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.