BOOK CLUB: The Pick of The Pages from January

29 January 2019 | Freya Parr

Her Body and Other Parties (Carmen Maria Machado)
The debut collection of short stories from Carmen Maria Machado is rich and dark in equal measures. Against the backdrop of themes of sex and death (cheery, I know), Machado explores magical realism and science fiction, with women’s bodies placed front and centre. Think Angela Carter. The whole thing is very The Bloody Chamber.
The critically-acclaimed collection is reminiscent of old horror stories, with folk tales weaved throughout the narratives. It’s by no means an easy read, but there are moments of self-aware humour peppered throughout to bring you out of the darkness. This is an incredibly well-considered take on the monstrosity of bodies and the animalistic nature of humans. A worthwhile read, if you’re brave enough.

An Edited Life (Anna Newton)
Now for something a little different. The lifestyle blogger Anna Newton (of The Anna Edit) has put together a life organisation manual, taking inspiration from all those familiar figures like Marie Kondo, but has tried to present it in a more approachable and, well, realistic way. It’s a beautifully-designed book. Get past the slightly twee marble-printed inside cover and into the depths of it, and you’ll see how much thought has gone into it.
It’s a relaxed read – informed but casual and light-hearted. Newton is a humorous voice throughout, and there are very clear guidelines and tips to follow. I have to say, this type of book is not usually my thing, but I found An Edited Life genuinely useful. It’s a book to dip in and out of, but is definitely a useful guidebook to keep beside your bed.
My only real criticism is that it’s probably too long. There is therefore a little too much space for rambling, and it would have been improved with a shorter word-count. That said, it’s a lovely manual exploring how to streamline work, life and home, and it’s far from your usual ‘blogger writes book’ fare.

Adèle (Leila Slimani)
French author Leila Slimani’s Lullaby took pride of place on many of our bedside tables last year, and we finally have another of her ingeniously dark, twisted novels to keep us company through the long winter months. Adèle was actually written before Lullaby but has only now been translated into English. It’s not quite as punchy and memorable as Lullaby, but is still a profoundly affecting read.
It follows the life of a successful journalist living in Paris with a husband and young son, fulfilling all the usual stereotypes of ‘having it all’ but with one setback... she has an insatiable desire for sex, and her life starts to unravel as she gives into these cravings. Constantly desiring the bodies and attention of someone new, ‘her only ambition is to be wanted’.
It’s fascinating to see these animalistic urges instilled in a woman, a trope rarely explored in literature. I can only hope that Slimani’s work will continue to be translated into English from hereon in.

The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction (Meghan Cox Gurdon)
My, this is becoming quite the diverse list of releases. From sex addiction to reading aloud – now there’s a transition I didn’t see coming. Meghan Cox Gurdon has been a children’s book reviewer at The Wall Street Journal for the last 13 years, and this book was inspired by an article she wrote for the publication, titled ‘The Great Gift of Reading Aloud’.
The book is part memoir, part scientific research. Gurdon explores the power and ‘miraculous alchemy’ – both neurological and creative – of reading aloud, primarily to children, but also to teenagers and adults. She takes us back throughout history, examining humanity’s oral traditions and emphasising how we must not lose this ancient practice.
It is an incredibly well-researched text, and Gurdon is a fantastic writer. She balances the blend of science and narrative sublimely – something authors often struggle with in books like this. ‘If reading aloud were a pill, every child in the country would get a prescription. Instead, we’re giving them screens.’ This is a fascinating read, and a reminder of how we have all been shaped by what we have had read to us.

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