Lullaby – Leïla Slimani: Lavinia’s Book Pick, September 2018

Lullaby is the story of the murder of two young children by their nanny. That’s not a spoiler – that’s how it opens. It’s tense, tight, and enigmatic throughout. There’s a light touch about the writing, from the moment the middle-class but middle-eastern lawyer mother goes to the nanny agency and is treated rudely by the agent – until she realises she’s a potential customer, not a potential employee. An acknowledgement that bigotry is an everyday event for those who face it. The passing frustration, too, of the mother Myriam, re-entering the world of work, is deftly captured.

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It doesn’t offer too much, or explain too much. We see the crippling poverty of the nanny, Louise. The way she is afraid to say no to anything. But the requests of the parents are just requests, and though they treat her as an employee, they’re not exploitative or demeaning. The children are ordinary children – with charms and challenges. It’s a mystery where we know exactly what happened at the start, but little about why it happened, and the answers aren’t easy or comfortable.

You’ll love this book if: 
– You like complex, ambiguous characters
– You like a naturalistic ‘slice-of-life’ style – it’s a snapshot into upper-middle-class Parisian life
– You like a super-French aesthetic – think cigarettes all the time and dinner party conversation about people’s sex lives

You might want to avoid this book if:
– You find stories about children getting murdered upsetting

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And find me at my blog here: laviniacollins.com

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The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – Natasha Pulley: Lavinia’s Book Pick, April 2018

This book recommend is one that I’d be really interested to hear what other people thought about!

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The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is a steampunky historical/magic realist novel that tells the story of Nathaniel a (sometimes) synesthetic telegraph operator who becomes (guess what) unwittingly embroiled in international intrigue and magic clockwork japes.

There were some great things about it: it had an engaging aesthetic, and there was a truly unexpected surprise that both came out of nowhere and made perfect sense when it was there. Nathaniel and the watchmaker himself were great characters and the historical detail on a period I knew little about was genuinely fascinating.

But I also had some niggles with it that wouldn’t go away. There was a really good female character in it, Grace, a science student at Oxford struggling to be recognised among the men. But two-thirds of the way through the book her character did a bunch of insane stuff for no reason. And even though the book was written by a woman, a lot of the female characters were just stereotypes – the neurotic mother, the fussing maid, etc. etc.

It felt as if it was ratcheting up for a big, elaborate conclusion. And there was a dramatic conclusion. But after that it kind of unravelled and a lot of the trails laid in the earlier parts of the book seemed to go nowhere. It was quite frustrating at the end, when I’d loved the first three quarters.

But I’d still recommend it! I’m dying to know if I missed something, or if other people thought it was more tightly plotted than I did.

You’ll love this book if: 
– You like vivid historical settings
– You’re digging that steampunk aesthetic

You might want to avoid this book if:
– Coincidences as plot features put you off
– You’re not digging that steampunk aesthetic

Tweet me here: @lavinia_collins
And find me at my blog here: laviniacollins.com

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Lavinia’s Book Pick, January 2018: First Love – Gwendoline Riley

This book was given to me by my good and dear and true friend Kay, and it turned out to be a good and dear and true gift.

First Love Riley.jpgFirst Love is a snapshot into Neve’s marriage via a flashback into her first love. It’s a simple concept, and the style itself is not wordy or flowery, and yet it communicates something real and complex. Riley has a talent for writing speech that reads as real, and for communicating relationships clearly but not explicitly.

First Love is one of the best novels I have ever read. I do not want to give too much away about it, but it was a true and painful and subtle and beautiful picture of a relationship that was told with a delicacy that it’s rare to see in literary fiction now.

Go out and read it immediately.

You’ll love this book if:
– You like literary fiction
– You are interested in what makes people tick

You might want to avoid this book if:
– You do not like books

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Lavinia’s Book Pick, September 2017: The Crossing – Andrew Miller

A Word in Your Shell-like

Our old pal Lavinia Collins is back with some more book picks for us! And not a moment too soon. With autumn lurching in, we’ll need all the brightness and joy we can get.

When you’re done reading this, why not check out Lavinia’s new Arthurian fantasy, The Cornish Princess? Monsters, magic and medievalism. What more could you ask for?

The Main Event

the crossing.jpgThis book was recommended to me by my mother, and like a lot of books my mother recommends, it contains quite a lot of sex (which she claimed to have no recollection of), including a particularly striking passage in which one of the characters compares a particular act to being sucked by a heifer. When I showed this passage to my current companion their only question was, “What is a heifer?”

So why I am recommending this heifer book? I didn’t love it. Isn’t it weird to recommend books you don’t love? Maybe, but I’m still thinking about it. It was a rather odd book, really. It centres on this character, Maud, a scientist working in pharmaceutical research, her relationship with her partner and her child and, most of all, other people’s assessment of her, and of her coldness and apparent self-interest.

A lot of the blurb extols what an incredible character Maud is, but what I found most interesting was the way that the other characters seemed not to be able to fathom her, and what that says about what both the author and society at large consider strange, unacceptable, mysterious, unusual, and incompatible about Maud’s personal qualities and womanhood and/or femininity.

Food for thought.

You’ll love this book if you like:
– Unusual family dynamics
– Lots of detail about boats
– Heifers

You might want to avoid this book if you dislike:
– Tattoos
– Boats (there really is a lot of detail about boats)

Happy Reading!

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Lavinia’s Book of the Month: March 2017

A Brief Word

First, an admission and an apology. I had originally earmarked this for Chapter and Verse’s February pick, but through indolence and negligence it got pushed back; I doubt anyone even remembers February by now, so I’m calling it Book of the Month for March.

This is not Lavinia’s fault, but mine. A thousand apologies.

Nick

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

I was given this book several years ago (three; so sorry) by a friend who I trust in all things. But because beneath this veneer of being a responsible citizen I am a deeply awful person I only just got around to reading it. A couple of things put me off.

Firstly, the last piece of “art” I interacted with about the circus was the film Water for Elephants, which was super dull, and I guess I thought this book would be full of people feeding elephants in the night-time. I also thought it was a children’s book, because of the gorgeous cover and decorated pages, and I just wasn’t in the mood for one of those.

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Well, boy, was I sorry that I had put it off. The Night Circus is absolutely magical. The titular circus is a magical travelling affair, and the venue for a contest between two magicians of opposing schools of thought, carried out through their protégés. I’m not going to give too much away, but it’s an absolutely brilliant book. I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

You’ll love this book if:
– You like magic and fantasy
– You’re keen on a “steampunk” aesthetic
– You enjoy fun

You might want to avoid this book if:
– You don’t like fantasy

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Lavinia’s Books: May and June

Every month, our friend Lavinia Collins is going to share with you a book she’s read and recommends. As Lavinia has been busy with the release of the last part of her Queen of the North trilogy, and with the upcoming paperback edition of the series, we’ve decided to put her May and June choices back-to-back.

The Edible Woman – Margaret Atwood

edible woman.jpgAn oldie, but a goodie. The Edible Woman is one of the older and less well-known of Atwood’s works, but it is by far my favourite. I’m slightly cheating because I re-read it rather than read it for the first time this month, but here it is.

The Edible Woman tells the story of Marian, a woman who works at a survey company and is engaged to Peter, a boring man who likes to have sex in the (dry) bathtub. She tries to run away from him (literally), is collected, scolded for being silly, and returns to her life. But the quiet frustrations of everyday sexism – microaggressions, perhaps we could call them now – wriggle under her skin, and Marian finds herself going progressively off her food.

The Edible Woman is a wonderful book, because it is so subtle. All of the little niggles and digs are small and everyday. There is nothing wrong per se with Peter. There is nothing wrong per se with Marian’s life. There’s something about her frustration which is so real, and something about the way it manifests – in the quiet refusal of more and more food – that is at once so real and immediate and so keyed in to a tradition hundreds of years old of women silently objecting to their circumstances by refusing to eat, from fasting nuns in the early middle ages to suffragettes in the early twentieth century. When you can’t control anything else, you can refuse to eat.

This book is also so much more than a feminist parable. It’s funny, it’s light, it’s ambiguous at the end – we are left with the question: who is trying to consume whom?

I would highly recommend this as a first Atwood for anyone who is yet to read her, one for Atwood lovers, and one to re-read. It’s perhaps the most mundane of her works in terms of subject matter (most similar in tone to Cat’s Eye), but in this ordinary setting she achieves so much. I cannot recommend this book enough.

You’ll love this book if:
– You like humour with an edge
– You have ever been a woman

You might want to avoid this book if:
– You secretly (or indeed openly) hate women

 

everyday sexism.jpgEveryday Sexism – Laura Bates

June’s Book of the Month is (!) a non-fiction book.

This book was lent to me by a kind and beloved friend, and I thought it would just be everything I knew, set out in nice neat statistic form. I’ve seen Laura Bates talk, and she presents a very clear-cut case. She’s angry – of course she is – and utterly sick of this shit, but she’s calm. Ordered. Logical. This book is the same. Broken up sensibly into neat categories and set out with factoids and headings, it is a very rational book.

I found it quite emotional to read. I expected to a little, but I was surprised by the toll certain sections took. Would I say it was a fun read? No, I don’t think I would, but it is an important one. To tackle a problem that affects all of us – because sexism is not just women’s problem – we must see it for what it is. Systemic.

You’ll love this book if:
– You’ve been dismissed in one too many conversations and told that ‘feminism is irrelevant’
– You don’t mind looking hard facts in the face
– You want to be armed with cold hard info the next time you get into an internet dispute with a Reddit neckbeard (jk; they don’t care about info)

You might want to avoid this book if:
– You are sensitive to sexual violence and harrassment triggers
– You have ever unironically used the #notallmen hashtag

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Find The Edible Woman on Amazon
Find Everyday Sexism on Amazon

 

Lavinia’s Book of the Month: April

Every month, our friend Lavinia Collins is going to share with you a book she’s read and recommends.

The Lady and the Unicorn – Tracy Chevalier

Just like her famous novel, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Chevalier’s The Lady and the Unicorn imagines the female muses behind the bewitching and beautiful Lady and the Unicorn tapestries now in Paris’s Musée de Cluny. If you haven’t seen the tapestries, you really should: they’re gorgeous.

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In The Lady and the Unicorn we switch between multiple perspectives: Nicholas, the artist; Claude, the daughter of the patron and one of the figures Chevalier suggests that the tapestry depicts; her mother, the inspiration for some of the other figures; and characters at the Brussels lissier that weaves the tapestries, including Alienor, the weaver’s blind daughter who loves her garden and can feel colours in the wool.

The book is pacy, sensory and engrossing. Just as the tapestries themselves potentially express the senses of sight, taste, touch and smell, the book is loaded with sensuous and sensory description. Nicholas is the most beguiling character – a swaggering artist and incorrigible slut, he is nonetheless able to charm the reader as much as the various women who fail to see through the self-interest in his charms. Chevalier gets the balance just right – Nicholas is a jerk, but he’s a jerk you can’t help but love. Perhaps it’s something to do with his seemingly supernatural ability to bring even the nervous virgins he encounters to the giddy heights of pleasure without too much of an effort (!). This is a far cry from the rather wide-eyed ingenue Griet in Girl with a Pearl Earring – and in my personal opinion is much more charming.

I completely adored this book. It was over too quickly, but that was because I couldn’t put it down. I love these tapestries, and I loved Chevalier’s imagining of their production. From my perspective, a must-read!

lady and the unicorn chevalier.jpgYou’ll love this book if:
– You like historical fiction
– You like romance
– You like books
– You can read

You might want to avoid this book if:
– You have no taste

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Find this book on Amazon