April was a very busy month with starting a new job, visiting Ireland for Easter, a weekend in Berlin and a brunch outing or five.
But with all of that going on, I managed to read eight books in April, keeping the momentum going for my goal of 100 books by the end of 2022.
I read some more books by Irish authors, some translated fiction and some non-fiction books for good measure. I will say that my reading has been leaning very heavily to female authors (which we love) and I would like to try and balance this out with at least one or two male authors next month.
A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride
Eimear McBride’s award-winning debut novel tells the story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother, and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumour. It is a shocking and intimate insight into the thoughts, feelings and chaotic sexuality of a vulnerable and isolated protagonist. To read A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is to plunge inside its narrator’s head, experiencing her world at first hand. This isn’t always comfortable – but it is always a revelation.
My rating: ★★★★
You know how Sally Rooney likes to write without any quotation marks? Well, I feel like Eimear McBride takes this to the next level with no quotation marks and many broken sentences. This story is told over a girl’s young life from very young until a late teenager – and the writing reflects this. We have to interpret the text throughout the beginning as it’s written as if from the point of view of a toddler, and then doesn’t get much better by the time the main character is a teenager. It’s an incredible story of family, grief and boundaries. It’s one that makes you think and definitely not one to skim over as it grips you right from the beginning.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader’s wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. Taking us from the Gold Coast of Africa to the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem, spanning three continents and seven generations, Yaa Gyasi has written a miraculous novel – the intimate, gripping story of a brilliantly vivid cast of characters and through their lives the very story of America itself.
My rating: ★★★★★
Only recently I read Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi which was a five-star read for me. I was very excited to find Homegoing in my local library as this would probably be Yaa Gyasi’s most well-known book and it’s been on my list for a very long time. This story is very cleverly told over many generations but with connections made throughout with all of the characters. It takes us to Africa in the 1800s, to slavery in the south of America to present day Harlem and the difficulties people of colour have suffered throughout society at the hands of white people. Incredibly enlightening and one that you should add to your reading list immediately. Yaa Gyasi is an instant-buy author for me, for sure.
Big Girl Small Town by Michelle Gallen
Other people find Majella odd. She keeps herself to herself, she doesn’t like gossip and she isn’t interested in knowing her neighbours’ business. But suddenly everyone in the small town in Northern Ireland where she grew up wants to know all about hers. Since her da disappeared during the Troubles, Majella has tried to live a quiet life with her alcoholic mother. She works in the local chip shop (Monday-Saturday, Sunday off), wears the same clothes every day (overalls, too small), has the same dinner each night (fish and chips, nuked in the microwave) and binge watches Dallas (the best show ever aired on TV) from the safety of her single bed. She has no friends and no boyfriend and Majella thinks things are better that way. But Majella’s safe and predictable existence is shattered when her grandmother dies and as much as she wants things to go back to normal, Majella comes to realise that maybe there is more to life. And it might just be that from tragedy comes Majella’s one chance at escape.
My rating: ★★★★
I picked this up in my local library as I liked the sound of the title. Did I relate to it? Perhaps. And then to my most pleasant surprise when I read the blurb, I found that the book was actually set in a small town in Derry – so, maybe even more fitting than I thought! It spans a week or two following a young girl that works in a chip shop in the local town. We meet all the characters of the town, her family and what you could call a very average life. However, the book is full of wit and the mundane yet sarcastic life of Majella and I enjoyed it very much. A light-hearted, fun read with some reminders of home.
Concerning My Daughter by Kim Hye-jin
In Concerning My Daughter, translated from Korean by Jamie Chang, Kim Hye-jin lays bare our most universal fears on ageing, death, and isolation, to offer finally a paean to love in all its forms.
My rating: ★★★★
This was the book from my April Books That Matter box. Concerning My Daughter is a Korean book translated to English, and I think my third or fourth translated book that I’ve read recently. It focused on a relationship between a daughter and mother and the mother’s struggle to accept her daughter being gay. The daughter and girlfriend move in with the mother when they are in their 30s and seems the daughter doesn’t have a stable job. The mother finds it difficult to accept how her daughter has got to this age with no job, nowhere to live, unmarried and without kids. A book for the modern young woman, this was brilliant.
Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers
1957, the suburbs of South East London. Jean Swinney is a journalist on a local paper, trapped in a life of duty and disappointment from which there is no likelihood of escape. When a young woman, Gretchen Tilbury, contacts the paper to claim that her daughter is the result of a virgin birth, it is down to Jean to discover whether she is a miracle or a fraud. As the investigation turns her quiet life inside out, Jean is suddenly given an unexpected chance at friendship, love and – possibly – happiness. But there will, inevitably, be a price to pay.
My rating: ★★★★
This was such a pleasant read during April, and a book that I picked up in my local library after seeing it on Bookstagram and Booktok. As the synopsis states, it follows a young female journalist in the 1950s, investigating a woman who claims to have had a virgin birth. Obviously a very intriguing story line and one that uncovers some mysteries and unearths some new truths. A light-hearted and a fun read!
My Rock ‘n’ Roll Friend by Tracey Thorn (Gifted)
In My Rock ‘n’ Roll Friend Thorn takes stock of thirty-seven years of friendship, teasing out the details of connection and affection between two women who seem to be either complete opposites or mirror images of each other. This important book asks what people see, who does the looking, and ultimately who writes women out of – and back into – history.
My rating: ★★★
This book was a non-fiction account following a rock ‘n’ roll drummer from Australia, dealing with males in the music industry, breaking into the London music scene, love, drugs and of course, rock ‘n’ roll. The Go-Betweens aren’t a band that I’m familiar with, so this was all very new to me. However, I think I would have maybe been more interested if it was a story about someone that I was interested in career-wise like Stevie Nicks, but it was still interesting to read about a woman in the music industry back in the 70s.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill. At first they thought it was flu, then pneumonia, then complete sceptic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later – the night before New Year’s Eve –the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of 40 years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LA airport, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Centre to relieve a massive hematoma.
My rating: ★★★
This was my first Joan Didion book and after taking off on social media recently before and after her recent death, I’ve had Didion on my want-to-read list for so long. It’s been on my shelf for longer than I would care to admit, but I finally felt like April was the time to dive into it. The book follows a year in Didion’s life when her husband tragically dies while in his 50s after suffering a massive heart attack. At the same time, their daughter was in hospital in a coma. The book deals with immense grief and I think is a book for a certain time of someone’s life, to help them deal with their own grief. A book that I might come back to in the future when the timing is right.
None of This is Serious by Catherine Prasifka (Gifted)
Dublin student life is ending for Sophie and her friends. They’ve got everything figured out, and Sophie feels left behind as they all start to go their separate ways. She’s overshadowed by her best friend Grace. She’s been in love with Finn for as long as she’s known him. And she’s about to meet Rory, who’s suddenly available to her online. At a party, what was already unstable completely falls apart and Sophie finds herself obsessively scrolling social media, waiting for something (anything) to happen.
My rating: ★★★★★
The final book I read in April was by another Irish author, with the book set in Dublin. I saw some similar themes to both Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times and Sally Rooney’s Normal People. I’m hoping for some different type of literature to come out of Ireland soon, especially among young female writers, but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this as I really did. I would say the characters read more like they were younger and in their teens, compared to being around graduating university age, but the storyline was very ‘normal’ in a sense that I could have been reading about myself and my own times growing up in Ireland. I think this is why I related to the book and liked it so much. It doesn’t take the most page-turning plot to make a book enjoyable, sometimes it’s just the mundane and dramatic life of a 20-something young girl.