Hard to review, beautiful to read: Ali Smith’s Autumn

I’ve been wanting to read Ali Smith’s Autumn for months, simply because everything she writes is gold.  But I forgot about it for a bit, and in July it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Must read Autumn, I said to myself, then forgot again. In September it was shortlisted for the Prize. Really must read Autumn, I repeated to myself and actually remembered to request it from the library. It came into my possession, poetically, just as the Man Booker Prize was announced earlier this month. Autumn didn’t win, but it doesn’t matter – this is a beautiful book. I love it to pieces. I want everyone to know how great it is, but I’ve realised that it’s a really hard book to review. So bear with me*.

Val McDermid does fluffy in Northanger Abbey

There are those that cower at the thought of reading a classic novel. There are those who delight in the prospect. With all the adaptations of Jane Austen’s canon (including the dire Curtis Sittenfeld’s take on Pride and Prejudice which I sort of reviewed here), I’ve never understood who the publishers have in mind as the target reader. Is it the reader who can’t bear the stuffy prose and regency rituals of the originals, but is keen to see what all the fuss is about? Or is it the die-hard Austen fan who will read anything vaguely associated with that name? Having just finished read Val McDermid’s twist on Northanger Abbey, I’m still confused.

Can a book have too many rhetorical questions? Ask The Wonder

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue sounded like a book perfectly calibrated for a rave review from me.A yellow tick

  • Historical fiction – check
  • Author of Room, which I loved – check
  • Set in Ireland. Bit of a theme for this year – check
  • Enticing book cover – check

Yet it was a challenge to get to the end of this book, let alone properly enjoy it. And the biggest reason why? Total overuse of the rhetorical question. Can I come back to the issue of rhetorical questions in a moment?

A Doctrine for Bitches? 10 propositions to help you decide

There are many things about the world today that I don’t understand – like why feminism makes people so angry and afraid, why anyone would actually vote for Trump, why Australia is currently staging a postal survey on same sex marriage. Laurie Penny‘s new book, Bitch Doctrine, has gone a long way to helping me understand many of these things (although not the same sex marriage survey as nobody can actually make sense of that one).

I’ll be honest: I think Laurie Penny is inspiring. Every time she writes, she astutely calls out the social injustices she sees, explains them logically and rationally and then poses solutions to them. She does this with humour, wisdom and anger, but she also does it hopefully. She delivers all of this, again, with Bitch Doctrine – a series of short essays on topics that range from the US election, to transsexuality, to Mad Max: Fury Road, to rape culture. They’re heavy topics, but Penny makes them interesting and digestible, and rather than collapsing in a heap of left-wing anguish, she highlights ways we can achieve change.

And yet at the start of this book, Penny explains that she called it Bitch Doctrine because when she presents what she thinks are ‘quite logical, reasonable arguments for social change’ she is called a bitch (and worse).

I’ve gathered together a selection of quotes from the book that particularly resonated, and grouped them as 10 propositions that make sense to me.

None of these seems all that provocative, but what do you think?

Totally Glorious: The Glorious Heresies

Several of my favourite reviewers proclaimed it (Kate W, BookerTalk and Jan Hicks, for example). The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction judging panel announced it pretty vehemently too by awarding it first prize in 2016. Pretty much everyone is agreed that The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney is an outstanding novel. It takes the Irish Tourism version of Ireland and warps it mercilessly into something real and meaningful but also grubby and degenerate.