July had several wonderful discoveries in store, but also a massive literary outrage. I suppose it's all a matter of balancee.
The Diviners, by Margaret Laurence
This is a book that had been waiting for years on my shelf. I discovered it in translation class while studying for my English bachelor degree. I loved with the extract we were working on and the author's style, so I'd bought the book second-hand. I tried a first time not long after but couldn't get past the first few pages. I let it rest, almost forgotten, until now. The second try was the right one. Once again, I felt enthralled by Laurence's writing style. She has a way of describing the river running by her protagonists house that drew me in and made me pay attention to the smallest details and alterations.
The book itself is about Morag Gunn, a middle-aged writer moving in a rather remote area of Canada. Her story is told in snapshots interspersed in her current thoughts. I'm not the biggest fan of books that go through the life of one character, but I loved her voice, at times very literary and at times very down-to-earth. The different characters were fully-fledged and to me the writers avoided brilliantly any type of cliché.
As far as representation goes, there is an Indigenous secondary character and a mixed-race important character in this book.
The Children of Húrin, by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien
Let's talk Tolkien, for a change! Do you feel daunted by The Lord of the Rings? I can't blame you. With an average of 1200 pages, it's a long journey to embark on. May I suggest you start with The Children of Húrin then, for a taste of Tolkien's writing for adults?
This is a tragic tale set centuries before the events of The Lord of the Rings. It follows Túrin and his sister Niënor, trying to escape their fate in the vast expanses of Middle-earth. There are Elves, Dwarves, and even a dragon. The first chapter may seem a little tricky with all the new names, but the story quickly finds its pacing and chances are you'll be able to enjoy Alan Lee's stunning illustrations during your reading. He provided both full-page watercolours as well as pencil chapter headings, and they guide you beautifully through the narrative.
The Knight, by Pierre Pevel
Tread carefully, rant ahead.
Pierre Pevel is a well-known French writer of SFFF (science-fiction, fantasy and fantastic) who has received several literary prizes. In The Knight, he tells about Lorn Askariàn, a promising knight and best friend of the prince, how he fell and rose back to power. Lorn was wrongly imprisoned in the realm's worst jail, where a dark power drove prisoners and jailers mad. When he is released after a three-year nightmare, he is given the task to protect the very realm that precipitated his downfall.
Pierre Pevel can write a story in which men ride dragons, but not one in which women are considered. Alongside the story, he implies that women have no place of importance in his universe. By the end of the book, I had pages of notes about the author's comments on women, but that's what he stopped at. Comments. He wouldn't give them agency. He wouldn't consider the diversity the word "woman" encompasses, and certainly not physical diversity since the description of each of them stops at "pretty". The queen, for instance, is described as being "still pretty" (meaning that she is past her prime but, mercifully, she is still desirable). She is despised by everyone and her authority is constantly questioned. She also rules with an adviser because, in Pierre Pevel's world, no queen can rule alone. Only a king can do that.
The author never gives women a will, a voice, or motivations. There are several instances of rape, but if one woman dares ask for help, it's not to seek justice, it's to find her husband who went missing after leaving home upon discovering his wife was raped.
If you're looking for fantasy with dragons, please turn to Robin Hobb (specifically The Rain Wild Chronicles starting with Dragon Keeper), Samantha Shannon (The Priory of the Orange Tree) and / or Tolkien (The Children of Húrin, see above). Read anything rather than Pierre Pevel.
For SFFF written in French (without dragons), read Christelle Dabos (The Mirror Visitors), Jacques Abeille (Les Jardins Statuaires), Janua Vera by Jean-Philippe Jaworski (but not Gagner la Guerre, stay away from that one), or the first tome of L'Enfant de Poussière by Patrick Dewdney (I didn't enjoy volume 2).
The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater
This book was a breath of fresh air. The Knight (see above) infuriated me and made me question the whole publishing industry (or nearly so). In contrast, The Raven Boys showed me male characters that made mistakes, but APOLOGISED and LEARNT to become better. There was a nice balance between male and female characters, and just so much emotion. At several points in the story I think I just stopped breathing while struggling to prevent my eyes from jumping to the bottom of each page. Sometimes, I'd misunderstood what was happening in my excitement and the story just kept its quiet pace (which I loved). Other times, there was actually something dramatic happening and my heart just started beating again twice as fast.
I'd gone into this book not knowing much about the plot. Whenever I heard it mentioned, people said that they loved it (especially the characters), but they remained mostly silent about the story itself. Like my predecessors I won't tell you much about the plot.
What was the last book that made your heart beat race?
Kira-kira, by Cynthia Kadohata
Kira-kira is a semi-autobiographical book about a Japanese-American girl growing up in the USA in the 1950s and 1960s. It's beautiful, but also heartbreaking to see issues such as racism from a child's point of view.
I finished it at night in bed and I had to sit up during the last pages to be sure I would soak in everything rather than fall asleep (not because of the book, because of my energy levels in the evening). It was really as heartbreaking as I'd imagined. It's clearly a story written for a younger audience, but readers from all ages could take something away from it. I especially loved how the simplest observations told in the simplest words turned into poetry, the kind of poetry that goes right to your heart. I'm not well-versed enough in that part of US history, but I felt the book did a great job at giving us a picture of what daily life was like for Japanese immigrants in the 1950s. I loved all the references to Japanese culture the narrator brought in, such as the idea of "kira-kira", meaning "glittering", that she encourages the reader to notice in their daily life as well.
A la Recherche du Texte Perdu, by Ricardo Bloch
This is a fun, hard-to-catalogue book. The author (is he really the author? even that is questionable) took the first page of the French classic In Search of Lost Time (or rather, Swann's Way) and passed it through Google Translate in 50 different languages. Each time the text went through a translation, Bloch passed it back into French through Google. The result is 50 alternate first pages of In Search of Lost Time in approximate French.
I'm not sure I see the point of turning this into a book, since it's something anyone can do easily by themselves, but it's funny and sometimes weirdly poetic.
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What did you read in July?