With the festive season on our doorstep, here’s our guide to good reading for the relaxing days ahead.
Girl, Woman, Other
In this series of interlocking stories about 12 (mostly black) women, Evaristo builds an incisive picture of the female experience – and of modern Britain – that creeps up on you with its quiet but insistent power. Through descriptions of individual lives, she manages to cover an astonishing amount of territory – motherhood, racism, sexism, feminism, art, identity politics, success, gentrification, rape, the history of slavery and the subtle (and not so subtle) forms of violence and control exerted in intimate relationships. The story of Penelope, a teacher in one of UK’s toughest schools, is just one serving to sum up the current state of the world, but one that will especially resonate with AEU members.
Caroline Criado Perez
Chatto & Windus
On Twitter, British writer Caroline Criado Perez has been dubbed the ‘toilet woman’ for her ongoing campaign to win equality for female bathroom provision. Her book is full of other examples of ways women have been overlooked in every field, from offices heated to a temperature comfortable for men (but too cold for most women) to the fact that women are 50% more likely to be seriously injured in a car accident because car safety features are all designed for men. Packed with astonishing and infuriating statistics, the book reads like a conspiracy thriller – albeit one likely to turn every reader (woman and man) into a radical feminist.
The Secret Commonwealth
Penguin and David Fickling Books
The latest volume in the His Dark Materials series finds child heroine Lyra grown into an uneasy twentysomething, dealing with the legacy of her youthful adventures and finding her relationship with her daemon becoming ever more fractious. As such, the book captures beautifully a key pain of young adulthood: growing up and out of the most intimate of childhood friendships. Fittingly, the tone here shifts more towards political thriller than fantastical adventure, as Lyra’s world grows ever more complex and, worryingly, reflective of our own. The threat here is no longer religion pure and simple, but the disguised and interweaved forces of money and power.
Your Own Kind of Girl
ALLEN & UNWIN
In this raw and generous memoir, musician Clare Bowditch reveals the experiences that have shaped her. Growing up in Sandringham as the baby in a large and loving family, the death of her sister left Clare with a desperate desire to make everyone happy and a deep conviction that she must remain safe. Outwardly funny and vivacious, behind the scenes she was battling trauma, anxiety and a tortured relationship with food that led her to suffer a nervous breakdown at 21. Shot through with warmth and humour, this is a riveting insight into the making of an artist with great courage and a big, big heart.
ALLEN & UNWIN
Set in the midst of bloody persecution, Damascus is a sweeping epic about the bloody birth of Christianity in the years immediately following the crucifixion, as competing belief systems clash under the Roman Empire. Most closely recalling The Slap author’s greatest work, Dead Europe, it’s told through several voices, including that of St Paul – he of the famously moralising gospel. Drawing on Tsiolkas’ enduring fascination with class, immigrant identity and queer politics, it’s a revelatory work imbued with great humanity.
This modern take on the classic whodunnit wears its influence on its rolled sleeves. Our heroine, Jess, is an undergrad studying the work of Agatha Christie who finds that university life promises to be more colourful than her suburban upbringing has led her to expect. Wowed by a mysterious, charismatic tutor and embraced by a close bunch of misfits, Jess soon finds herself in the midst of a murder mystery of her own. Moving, surprising and thoroughly satisfying, it’s a perfect beach-read-with-a-brain.
Chatto & Windus
Returning to Gilead 15 years later, Atwood’s follow-up to her seminal The Handmaid’s Tale handily leapfrogs the TV adaptation. Peering at the possible undoings of the violently theocratic, patriarchal regime, the riveting page-turner is no longer driven by Offred’s story. Instead, we hear from two young women, one in free Canada and another under the yoke of the Republic. But it’s the commanding voice of taser-wielding, two-sides dealing Aunt Lydia that’s most compelling. A complicated anti-heroine, her possible redemption is gripping.
The Salt Path
This affecting and inspiring memoir starts with a double shot of disaster – days after her husband of 32 years is diagnosed with a terminal disease, Winn loses her family home. With seemingly nothing left to lose, she and her husband decide to walk the coastal path along South West England. Part travelogue, part social document, the story of their journey is as uplifting as it is bracing, written with a disarming honesty in prose that frequently matches the stark beauty of the landscape.
Kitty Hawke is the last inhabitant of Wolfe Island, rising sea levels causing everyone else, including her husband and children, to flee to the mainland. With her wolfdog Girl as company, Kitty has largely shut out the world’s chaos, roaming the deserted island gathering found objects to use in her sculptures, until one day a boat arrives, carrying four youngsters escaping turmoil and in need of her help. Novelist (and AEU columnist) Lucy Treloar offers a cautionary tale about all we risk losing in this vivid and lyrical vision of the near future that haunts the reader well beyond the last page.
The Dutch House
As the story opens, grown-up siblings Danny and Maeve Conroy are sitting in their car outside their childhood home – a grandiose mansion bought by their father (and loathed by their mother) in which the former inhabitants left all their belongings, even the family portraits hanging on the walls – and from which the pair have been mysteriously exiled. As the narrative unfolds, like a puzzle being built, we discover why Danny and Maeve are so united against the world, abandoned by those who should have cared for them most. A poignant character study and intricate family saga, Patchett’s prose never calls attention to itself and yet we know we are in the hands of a master storyteller.