Its not to late to talk about the books I read in January is it? I started the year strong with 8 books, I knew I wanted to read at least one Japanese author for January in Japan, and I opted for a classic The Inugami Curse by Seishi Yokomizo. I also wanted to try some Agatha Christie, for the first time in my thirty-eight years of life, and decided to go for two short stories featuring Hercule Poirot. I had at least 10 days in the month when I didn’t pick up a book, I always have a pause after an intense reading experience, and last month it was for The Nickle Boys by Colson Whitehead. Many of the books I selected were quite short but I also read a “big” book, American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. I read one collection of short stories, Things We Do Not Tell The People We Love by Huma Qureshi. Assembly, by Natasha Brown is probably one of the best books I’ll read all year and Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler, is a book I bought early last year but only read last month!
American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
The first book I read in 2022 was by an author I’ve come to love after discovering her in 2021. I read Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld last year, which was a fictional biography of Hilary Rodham Clinton’s life and really enjoyed it so I thought I’d read American Wife, her 2008 novel loosely based on the life of First Lady Laura Bush. Alice Blackwell is from a small town, a school Librarian and lives an unassuming life with her mother and grandmother. Unmarried and in her 30’s she meets Charlie Blackwell at a party and within months they marry. Charlie is from a wealthy and political family and their relationship leads Alice into a world of privilege, class and wealth on an unimaginable scale. The story doesn’t focus on the controversial politics of the Bush presidency, but rather on the life and relationships of its heroine. Starting in the 1940’s and going all the way to the 2000 election and 2001 terror attacks and the subsequent ‘war on terror’, the book ends after the presidency, so covers a huge chunk of recent American History. Sittenfeld includes a little about race, although very much from the lens of white privilege, and also America’s unrelenting attempts to control women’s bodies. I must admit I didn’t like Alice, or maybe I didn’t believe in her character, her Democratic, social justice beliefs, whilst being married to an extremely Conservative man, were difficult for me to digest. Her small acts of goodness towards the Black staff, felt more about herself, than an actual belief in equality but nonetheless I can’t help but love the stories that Curtis Sittenfeld tells. I love her exploration of characters, particularly over such a long span of time. Its a big book, at over 600 pages, but I think its worth the investment for Sittenfelds beautiful writing and unique style of storytelling.
“Perhaps fiction has, for me, served a similar purpose–what is a narrative arc if not the imposition of order on disparate events?–and perhaps it is my avid reading that has been my faith all along.”
― Curtis Sittenfeld, American Wife
The Inugami Curse by Seishi Yokomizo.
January on Bookstagram is an opportunity to celebrate Japanese writing and literature, and this year I decided to read one of the countries most famous historical detective writers, Seishi Yokomizo. His creation, Detective Kindaichi, features in another 76 books and is considered one of the most famous literary creations in Japan. The Inugami curse is set around the death of Sahei Inugami, the head of the wealthy Inugami family, “…his death set in motion the blood-soaked series of events that later befell the Inugami clan.” It took me a while to get into the story, and the Detective reminded me a little bit of Columbo, from the eponymous 80’s American TV series, but when I did settle into the style of writing and the neo-noir detective, I really enjoyed the story. The writing is full of metaphors, and at times I found it difficult to follow the plot. The only gripe I had with the book was its “black and white” nature. Everyone good was beautiful and anyone with a questionable character was ugly. The character Tamayo, was especially subjected to this treatment ‘Her sublime beauty was indeed as endless as an ever-flowing spring’. I have to admit I found this got tiresome and even annoying nearing the end of the book. All that being said, it was a solid murder mystery and an enjoyable read.
The Mystery of the Spanish Chest & The Chocolate Box, by Agatha Christie
I’ve never read an Agatha Christie before, although I have seen all the TV Shows, movies and even a few of the theatre shows, so I feel comfortable calling myself a fan. While browsing my local library’s audiobooks selection I came across the above two books, and for the first time they were available as individual stories, rather than part of a larger collection. In The Mystery of the Spanish Chest, Poirot learns about the death of Mr Clayton from a newspaper article and finds himself intrigued by the police investigation, particularly the arrest of a man that Poirot is convinced couldn’t have been the murderer. Later he is called by a mutual friend to investigate the case and in true Hercule Poirot style, he solves the mystery. The second short story, The Chocolate Box starts as a conversation between Poirot and Hasting. The former is complimenting the detective on his record and genius, which leads the Belgium detective to tell his friend about the one case he failed to solve. The mystery concerns the death of of Paul Déroulard, a senior French official, and Poirot is introduced to the case by, Mademoiselle Mesnard, the cousin of the deceased’s dead wife. I enjoyed the second story marginally more than the first, but both were very good. I was worried that I might find the short stories lacking in some way, but the mysteries were just as good as all the other Agatha Christie ones I’ve seen. I listened to the audiobooks and both were narrated exceptionally, which definitely added to the experience for me.
I borrow audiobooks mainly from my local library and use the BorrowBox app.
The Nickle Boys by Colson Whitehead
I’ve already written a review for this exceptional book, so I won’t repeat it here, but if you can, I urge you to pick up this brilliant, Pulitzer Prize winning work of fiction. You can thank me later.
Things We Do Not Tell The People We Love by Huma Qureshi
This is the only collection of short stories I read in January and again, I’ve already written a review for it. I will say though, if you enjoy short stories, especially those with a slightly dark twist, than these are worth looking into.
Assembly by Natasha Brown
I didn’t know anything about this book when I ordered it, other than it was nominated for a new prize hosted by The Women’s Prize for Fiction, The Future Awards. I ordered this along with a handful of the other nominations, and for me, this has been by far the most exceptional. I feel quite confident in stating that it will probably be one of my top three reads of this year. It’s only a very short book, at 100 pages, but not a singel word of this debut novel feels surplus to requirement.
The unnamed narrator tells of her success, achieving everything she has ever strived for. When she is diagnosed with cancer she reflects on her life and how every aspect of it is tainted with racism. From her rich white boyfriend, and the liberal credentials she offers him, to her career success being reduced to ‘diversity hire’ by both colleagues and well meaning friends.
This is an excellent account of racism and its real life consequences. Its so skilfully crafted you feel the exhaustion and relentlessness of her experiences. I have zero criticisms of this book and only admire the authors skills: to create something so succinct, so poignant, and so powerful.
Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler
The last book I read in January was another debut but this time by a book critic and essayist, so I had very high expectations of her own foray into fiction. The unnamed narrator finds herself in a stale relationship until she discovers her partner has a secret life online: he hosts a right-wing conspiracy website. This sends the protagonist, herself an avid user of social media, and used to the fakery of the web, into a quest of discovery, in an extremely postmodern, ‘age of internet’ way. The narrator then decides to embark on a journey to Berlin, where she initially met her boyfriend, and while there she spends her time between Twitter and dating apps. She creates a host of fake personas and meets men, with varying success. The book is an interesting and sharp observation of authenticity in the age of social media, and whilst I really enjoyed it and found the narrator engaging, if not a little frustrating, I don’t think the book was revolutionary, or made any new observations about millennials and their dependency on Social Media. I personally though Patricia Lockwood’s, No One Is Talking About This, was a more revolutionary read, although I did very much enjoy this.
So that’s my January wrap up. I think my favourite, by a country mile, was Assembly, it just blew my mind with its acute observations and sharp, intelligent and succinct descriptions of what it feels like to be a black woman. I also thought the Nickle Boys was absolutely brilliant. Although a work of fiction its based on true events, which made reading it that bit more difficult and necessary. I also enjoyed Fake Accounts, its seductive and subversive narrative was refreshing and relatable. I’m not sure if I will ever get around to reading an Agatha Christie book, but if I do, which would you recommend? I’m usually always a fan of the book over the TV/Movies, but I must confess, I think murder mysteries might just be the exception to my rule.
We’re over a third of the way through February and I’m only on my fourth book, so I don’t think my February wrap up will take me quite as long. I’m actually listening to a podcast at the moment, The Trojan Horse Affair which is taking up the part of my evening usually dedicated to an audiobook. So far I’m obsessed with it, and might even do a blog post about it when I finish listening. If you’ve heard it, or are listening to it, do let me know below.
I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading in January, or if you’ve read any of the above books, did you feel the same way as me or have different experiences of them? I’m also keen to read more Japanese fiction. I listened to the Inugami Curse with my husband, and he loved it, so we reserved another book by the same author, The Village of Eight Graves, which should be available for us by the end of the month. If you have any recommendations then please do let me know. Finally my February reads includes Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb. I watched a show on the BBC called Couples Therapy and became obsessed with psychology and therapists. I’m just coming to the end of it and am looking forward to sharing my thoughts on it in next months wrap up. I was also sent a copy of Please Look After Mother by the publishers, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, so I’m looking forward to reading that too this month.
As always do let me know what you’ve been reading and if you want daily updates on what I’m reading then please follow me on Instagram.