The month started with my favourite novel of the year and continued to produce excellent reads—read on for my recommendations.
Last month, for me, was dominated by writing rather than reading—I was hard at work on the next draft of my novel, so I let some other things slide (including blogging). But I did find time to read a few excellent books, including an explanation of the breakup of Yugoslavia and a meditative Norwegian novel written in a single sentence.
Burntcoat by Sarah Hall
This was a truly beautiful novel, and I’d strongly recommend it if you’re into literary fiction that combines stunning prose with compelling characters and an emotionally affecting storyline. A fictionalised version of the COVID pandemic is part of the book, but it’s also about love, creativity, grief and so much more. Thanks to Jacqui for recommending it to me, and please read her review to learn more about this wonderful book.
To Kill a Nation by Michael Parenti
If you’ve been paying attention to international affairs, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that the Western narrative about the breakup of Yugoslavia was not entirely reliable. The extent of US and European involvement in dismembering Yugoslavia, however, is quite shocking.
Parenti documents in great detail how, amid a false narrative of being neutral observers intervening reluctantly to stop ethnic cleansing, the West was in fact fuelling the conflict at every opportunity. The goal was to convert a powerful socialist competitor into a patchwork of small, weak states that could be easily controlled, and the mission was accomplished. He doesn’t diminish the responsibility of the murderous leaders of each faction, but he does shed light on an aspect of the conflict that is still largely unknown.
The Flaw by Antonis Samarakis
I bought this book over the summer in Chania, Crete, and it was another good read for me this month. The novel is set in an unnamed country that bears a strong resemblance to Greece, and it tells the story of an operation by the secret police to trick a man into confessing his involvement in a plot against the repressive regime. The police keep talking about how perfect their plan is, but the title of the novel suggests otherwise.
Of Saints and Miracles by Manuel Astur
More literary fiction, this time from Spain. Of Saints and Miracles tells the story of Marcelino, a farmer who kills his brother and flees into the mountains to evade the ensuing manhunt. While telling us the tale of Marcelino, Astur also weaves in all kinds of local stories and fables from this world of remote mountain villages and rugged survival in an often hostile physical and political landscape.
The Other Name by Jon Fosse
And now we get to the Norwegian novel written in a single sentence. To be more accurate, it’s parts 1 and 2 of a seven-part novel written in a single sentence. To make things even harder, it’s all the internal monologue of a middle-aged painter called Asle doing not very much in the present day but letting his mind range widely over experiences past and imagined. And there’s another character also called Asle who is referred to as a friend but seems more like a doppelganger, or a past version or an alternative life perhaps of Asle himself. And there are other characters with very similar names (Ales, Åsleik, etc.), who also have duplicate versions of themselves. I struggled with it at first, but once I accepted what was happening (or not happening) and got into the repetitive, mesmerising, wave-like rhythm of the prose, I found myself unexpectedly loving it. Thanks to Dolce Bellezza for the recommendation.
How Was Your Reading Month?
Let me know what you’ve been reading lately and whether you’d recommend it.
Also, you may have noticed that the images in this post link to The StoryGraph, which is a site I’ve been thinking of trying as a cleaner, Amazon-free alternative to Goodreads. Have you tried it? Would you recommend it? Please let me know in the comments below.