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My favourite reads of 2021

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DOMESTIC LIVES and relationships have taken pride of place in four best-sellers in 2021.  All the, er, sacrifice of working from home means that domesticity is so very in.   Here are my favourites:

 

Mrs March – Virginia Feito

HarperCollins 2021 304 pages Hardback ISBN: 9780008421717

MRS MARCH (debut novel by Virginia Feito) is narrated by a writer’s wife who turns her New York apartment and family into a place of terror, suspicion and paranoia.  The critics loved it in that way that seems reserved for any woman with a ‘woman’s view’ and shows an unhappy, uptight version of a woman controlled by her gender choices.  But it is a good thriller type book which reads a little like a screenplay (You can hear the agents as you read – Trapped woman!  Award season! pitch).  It’s a good book, it won’t bore you and leaving aside the plot, it’s Mrs March’s asides about her general disdain for the poor or the tacky that are the best things in it.  Available from Yeadons  of Elgin & Banchory

 

Early Morning Riser – Katherine Heiny

HarperCollins 2021 336 pages Hardback ISBN: 9780008395094 

ANOTHER American family, but this time rural, is in Katherine Heiny’s Early Morning Riser, about Jane, a small-town teacher and her relationship with former womaniser but charming and lovely Duncan and their lives together.  Like Heiny’s first novel, Standard Deviation, Heiny presents characters that are just great company.  She makes people interesting and funny and you want to spend time with them not just on a cognitive level but as a sensory experience, like listening to a great album.  Heiny makes you feel and for a novelist, well that’s no bad thing.  She also has a particular gift for seeing vulnerable people as people and gets the carer position too.  I love this writer and in Early Morning Riser it turns out she can make rural (relative) poor feel as aspirational as any Manhattan high rise.  Available from Yeadons  of Elgin & Banchory

 

The Country of Others – by Leila Slimani

Faber & Faber 2021 336 pages Hardback ISBN: 9780571361618 

A LESS aspirational tale, but just as relatable is the family dynamic in Leila Slimani’s book (first of a planned trilogy) about a French-Moroccan family, The Country of Others and their experiences in post war Morocco.  If I saw any of those words without the Slimani name, I would have dismissed as a) I don’t do historical fiction and b) I would expect it to be a bit depressing.  Happily for me, it was written by Slimani who is a writer that makes a post-war French Moroccan family feel so familiar and their conflicts so current that I couldn’t put it down and will be there waiting when the second book of the trilogy comes out.

The marriage between the two main characters, narrated by the wife, and how it changes not just over the long time, but how over the course of days that the relationship can ebb and flow and it’s not until the much longer term, that you can stand back and see the shape of the whole marriage, like standing back from a Jackson Pollock painting.  I missed this couple after finishing the book, and will be happy to catch up with them again. Slimani has written other hit books, Adele and Lullaby (somewhat bizarrely she was given a role in the French government under Macron in a sort-of, ‘she can write, bring her to Versailles’ thing – are literary circles like that?) Available from Yeadons  of Elgin & Banchory

 

Should We Stay or Should We go? – by Lionel Shriver

HarperCollins 2021 288 pages Hardback ISBN: 9780008458553

THE thankfully prolific Lionel Shriver released a book this year, also concerning a couple which allows Shriver to explore the less bad and the really bad options for old age and death. In Should We Stay or Should We go?  Shriver brings us an ageing couple and twelve different scenarios where they could end up. Sounds like fun?  No, it doesn’t, but it so is.  Full disclosure, I will read anything by Lionel Shriver because I like her take on everything.  She can create flawed believable relationships between flawed believable people and although she tends to write her own life and her own views through a character, the character (like a good movie star) is done so well, that you don’t want her to change. No one does bitter, sober, honest appraisal of the hypocrisy of life or pick up and expose our tendency to selfish self-delusion better. It’s funny, insightful and even (weirdly) uplifting.  I read it in one sitting, but like I said, I’m a creepy number one fan type.  Lionel, if you read this, let’s do lunch…  Available from Yeadons  of Elgin & Banchory

 

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