Some months, there’s a unifying theme to the good books I read. And sometimes, you get a femme fatale, gymnastics parents, samurais, private eye cats and Jane Austen.
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Sigh, the last of the Austen books for me. Anne Elliot, good daughter to a vain father, is suffering the quiet repercussions of having turned down Captain Wentworth when he was a nobody sailor. This is my third favourite after Pride and Prejudice and Emma. Anne Elliot is a different sort of heroine, tender, kind and quiet, so it’s nice to see her character rewarded for her goodness and not her sharp tongue. Nothing against sharp talking women (I am one) but often nice girls finish last in fiction.
Jane Austen, on the other hand, is the Queen of the Burn. Some of the ways she describes Anne’s vain father are strikingly relevant to this age of social media and self promotion. He loves preening and pretentions of grandeur, when really he has to rent his house to make ends meet. What a character! As with all Austen books, there’s a fair share of behind closed doors scandals (never trust a man who is too eager to please, is all I’ll say!). Oh Cousin Elizabeth! Cousin Elizabeth!
You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
From Jane Austen to something very different, although not as different as you might think… I read this cunning tale of twisted gymnasts in two days. Devon is a perfect gymnast, talented enough to get to the Olympics. Her parents obsess over this for her. It is their One Family Dream. They will do anything to get her there. Anything. The way Abbott wrangles language into stories of intense, unfulfilled desire and longing is incredible. This is the first domestic noir I’ve read of hers outside the historical noirs, and it’s dark to the core. Also props for the subtle pop culture references… No spoilers but the James Ellroy Easter eggs made me smirk.
Fatale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
I’ve become a massive Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips fan since I read The Fade Out (just bought Kill or Be Killed), and I’ve been wanting to read Fatale for ages. So luckily I got it for Christmas. And lo and behold, it has an introduction by Megan Abbott. Fatale is Lovecraft meets the femme fatale. Trapped in an eternal cycle of attracting men, supernatural figure Josephine tries to escape from cultists, but finds she can’t ever run from her origins. Brings to mind Jessica Rabbit’s famous quote “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn this way.” Kudos for managing to squeeze in a hammer horror reference, because Fatale oozes cult horror meets intellectual commentary.
Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley
I really enjoyed Kameron Hurley’s collection of essays on geek feminist culture. They’re accessible to anyone with an interest in speaking out and expressing their critiques. Advice ranges from online writing to dealing with self-conscious feelings while having a public profile. However I found the most touching essays to be those about dealing with chronic health conditions and her grandmother’s life during WWII. This is the sort of book you want to share with all your friends.
Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, translated by Jay Rubin
I’m currently writing an essay for Weird Fiction Review on Hell Screen, an integral story in this incredible collection. I can’t recommend this collection highly enough. I had previously read In a Bamboo Grove and thought the story masterful, but I’ve loved discovering some of his other work. Akutagawa’s range and depth is highly skilled; I loved the stories which combined the supernatural with social commentary. Favourites included the classic Rashomon, the bizarre afterlife of Horse Legs, the tragic ending of Spinning Gears and the incredible opening of The Story of a Head that Fell Off. These stories are incredible, and added to this are the excellent translation, introduction by Haruki Murakami and the extensive end notes. I’m really loving the Penguin Classics short story collections.
Blacksad: A Silent Hell by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido
Did you know you can borrow comic books on your tablet through the local library? I did not!!! So the first thing I downloaded when I found this out were the two Blacksad comics I’d never read. Blacksad is a black-cat private investigator. Together with his friend Weekly, they must investigate the disappearance of a famous jazz pianist. The stories are reminiscent of classic film noir, with sexy women and devilish men. Except this time, they’re all animals. The illustrations by Juanjo Guarnido are insanely detailed; some of the best watercolour work you’ll see in comics. The expressions on the animal faces are truly human.