What We’ve Been Reading: September 0 Comments

What We’ve Been Reading: September


This month, I’ve been delving into the strange worlds of precocious adolescent girls, firstly with Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding and secondly with Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in this Castle. Of the two, I preferred The Member of the Wedding, which tells the story of a twelve-year-old girl who becomes obsessed with her brother’s wedding during a “green and crazy summer” in 1940s Georgia. It’s a bit slow-moving, but probably the most accurate depiction I’ve read of what it’s like to be a girl that age—the hopeless boredom, the jagged emotions, the savagery and sentimentality.

We Have Always Lived in this Castle by contrast is set in an icy, parochial New England village and is about a pair of solitary, witchy sisters. I won’t say too much, since it’s short and surprising, but it does have a killer opening paragraph:

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead.




All those people who say you can’t judge a book by its cover can obviously be soundly disproved by the awesomeness that is Sleepless by Charlie Huston. Look at it. Now look again. Hold it up to your face like a Magic Eye metaphor. Okay now read the book. It’s alright. I’ve read better sci-fi, and I’ve read better crime noir, but I haven’t read many better combinations of the two. Imagine ‘A Scanner Darkly’ with a little less crazy paranoia, more family bonding, and a much more interesting drug subplot. Oh and a sociopathic ninja. His is one perspective, but the main story follows the perspective of a good cop, struggling to make sense of the insomniac pandemic California. The characters have several conflicts in varying degrees of violence and intimacy, though if we empathise it’s not because they’re particularly complex people, it’s just because of what Huston puts them through. Set close enough in the future to be able to explore the interesting things about technology now (gold farming, virtual reality, military–industrial complex) it also portrays a realistic world. Not quite post-apocalyptic, but only just. While not stunningly original, it’s worth the time if you like either crime/ sci-fi genres, or not being able to sleep at night.




After a few months of apathy towards fiction, this month I’ve managed to read a few really great novels. My favourite being Joan Didion’s terrifying and bleak Play It As It Lays, a short and fragmentary book about a failing actress in late ’60s Los Angeles. In fiction I respond to mood and sensibility as much as I do plot, and Didion is really astonishingly good at evoking both. The other excellent and brutally depressing novel was John Williams’ Stoner, a supposedly “lost” college novel from the ’60s that enjoyed a resurgence in popularity when writers like Ian McEwan started giving it rave reviews.

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