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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BOOK REVIEW: PERSUASION by JANE AUSTEN

PERSUASION


18300265Persuasion is an exquisite novel. It has one of the most expert depictions of inner emotional experience that I think—that I know—I’ve ever read. Persuasion is not a novel about Anne Elliot; it’s a novel that is Anne Elliot. This is a novel that lives and breathes in its character’s psyche. Its emotional nuance and minuteness allows it to derive its most significant, personal moments from those that seem the most unremarkable: fleeting moments of eye contact, perfunctory questions, gestures of politeness. And so just like life’s, the stuff of Persuasion is more about derived rather than imposed meaning: the novel doesn’t need to orchestrate for events to happen on a grand scale for those events to be considered momentous and so meaningful.Instead, it’s concerned, in Austen’s words, with the “solid” and the “substance”—what something appears to be and what it actually is—and how its characters, namely Anne, discern and make meaning out of the discrepancies between the two.

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Oh, and also, Anne Elliot is just a marvel of a character. I love her so much, and I always feel for her so immensely.No, I’ve never had my engagement to a man broken off only to have that same man come back 8 years later and propose to me again—but I might as well have, because I could so easily identify with Anne. She really is, as Austen describes her, a combination of fortitude and gentleness, a character whose hold on you is all the more remarkable because she never outright demands any attention—she earns it.

Anyway, I love this book, if you couldn’t tell.

five


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BOOK REVIEW: NORMAL PEOPLE by SALLY ROONEY

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Normal People is a novel that moved me. It’s a book that could’ve so easily veered into the grandiose, but instead asserted a quiet kind of significance, a reclamation of the momentousness of the everyday. Its story hinges on two central characters—Connell and Marianne—their thoughts, their flaws, their conversations, their relationship(s). On the surface, the story’s plot isn’t much: two people living their lives, coming together and drifting apart. But what draws you into this story is not the structural but the personal. Rooney’s characters are so tenderly drawn, so well-realized. Their conversations feel authentic, filled with pockets of humour and hints of vulnerability and the undercurrent of things unsaid. More than anything, though, the novel’s moments ring true. They are not disembodied Deep Literary Moments, but individual, particular, personal moments—not about meaning as a distant concept, but about meaning as a lived experience.

Like I said, this book moved me. I finished it crying but not knowing why, only feeling that I’d read something that struck me as remarkably honest.

(Thank you to Penguin Random House/Knopf Canada for providing me with an eARC of this via NetGalley!)


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