Book Review: Her Body and Other Parties

by Carmen Maria MachadoHer-Body-And-Other-Parties

Carmen Maria Machado’s debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, has marked her out as an effervescent talent in fermentation.

Her gorgeously lubricious, fantastically deranged, genre-twisting stories explore women’s bodies and the physical violence all too frequently visited upon them. Her narratives are strewn with surreal situations masquerading as humdrum lives, and many of her characters are propelled into states of half lunacy by their circumstances.

Machado’s feminal leitmotifs progress from tales of bariatric surgery and outbreaks of a fading disease to a woman’s terrifying struggle to hang on to her sanity in the wake of a brutal attack. Nothing in these clever little fables is ever quite as it seems – and there is invariably a sinister something lurking just beyond our range of vision.

Her language is pleasingly inventive throughout. In The Resident, her protagonist describes a woman’s dress as a “shapeless frock whose fractal pattern spiralled dozens of holes into her torso and created in me immediate anxiety.”

Machado’s style won’t appeal to everyone – especially those who insist upon neat endings to their short fiction. Nevertheless, I feel sure there will be plenty of readers delighted by her virtuoso storytelling.

I look forward to the publication of House in Indiana, Machado’s forthcoming memoir, due for release in 2019.

Many thanks to Graywolf Press for supplying an advance review copy of this title.
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Winding Up the Week #1

weekly-wind-up-odt2

Paula’s end of week recap

This is the first of a weekly post in which I summarize books read, reviewed and currently on my TBR shelf. In addition to a variety of literary titbits, I will look ahead to forthcoming features, see what’s on the night-stand and keep readers abreast of various reading challenges.

If there is something you would particularly like to see on Winding Up the Week, or you have any suggestions, questions or comments for Book Jotter, please drop me a line. I would be delighted to hear from you.

READ AND REVIEWED >

This week I reviewed the novel Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday, giving it 4 stars on Goodreads. It is due for publication on 1st March. > Read my thoughts >

I am in the process of writing a critique of Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, a debut short story collection released last month by Graywolf Press – so watch out for that appearing soon.

Next up will be The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara, a novel inspired by the real House of Xtravaganza from the seminal documentary Paris is Burning, set in New York during the early 1970s. It is due for release on 1st February.

On my beside-table is George Orwell: A Life in Letters, edited by Peter Hobley Davison, which I tend to dip-into shortly before nodding off. I will post a review at some point, but at my current reading rate of about ten pages per night, it may not be for a while.

HAY FESTIVAL WALES 2018 >

This year I am going to fulfil a life-long ambition when I spend several days at the internationally renowned Hay Festival, which takes place in its Welsh home (affectionately known as “the town of books”) from Thursday 24th May to Sunday 3rd June 2018.

My accommodation was booked several months ago when by some miracle I discovered an available pitch at a lovely glamping site a mere five-minute walk from the festival hub. Prior to this, I had all but given up hope of finding anywhere to stay within a thirty-mile radius of the town – mainly because those attending invariably reserve their rooms in advance from one year (possibly decade) to the next. And who can blame them? Henceforward, I intend to brand my name on this patch of grass!

Last week I became an official Friend of Hay Festival, opting for the double membership so that my partner could also take advantage of benefits like priority booking, discounts, exclusive offers etc. This achieved, I promptly booked Early Bird tickets to hear Margaret Atwood discuss The Handmaid’s Tale with Peter Florence in the Tata Tent. As anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with me will know, I am a huge Atwood fan, so I hardly need mention the smug expression on my face.

Anyhow, when the event starts, please look out for Hay Happenings, my frequent reports from the festival site.

FINALLY >

If you would like to use my Winding Up the Week meme, and/or make use the photo at the top of this page, all I ask is that you give me credit with a link back to Book Jotter.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I wish you all a week bountiful in books and rich in reading.

NB In this feature, ‘winding up’ refers to an act of concluding something and should not be confused with the popular British ‘wind-up’: an age-old pastime of ‘winding-up’ friends and family by teasing or playing pranks on them. If you would like to know more about this expression, there’s an excellent description on Urban Dictionary.

Hosted by Paula @ Book Jotter.

Book Review: Asymmetry

by Lisa Halliday

Assymetry by Lisa HallidayTwo novellas set in different countries with apparently unrelated characters – plus an ingenious tailpiece. There is a connection, but you need to be on the qui vive to see it coming.

Asymmetry, as the title implies, is a novel about life’s lack of symmetry. A young woman has an affair with a man considerably older than herself. He is a rich, successful, world-famous writer, she a lowly editorial assistant. His health is failing. He is needy and lonely. She is grateful and acquiescent. They bond over a mutual passion for baseball.

An Iraqi-American economist is detained at Heathrow Airport on suspicion of… what exactly? We are never quite sure, but we can hazard a guess. Prior to his passport being seized, his intention had been to spend a couple of nights in London before flying out to visit his brother in Kurdistan. During his interminable wait for immigration officers to make enquiries, fill out forms and return to him with a decision, we are privy to his innermost thoughts as he relives his past and recalls events from the Iraq War.

Granta Books acquired the UK and Commonwealth rights to Asymmetry in a seven-way auction in 2016. The editorial director, Bella Lacey, has described the author as an “exceptional new American writer” and the book’s release on 1st March 2018 as “a major publishing event” – and yes, it’s quite true that the novel has generated excitement in literary circles. But why?

The Milan-based author, Lisa Halliday has written a startling début about power-play, in which literary and musical references abound. The characters are believable and likeable misfits, and the dialogue sharp and frequently amusing. I enjoyed the first part of the book, entitled Folly, far more than the second (II Madness), for its droll wordplay and New York-Jewish humour, although there were times when I found the pernickety Pulitzer Prize-winning Ezra Blazer extremely irritating and so much wished Alice would be more assertive.

Asymmetry is a story in which nothing and nobody is equal. It is inventive, compelling and altogether unforgettable. We should expect to hear a great deal more of its promising author over the coming months.

Many thanks to Granta Publications for supplying an advance review copy of this title.

Amazon’s 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime Tag

How many have you read?

3d_books_stacked_picture_166357This is a first!

Brittany, a fellow book critic over at Perfectly Tolerable, has picked me, along with several others, to take part in her book tag.

The 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime list, which was compiled by the Amazon Book editors after much debate, was apparently influenced by two objectives: a) that the selection should cover “all stages of life” (hence the inclusion of children’s titles) and b) that it “didn’t feel like homework”.

It is certainly different from other lists of this type in that there are very few ‘heavy’ classics or challenging tomes included. Looking through the titles, I can see immediately that I read several of them many years ago, others more recently. A number of them are currently sitting on my overburdened book shelves (or creaking Kindle) waiting to be read (I have marked these TBR) and, rather embarrassingly, one or two are completely unknown to me (Moneyball and Daring Greatly, for instance). Although, the fact that the list is aimed at US readers may be the reason.

Totting up, I see that my score is a rather disgraceful 19, with a further 12 on standby. This must be remedied during 2018.

100 Books to Read in a Lifetime

It is now my turn to tag the following five bloggers (but please don’t feel obliged to take part if you would rather not):

1) Books Are My Favourite And Best, 2) Books Coffee And Repeat, 3) Curiouser and Curiouser, 4) Excuse My Reading and 5) Vishy’s Blog. Plus anyone else who fancies taking part.

The rules are as follows:

  1. Include a link back to Amazon’s official 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime page.
  2. Tag Perfectly Tolerable, the creator of this meme (to whom I say a big thank-you).
  3. Tag the person who nominated you – that would be me, Book Jotter.
  4. Copy the list of books and indicate which titles you have read.
  5. Tally up your total.
  6. Comment on the post you were tagged in and share your total count.
  7. Tag five new people and comment on one of their posts to let them know.

Voila!

Why not take part yourself? I would love to know how many of these books you have read. Please post below and let me know.

Book Review: Walking Wounded

By Sheila Llewellyn

waling wounded

“Daniel stared at the white-ish brain matter clinging to the haft and clogging up the eye of the needle. Can it really be as easy as that – to scrape out someone’s depression, their melancholy, their anxiety? To scrape out someone’s emotions?”

So assured is Sheila Llewellyn’s writing, one would never guess Walking Wounded was her first novel. Her portrayal of the emotional devastation caused by armed conflict, and the often unintentional misery brought about by misguided attempts to repair the damage is staggeringly accomplished.

Set in Birmingham’s once highly influential Northfield Military Psychiatric Hospital, it is tempting to conclude we are entering Pat Barker terrain – a writer well known for focusing on themes of memory, trauma, survival and recovery. Like Barker, the author has an uncanny ability to evoke the appalling mental anguish induced by war, she is seemingly able to fathom the suppressed male subconscious, and many of her characters are based on historic figures – but there the similarities end.

Inspired by her own experience of treating victims of PTSD in Northern Ireland, the author’s narrative switches back and forth between the fictitious characters: psychiatrist Daniel Carter and Corporal David Reece. It is 1947 and both doctor and patient have been profoundly damaged by their ordeals, but they also have the subliminal power to heal one another.

From the morale-destroying Burma Campaign to life in the old industrial city of Manchester (just before and immediately after the Second World War), Llewellyn’s historical and topographical research is scrupulous yet subtle. Speaking personally, as the daughter of a Mancunian who lived through the period described in this novel, I find her descriptions of the Manchester Blitz, and of The Manchester Guardian’s candid reporting of the Nazi atrocities, particularly fascinating

Walking Wounded is a brilliantly crafted, often harrowing, powerfully intense piece of work, which deserves to win awards. I hope very much that Sheila Llewellyn plans to write a second novel.

Many thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for gifting an advance copy of this title.