It’s been a great year for books so far. I’ve had so much commute time to read my staggering to-be-read pile and it’s been such a relaxing way to start and end my days! Last year I drove to work, and attempted to get into the world of audiobooks, but obviously, they don’t hold a candle to real, paper books.
Here’s a short list of some of the more interesting books I read this summer and early fall. My favorite is the last one, Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. Atwood has long been a favorite author of mine, and now that so many of her novels are being adapted into shows, the world gets to revisit what makes her such a relevant, powerful, and ultra-talented writer! Check out my mini-reviews:
The Guineveres, by Sarah Domet
The Guineveres has an enthralling premise: four girls, all named Guinevere, are each abandoned by their families, left to spend their teenage years at a convent. The four Guineveres find each other and form a tight-knit family, each with her own painful past. There’s Vere, the narrator of the story. There’s Ginny, a red-haired, freckled girl who considers herself an artist. There’s Win, a tomboy with an internal strength. Finally there’s Gwen, a beautiful girl who wants to be a starlet.
The Guineveres’ communal lives are characterized by the overpowering need to escape the convent. One of the first scenes is funny: all four girls hide themselves in a float they made for an annual parade, hoping that the float will make it past the grounds of the convent and that they can finally escape. Obviously, it doesn’t work. The narrative that follows chronicles the woes, trials, and growing pains of the four very different girls. Their daily lives, usually boring and repetitive, change drastically when The War–unnamed, but probably World War II—brings four comatose soldiers to the convent.
Their Boys, as The Guineveres call them, change the entire fabric of their lives in heartfelt and painful ways. They learn about love, sex, family, heartbreak, and the pain of longing for something that’s either long gone or impossible.
I really enjoyed the tone of this book; a lot of people have compared it to The Virgin Suicides, a comparison I didn’t agree with until the shocking ending. It’s an ending I definitely didn’t see coming, but that gave the entire book a more mature feeling. This isn’t a book about four teenage girls. This is a book about desperation, loss, and unspeakable pain. It’s also gentle and poignant in surprising ways.
Summerlong, by Peter S. Beagle
I have not read a fantasy novel for ages, but Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle may have just inspired me to go back to this genre. I picked up Summerlong on a whim, thinking I would pass the time with a fun fantasy novel, and I got much more than I bargained for.
The protagonists of Summerlong are two people in their middle age, Joanna Delvecchio and Abe Aronson, who have been partners, though unmarried, for 20-odd years. They live on the commuter island Gardner Island, off the coast of Seattle; he’s a history professor, she’s a flight attendant counting down to her retirement, and their relationship is based on mutual teasing, deep knowledge of the other, and a light-hearted love. They fit very well together, have casual chemistry born of a generation spent together, and are happy in their routine lives. They eat at the same diner several times a month, but one night, at that same diner, they meet a woman named Lioness Lazos, who changes their lives forever.
Lioness is mysterious and seemingly comes from nowhere. She also has a face that Abe calls “Primavera,” from the classical painting, because she’s so beautiful in an otherworldly way. When Abe and Joanna learn she is living at the back of the diner, they invite her to bunk in their garage, and then strange things start to happen…
Summerlong is based on a well-known Greek myth, and those who have ever learned any Greek mythology will immediately know which one by the time they get halfway through the book (or even earlier!). But the Greek-mythology angle isn’t the best thing about this novel. This magic realism novel contains such rich characters, and is actually pretty low on plot, in favor of excellent characterization. I will always favor a character-driven novel over a plot-heavy one, so I adored getting into the heads of these characters, each with their own quirks, tics, speech patterns, and habits. They really do come vividly to life.
Another aspect of Summerlong that I loved was the unusual setting. The island becomes a kind of character in itself, especially due to Lioness’ presence on it. The lush descriptions of the island and its weather patterns, foliage, vegetation, and commuter habits sound boring, but actually are full of life and beauty. It’s also a quick read, only about 250 pages! I finished this in two days but I can already tell it’s the kind of book that stays with you. It ultimately raises interesting questions about the nature of love, the complications of long relationships, and the intervention of the gods in the lives of humans that has the power to shatter entire worlds.
The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood is popular lately, what with two of her novels being adapted for television. I’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale and The Penelopiad, and her poem “Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing” is still one of the best things I’ve ever read, so a little while ago I was on the hunt for more of her work and bought a secondhand copy of The Blind Assassin, and absolutely adored it. It may make the Best Ever book list in my mind!
The Blind Assassin is narrated by a woman in her eighties telling the story of her life and her sister’s life in the 1930s. But the book begins with the description of her sister’s suicide. After that bulldozer beginning, the narrator puts the pieces of the narrative into place, describing the events leading to the tragic event. Interspersed throughout the main narrative is a book within the book: a novel her sister wrote called The Blind Assassin, which contains uncomfortable truths that reveal much more sinister things about the narrator and her sister.
It was a rollercoaster ride and I adored every minute of it, especially since the narrator is less than trustworthy, and the writing was immaculate. Such an amazing book!