Review: Real Life by Brandon Taylor

“Is this all his life is meant to be, the accumulation of other people’s pain?”

It’s hard to describe Brandon Taylor’s Booker-longlisted “Real Life” in a way that conveys its brilliance without making it sound archetypal. It’s one of those novels that defies its plot description through its execution, its greatness stemming from its specificity of character. Ostensibly it’s the coming-of-age story of a college student named Wallace. That Wallace is black, and gay, is significant; so too that events transpire over one weekend. I think what makes “Real Life” truly special is that although Wallace’s struggles are universal, Taylor’s novel doesn’t set out to achieve a universal statement. This is Wallace’s truth; the honest portrayal of his character is what makes his story more than a mere “campus novel.”

Hailing from Alabama, where he grew up poor and abused, Wallace is a graduate student in the Midwest, who keenly monitors his genetic experiments on nematodes (multicellular insects) with little time in his life for anything else, let alone a potential boyfriend — Miller — who’s not actually certain he’s gay, and has some repressed anger issues. Wallace is burdened by his own traumatic past, and continues to struggle with the “whiteness” of his college world, and the bubbling undercurrent of racism that permeates his every moment; it’s the subtle infractions that seem to cause the most damage. Taylor colours Wallace’s world with friends who feel fully-realised and three-dimensional, despite our brief dalliances with them. Their dynamics vary depending on who is present and who is missing from their gatherings.

“Real Life” is a story about the complexity of trauma, forgiveness and prejudice, and a searing snapshot of white middle-class. I was mesmerised.

Format: Paperback
Publisher: Daunt Books
Published: 4 August 2020
Pages: 336
ISBN: 978191154774

Review: Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

“I would be lying,” narrates Antara in Avni Doshi’s brilliant Booker long-listed debut, “if I said my mother’s misery has never given me pleasure.” Which reminded me of Sofia in Deborah Levy’s “Hot Milk,” when she intones, “My love for my mother is like an axe. It cuts very deep.”

Levy fans, I think, will find much to enjoy in “Burnt Sugar.” This is novel of great emotional complexity, which challenges assumptions about motherhood and memory, as Antara manages the cognitive decline of her mother Tara, and struggles to reign in her burning resentment about a childhood suffused with neglect. It’s a book about love and anger, twisted like the double helix of a DNA strand.

Set in Pune, India, “Burnt Sugar” is Antara’s retelling of her tumultuous history with her mother. In her youth, Tara abandoned her loveless marriage to join an ashram, quickly married its leader, then endured a period of time as a beggar, and spent years chasing the affection of an artist — all with Antara as an unwanted passenger, who is adamant her mother never cared for her, and is infuriated that she must now demonstrate a kindness that was never bestowed upon her.

The question beating at the novel’s heart is whether Antara’s chronicle is the truth, or an edited version; her interpretation rather than an actual representation. And therefore is her anger righteous or misplaced? “Maybe she doesn’t remember because it never happened,” Antara’s grandmother suggests. The subjectivity and fragility of memory pulsates in every scene.

Doshi shows herself to be a forensically-brave writer who refuses to provide easy answers in this intensely disquieting, exquisite excavation of a relationship between a mother and daughter.

ISBN: 9780241441510
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 240
Published: 14th August 2020
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd

Review: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

9780241364901Bernardine Evaristo’s extraordinary eighth novel, and deserved winner of last year’s Booker prize, provides bold, contemporary perspectives on feminism and race through 12 interconnected stories that unravel through radiantly lyrical, iconoclastically stylistic prose.

Any fear I had of the mental taxation it might require to enjoy Girl, Woman, Other — with its scarce punctuation, unexpected line breaks, and paucity of capitalisation —  was completely misplaced; this is a blazingly readable firecracker of a novel. The experiences of the 12 black, British characters, who exist in different decades and touch each other’s lives both plainly and subtly, coexist in an exquisite harmony that I won’t soon forget.

ISBN: 9780241364901
Format: Hardback
Pages: 464
Imprint: Hamish Hamilton Ltd
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 2-May-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom