It was an all-fiction month for me in November, involving a 17-year-old sex worker in the US, a novelist seeing her stolen manuscript come to life, a young woman fleeing from London to Jamaica to escape an abusive relationship, and more.
This was another travelling month, as our European road trip continued north from Austria through Germany to Scandinavia, then down through the Baltic states to Poland, Slovakia and now the Czech Republic.
I like to listen to audiobooks as I drive, so there were plenty of those this month, as well as a review copy of a novel due out next year.
French Braid by Anne Tyler
I’ve written before about how suitable Anne Tyler novels are for long road trips. She’s just a very good, natural storyteller, and the miles tend to fly by when listening. This one wasn’t as good as the others I’ve read, though—the story spanned too long a period and too many characters and generations, and I didn’t find the central image of the family connections being like a French braid to be very interesting. It wasn’t a bad book, but not one of her best.
Fire Rush by Jacqueline Crooks
Fire Rush does a great job of evoking the London dub music scene of the late 70s and early 80s, as well as telling a fascinating story about Yamaye, a young woman who sees her friend jailed and her boyfriend killed by the police, and who then finds shelter with a criminal gang in a relationship that soon turns abusive. This was a review copy for a 2023 novel, so I’ll publish a full review later on—there’s a lot to talk about in this one!
Loitering With Intent by Muriel Spark
I love the way Muriel Spark writes. So sharp, such telling observations and details, and often quite funny. The premise of a young novelist working for an obscure Autobiographical Association and having her manuscript stolen doesn’t sound too promising, but Spark makes a great story out of it. Things get really interesting when we start to see elements of the stolen novel appearing in the real lives of the characters.
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
I didn’t expect to like this much, and I didn’t. I read it because I was curious about this long-buried novel by the writer of To Kill a Mockingbird. I read it as a sequel because the child from the first novel is now an adult, only discovering afterwards that it was actually more of a first draft. Go Set a Watchman was rejected by publishers, but one editor recommended that Lee tell it from the point of view of Jean-Louise as a child, and so a classic was born.
Sadly, the publishers were right about this one, and Lee was right not to have published it later. The circumstances of its eventual publication were quite controversial, and I think that although it sheds an interesting light on a classic novel, it’s not a great read in its own right. I found some of the apparent conclusions quite problematic, e.g. Jean-Louise learns to accept her father’s racism because clearly black people aren’t ready for political power, and indeed she learns that she is the bigoted one for wanting to change him, and the catalyst for all this is getting punched in the face by her uncle, and instead of being furious at him for his violence, she learns that she needs to listen to him, etc.
Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley
Nightcrawling was a bleak and compelling story about Kiara, a young Black woman who is poor and desperate to make ends meet for her and her brother Marcus, so she becomes a sex worker. And things get much worse when the police catch her and, instead of arresting her, force her to have sex with them—and their friends, and… Well, it gets very bad, and although there’s some redemption and growth, it’s still a grim tale. I found the subject matter very compelling and the story very important, but I struggled a bit with the narration—lots of internal monologue, but much of it about unimportant things, with quite major developments left shrouded in mystery.
Over to You
Have you read any of these? Do you think you will? What was your favourite book of November? Let me know in the comments! It’s always good to hear from you.
There are 12 comments
I like the fact that you are willing to go quite far out of your comfort zone in your reading. That being said, your assessment of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman agrees with what I have heard from others and confirms me in the resolve NOT to read it. I think it would spoil To Kill a Mockingbird.
As for my favourite book of November, it’s probably Rise of the Evening Star, which is vol. 2 in Brandon Mull’s YA fantasy series, Fablehaven. It’s even better than vol. 1 which I read last year.
Hi Richard, Your reading also seems very broad—I’ve seen you reading all kinds of books, from literary fiction and classics to all kinds of non-fiction, and now YA fantasy. Thanks for the recommendation! I think it’s good to read different kinds of books. I was curious about Go Set a Watchman despite what I’d read about it, but I think you’re right to avoid this one.
I agree with you on Go Set a Watchman. I was disappointed with it as well. My favorite novel of the month was Necessary Lies. Thanks for sharing your list–they all sound so intriguing!
Thanks, Lisa! I enjoyed your roundup too 🙂
Road trip books are awesome to have! Thanks for sharing your list.
You’re welcome, Julie! Yes, some books seem to work well on long road trips and others not so much. I find dense non-fiction and experimental literary fiction difficult to follow while also following the satnav and dodging bikes and trams in European towns. But a good story really makes the miles fly by!
Interesting thoughts on Go Set A Watchman. I haven’t read it yet, but have been curious. Sounds like my reluctance to read it might have saved me a disappointing experience.
Hi Kym, Yes, I was curious too. It did make me think about To Kill a Mockingbird in new ways, which is a good thing, but I think there are plenty of better books out there to read.
The one that interests me is the Muriel Sparks book – I appreciate good writing and that’s a new-to-me author, so two reasons to seek that book out. I recently read another book where the author’s characters come to life and it was a little mind-bending but really interesting. In case you’re interested, it is Crime Writer by Dime Sheppard.
Terrie @ Bookshelf Journeys
Hi Terrie, Yes, that’s a wonderful novel to check out. It’s an older, more classic style of writing, but it’s one of those books that ages well (it was written in 1981 and shortlisted for that year’s Booker Prize). Thanks for the recommendation of Crime Writer! Hope you have a great reading month ahead.
I read Go Set a Watchman several years ago. I remember being glad I read it, but not being very excited about it. However, earlier this year I read a book about Harper Lee that was really good called The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills. The author is a reporter who was sent to do a story on Harper Lee. Harper Lee was famous for not talking to reporters, so the author’s expectations were low. It was an interesting story that gave an up close look at Harper Lee’s later years. I had a couple of disappointing reads in November, as well as some really good ones. Hope you have a great December!
Oh, thanks for the recommendation, Gretchen – I didn’t know about The Mockingbird Next Door, but it sounds very interesting. I knew Lee was always averse to publicity, so I’m surprised to hear that the author managed to gain access. Thanks for letting me know about the book! Hope you have a great December too.