A summary of the books I read last month, taking me from Barbados to rural Montana via London and Italy.
I’m a bit behind, but I guess we’re still just about close enough to June for me to post this before it seems really old. I had a good reading month, including a week off in Montenegro where I switched off the internet and spent the whole week just reading, writing and chatting to Genie on the balcony of our apartment looking at the view above. Here are the books I finished last month.
The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage
Wow, I loved this book. Last month I read The Last Night at the Ritz by Elizabeth Savage, and this month I enjoyed this wonderful novel by her husband, a talented author in his own right. It’s a beautiful story of cruelty, complex family dynamics, repressed homosexuality and a lot more, set on a rural ranch in Montana in the early 20th century. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Death of Barbados Unless… by Gordon Matthews
This is another old paperback I picked up from an excellent bookshop visit in Barbados a few months ago. I didn’t much like the melodramatic title, but Matthews makes some very convincing points about the need for such a small country (just 166 square miles) to ensure its land is put to profitable use instead of being sold off to rich foreigners for luxury mansions and golf courses. Twenty years later, Barbados has not died, but it is suffering from food insecurity and other economic and social problems that could have been avoided if someone had taken the author’s concerns more seriously.
Chattel House Blues by Hilary Beckles
I hate it when books have misleading titles. It makes me irritated when I don’t get what I expected, even when there’s some good stuff in there. The subtitle for this one is “Making a Democracy in Barbados: From Clement Payne to Owen Arthur”. This subtitle, coupled with the fact that Beckles is an eminent Barbadian historian who’s written history books I’ve mentioned elsewhere, made me think I’d get a historical survey of the making of democracy in Barbados from the era of Payne (1930s) to Arthur (1990s), including the crucial period of independence (1966). Instead, I got a series of essays on a diverse range of topics from the life of poet Kamau Brathwaite to the details of the nursing profession. Some were interesting, but they didn’t explain the making of democracy in Barbados from Clement Payne to Owen Arthur. It felt more like a collection of interesting stuff that didn’t fit anywhere else. But I guess that wouldn’t have been a great title.
Mariana by André Aciman
It was a nine-hour drive to Montenegro, so Genie found this audiobook novella to fill a couple of hours. It was a compelling portrait of Mariana’s obsession with a charming man and how it continues even after she has discovered he is a liar and a cheat and pretty much repulsive in every respect except the absolute surface. What made it slightly less believable but also more interesting was how her obsession was not really based on the charismatic but loathsome Itamar at all, but on how he brought out something in her: something nastier and more shameful than her usual self but also something she recognised and wanted to keep experiencing.
The Nothing by Hanif Kureishi
This is the third Kureishi novel I’ve read (see my reviews of Intimacy and The Buddha of Suburbia), and I’m starting to notice some patterns. He tends to write about unpleasant characters who are obsessed with sex, and he also has some wonderful lines peppered throughout, with the best often being the first, in this case:
“One night, when I am old, sick, right out of semen, and don’t need things to get any worse, I hear the noises growing louder. I am sure they are making love in Zenab’s bedroom which is next to mine.”
It’s an attention-grabbing opening, and it perfectly sets the stage for what will follow: a dying old man’s suspicions of his wife Zenab and friend Eddie having an affair, and his growing determination to take revenge.
What Have You Been Reading?
Enough about me—what have you been reading lately? Please share your recommendations, or your take on the books I’ve read, in the comments below. Happy reading in July!