May 2020 was my first month on NetGalley.
I also read my favourite book of the year so far!
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
A Portrait of the Artist is about the shaping of a man named Stephen Dedalus from a meek child into a confident writer and thinker – shaking off the shackles of Irish politics and religion.
The detail is in the name, Dedalus. Mirroring, the story of Icarus and his father Daedalus, Stephen’s journey is one of soaring optimism, occasionally clipped by crippling setbacks, before he eventually leaves Ireland.
There’s an element of autobiography here. Joyce himself, much like Stephen Dedalus, eventually left Ireland for Europe in order to forge his own future.
The academic who wrote the introduction to my edition makes an interesting point. Whilst a Bildungsroman is a ‘coming of age’ novel (Pip in Great Expectations, for example), A Portrait of the Artist is more than that. It’s the ‘coming of age’ of an artist – the growth of a young man into an artist.To borrow again from Greek mythology; it’s the story of Stephen’s ongoing attempts to spread his wings. Because of this, A Portrait of the Artist feels quite therapeutic at times; it’s a view into one’s past, before eventually disposing of it and moving forward.
I think we all go through this in one way or another.
Joyce is notoriously difficult to read but these days, as a more experienced reader than when I first encountered Joyce, I thoroughly enjoyed the story of Stephen Dedalus.
The Walking Dead (Vols. 1&2), Robert Kirkman
Until I read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, graphic novels didn’t really appeal to me.
Certainly no snobbery on my part – I just wasn’t sure if I would enjoy the format as much as prose.
Well, fast-forward seven years, and I finally got around to trying The Walking Dead. The first 10 volumes are available as part of a Kindle Unlimited subscription, so – as an on-and-off fan of the TV show – I thought I’d give them a try!
In May, I read volumes 1 and 2 and in short, I liked them a lot.
The illustrations are excellent and the pacing is a lot better than the TV show – there’s very little filler, for example.
Interestingly, I also read both volumes on my mobile phone. This sounds awful, but it just works!
The Kindle app allows you to read comics and graphic novels in a ‘panel view’ (for non-comic fans, pages are usually divided up into square windows, denoting each scene). With this panel view, you view the entirety of each individual graphic on your screen (with zoom features included!) and simply swipe your finger to move to the next panel.
I genuinely think that technology, such as the panel view, will convert non-comic book fans. It’s accessible, a wonderful way to tell a story, and I couldn’t get enough of experiencing it this way.
On the other hand, the graphic novel falls into a similar trap to that the TV show.
It think it’s far smarter than it actually is. Robert Kirkman’s intro smacks you in the face, presenting The Walking Dead as a powerful, unique exercise in the evaluating the human psyche.
I think that the reader/viewer can make their own mind up.
Nonetheless, it’s still a fantastic comic and I plan on reading further volumes!
The Playmaker Project, Daniel PetersonWhat do you get if you cross sci-fi, soccer, and geopolitics?
The Playmaker Project, apparently!
With a wholly original story, Daniel Peterson’s debut fiction novel manages to fuse these seemingly separate topics with great success.
In brief, a billionaire tycoon signs two US youth players for an upstart Finnish soccer club. Awash with money, the club is secretly running a cognitive training programme, hoping to reach the next level of performance through neuroscience.
If it sounds a little abstract, I suppose it probably is. However, it’s an engrossing adventure with likeable characters, and is written with great clarity. All the signifiers of a good book!
You can read the full write-up in my review of The Playmaker Project.
* A copy of The Playmaker Project was provided for free via NetGalley, in exchange for a fair and honest review. Pub date: OUT NOW.
The Girl from the Attic, Marie Prins
The Girl from the Attic is a magic realism novel.
And on the face of it, that’s quite exciting. I love magic realism.
But whilst I liked it, I didn’t love this one. It should have been a lot more charming than it actually was. It’s a decent, if unspectacular, read.
Anyhow – after moving into a quirky octagonal cottage, intrepid youngster Maddy realises that there’s a hatch in the attic that leads to another world.Well, not quite another world. It’s the same house in fact, but over a hundred years in the past.
Struggling to adjust to her new life and isolated from her friends in the city, Maddy spends more and more time in the past, neglecting her own family.
The house itself is fascinating, but the characters themselves just aren’t that memorable. And, for a 250 page book, there isn’t a whole lot of plot.
As I highlighted in my Goodreads review*, I felt that The Girl from the Attic probably should have been a short story, rather than a full novel. There’s a lot of filler. If the author had edited it down further, I may have enjoyed it more than I did.
Regardless, The Girl from the Attic has some touching moments and a very unique setting. I liked it, but I didn’t love it.
* A copy of The Girl from the Attic was provided for free via NetGalley, in exchange for a fair and honest review. Pub date: Oct. 2020.
The Sound Mirror, Heidi James
I’ve saved the best till last with this one.
The Sound Mirror is a multi-generational examination of the female experience in Britain. Through the lens of 3 central characters – Tamara, Claire, and Ada – Heidi James’ novel addresses race, class, and gender.
These three perspectives are interwoven by absolutely stunning prose. It’s a tessellation of the fall of the Indian Raj, the social politics of post-WW2 Britain, and, lastly, a glimpse into the contemporary world.
What I really loved about The Sound Mirror was its authenticity. Each woman has a distinct tone of voice. You’re never ‘reading’ these characters as characters; you’re experiencing them as living, breathing people with complex histories. Having this sort of insight is a very unusual feeling as a male reader.
In short, The Sound Mirror is easily the best book I’ve read all year.
Please strongly consider buying it direct from Bluemoose Books when it releases on 20th August, 2020.
* A copy of The Sound Mirror was provided for free by the author, in exchange for a fair and honest review.
What have you read this month? Leave your recommendations in the comments below!