The Best Books of 2018 — So Far!

 

A brilliantly propulsive Australian crime thriller by Chris Hammer; a standout second novel by Irish sensation Sally Rooney; a mile-a-minute, long-time-coming page-turner by Henry Porter; a quietly powerful, wise and humane novel by Anne Tyler; and an empathetic but never sentimental debut by Naima Coster that dares to probe the dynamics of a fractured family: these are my picks for the books that have already made 2018 a stellar year for reading.

Continue reading “The Best Books of 2018 — So Far!”

Review: Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

DdwXHx2U8AItCzZA hugely satisfying evocation about the complexities of family life, Clock Dance is wise, humane and always insightful.

One of the things I love most about Anne Tyler’s fiction is that she never lets style triumph over substance; the understated simplicity of her writing is artistry of the highest order. Her prose is assured, warm and graceful; never ostentatious. You sink into an Anne Tyler novel; it envelopes you, and you don’t realise how deep you’ve dived into her world, how invested you are in her characters, until something snaps you back to cold, hard reality, and you realise from the placement of your bookmark  that you’re nearing the end of your time with this incredible storyteller. Clock Dance is a novel to savour; equally enjoyed in the moment, and upon reflection.

Willa Drake is inherently placatory. The defining moments of her life — when she was eleven and her mother disappeared; being proposed to at twenty-one; and the accident that made her a widow at forty-one — weren’t instigated by her, but by others. At 61, when Clock Dance launches into its core, we understand Willa has not necessarily lived an unhappy life, just a bittersweet one; a life tinged with occasional regrets. When she receives a phone call telling her that her son Sean’s ex-girlfriend has been shot and needs her help, Willa drops everything and flies across the country, despite her second husband Peter’s dismay. It’s this decision — made entirely herself, uncoloured by the opinions of outsiders — that forces Willa to scrutinise her life, and the people in it, and contemplate change.

Clock Dance is an intimate and tender tale of marriage, family and home. Achingly observant and endearing funny, Anne Tyler brilliantly explores a woman’s steps towards reshaping her own destiny and choosing her own path. The book brims with insights that sum up entire relationships. I haven’t been so moved and in love with a book and its characters for a very long time.

ISBN: 9781784742447
Number Of Pages: 304
Available: 16th July 2018
Publisher: Vintage Publishing

Review: Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

9781781090190Anne Tyler’s retelling of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew sits comfortably in rom-com territory, sparked to life by the authors gift to produce genuine moments of hilarity. Yes, the plot is waif-thin, and its surprises are few, but Vinegar Girl is like a warm hug, and you won’t want to leave its embrace.

I read The Taming of the Shrew many years ago, and wasn’t especially enamoured by it, nor the supposed masterful adaptation 10 Things I Hate About You, which my peers have been pushing on me since its 1999 release. Vinegar Girl ended up in my hands because Anne Tyler’s name was attached – just as Gillian Flynn’s Hamlet will end up in my reading pile purely because of her literary clout. So The Taming of the Shrew holds no special place in my heart, all I really expected from Vinegar Girl was what’s promised on the blurb: a witty and irresistible contemporary take on one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies. And that’s what I got.

Kate Battista is our lead, and she’s not in a great place when the novel begins, stuck running home for her eccentric scientist father and haughty younger sister, Bunny. Work doesn’t offer much solace either. While her pre-school class adores her – Kate works as a teacher’s assistant since she quit studying – their parents, and the school staff, don’t appreciate her forthright nature, and she’s on shaky ground with the principal. At the age of 29, Kate feels chewed and spat out: she’s coasting on a wave to oblivion. Her father has his own problems. After years on the periphery of the elite academic circles – a lonely wilderness – he is on the verge of a breakthrough. Trouble is, his young lab assistant, Pyotr, who is vital to the success of Dr. Battista’s project, is about to be deported to Russia. So Kate’s father develops an outrageous plan to keep Pyotr in the country: an impromptu marriage, with his eldest daughter the bride.

The comedy revolves around Kate – a wholly independent woman – dealing with these two men in her life desperately trying to placate her immediate anger, then gradually chip away at her sovereignty. The Taming of the Shrew has always been burdened by its inherent sexism, but in Tyler’s adaptation Kate never loses her independence, or has her idiosyncrasies tamed. In fact, come the final pages, when Vinegar Girl pulls away from its warm embrace you’ve been enjoying, you can’t help but feel satisfied and uplifted. Because at its heart, this is a feel-good story about finding a mate who loves you for who you are. Finding love isn’t about reformatting your personality to suit another’s; it’s about finding that perfect match, whose eccentricities parallel your own. And sometimes the way in which this happens, the way in which you meet – as is the case for Kate – is improbable, and on reflection, preposterous. And makes for one hell of a good read.

ISBN: 9781781090190
ISBN-10: 178109019X
Format: Paperback (216mm x 135mm x 17mm)
Pages: 240
Imprint: Hogarth
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 16-Jun-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom