I’ve started to write little book reviews on Instagram (#smokinbooks via @smokintofu) and honestly, I’m having the time of my life. I’ve never felt more alive. Here’s April’s edition of Smokin’ Books:
With a small town backdrop of secluded woodlands and a remote lake, best friends Dex and Lacey take turns to tell their story. It’s a bloody story, a story of sex, death, rumours, Satanism and Kurt Cobain. Girls on Fire thrums with the hot, heavy rawness of early Nirvana and burns with the witchy intense passion of a teenage girl. Read it if you like Megan Abbott’s The Fever, Rachel Klein’s The Moth Diaries, Jenn Ashworth’s Cold Light or Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places.
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge won the Costa Book of the Year 2016 – a banging accolade, but also because this makes Hardinge the first female YA author to win the overall prize (the first and only other Costa Children’s Book category winner to win the Book of the Year was Philip Pillman’s the Amber Spyglass in 2001. Make you think). It’s a slippery book about gender and death in the Victorian scientific community, but it’s also about family, loss, lies, ambition, social class and (most importantly) a fucking cracking ghost subplot. Faith is a riveting and fearless protagonist and I gulped through this book.
If you haven’t come across Caitlin Doughty’s YouTube series Ask a Mortician, you’re in for a treat (if you can get past the wackiness – which I struggled with at first, but I overcame it due to the top notch content). Death according to Doughty is a complicated and taboo business – business in the literal, capitalist sense of the word. Doughty’s book is part memoir, part anthropological study and part history lesson. I love her voice because her use of humour juxtaposed with empathy reminds me of my father and the way he talked about his job as a surgeon: with wit and with passion, but ultimately with respect. This book won’t be for everyone (Doughty doesn’t believe in shying away from the nitty gritty and spares few details), but I urge you all to engage with the death-positive movement and give it a go.
Everyone said it’s totally devastating. It is indeed totally devastating. A Little Life is a beautifully written, meticulously crafted novel that delivers the inevitable emotional sucker punch I was promised.
Although the blurb claims A Little Life is about four college graduates based in NYC, it’s really about Jude. It’s impossible to read A Little Life without falling in love with Jude, without obsessively worrying about Jude, without hoping that Jude gets some kind of respite from his traumatic past and painful present.
It’s a meandering, ponderous novel with the self-indulgence that only literary fiction can get away with. It’s also relentless: relentlessly grim, relentlessly harrowing, relentlessly hyerbolically traumatic. The detailed account of physical, emotional and sexual abuse is exhausting – but only because the characters are all so well formed, their pain and fears feel completely real. The thing is – and I feel like I must be the only person on the planet that felt this way – I’m not sure I particularly enjoyed the journey. By the time I reached the 700th page I just wanted the whole experience to be over.