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.







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