• Isabelle Osborne

Mid-year Reading Review

How is it June already? It feels only yesterday since I was writing my 2020 wrap up post, and now I'm reflecting on the last six months of 2021. Time flies!


So, how have I got on with my reading so far? One thing I've incorporated into my reading routine and have found to be a blessing is audiobooks. They're perfect for driving and cleaning (two tasks that can sometimes be slightly laborious...) and they're another way to absorb literature when you can't pick up a book. I especially love audiobooks that are narrated with passion and intrigue, one of which I have listed below.


Of the 23 books I've read this year so far, however, I have been underwhelmed more than I have been elated; whilst I've read some true gems, I've been wowed by less books than I gave a 'it was okay' review to. Although, in some ways this is a wonderful thing, as it exemplifies one's appreciation of the truly amazing books of the year thus far.


With this in mind, here are my top five books from the first five months of the year...


The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga


Winner of The Man Book Prize in 2008, The White Tiger follows Balram, born into poverty yet eager to use his intelligence and entrepreneurial skill to work his way up the social hierarchy. Working as a driver for a wealthy family, Balram showcases the injustices he experiences whilst his employers rise in wealth and status. As we follow his journey from the slums of Laxmangarh to the soaring skyscrapers of the capital, Balram toys with the following question: what lengths will he go to to get what he wants?


I struggle to put into words how incredible this book is. The writing is wonderful, the images and characters Aravind creates are vibrant and real, and the way he combines dark comedy with thought provoking topics is sublime. The book really gets you thinking about the nature of social class, the ways in which political advancement and global economic status perpetuate social injustices, and the polarisation of the modern world. A throughly enjoyable and immensely powerful read.


The recent film adaptation of this novel was nominated for an Oscar this year, and I would also highly recommend giving it a watch; you can check out my review of the film for a deeper exploration of the book’s/film’s topics.


Passing - Nella Larsen


Larsen's second novel, Passing, was published in 1929. Set in Harlem, we meet Irene and her childhood friend Clare. The novel centres around Clare's choosing to 'pass' as a white woman and the tensions between that creates between the two women. We see the way they interact and how they navigate the space that exists between them, before an unforeseeable plot twist acts to symbolise the darkest corners of the human psyche when warped by jealously and fascination in equal measure.


The writing of this novella is beautiful and elegant, the story is captivating in both content and style, and, although short, Larsen packs so many discussions, themes, twists and turns into the pages. I love the way she leaves gaps within her narrative that allow us to provide our own hypothesises for what the characters are motivated by and the truth of the events we only see from a single perspective. It's one I keep revisiting and pondering over as I reflect on the debates the book provokes, and I'm hoping to read other works by Larsen this year to gain a thorough picture of her as a writer and a storyteller.


Rodham - Curtis Sittenfeld


In her sixth work to date, Sittenfeld’s political fiction novel challenges us to think about the Clinton’s in a new way: how may things might have turned out for Hillary Rodham, Bill Clinton, and for America, if the two politicians had never married? I mean, what a fantastic premise for a novel!


This novel was kindly gifted to me for Christmas, and I really enjoyed it. The way Sittenfeld weaves reality and fiction, asking us to question what a woman’s life could have been like if she hadn’t married a man who became one of the most high profile political figures in American political history, is amazing. In some ways, I felt sad reading this novel, as it paints such a vivid picture of what Hillary’s life could have been like; I often caught myself feeling like I was reading a memoir (which may arise due to its familiarity, in the sense that we recognise many of the agents and events referred to in the novel), before reminding myself that Sittenfeld’s novel is just that: a novel.


The novel tackles so many debates, such as the experience of a single woman in politics, the intimacies of relationships and the stigmas attached to marriage, and how one’s personal life choices could influence one’s political ambitions. The novel provides the perfect balance between political intrigue and a personal, intimate drama.


The Mermaid Of Black Conch - Monique Roffey


Traversing time periods from 1976 to the 21st century, The Mermaid Of Black Conch transports us to St Constance, a Caribbean village on the island of Black Conch. Aycayia is a young woman who was cursed by jealous women to be a mermaid forever and is admired by David, our other protagonist. When she is captured by American tourists at a fishing competition, he knows he must protect her.


I listened to this gem as an audiobook, and I'd highly recommend the version narrated by Ben Onwukwe and Vivienne Acheampong as it offers such a vibrant listening experience; a particular highlight are musical interludes as we hear from Aycayia which provide a beautiful resonance to her narrative. The way the novel is structured around multiple narratives yet traverses them to subtly is astounding, I just loved how we feel as though we are inside so many character's heads without leaving the third person. It's a great one to escape into, something not only aided by the magical realist genre but also Roffey's beautiful writing and exquisite blending of characters and images. Whether you choose to read or listen, you will thoroughly enjoy it.


The Yorkshire Shepherdess - Amanda Owen


The first of three books about her life and her family, The Yorkshire Shepherdess recounts Amanda Owen's journey from her home in Huddersfield to her arrival at Ravenseat Farm, her current home, where she met her future husband Clive and started their family, which has since grown to include nine children (although, at the time of publication, only seven had been brought into the world). From living in a caravan and picking up odd jobs here and there to running a stunning 2,000 acre farm in North Yorkshire, we see how Amanda realised her dream of becoming a shepherdess.


I adore Our Yorkshire Farm - a Channel 5 programme all about the Owen family's life - and completely fell in love with Ravenseat and the life the Owen's lead; when I found out that Amanda had written three books about her life, I was over the moon. As well as learning more about the Owen family and their life, the book is thoroughly interesting and teaches one about farming, the farming calendar, and the challenges farmers face all year round. This is such a warming book, one that allows you to transport out of your world and enjoy the highs and lows of the idyllic Ravenseat farming estate. I also loved how witty and unique the narrative voice was, as you can hear Amanda in every word. Overall, a delight to read, and one that makes me proud to be from Yorkshire!


***


Looking forward to the next half of 2021, I'm hoping to read more works of non-fiction, particularly works that tackle climate change discussions, as this is something I am always keen to develop my understanding of. I'm searching also for books that are gripping and suspenseful, so if you have any recommendations do let me know!


I started the year with a goal of 50 reads. Will I achieve this? Watch this space...





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