I think, even now, it’s fairly safe to assume that my Goodreads challenge for 2017 is obsolete. I didn’t think 35 books was particularly ambitious given recent years but it has been a bloody busy year. When I was delivering 10 Shared Reading groups a week it was quite easy to rack up an extra three or four books a year, and all the time spent on trains travelling to groups across the Wirral, I spent a great deal more time with book in hand.
Working full time in an office, and commuting by bus (not conducive to reading in transit), my reading time has been reduced to lunchtimes snatched away from the desk and those drowsy moments before sleep. Not particularly helpful when you’re in direct Goodreads competition with your little sister, but also just no way to enjoy reading. These days I’m lucky if I get through a half a dozen pages before dozing off. This month however, I rattled through two brilliant books which kept me up past my bedtime.
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
I rarely buy books as and when they come out, it usually takes several months or sometimes years for me to finally seek out something specific, and more often than not it’s just what I pick up in the secondhand or charity shops. However, being a Matt Haig fan, social media had pushed How to Stop Time firmly onto my horizon so when I ventured into Waterstones in Liverpool ONE and discovered that Haig was doing a book signing that evening, I decided to stick around.
And thank goodness I did. I adored this book. It was heartbreaking, hilarious, thrilling and often surprising. I love any narrative that ties together otherwise unconnected strands of history and Haig does it beautifully, highlighting not only the glamour of high society but also the real, hungry struggle of the poor. I’ve never been very good at retaining the names of kings and queens or the dates of battles but I’m fascinated by social history and this book captures memorable moments throughout time.
I loved Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive so it was nice to find similar threads weaving through the narrative. The words Mental Health or Wellbeing were probably rarely uttered during some of the times Tom lives through but it’s interesting to hear him describe the same emotional strains which would surely be inevitable for the near-immortal. A very clever narrative which will break your heart a little.
The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride
This book regularly kept me up past my bedtime, no mean feat let me tell you. I loved McBride’s debut novel, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing – in as much as you can love anything that gut-wrenchingly painful – so my expectations for The Lesser Bohemians were sky high.
As with A Girl, McBride’s style can be challenging at first, the stream of consciousness is a language you have to adapt to, like Shakespeare, but once you’ve acclimatised it is insatiable. Dark and sexy and tantalising, McBride treads so closely to unspoken things that you can feel them hanging above you in the gloom of the dingy London bedsit which feels both comforting and disgusting in its familiarity.
I worked for some years behind the bar in a performing arts college and this book felt like an extension of those bygone parties and the characters who populated them. The swell of ego, the recklessness and the shadows of a failed career which float around the periphery in older, worn out skins, so cool, experienced and alluring yet also repulsive in their ominous reality.
This book felt to me a little like the relationship it centres around – in it, I was obsessed, turning pages well into the early hours. The following morning I ached with regret. McBride captures a dynamic which I suspect every young woman will recognise, a power shift you look back on with the wisdom of hindsight. Both A Girl is a Half-formed Thing and The Lesser Bohemians are challenging in the dark subject matter that boils beneath their narratives, but this book in particular can be a difficult read as much for the softer moments, the intimate mornings and midnights shared in a saggy single bed which capture a naive, perhaps regrettable youth. It’s as though McBride has taken lines from your teenage diary and presented them back to you in all their cringing honesty. Painful, but so worth the read, even if it keeps you up past your bedtime.