BOOK REVIEW: LITTLE by EDWARD CAREY


Amazon.com: Little: A Novel (9780525534327): Carey, Edward: Books

This is easily my favourite novel of 2020. I loved it so, so much.

Edward Carey’s Little is the kind of novel that just ticks every single one of my boxes. To start, the writing is brilliant: it so effortlessly evokes a sense of historicity, bringing you into the late 1700s through its tone, its diction, its rhythm. But more than that, Carey’s writing is able to sharply capture the voice of its protagonist, Marie–and what a big-hearted and sympathetic character she is. Part of the brilliance of this novel is that you get to watch Marie grow up, following her pretty much from the moment she is born (she narrates her own birth, which is a trope I love) to when she is an old woman. And so you get to see Marie develop alongside the characters she finds herself attached to, and watch how the push and pull of those attachments alternately leave Marie alienated or supported. I cared so deeply about Marie: she is such a beautifully earnest character; she is smart and kind and gentle, and she wants so bad to prove her mettle, to be close to those she cares about. And yet so many times we see her marginalized, sent away, ignored, unacknowledged.

Scaffolding Marie’s character development is the most compelling and engrossing plot; it is not fast-paced so much as it is well-paced, taking us to various milieux, with plenty of twists and turns along the way to keep the narrative fresh and dynamic. And again, the writing is just gorgeous. Alternately whimsical, vivid, and affecting, giving you just enough character moments to be moving but always holding back at the right moments so as not to stray into sentimentality. It’s the perfect balancing act. (I was pretty much crying for the entirety of the last 20 pages.)

Little is, quite simply, the best story I read this year. I can give it no compliment higher than that.


BOOK REVIEW: WHITE IVY by SUSIE YANG


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Oh my GOD this book.

White Ivy is a book that I INHALED. This was one of the most compelling books I have read all year; every platitude about propulsive books applies here: I couldn’t put it down! It kept me up all night! I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next! I couldn’t stop turning the pages! (except I listened to the audiobook so maybe this one doesn’t quite apply). It was a page-turner in every sense of the word.

I don’t know how to put this in a less informal way, but this book was just so juicy: I was living for all the drama. The main character, Ivy, finds herself caught up in the world of the wealthy– and what a world it is, deluded and insipid and parochial, completely out of tune with the rest of the world. You get to follow Ivy as she tries to navigate the strange landscape of this world, and oh my god SO MANY THINGS HAPPEN. When I say “drama,” I mean drama. And not in a melodramatic or reality tv show kind of way, but in a way that makes sense in the context of the story and, specifically, in the context of Ivy’s character development. That’s what makes White Ivy such a brilliant novel: it gets to have all the narrative intrigue and surprise of a more outsized–and potentially more contrived–story whilst still maintaining the integrity of its characters and their development.

Also, Susie Yang’s writing is just pitch perfect. Her metaphors and similes work so effectively, always tilting or reframing a situation or moment in such a way that they become more layered, sometimes a little more clear and sometimes a little more opaque.

If this is Susie Yang’s debut novel, then I can’t even imagine what she has in store for us next.


BOOK REVIEW: TWO TREES MAKE A FOREST by JESSICA J. LEE


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Jessica J. Lee is such a beautiful writer, and Two Trees Make a Forest is such a gentle book.

I’m not typically one for nature writing; I have a hard time visualizing descriptions of the natural world, partly because I don’t have the vocabulary to understand it and partly because I just find it hard to conceptualize vast landscapes in general. If you’re like me, then this book will be perfect for you. Because yes, Two Trees Make a Forest is a book about the natural world–of Taiwan, specifically–but it is also a book about family and memory and narrative, and that is what really undergirds Jessica J. Lee’s writing here.

I call this book “gentle” because it strikes me as the perfect word to describe the atmosphere that Jessica J. Lee creates through her writing. I listened to this on audiobook, which Lee narrates herself, and it felt like just that: gentle. Lee has the most calm, soothing voice–you can really hear the pathos behind her narration–and each section of the book is interspersed with these wind chime sounds that tie the book together in such a lovely way.

What I especially loved about this book is how deftly Jessica J. Lee weaves her family’s history along with her exploration of the natural landscape of Taiwan. This is not, strictly speaking, just a book about nature in Taiwan. It’s about Lee’s family history, particularly that of her grandparents’, and her own relationship to that history. In exploring that history, she touches on so many topics that resonated with me: the death of her grandfather and how she felt like she didn’t truly know him before he died, her discovery of a narrative of himself that he had started writing before he died, her attempt to find some remaining family ties in Taiwan. And through it all, Lee stresses the significance of language: how it shapes, how it obfuscates, how it transmutes. Like I said, I have a hard time visualizing descriptions of natural landscapes, but this was not at all the case with Lee’s book: her descriptions are resonant and fresh, as alive and dynamic as the natural world that she is describing.

Two Trees Make a Forest is a deeply personal and moving book, and definitely one of my favourite non-fiction reads of the year.

(Thank you so much to Hamish Hamilton for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!)