, but Moshfegh's writing is so compelling that it doesn't seem to matter.



Would Like To Meet
Rachel Winters

I'm not the romcom type, but I know Rachel and was very excited to find out she'd published a book! WLTM drew me in, until I was invested in the outcome of Evie's chaotic life, and even shed a little happily-ever-after tear on the bus as I finished the story.





Excavation
Wendy C. Ortiz

An intense look at the relationship Ortiz had with her teacher from junior high, which spanned five years and a lot of chaos. It's a well-written memoir and a relatable portrayal of problematic relationships where adults completely fail to step in. Why do they never step in?




February

Queenie
Candice Carty-Williams

I was looking forward to Queenie based on word of mouth alone, and didn't even read the blurb. The front of the cover however, completely misled me. "Hilarious"? This was completely depressing for a long time! Luckily, this just makes the realistic arc of the story feel more empowering.




The Water Cure
Sophie Mackintosh

The beautiful writing creates a troubling, claustrophic and confusing atmosphere to the novel. It's fragmented, which is tough to adapt to at the beginning but once I found my footing I was hooked. The Lia chapters were so affecting. I read this for my book group and we enjoyed speculating about the world this story put us in.




The Diving Pool
Yoko Ogawa

Three stories each feautiring a female narrator and an unsettling circumstance. I loved the first one, which the collection takes its name from, and was disappointed when it ended. That feeling of unfullfillment stayed with me, and whilst I enjoyed Ogawa's writing, all three stories ended vaguely which I wasn't in the mood for.



The Red Parts
Maggie Nelson

This was everything I wanted from a true crime book. As a memoir, Maggie Nelson revisits her past as her family relive the murder of Jane, Nelson's aunt, when the case is reopened thirty-some years later. Nelson wasn't even born when Jane was killed, which makes this book even more interesting. I could read Maggie Nelson's diaries for hours. 



Bluets
Maggie Nelson

Technically this was in the Poetry section at work, but I'm going to treat it as a novella as its written in prose. Balancing academic studies and discussions of the colour blue with her own current and past experiences, Bluets is really interesting; as ever I just want Maggie Nelson to tell me all about her life. Her descriptions of heartbreak are on point.

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