BOOK REVIEW: TENDER by BELINDA McKEON

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Image result for tender belinda mckeon coverMckeon’s Tender is a novel that progresses much like a bruise would: the writing, when it initially hits the page, is sharp and vibrant in its impact, filled with all the excitement of a new, all-engrossing friendship. But as the plot unfolds, the bruise of that initial impact becomes more and more apparent, blooming into increasingly worrying shades of purple and blue, the colours of something gone wrong, something that is so clearly not right happening.

“She laughed. There was a pleasure in hearing him use her name; it was so direct. It was somehow a higher level of attention than she usually got from people; almost cheekily personal. Intimate, that was what it was. And yet pulled clear of intimacy, at the last second, by the reins of irony which seemed to control everything he said, by his constant closeness to mockery. She found herself wanting more of it, and she found, too, that it held a chellenge: to edge him away from that mockery towards something warmer. To make him see that he was wrong in whatever decision he had made about her, about her silliness, about her childishness, about whatever it was he had, by now, set down for her in his mind.”

All of this is to say, McKeon is so good at depicting the gradual collapse of her protagonist, Catherine; the narrowing, over time, of Catherine’s psychological vision. The writing is honest and fluid, almost overflowing in its attempts to catch up with Catherine’s frantic thoughts. Form and content work in parallel, here, the writing becoming more fragmented and divided just as Catherine’s ever-increasing focus on her singular subject becomes more desperate.

(Trying to be vague here so as not to spoil the intrigue. 👀)

More than anything, though, what Tender does that I haven’t seen from a lot of novels is not just depict, but substantially delve into deeply uncomfortable and unpleasant emotions: jealousy, self-pity, possessiveness, clinginess, self-loathing. All of it done, too, in the context of a friendship and a toxic, unrequited love. But McKeon builds her novel’s central dynamic, the fraught friendship between Catherine and James, with such nuance and layers that come what may, I was ready to follow these characters into whatever circumstances they happened to find themselves in. Needless to say, I was not disappointed.

4.5-


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BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR (2019)

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HI EVERYONE!!! it’s been a while since i did a post that wasn’t a book review, but here i am, back with a slightly (very) belated list of my favourite books of last year!! i read so many amazing books last year and this probably goes without saying, but i HIGHLY recommend you read all of these books. they are all amazing in my humble opinion

i will be linking any reviews ive written of these books down below so that you can read my thoughts on them more specifically c:

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FICTION

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Normal People by Sally Rooney is my official best book of the year. This novel just had everything I wanted from a book. It made me think, it made me cry. I think about specific lines from it all the time. I loved it so much I read it twice. I also met Sally Rooney this year which !!!!!!! I still can’t believe that happened ???

my review of normal people


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► Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata: a very strange, slightly absurd kind of novel, but so enjoyable still. It’s strange, yes, but it’s never off-putting. Kiko’s wonderfully refreshing voice is not one you forget about, and it’s certainly not one I forgot about. —my book review

► Tender by Belinda McKeon: reading this novel felt like holding a person’s emotional state in my hands. The emotion is raw, searing, unbearably and sometimes oppressively present. –my book review

► Salt Slow by Julia Armfield: probably the best short-story collection I’ve ever read. Armfield’s writing is mesmerizing, her stories impossible to forget. A book filled with a bunch of stories about women being complicated and interesting + surrealist/magical realist elements? No wonder I liked this. –my book review

► This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone: how do I even begin to explain this book. The most innovative, beautifully written love story about two star-crossed lovers working on opposite sides of a time war. I haven’t read anything like this book before. It’s an absolute marvel. –my book review

► The Archive of Alternate Endings by Lindsey Drager: by far my biggest surprise of 2019. I’ve never read a book that so masterfully wove stories, big and small in scope. It’s a tapestry of a book; singling out one of its threads would only belittle how intricately it’s constructed. This book is so underrated; PLEASE READ IT IT’S AMAZING TRUST ME. –my book review

► Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney: lol is anyone surprised. I’m not exaggerating when I say that literally every single thing Sally Rooney has written has landed in my 2019 favourites list. I don’t know what else to say. –my book review

► Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel: I don’t think this novel is talked a lot about either, which is a shame because it’s such a tenderly drawn story about two people finding each other. Also it’s about water and family and Florida and living away from your home country.

► Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell: I adore Simon and Baz with my whole heart. I’ve read Carry On 5 times, with more on the way, so the fact that this is on my favourites list is not a surprise lol. This wasn’t a 5-star read for me but I love Simon and Baz so much that their mere existence automatically means this book is one of my favs of the year.

► Color and Light by Sally Rooney: this is a 20-page short story Rooney wrote for The New Yorker. I have said this before and I will say it again: I love anything that Sally Rooney writes. –my book review

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NON-FICTION

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Constellations by Sinéad Gleeson is by far my favourite non-fiction book of the year. I listened to the audiobook of this (narrated by Gleeson herself) and was absolutely transfixed by it. I just transcended my physical existence on the bus on my way to work and fully entered into Gleeson’s world. This book has some of the most beautiful, moving writing I’ve read this year.

my book review of constellations


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► The Lonely City by Olivia Laing: this book just came to me at the right time. It’s a beautiful meditation on loneliness, told through the work of various artists. It’s sympathetic, and doesn’t shy away from the unpleasant, uncomfortable aspects of loneliness. I will read anything that Olivia Laing writes from now on.

► Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow: omg if you have not read this you need to go listen to it on audiobook now. This is absolutely a story everyone needs to know about. Farrow is a brilliant writer, and the work he’s done is so important. It’s also a story we wouldn’t have without some of the incredibly brave sexual assault survivors who get a chance to tell their stories in this book. –my book review

► Little Weirds by Jenny Slate: the weirdest, most humane book you’ll read this year. I didn’t know Jenny Slate was such a talented writer??? Also highly recommend the audiobook, beautifully narrated by Slate herself.  –my book review

► In the Dream House by Carmen Mario Machado: I literally finished this on December 31, but wanted to include it anyway because I thought it was so powerfully written. Machado is a brilliant writer, and I’m glad this book exists for the people who need it.

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and that’s all folks!!! i hope 2019 was a good reading year for you!! here’s to more amazing books in 2020.

let me knows in the comments what you thought of any of these books, and what your favourite book(s) of the year was

happy 2020 yall!!


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BOOK REVIEW: SALT SLOW by JULIA ARMFIELD

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Jane Austen once wrote in one of her letters, “Pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick and wicked”; she might as well have written Salt Slow‘s thesis.

Salt Slow is a short-story collection about problem women. The first line of the book is, after all, “I have my Grandmother’s skin. Problem skin.” Problem skin, problem women. The women of this collection are problem women because they are simply too much: too greedy, too selfish, too obsessive, too dependent. Put another way, they are problem women because they are unruly. And what is so brilliant about Salt Slow is that instead of trying to temper the unruliness of its women, it unabashedly leans into—even celebrates—it. It says, These women are problem women—so what? It never tries to make its women anything less than what they are: ferocious, gross, lazy, needy, careless. Indeed, these are women whose desires and emotions are so extreme they literally push against the bounds of reality: every one of Armfield’s stories contains a surrealist/magical realist element, one seamlessly woven into the fabric of its protagonist’s life.

I mean, look at some of these descriptions:

“Beneath her dressing gown, she is bloody with mosquito bites. Unrazored beneath the arms, unplucked, unmoistured.”

“I had a bad body around that time – creaking joints and difficult digestion, a martyr to mouth ulcers and bleeding gums.”

“Beneath my dress, my skin is churning. My legs feel cracked in half, articulated – a spreading and a shifting, as though my bones are springing out of their intended slots.”

let 👏 women 👏 be 👏 flawed 👏 I didn’t know how much I needed to read about flawed women until I read this book.

Also, Armfield’s writing is MAGNIFICENT. Haunting, dark, beautiful. Truly. Again, I’ll let her writing speak for itself.

“When I was twenty-seven, my Sleep stepped out of me like a passenger from a train carriage, looked around my room for several seconds, then sat down in the chair beside my bed.”

“The jellyfish come with the morning – a great beaching, bodies black on sand. The ocean empties, a thousand dead and dying invertebrates, jungled tentacles and fine, fragile membranes blanketing the shore two miles in each direction. They are translucent, almost spectral, as though the sea has exorcised its ghosts.”

“Nicola watches the gentle pull of outgoing water, the glassy sink and swallow, waves drawing back like lips revealing teeth.”

“The sky is gory with stars, like the insides of a gutted night.”

What more can I say? I fucking loved this. It might be (probably is) my favourite short-story collection ever.

4.5-


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