Quite a challenging month for me! These books certainly pushed my brain into very uncomfortable positions but I’m feeling much looser for it now. Here are three inadequate reviews of quite brilliant books.
A short story by American novelist William Faulkner. There is so much more going on here, however, and it lacks none of the complex narratological engineering found in his novels. Although it is written in the 4th perspective, it reminded me of Flannery O’Connor’s shorts, especially The Lame Shall Enter First, in keeping its punchline to the very end. It is definitely gothic in tone and there are elements of Miss Havisham in there – without Dickens’ sentimentality. It’s surprising, immersive and haunting – just what you want from a short story. It’s also brilliant in how it sustains its narrative voice across time. Love, love, love. Lots to learn here.
A collection of essays, poetry, fiction exploring the meaning of life in between worlds – for every Mexican American trying to create a cohesive identity from two contradictory worlds. Nepantla is that liminal, borderland space – mentally, spiritually, physically – an in-between stage between a previous social order and a new one during rites of passage. As one essay states: ‘At border crossings, all jokes are taken seriously.’ The poetry is equally revelatory: ‘The town was small like the heart of a flea. The town was dry like a scab on a knee.’
Some of the non-fiction reads better than Ellroy, especially ‘Mundo Means World’ by Octavio Solis. The ‘cholas’ are despised in Mexico for being corrupted by the first world and despised in the USA for being, well, too Mexican. But me, I’m constantly dipping into it, revisiting and re-reading parts of the Nepantla I love and miss with an ache.
I picked this up at the Wellcome Trust Museum shop while waiting for my train. The Wellcome Trust Museum is like a sweetshop to me for both its exhibitions and its shop. It’s like Primary School for adults, a place where science and art have fun together and its shop always has the most fascinating, genre-defying non-fiction. This one’s a prime example. It’s a lush, cinematic yet personal odyssey through the health and beliefs of the largest democracy on the planet: India. It spans not only the whole scope of its medicine from Ayurvedic practices to plastic surgery and drugs but also its people, worshiping health like a deity. If you want to understand India, you could save a lot of money, stress and avoid the inevitable D & V by reading this instead. It’s vivid, entertaining and so well-structured for such a complex topic, you forget you are actually reading academic, scientific non-fiction.