In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – a literary mixtape

It’s ludicrous that I haven’t read In Cold Blood by Truman Capote until now. I thought I was the only person who hadn’t read it (although Bonnie fessed up that she hasn’t either).

There’s nothing left to say about this book – it’s genre-defining; it’s clearly a touchstone for many books since (I’m looking at you We Were the Mulvaneys); it’s absolutely gripping; and it’s beautifully written.

So instead of a review, I’m going to retell the story in songs. Of course, you’ll understand my sequence of choices because you’ve read the book. Note: the Flashdance inclusion is relevant for the song title only! Continue reading

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Smile by Roddy Doyle

Reviews of Roddy Doyle’s latest novel, Smile, are taking one of two approaches – focused on style and a brief reference to the plot OR spoilers and trigger warnings.

Although it’s not my usual approach, I’m going with spoilers and trigger warnings (look away if you want).

Smile is the story of Victor Forde – he’s middle-aged, alone for the first time in years, and has just moved into a new apartment. Every evening, he heads to his local pub, Donnelly’s, for a pint. At Donnelly’s he meets Eddie Fitzpatrick, a man who claims to have been at school with him, although Victor can’t recall him. Victor dislikes Fitzpatrick, particularly because he stirs up memories of being taught by the Christian Brothers.

The story switches between the present and Victor’s memories of school; his marriage to Rachel (who became a celebrity); and of his own brief media career on the radio.

So, to the spoilery/triggery bit: Continue reading

The Party by Elizabeth Day

The individual elements of Elizabeth Day’s suspense novel, The Party, are promising – campus-lit, British society, and a very fancy party where an ‘incident’ occurs that threatens reputations and relationships. Unfortunately the story was a bit of a fizzer.

At the centre is Martin Gilmour, who wins a scholarship to the prestigious Burtonbury School. Usually the outsider, Martin meets the charismatic and wealthy Ben Fitzmaurice and via him, gains access to society’s elite. The boys develop a close relationship although it’s one that’s lopsided – Martin has deep feelings for Ben, which are further complicated by a secret he has promised to keep.

By the time I got to Cambridge, my reinvention as Ben Fitzmaurice’s surrogate brother was so convincing to me, I’d almost forgotten I had a different past – one that involved gas fires and sausages in tins… Continue reading

Two short(ish) reviews

I read two fantastic books in the middle of my manic assessment period at the end of first semester – Euphoria by Lily King and We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. Both books featured strong, memorable characters, and both books were set in foreign countries (New Guinea and Zimbabwe respectively), each with a beautifully developed sense of place. Some thoughts on each – Continue reading

20 Books of Summer (except that it’s Winter)

Cathy at 746 Books is hosting the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge again this year. By Cathy’s own admission, she doesn’t have a great track record with her own challenge… But I do! As I’ve done in previous years, I’m using this challenge to read from my to-be-read stack (with a particular focus on hard copies). The challenge is straightforward – read twenty books between June 1st and September 3rd. Continue reading

White Houses by Amy Bloom

I’ve got so many deal-breakers when it comes to historical fiction that I sound like a pain. You can read about them here. Or you can simply ignore my carry-on and know that I really enjoyed Amy Bloom’s White Houses.

The story is told from the perspective of Lorena Hickok, known as ‘Hick’. Hick grew up in poverty in South Dakota, suffered abuse at the hand of her father, and was sent to work at a young age. Resourceful and tenacious, she soon carved a career as a journalist.  When she met Eleanor Roosevelt in 1932 (while covering Franklin’s first presidential campaign trail), a friendship developed, which soon turned to love.

Hick took a job in the Roosevelt administration and moved into the White House, where her status as ‘first friend’ was an open secret, as were Franklin’s own lovers.

Missy and Franklin put a smile on reporters’ faces. Eleanor and I were no one’s favourite secret. I tended to scowl. Continue reading

Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides

Curtis Sittenfeld’s You Think It, I’ll Say It is a tough act to follow on the short-story front but nonetheless, I figured Jeffrey Eugenides’s first collection, Fresh Complaint, would be a reasonable bet.

The collection opens with Complainers, a gentle story about the decades-long friendship between two women, and how their relationship changes when one is diagnosed with dementia. I feel like I’m reading about dementia at every turn at the moment, but Eugenides’s take on it from the perspective of a friend was refreshingly different.

Dementia isn’t a nice word. It sounds violent, invasive, like having a demon scooping out pieces of your brain which in fact is just what it is. Continue reading