10/100 — Review | BLUE ANGEL by Francine Prose

In fiction, there are a few things I can’t resist:

  • historical horror (see: Michelle Paver, Dan Simmons, Stephen King’s Rose Red works)

  • stories about witches

  • stories about writing

  • stories set on college campuses

Blue Angel, Francine Prose’s 2000 novel about a writing teacher led astray, ticks two of those boxes.

Ted Swenson is an ageing novelist with a comfortable, somewhat stagnated life, teaching creative writing at Euston college while failing to write his third novel. Everything is fine until Angela Argo, a formerly quiet student of his, shows him the first chapter of her novel. Her writing turns out to be excellent. Enamoured with her talent Swenson begins to meet up regularly with Angela to support her, all while his university gears up to deal with the rise of sexual harassment charges happening in academia.

Unlike some of his fellow teachers, Swenson’s never slept with a student, nor his colleague Madga, the poetry teacher. He’s a good guy. That is, until clumsy, nervous, self-deprecating Angela seduces him with her words, her stories about forbidden love and desire between older men and younger women. We watch him watch himself fall for her, and like a car heading straight for a cliff, we see it coming, we can’t look away, and when it happens, it’s as devastating as it is unsurprising.

Blue Angel is a novel about ambition, class, and good intentions gone wrong. Life imitates art around every corner: Swenson’s novel Blue Angel is based on the movie At the Blue Angel, both being stories about men who ruin their lives to please a women who doesn’t love them back; his unfinished third novel is a retelling of Stendhal’s The Red and the Black, an ambitious man’s struggle to rise to success in a rigid class system; and most obviously, Angela’s novel Eggs is about a high school student’s affair with her music teacher. Swenson knows the stories, yet when it happens to him, he is unable to stop it. When Angela starts dropping tactical hints about how much she thinks about him, or aggressively calls him ‘such a guy’ to break down their student-teacher relationship, he doesn’t see the wood for the trees. He’s a good guy.

Other reviews I've read call Blue Angel a satire of modern academia. I read it as a character study. Swenson is a hilariously hopeless middle-aged man who has been cruising along so comfortably that he’s forgotten how to take control of his own life. When Angela eventually accuses him of sexual harassment and he is put on trial for a much more extreme version of events than he experienced, the truth almost doesn’t matter anymore. He just drifts along with it all, carried by the waves of scandal just like he’s let himself get carried towards them, leaning into the attraction a 19-year old engineered in him.

I found Blue Angel hugely entertaining, and I’m a little sad I’ve finished it already.


Author: Francine Prose
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication date: 2000
Rating: 4/5

Review | HOW TO BREAK UP WITH YOUR PHONE by Catherine Price

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Have you ever found yourself with your phone in your hand without remembering how it got there?

Have you ever stopped what you were doing and picked up your phone because your lizard brain craved Instagram so suddenly the decision wasn’t even conscious? One minute you’re writing an email, and the next your fingers are tapping the access code into your phone while on your computer screen the cursor blinks on a half-finished sentence.

It’s not easy to admit all of this, but I suspect I’m not the only one with that kind of experience. I think most of us know on some level that our phones have more power over us than we’d like them to have; for me it’s those moments when I suddenly find myself scrolling through Instagram or Twitter, like I’ve blacked out for a second. And that happens several times a day!

I don’t want to live my life this way, and in early March, I bought How To Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price.

**

The book is split into two parts: part 1, the ‘wake-up’, is an info-dump designed to put the fear of technology in you. It explains what phones do to our brains, especially our attention spans, ability to multitask, and our mental health, including stress levels and sleep hygiene. Spoiler alert: it’s not good news.

Part 2, the ‘break-up’, is a 30-day programme designed to slowly wean you off your phone and, in week 4, reintroduce healthier habits. It encourages you to take a look at your phone use, introduces mindfulness habits, and, yes, asks you to delete your social media apps.

**

Tracking your phone use via an app (in my case, Moment) was an interesting experiment. According to Catherine Price, who quotes Moment itself, the average user spends about 4 hours a day on their phone. Think about that: FOUR of your waking hours. Of course not all of this is wasted (think maps, calculator, meditation apps, calendar apps, writing notes, chatting to lovely people), but let’s be honest: it’s so easy to get sucked into spending twenty minutes on Twitter when all you wanted to do is turn off your alarm.

**

My favourite part of the programme, however, has got to be the 24hr blackout, or ‘trial separation’. Yes, it’s what it sounds like: 24 hours without your phone. Without screens in general. No internet. No chatting. No Google Maps. Live like it’s 1991.

I did my 24hrs on Saturday last Easter weekend, which I’d decided to spend alone. I had a headache and no real capacity for being productive, so I just wandered the streets in an area that I know relatively well, given I hadn’t prepared for this at all and not looked up any maps. I’m not going to say this day changed my life (I actually found it quite concerning how much I twitched for my phone every time I waited for the bus or train. Habits, man), but somewhere in the early afternoon, a kind of calm settled on me. I got lost on my way to the bookshop, which hasn’t happened in forever. In the queue to the loos at the British Museum (it’s a very long queue) I suddenly got assaulted by very random unpleasant memories that seemed to have sensed I was without the protection of Instagram. But I dealt with them.

In the later afternoon, I settled in a café to read and write, and watch. Everybody was on their phone, hunched over their coffee, scrolling. Some people sat close enough that they could have belonged to each other, but it was hard to tell given that they didn’t interact with one another. The only ones in my immediate vicinity not on their phones were a group of well-off middle-aged women, who’d bought several slices of cake and cut them into four pieces each to share. They were having a blast. The whole picture reminded me how, as someone who likes writing, it’s so easy to get sucked into platforms like Instagram and Pinterest for ‘inspiration’, when the real inspiration (i.e. life) is often in front of us.

**

I’m done with my 30 days now. I don’t think my life has changed, really. Not dramatically. But I remember that day offline and how much time there was in it, how much capacity for attention I had. In the chapter on social media, Price talks about attention. ‘[O]ur attention is the most valuable thing we have,’ she says. ‘We only experience what we pay attention to. We remember only what we pay attention to.’

That quote has stuck with me. My phone background now says, ‘What do you want to pay attention to?’ (a tip from the book) Never stop asking this question. If your attention is the most important thing you have, do you want to spend it on your phone right now? Sometimes the answer is yes. Sometimes, the question makes me put my phone back in my pocket, so I can focus my attention where I want it to be.

We’ve come to accept that there’s an app for everything, including our mental and physical wellbeing. It feels disorienting to put away all our apps in search for a solution when we’ve learned to see them as a lifeline, something to hold on to. It wouldn’t say this book has taught me anything I didn’t know already, but in the absence of picking up my phone, it was something else to hold on to. I enjoyed my morning ritual of reading the day’s challenge and have since replaced it with meditation. I still have a long way to go in how I use my phone, but this book has been a nudge in the right direction.


Author: Catherine Price
Publisher: Trapeze
Publication Date: March 2018
Rating: 4/5


Last but not least, I would also like to leave you with this video by Anthony Ongaro that just blew my mind. In case you needed more arguments.

All the books in March

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I know it’s been April for a while, but better late than never, right?!

Ann Veronica by H.G. Wells || 3/5
This book floored me a little. I’ve never read anything by H.G. Wells (yes, I know), so when I came across one of the most #relatable exchanges between a man and a woman since Cat Person, I was not prepared.
Ann Veronica, subtitled A Modern Love Story, is the story of our titular heroine who, in her early twenties at the turn of the 19th century, is still under the thumb of her father, who wants to decide over her comings and goings until he can marry her off. One day their disagreement escalates and Vee flees to London, where she realises that a young educated woman stands barely a chance to create a life that is independent of men. As we follow her on her struggle against a system that does not want her to succeed on her own, we encounter suffragettes, artists and scientists with varying attitudes towards life and the relationship between the sexes.
Ann Veronica makes some excellent observations of attitudes that are still around today (‘I respect and admire women too much to burden them with the ugliness of politics!’), but ultimately doesn’t go quite far enough for me. Ann Veronica’s time with the suffragette movement feels more like a confused phase than genuine conviction, and the ending seems like an indulgence for the author more than a gift to the reader. Altogether, not too bad for a book that is over 100 years old.

A Change Is Gonna Come by various authors || 4/5
This is a donation bin find from work – and what a find! A Change Is Gonna Come is a YA collection of 12 stories and poems by British BAME writers, aiming to ‘give creative space to those who have historically had their thoughts, ideas and experiences oppressed’. It’s an absolute treasure chest of stories dealing with race, racism, mental health, LGBTQ issues, history, the refugee crisis, disability and... time travel? Apart from being thoroughly enjoyable, this kind of book is the perfect argument for why we need diversity in writing and publishing – these are stories I’ve never encountered before, or not enough, and I really, really want more. I can’t wait to pass it on to the next happy reader.

I Still Dream by James Smythe || 3/5
I Still Dream is a (beautifully designed) book about artificial intelligence. The AI in this case is a system called Organon, created by Laura Bow in her teens during the 90s. The story follows Laura’s (and Organon’s) life as they follow the rise and development of another (commercialised) AI, SCION, as it worms its way into every part of everyday human life. I find it hard to describe what the book is about, because I couldn’t quite figure it out. The story spans Laura’s entire life (and some before and after), but I missed some sort of dramatic structure. While the narration mostly sticks with Laura, two or three chapters are inexplicably told from someone else’s perspective, but it takes pages to make clear who that person is. Neither Organon nor SCION are your average dangerous sci-fi AIs like HAL 9000 or VIKI, which is a nice change, but there is also no real sense of threat or stakes. The language seems geared towards people who know a thing or two about AI, so for me as a layperson who clearly didn’t get it, the overwhelming mood was ‘sounds like it’s gonna be okay, I guess’. Maybe the beautiful complexity I’ve read about in other reviews went right over my head. Who knows.

You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman || 4/5
A lives with B. B admires A and wishes she could be like her. A is dating C. A finds it more and more difficult to tell herself apart from B. Is B turning into A? Is A turning into B? Why have B and C never met? Would C prefer B to A if he met her?
I read this book in a bit over a day, which is a pretty intense experience. Afterwards I wrote in my journal: ‘It’s something I’m not sure I want to exist. I feel unclean, like I caught something.’
I find it hard to say what this book is about. It’s about consumer culture, about advertising, about body image and love and religion and identity. But overall, it’s just plain terrifying. I don’t think it is meant to be a horror novel and I wouldn’t classify it as such, but there is such a strong sense of displacement, of standing outside oneself watching the world like something completely alien and incomprehensible. As someone who experiences dissociation on a regular basis, this book touched something I’m not sure needed touching. One element that needs to be mentioned is the text design, at least in my edition: every chapter starts with a plain smiley emoticon. Like the book looking back at you. It’s fucking terrifying. I loved it.

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All the books in February (feat. #feministlitfeb)

And here we are in March. February has been a month of reading I didn't quite expect, and now I'm a little overwhelmed with it all. My TBR for FeministLitFebruary was ambitious, and I'm a bit surprised and impressed by myself to see how much I managed to read. I wish I'd written more reviews, but oh well. I'm still figuring it out.

Anyway, here's the roundup:

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen || 3/5
I read this for a creative project I was hoping to start, but it turned out I didn't have time for it this month.
This is my third Jane Austen book, and I just don't get them. With all their insight and many funny moments, my overarching annoyance at how obsessed with money and boring most of the characters are is just too much to enjoy them. And still, I miss them when I finished?? Sense & Sensibility is full of highly unlikeable characters, its ending is awful, and Elinor is one of the most frustrating protagonists I've ever come across. Can I stop reading these now please.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward || 4.5/5 || FeministLitFeb Challenge - An #ownvoices story
I read the book while a storm was raging through my own mind, so that might have to do with the way I experienced it, but goddamn. It's special.
Salvage the Bones follows the story of a family – three brothers, one sister, and their dad – in Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, 12 days before the storm Katrina hits. Esch, the narrator and only girl in the family, has just discovered she is pregnant.
I tried to write a full review for this title, but my words can't do it justice. It's a beautifully written, immersive read about motherhood and strength and destrucion that I can wholeheartedly recommend.

Brave by Rose McGowan || abandoned
I tried, and gave up on page 40. This is not a book that should be judged by its literary merit, of course not. But dear god it would have benefited a lot from some editing. The book is written in a 'stream of consciousness' kind of way, which I imagine makes for an intriguing audiobook, but is exhausting in writing. It lacks structure and is full of anger and a kind of 'I immediately saw through the bullshit' superiority that made it hard for me to want to keep reading. Rose McGowan has been through a lot and she has every right to be angry, but I've decided not to follow this particular story.

Six Stories & an essay by Andrea Levy || 4/5 || Instagram review || FeministLitFeb Challenge - A book written by a black woman
'I am not in the habit of making friends with strangers. I am a Londoner. Not even little grey-haired old ladies can shame a response from me. I'm a Londoner – aloof sweats from my pores.'
This short read explores the concept of identity throughout three generations, all inspired by Andrea Levy's own experiences or those of her family: the young man from the West Indies fighting for the British during the War; the Jamaican woman on her way to England full of expectation for a better life; and the immigrant's daughter, English through and through to the point where she needs to be made aware she is black. The essay that precedes the stories tells Levy's own story of growing up in a Highbury council flat, so unaware of her ancestry as the descendant of slaves that she considered herself white, and had to re-learn what it means to be a product of the shared history between Britain and the Caribbean.
Like a complex gemstone that looks different from every angle, this book provides a variety of short but impactful stories that should best be read in one sitting to appreciate this book as a whole.
(Also, can I just say – this Tinderpress edition is lush. The thick stock it's printed on, the clear foil on the cover, the handwritten titles? Oh my god.)

Hunger by Roxane Gay || 5/5 || full review here || FeministLitFeb Challenge - Feminist Wildcard
THIS BOOK THOUGH. It's amazing. Read it.

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas || 3/5 || FeministLitFeb Challenge - Feminist Fiction
This book is being sold by comparing it to The Power and The Handmaid's Tale, and I think that kind of marketing does it a disservice. Unlike the distinctly sci-fi/dystopian books by Naomi Alderman and Margaret Atwood, Red Clocks feels a lot more immediate and relatable: its America is one that looks well possible by 2020. Its horror is more subtle and takes a step back to make space for its characters, who are each impacted in a different way by the new legislation (abortion is illegal under any circumstances, and adoption is only possible for married couples). It's an immensely readable book that I looked forward to picking up each time, invested in all four main characters and their struggle for personal freedom.
But I think it tries too hard. Someone on Goodreads called it 'literary frills', and that's what they are – the narrator does not refer to the women by name, but title (the wife, the daughter, the biographer, the mender), which feels superfluous since they clearly have names; there are very disjointed bits of writing linked to a polar explorer Ro is writing about, which are either by the explorer herself or by Ro, and it's never quite clear what they are for; and especially in Gin's chapters there are bits of literary dissociation when the writing seems to slip in some kind of fever dream that made me wonder what I'm reading each time. I don't think any of these features are necessary, as the women's stories are engaging enough in themselves, and they distract more than they add. This would have been a gorgeous, important book without those frills.

Inferior by Angela Saini || 4/5 || FeministLitFeb Challenge - Feminist Non-Fiction
Can we take a second to admire this cover — thank you.
This seemed like the perfect book to read for this challenge: an exploration of the way science has been used to prove that women are the weaker sex, and what we know now. It looks at intellectual ability, physical differences and aging (or, 'What are old women good for'), looking at studies very different from the ones we always read about in the news. For someone who doesn't read as much non-fiction as she should, I found this book very well structured and very readable, and I have come away with even more respect for the female of our species: we are mighty, and I didn't even know half of it.

This was my first ever reading challenge, and I really enjoyed this. Maybe I'll do another one in the future.

But for March: easy reads.

Review | HUNGER by Roxane Gay

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Today I noticed how every time I see a small child with a crisp packet in their hands, I have to keep myself from judging the parents. There's nothing like the smell of crisps to transport me back to my own youth: the greasy combination of oils and strong chemical tastes; the fizzy drinks that came along with them; that deep, desperate feeling of being sluggish and fat and gross.

I wasn't fat, but I grew up in an environment where being fat, feeling fat and the desire not to be fat have always been topics, and I suppose like most females on this planet I feel some level of societal pressure not to be ‘fat'.

It makes me feel strange and guilty using this word to refer to myself, having just read Roxane Gay's Hunger. I'm very aware that I have never been fat, or even overweight. While my personal feelings about my body may be one thing, I have never experienced life in a society that sees me as fat. There are so, so many experiences that I haven't had, that I can barely imagine anyone else ever having (like strangers removing items from a food cart that they disapprove of – my mind is still reeling from that one). Hunger is an important (and rare) record of those experiences, and the emotions that go along with it.

But there's a lot more in there to unpack – there is sexual assault, race, and the ever returning topic of (self-)worth, and the struggle to feel deserving: of love; of respect; of care, from oneself and others.

In a beautiful interview with Jenny Zhang for the Rookie Podcast, Roxane Gay has talked about those struggles, and the persistent feeling that haunted her since her teens: ‘This is all there is? How disappointing.' There's a beautiful, comforting moment during that interview where both of these wonderful, talented people talk about that loneliness, the feeling that life just might not be for them, something that can persist over years and years no matter how much work we put into dealing with life. Others feel like this too. Awesome people feel like this too.

Apart from the many other things it does, Hunger chronicles, with incredible honesty, one person's journey with those feelings. Sometimes the chapters are hard-hitting (there are a few about relationships that are particularly hard to read); sometimes they are hesitatingly gentle (like the one about cooking a Blue Apron meal and the attempt to nourish her body well). Overall, it is a journey – a very long, hard journey with some ups and many downs.

I don’t want to be relieved when a relationship ends. I have things to offer. I am nice and funny and I bake really well. I no longer want to believe I deserve nothing better than mediocrity or downright shoddy treatment. I am trying to believe this with every fiber of my being.

I cannot properly review this book without being more open than I want to be or am able to be. Which in a way is a shame – as she writes, sharing our histories (of violence) is important: 'It informs how I move through the world. It informs how I love and allow myself to be loved. It informs everything.' And by sharing our history in our own words, we gain control over them.
But I am not that brave, and that's just how it is.

But I can tell you, who is reading this, to read this book, and be inspired – to be better and kinder to your fellow humans; to be better to yourself; to tell your own story. We need more books like this, especially in times of the #MeToo movement when finally, someone is listening. We need more people to come forward and remind us that life is messy, and painful, and that everyone is fighting some kind of battle. And only if we know what these battles are, and all the many shapes they can take, and that they can be a massive part of us without defining us – then we can move through the world with open minds and be compassionate, and kind, and considerate to each other. That's the world I want to live in.


Author: Roxane Gay
Publisher: Corsair
Publication date: June 2017
Rating: 5/5

All the books in January

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And here we are – the end of January! It's been a good month for reading.

The Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown || 4/5
I've had this lecture series in my Audible account for at least a year, and its time came this New Year's Day. I walked for miles all day, listening to Brené Brown's soothing but competent voice for hours (she sounds like such a mom, in the best possible way). It's a brilliant introduction to her work on living with vulnerability and cultivating what she calls wholeheartedness. I took a lot of notes.

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan || 3/5
I found this on the book exchange shelf at my local Tube station and read it in a day. A young couple, Edward and Florence, arrive in a small hotel in Dorset by Chesil Beach for their honeymoon. They haven't had sex with each other before, and as the couple approach the act with mixed feelings, they reflect on their individual upbringings and future together. The point of view flips in between the two characters, highlighting the weight of things unspoken between two people who love each other dearly, but whose 'companionable near-silence' has created no space for true intimacy. I found it a stunningly written book, but was unable to root for or even like either of the two.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki || 5/5
A re-read. Ruth Ozeki is one of my favourite authors, and this might be my favourite book of hers. The story is told between two women: a teenage girl named Nao who, having grown up in Sunnyvale, California, struggles to adapt to life in Japan after her family has to move back; and Ruth, an author with writer's block who finds Nao's diary washed up on the beach of a tiny Canadian island years later. Beautifully written, the story is packed with history and information about Japanese culture and Zen Buddhism (Nao's great-grandmother is a nun), as well as thoughtful meditations on time, suicide, conscience and the nature of stories. A single-paragraph review doesn't do this very special book justice, so I'll just say that I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone.

Lullaby by Leïla Slimani || 3/5 || full review
A short novel about a Parisian couple whose nanny murders the children. While I appreciated the glimpses into the lives of several quite different people, I struggled to feel empathy for any of them. The story gradually builds the suspense and sense of unease in a skilful way, but stumbles and falls towards the end, where it feels unfinished.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue || 4/5 || Instagram review
This one's been on my TBR for quite a while, and I'm glad I've kept it until now! Set in the mid-2000s, the story follows a young Cameroonian family struggling to stay in the United States. The husband, Jende, lands a job chauffeuring a Wall Street banker and his family, and soon his wife, Neni, is asked to help out as well. They seem to be doing okay, until the financial crisis hits. Behold the Dreamers is an engaging read that draws the reader into the worlds of two very different families. While it focusses on Jende and Neni, we learn plenty about their employers and their own battle with the American Dream. The book makes space for everyone without taking sides, explaining their actions but not excusing them. Another book I'd absolutely recommend.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney || 4/5
This is an odd book in that I absolutely loved reading it, while disliking each single character. The titular friends are Frances and Bobbi, two 21-year old ex-lovers-now-best-friends, and Melissa and Nick, a thirty-something couple they befriend when Melissa writes a profile about the girls. The story is told from the perspective of Frances who, as Bobbi gets closer with Melissa, starts an affair with Nick.
Frances speaks with a sharp self-awareness that is an absolute joy to read, although what is most interesting about her is everything she doesn't talk about – as she obsesses over Nick, she glosses over health and family matters like they don't touch her, and other characters frequently remark on how impossible it is to read her. But as intriguing as her background seems to be, she is infuriating in her passivity. Nick is an unbelievable dickhead, Melissa is unlikeable from the start, and Bobbi, who seems the most intelligent and aware of the group, does not get enough to say or do. When I saw that the book had two parts I hoped that the second part would contain the events from Bobbi's point of view, and I'm still a bit disappointed that's not the case. This novel is immensely readable and polished, with some memorable scenes that were quite hard to read at times, but I wish the characters had just been a bit more likeable.

Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys || 4/5
Oh my god, this book is capital-S Sad. It follows Sasha, a woman staying in Paris after personal tragedy, trying to make it through; she walks the streets during the day and sits in bars and cafés at night, reminding herself not to cry in public.
Sasha's sadness is thick and heavy and difficult to carry as a reader, so despite its small extent this book took me the longest to read. Which works so well, as everybody who has ever been this kind of sad will know – how the days stretch and become one long, endless grey fog. I want to read more by Jean Rhys, but I think I need a break for a bit.

Review | LULLABY by Leïla Slimani

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I don't know why I keep reading psychological thrillers, guys.

This short novel about a 'killer nanny' (hey, someone at the publisher decided to put that quote on the back) is set in Paris. Myriam and Paul, a young couple with two children, decide to make the financial sacrifice and employ a nanny, so Myriam can go back to her work as a lawyer. They find Louise, a fragile-looking white woman in her forties, who seems to be the perfect Mary Poppins: the children love her, the house is always spotless, and her food is the centre of dinner parties.
Until one day, Louise murders both children.

So far, so intriguing.

If I had one piece of advice to give about this book, it would be to read it in one sitting. It's short enough at just a little over 200 pages, and the suspense is drawn so tightly over the plot that I don't recommend breaking it up, which was the mistake I made.

While the book touches on the inner lives of Paul and Myriam in a neutral kind of way that makes them seem human (if not people you want to be friends with), the main focus is Louise. As the story goes on we learn about her past in snippets, although the most interesting chapters are certainly told from her daughter's perspective, Stéphanie. Now that I think of it, I would have preferred a book about Stéphanie.

But we're stuck with her mother, a woman who doesn't belong into the world she has made herself fit into. As Louise burrows herself further into the family's life, they become her only reason to wake up, yet at the same time she is unable to relate to them. Not only is she 'the nanny'; but her background, we learn, is so vastly different to theirs that they seem to exist on a whole different level where neither can reach out to the other, no matter how closely they live together.

Solitude was like a vast hole into which Louise watched herself sink. Solitude, which stuck to her flesh, to her clothes, began to model her features, making her move like a little old lady. Solitude leapt at her face at dusk, when night fell and the sounds of family lives rose from the surrounding houses. The light dimmed and the murmur grew louder: laughter, panting, even sighs of boredom. (p.86)

I'm here for any book that captures loneliness well, and Lullaby does this. What it doesn't do is draw me in and make me care about any of the characters, and I can't quite pinpoint why that is. The arrangement of chapters feels random at times, and the murder that sells the book seems almost irrelevant as the narratives goes to describe – not explain – Louise. The suspense, which gradually builds throughout the story, stacking up like a house of cards with some beautifully chilling moments, stumbles towards the end and collapses into a sad heap. I found the ending so unsatisfying I actually wondered whether I had checked out momentarily while reading it; I felt disoriented, like I'd missed something.

I don't know if it's the book or the genre, but I always feel bad when I read a psychological thriller and think, I've seen this before. I've read this before. I end up disappointed almost every time. Lullaby is no different, and I don't know if it's worth the hype.


Author: Leïla Slimani, translated from the French by Sam Taylor
Publisher: Faber&Faber
Publication date: 11th January 2018
Rating: 3/5