Below lies a selection of the novels that I have read over the past month or so. I always like to see what other people are reading, and it may even act as inspiration for what you could pick up next.
Rather than doing a singular in-depth review on just one of these books, I’ve decided to give my own short synopsis and a (personal, perhaps controversial) rating for multiple.
Let me know if you have read any or plan to, and if you agree or disagree with my ratings/opinions in the comments section. As always, be aware that I’m in no way a professional; I’m just an ordinary Literature student who has a passion for reading – the summaries below are my own, as well as the ratings.
Muriel Spark – The Hothouse by the East River
This novel is focused mainly on two characters, Paul and Elsa, who happen to be a married couple living in New York. We discover that they were once both involved with intelligence work during the war and, with the arrival of some familiar faces, their past returns to haunt them. This story takes a drastic and startling turn towards its closing which only enhances the tale and makes it all the more exciting and interesting. This was a book that I genuinely struggled to put down and, once I got to the end, I was desperate to talk to someone about it… It only took me a couple of hours to get through and so I would recommend giving the novel a go!
George Mackay Brown – Greenvoe
Greenvoe is a small Orcadian community which has remained unchanged for generations; we learn about a whole host of characters, as well as their daily routines and customary way of life. However, the community becomes under threat when a shady government project known as Operation Black Star is introduced. We are then able to notice the decay and decline of the island, leading it in to take on the form of an almost dystopian tale. I personally struggled with this book – there are a lot of characters to keep up with and learn about and the entire development of O.B.S never becomes clear or meaningful (in my opinion). I feel like more could have been done with this story, but I do hope to give it another go at some point in the future and I will hopefully enjoy it more on a second reading!
Gawain and the Green Knight
This particular work takes on the form of late 14th century chivalric, romantic poetry. Sir Gawain, a noble knight, comes to blows with the mysterious Green Knight whilst also having his honour put at risk through a test involving Lady Bertilak. Through this, the poetry allows us to learn what it was to be perceived as chivalric and to be loyal at this time in history through a demonstration of temptation and self-constraint at moments of seduction. At the same time, topics such as hunting, religion and the voice of femininity seep through, making the story one of complexity yet great importance. I know that this poetry is definitely not the easiest to read and so it might not be for everyone (especially if you’re not used to reading medieval poetry), but there are plenty of modern translations that could help you through it. Moreover, it’s split into four parts which allows you to not only take your time with it, but also pick and choose what parts you want to read if you’re not up to the challenge of taking the whole lot on! I feel that it’s a worthwhile read if you’re into poetry.
William McIlvanney – Docherty
The book kicks off with an introduction to Tam, a miner in the fictional town of Graithnock. He immediately comes across as quite a stubborn character, but a good-hearted one at the same time. The arrival of his baby, Conn, enhances this characterisation when he declares that his son’s life should be and will be different from his own; he believes that Conn should be granted an education and prosperous job to ultimately become a better man than his poverty-stricken self. However, what he fails to take into account is whether Conn actually wants this future. The story itself takes the form of quite an intimate novel, concentrating solely on Tam’s family and the small community encapsulating them. Nevertheless, we are exposed to wide-scale political, religious and gender-equality issues through their stories and journeys which raises awareness to significant, worldwide matters. My rating is 3.5 as I found the novel enjoyable when it came to undermining important issues such as politics and religion, but it could often become quite dry and lack real action.
Alexander Trocchi – Cain’s Book
Cain’s Book takes on the form of another Scottish novel, and one which follows the journey of Joe; a religious heroin addict who is recently divorced and trying to find a purpose in life. The book alternates between his current position in life, which is living on a scow on the Hudson River in New York, and to flashbacks of his experiences as a child living in Glasgow, and later as a young man in London and Paris. We get an insight into what it means to be an addict whilst being exposed to Joe’s personal views on the laws surrounding drug-taking. It is a very fragmented text, perhaps conveying Joe’s irrational state of mind, yet it remains a clever documentation of alienation in society. In fact, this book was actually once banned in the UK due to obscenity, which is understandable due to its striking scenes of prostitution and drug-taking (and the fact that it almost promotes drugs!), but it now exists in circulation as one of the most brave and impactful modern Scottish fictional novels. I could definitely see similarities between this one and Irvine’s Trainspotting. I enjoyed this book – it’s something a bit different and it remains open to multiple interpretations, thus making it all the more interesting!
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