One thing I love about travelling is the time it gives me to do nothing and just read. It can be books that inspire me to travel or discover new things about the destination I’m visiting, or simply power through my ever growing to-read list.
This January I didn’t have the time to read as much as I’d liked to, but here are my thoughts on what I have read.
The Vegetarian, Han Kang (2016)
I was not expecting this. I thought this was going to be a quick read and was I in for a surprise.
The Vegetarian narrates the story of Yeong-hye after she makes the decision to become a vegetarian. Living a perfectly ordinary life, her sudden disgust towards meat is a subversion of societal norms. Her story takes the reader on a journey through female sexuality, overcoming abuse and estrangement and finally exploring what it means to care for a family member with mental health issues.
The book provoked a visceral reaction in me as I’ve never experienced before. I could feel what the characters felt, smell what they smelled, understand their own unique experiences and love and hate with them. I felt their tiredness, the need to seclude myself.
Kang’s poignant commentary on social pressure to comply does not hold back. It’s gruesome, gross and realistic. Most importantly, she completely understands the sense of despair of living with mental health issues as well as the difficulties of caring for a beloved relative.
I can’t be thankful enough for this recommendation, it pulled my heartstrings and gave me imagery that will stick with me for the longest time.
The Story of the Lost Child, Elena Ferrante (2015)
I started The Neapolitan Novels around 2 years ago, and I couldn’t put them down. Ferrante’s brilliant narrative and dialogue drew me in and hooked me. I was so emotionally attached to Lenú and Lila that I avoided social commitments just so I could read more. I devoured the first and the second books. And then, I got the third.
That’s when Ferrante’s brilliance truly came through. I hated the heroine. I despised her actions and judged her so harshly I decided to stop reading. Once I’d finished the third book I decided to not move on to the fourth. That’s how invested I was in Lenú’s story. She felt as real to me as a friend. I was furious with her choices. As an author, I feel this is the most challenging accomplishment: to make the reader hate the hero/ine as if they were human.
Then, one day, I found The Story of the Lost Child staring boldly at me from an airport Waterstone’s. I tried to ignore the pull from Ferrante’s captivating literature. “I hated the third book”, I said to myself, “why bother?”. But I bought it anyway.
The Story of the Lost Child starts just where Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay left off. Ferrante continues the story of Lenú as she makes tough decisions about how to balance her role of a mother, accomplished writer and lover. Then we see our heroine grow both in confidence and wisdom.
This book is incredibly relatable and sharp. In a sense, it holds a mirror and makes you face your worst flaws. The main character moves from struggling with impostor syndrome to believing in herself; from being contempt in a mediocre relationship to loving someone who could not reciprocate her love to loving and trusting herself. It touches upon the generational change that happens in families as the kids become parents and the parents become reliant in their kids.
The dialogue is superb. Simple, to the point, and with perfectly captured voices. The final leg of this journey is equally raw and fierce. Ferrante does not care about what you think, she sits you down and forces you to read.
To me, these are four unbeatable novels. This is what contemporary literature looks like.