Winter 2016/17: book reviews

Whether you’re getting cosy by the fire or looking for an airport option en route to your sunshine escape, here are four great books to explore this winter.

Looking for some more options? Check out my previous reviews here.

Available nowThe Descent of Man by Grayson Perry UK publication date: 27th October 2016

This book carries a quote from Caitlin Moran exclaiming ‘GRAYSON PERRY FOR KING AND QUEEN OF ENGLAND. Imagine how BRILLIANT our country would look if he was?’, which is interesting as for me it’s a great companion to her own masterpiece, How to Be a Woman. It has a slightly more academic feel to it (being much shorter and a little lighter on hilarious anecdotes) but it’s just as trailblazing in exploring gender roles in this crazy world. Personally, I can’t get enough of Mr Perry, not least because he reminds me quite a lot of my husband (they’re both cross-dressing Essex boys who went to art school and love skateboarding and bicycles) and he’s become a much-need voice in the campaign for gender equality from the all too silent progressive cis men’s side. Juicy bedtime read this isn’t but it is fascinating to hear from a man who has REALLY considered his gender and the effect the standards masculinity have on men. Turns out, they could benefit hugely from equality too. A very engaging, worthwhile and quick read.

Swing time by Zadie Smith UK publication date: 15th November 2016

This is, shamefully, my first Zadie Smith novel. I’ve always wanted to read White Teeth but have been hesitant as nothing really lives up to the hype, especially nearly two decades of hype. Better to start with something recent and see if you like the author’s style, I find. Thankfully, even though I didn’t adore this book, I did enjoy it and really want to read Smith’s debut now. Funnily enough, the element that really jarred with me was the Australian character: pop star Aimee (who feels like a Kylie-Madonna hybrid). She dominates the story at times, as the unnamed narrator spends over a decade working as Aimee’s assistant and, lacking in any ambition of her own, follows the pop star everywhere. Having a directionless protagonist is pretty frustrating and a little tedious at times, but thankfully the story is saved by the powerfully drawn characters who really shape the narrator’s story: her childhood best friend, Tracey, and her reluctant mother. The relationship between these three characters felt so complicated and authentic that they made laugh and cringe, often on the same page. A great read.

Available later in WinterEnglish Animals by Laura Kaye UK publication date: 12th January 2017

Rural England: it’s often filled with more quirky oddball characters per capita than the cities – alongside a mixture of deep conservatism, old money and fear of outsiders. Imagine moving to the countryside if you were an Eastern European immigrant and a lesbian? That’s Mirka, and when making endless coffees at a central London Pret becomes too tedious, she accepts a job on Richard and Sophie’s farm. He’s a shit taxidermist and she hosts weddings on the family estate. They’re messy, creative drunks who are desperate for a child, or at least something to shake up their small world. So Mirka makes the perfect distraction to life on the farm, even if not all the locals are quite so welcoming. This book was a surprising treat: quite a perceptive depiction of modern life in the British countryside viewed through the eyes of someone who is clearly an outsider, with a tension that sneaks up on you. A great holiday read.

The Nix by Nathan Hill UK publication date: 26th January 2017

Hands down one of my top 5 books of the year, maybe even top 3! This story is a fantastic mix of radical 60s politics, the contemporary gaming world, the pain of unrequited childhood love, Norwegian folklore and nauseatingly entitled millennial students. If this sounds interesting then you will love this book. It’s so competently crafted that I can’t believe this is the author’s debut. Clocking in just under 630 pages also makes it the longest book I read in 2016 but, despite the number of characters and narrative threads, I never lost my way. In short, the story is about a bored college professor in his 30s whose wayward mother shows up in the news after a 20-year absence when she is arrested for throwing rocks at a Trump-ish political candidate. Turns out this bored housewife who disappeared on the cusp of her son’s teen years had a short but explosive stint as an activist during the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests in Chicago. This the event that launches one epic story and if you want something you can really sink your teeth into this winter, then this is at the top of my recommended reading list. Enjoy!

Looking for some more options? Check out my previous book reviews here.

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