Yes, life got in the way of reflecting on life, but it didn’t stop me reading. Because I’m sure y’all have lives to be getting on with, too, I’ll keep this post to the highlights rather than going into all the details.
3. The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont
If you like books about precocious cliques set on elite and isolated American campuses where a major crime (usually a murder) takes place, then chances are you’ll want to make yourself a pot of tea and curl up with The Starboard Sea. I have a particular obsession for these kind of books (and yes, there are more out there than you might think).
In brief, it’s about an eighteen-year-old rich kid and excellent sailor from Manhattan’s Upper East Side who’s been kicked out of his last school following the death of his best friend. At his new school he is both attracted to and repelled by the cool kids – who all happen to be members of the sailing team. He also befriends a mysterious, melancholy girl. As he grapples with his dark past, highly suspect disappearances, drinking, pranks and yacht races ensue.
The ambiance is deliciously preppy and dark – an elite boarding school for rich kids down to their last chance, a traumatised protagonist struggles with his identity, a mysterious siren appears and mysteriously vanishes into the sea, repressed secrets literally threaten to resurface. However, there are bits that could have done with a final polish. There are small slips in logic – in one sentence a character is described eating a piece of chocolate cake, in the next it’s a chocolate doughnut. The characterisation, too, is a little rough around the edges – though it’s hard to describe exactly how without giving the game away. In short, this is not The Secret History, but it shows promise. I look forward to Dermont’s second book.
4. The Plot Against America by Philip roth
No pic of this one sorry, I borrowed it from a friend and have since given it back. If you’re looking for something cheery, maybe give this one a miss because it will be your dark shadow long after you’ve read the final word. The Plot Against America is a frightening, alternate history of what may have easily come to pass: an anti-semite Charles Lindbergh (yes, the famous aviator) becomes president during World War Two and begins to isolate and persecute America’s Jewish community. The story is all the more harrowing for being narrated by the child Philip Roth. The horror of this story is all the more terrible for it’s slow release.
5. Zeitoun by Dave eggers
I kept going with the dark theme, but here made the switch to non-fiction. What begins as one New Orleans’ family’s experience of Hurricane Katrina quickly becomes a harrowing expose of just what United Sates Homeland Security is capable of. The husband of the family – which happens to be a Muslim family – sends his wife and kids out of the city and stays on to help those trapped by the flood. *Spoiler alert* he is arrested on his own property as a suspected thief and terrorist, despite there being zero evidence to support either claim. This book is a frightening behind-the-scenes look at the temporary prison system set up during the flood an the astonishing misallocation of resources in the face of disaster.
6. The rotters’ club by jonathan coe
This book still looks at a bleak period in history – Birmingham in the 1970s – but while it is (I believe) incredibly well-researched (there’s a list of references at the back), it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It follows a group of kids at a private school whose parents are, to a greater or lesser extent involved in the strikes that occurred in the city at the time. Picked it up for the promise of preppy antics (of which there are many) and was rewarded with a better understanding of a time and place I knew zilch about.
7. The stranger’s child by alan hollinghurst
Hollinghurst is pretty much my go-to guy when I want to re-read Brideshead Revisited without actually re-reading Brideshead Revisited. Through various ‘outsider’ narrators, The Stranger’s Child follow’s one wealthy British family’s decline from 1913 to 2008. As much as it is a social history (with particular emphasis on changing perceptions of homosexuality), it is also a musing on mortality and the difference between myth and (wo)man: the stories we choose to tell and those we keep to ourselves and the way those stories and perceptions change over time.
Meanwhile in real life
Things were plodding along in a reasonably predictable manner and then, smack bang in the middle of The Plot Against America, ALEX AND I GOT ENGAGED!!! We took a four day weekend and drove along the Great Ocean Road (which I’d never done and was completely blown away by) to stay at Mariners Falls Cottages in the rainforest about 10km out of Apollo Bay. We spent a lovely few days reading, watching films, going for fancy dinners, exploring the Ottways and generally mooching about. Utter bliss. On our second day we packed a picnic and hiked to Mariners Falls, for which the cottages are named, accompanied by the manager’s dog. Before we ate, Alex got down on one knee and asked me to spend the rest of my life with him and I said yes and then he gave me the most beautiful ring I’ve ever seen and there was this amazing waterfall and pool and the forest all around us and nothing could have been or ever will be more perfect. It basically kicked the arse of every romance novel EVER. And then we sat on a log and ate cheese sandwiches while the dog slobbered on my knee.
Life became one big loved up bubble and I was the happiest girl that ever lived, until I remembered. The thesis. It was like the moment in a great action movie, say, Snakes On a Plane, when it finally seems like the hero has saved the day and everything is going to be okay (Samuel L. Jackson has got all the passengers to first class and fought the monster snakes with a homemade firebomb and a taser to get the aircon back on so they don’t run out of oxygen). But then everything gets a billion times worse. (They discover the pilot is dead and NO ONE IS FLYING THE PLANE!!! I would have given a spoiler alert, but seriously, you couldn’t guess that would happen?) That was me, Samuel L. Jackson with my happy ending and then this 100,000 word monster rears its ugly head and starts throwing missing references and weak arguments at me.
I spent from then until last weekend in my oubliette doing battle with the monster. It’s not dead yet, but I hacked a few of its major arteries and bitch slapped it over to my supervisor, who can hopefully assess the damage and tell me how to kill this thing once and for all.
Other things probably happened too but my brain is all mushy from the epic thesis battle and I’ve literally had trouble remembering my name. I took a few pictures along the way. They may help. See below and stay classy, Planet Earth.
Things that made my heart go BOOM!
We’re getting married
Life in the oubliette
Other events of note
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