book review · books

Book Review – When Watched – Leopoldine Core


Stories When Watched by Leopoldine Core

WARNING: this is not a particularly nice review, and for that, I’m sorry for sounding like a dick.

The art of writing a short story is difficult, in my opinion. There needs to be a purpose, there needs to be (true) motive, there needs to be a connection between the reader and the characters. All of these being unfortunate reasons why Core’s collection of short stories fall just a little too short for me.

I really wanted to like these, I did. This was a present bought for me at my own request! But Core’s writing feels and reads like that of a social justice warrior hipster who has crammed a myriad of ‘diverse’ characters into her stories in a fruitful bid to get me to like them, just one of them. I use the word diverse in quotation marks because when I picture all her characters, all I see are faceless, white, women. The majority of these stories are about women, and I assume (which you should never ever do) that Core is a (white) feminist who doesn’t understand the underlying issues in even that, to understand how her writing may fall flat to readers like me. Does Core believe she’s written relatable, edgy humans?

Don’t get me wrong. There are a few gems, a few poignant moments where you feel for characters who are lost, hopeless, angry at the world and their absent father. For characters who are in love, who ponder their relationship, sweet, enjoyable, comfortable moment. My favourite between an old couple who are travelling to a different city, where the husband has a morbid sense of humour. But then there are characters who are LGBTQ+ for the sake of being LGBTQ+, prostitutes for the sake of selling their bodies, characters who you don’t hate, don’t like, but don’t necessarily root for either.

It’s a tough bunch and it made me wonder whether I was just being a tough crowd, but somehow I just couldn’t go with the flow on this one.

FYI My toast ain’t burnt it’s Marmite, I like Marmite.

book review · books

I’m Currently Reading…

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

I haven’t found myself reaching for the dictionary as much as I have until this book by Marilynne Robinson.

Eloquent and lovingly expressive, Housekeeping tells the story of sisters Ruthie and Lucille, who have been passed around a succession of family members, until they end up in the care of their estranged and enigmatic aunt Sylvie.

Although slow for me to get into, the story opens itself up in wonderful and revealing ways, leaving me to want to live in the seemingly strange and bleak town of Fingerbone.

The writing is remarkable, and almost a handbook for creative writing students; I read passages of nothing but beautiful glimpses into the lives of these characters, and Robinson showers attention onto every little detail of Fingerbone. Even as the weather is slowly warming up in London, I feel the cold almost biting at the tips of my fingers, the way she describes heating up bricks on a hot stove to warm up, or skating on the lake frozen over.

Let’s be honest for a second. This story, and its plot, and the characters within it, it has all been done before, over and over, tirelessly published and bought off the shelves. And I usually steer clear from that. But I will say this – there is such a beauty in her prose that even so, it’s worth the read.

book review · books

Book Review – Of Things Gone Astray – Janina Matthewson

Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson

See that guys, it’s a succulent plant that ISN’T DEAD (yet). It’s still alive. It lived longer than my last kid – at this point my old one was leaking water and crying out for help.

Anyway, Of Things Gone Astray is like the type of book I would one day like to write. It’s imaginative, and comforting, and I don’t feel overwhelmed by any type of plot being forced in my face.

The basic premise is that a group of individuals wake one morning to find something important to them missing: the front of their house (yes, really), their sense of direction, their status, their looks, material and immaterial possessions. Told in the form of drabbles, this collection of perspectives is wonderfully unique and funny, and puts a smile on my face when I have shit days (note: every day is a shit day).

At the end of it I’m not even 100% sure what I’ve just read but it’s made me think about all the things I’ve lost, of all the things I hope to gain. It’s realistic in a sense that it’s not realistic at all but just enough for me to feel like, if I don’t hold on tight to the things that matter to me, they could be gone the next minute.

book review · books

Book Review – Strange Weather in Tokyo – Hiromi Kawakami 

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

I struggled writing this review, not because I think the book is terrible but perhaps because this is just one of those novels with a very Japanese aesthetic, and one of the problems I have while reading foreign translations of things. Sometimes I’m not sure whether I’m reading something the way the author intends, but that’s very minor and arbitrary.

Strange Weather is a beautiful, shy kind of love story between a young woman in her thirties and her Sensei who taught her Japanese in high school. And honestly, it doesn’t read as a love story in case you hate that soppy stuff (which I do). The back and forth interactions between Tsukiko and her Sensei, and the slow development of their relationship is delicate in places and amusing in others.

The only part I was trying to get over was the great age difference between Tsukiko and Sensei, which is about thirty-odd years. It’s a May-December relationship that takes some getting used to, or maybe that’s just me.

You’re drawn into these characters with differences between them (but not exact polar-opposites) and now and then you remember that Sensei is old – he’s very much old – and Tsukiko is in limbo; she never had a ‘successful’ relationship or learned to love. I think that’s what ultimately makes you root for these two people, stranded in the same lonely presence of each other, to fall in love.

Kawakami doesn’t dance around the fact that this is essentially a love story though, and the way that it’s told is so refreshing to readers like me with piss poor attention span. Each ‘chapter’ almost qualifies as a short story, snapshots of the growing relationship between both protagonists.

book review · books

Book Review – A Series of Unfortunate Events – Lemony Snicket

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

Every now and then I separate one of these books from their unfortunate family and have a read through some chapters, for want of reminiscing my childhood – years made slightly happier by the adventures that happen within the pages of these books.

A Series of Unfortunate Events is probably one of the most unique series I’ve come across (in my kid-days). They were the first Gothic novels I ever read, but adding to the fact that it’s a peculiar genre for kids, Handler’s writing style and gift of story-telling is darkly humorous, sarcastic, and witty.

For a child, these are all the things you dream of reading, or imagine adult books are littered with. It just so happens Handler does it phenomenally.

These books, if not anything else, taught me from a very young age that adults should not be trusted. Adults are crappy human beings who will never believe what children say. As an adult-in-practice, I’m inclined to believe the lessons I learned are true. Just how many times can you explain to your guardians that there is a bad man, an evil man, a villainous man who is after your parents’ entire family fortune and would do anything to get his hands on it, including murder?

Read these as a kid, or read these as an adult, it doesn’t matter. The unfortunate adventures in this series is worth your time.

If you’re lazy, watch the Netflix show for the kooky and stunning cinematography.


Choices in Non-fiction

The Body in Pain by Elaine Scarry
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli

I don’t read much non-fiction (I don’t read non-fiction), so I decided to pick up these books for some inspiration and all-round ‘let’s not feel too dumb this year’.

The Body in Pain is part critique, part philosophical essay on the nature of human suffering, and the way pain is presented in the world. Scarry divides her book into three main proponents:

  1. the difficulty of expressing physical pain
  2. the political/perceptual complications that arise from those difficulties
  3. the nature of human creation

(lifted and paraphrased from her intro)

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics is exactly what is says on the tin. Einstein’s theories, probability, quantum, the structure of the cosmos (etc, from what I can remember in my head).

This might be an interesting time to tell you that I took one science for A-Level (Biology) and got a straight set of impressive U’s on my end of year exams. So at least I know how to spell my name, am I right guys? Amirite?!

If anyone cares this is a close-up of the blanket I’ve been working on. I’m a certified hooker – I just love hooking. Innuendos aside and all, I have a penchant of starting projects at the beginning of the correct season, and ending them at the start of a wrong one, so I’m going to have two sweaty little nephews using this in the summer.

Look at it. It’s just so fluffy. I want to eat it. It’s like marshmallow.