Tag Archives: 2019 Women Writers Reading Project

Elastic by Johanne Bille. Translated from the Danish by Sherilyn Hellberg

Elastic by Johanne Bille Title: Elastic
Author: Johanne Bille
Translated from the Danish by Sherilyn Hellberg
Publisher: Lolli Editions
ISBN: 978-1-9999928-0-4
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 161
Source: Publisher/Marketing Agency
Rating: 4 stars

Elastic by Johanne Bille is a book that just made its way to me at the right time. Women in Translation was coming up and a marketing agency offered me a chance to read it as a part of the Blog/Instagram tour and I jumped on it. I jumped on the opportunity because it seemed liked a read that I would most certainly enjoy, and I am so glad that it surpassed every single expectation.

Elastic is literally a book for the times we live in. Mathilde is the core of Alice’s existence. Mathilde’s force is so strong that everything changes. It is the kind of love and lust that is self-destructive and redemptive at the same time. A love that perhaps you encounter once in a lifetime. Mathilde on the other hand is also quite mercurial and happily married to Alexander. Alice is moving into a bigger flat with Simon who is back in her life. And thus, starts a relationship of four people – of love, sex, intimacy, jealousy, and the workings of the human heart.

Bille’s writing sets the tone from the very beginning. The open love affairs, the choices one makes in love, and also the satisfaction and loneliness arising from it are beautifully explored. The entire book is told through fragments and it works brilliantly for a novel of this theme and magnitude.

Elastic is the kind of book that must be read in one go and perhaps that’s the only way to read it. It defines the current emotional state of people so well that you might just identify yourself with one of the characters. It felt like I was reading the movie Closer – the same intensity but less brutal. Bille’s writing and Hellberg’s translation were a match waiting to happen. Read Elastic. Be taken in by what happens when love washes over you and doesn’t let go.

 

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Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. Translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata Title: Convenience Store Woman
Author: Sayaka Murata
Translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori
Publisher: Grove Press
ISBN: 978-0802128256
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 176
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

The comfort in the constant. That’s how I have preferred to live life, to be honest. It never happens this way. Not all the time. Not ever, come to think of it. Yet, I have also learned how to turn the change into being constant over a period of time. Isn’t that what it is really? The humdrum of the sameness. The monotony of the constant. The familiar is utmost reassuring if nothing else. But that’s just for me, and rereading “Convenience Store Woman” got all those feelings to the fore, emerging one by one from the shadows, overwhelming me to the point of tears.

I shall try not to get the personal involved in this review. I try, but I do not guarantee. Anyway, back to the book. Sayaka Murata has written close to ten novels (I think) and this is the first time one of her books is translated to English. I read this book for the first time last year. There were too many emotions I was dealing with after finishing it. Most of them were a product of the read. The loneliness, the making peace with it, the awareness of using the familiar as a crutch, the times I had ideas or thoughts I shouldn’t have had – all of these were in sync with the protagonist Keiko Furukura’s way of being. I related so strongly with her (most of her, not all) that I was almost scared of reviewing this book.

August is the month of women in translation. This is my first read of the month and a reread that I enjoyed and loved. So here goes: As the title suggests, the book is about a Convenience Store and a person who works there. Keiko considered herself reborn once she joined the store. Her life is divided almost into two parts – before and after joining the store. She is awkward, she is clueless about how to fit in the world, and she struggles with day-to-day interactions. Yet, beneath the surface there is the Keiko that wants to blend in, wants to feel included, and live life according to the manual – get married, have kids, and get people off your back. Keiko has been made to feel like “damaged goods” throughout her life – by her parents, friends, baby sister, and colleagues. The idea of “change” or “cure” oneself runs deep in the book. It is in a way the plot-point through which Murata mocks the society we inhabit.

The book deals with so many broad questions that people face every single day. I will get to that in a bit. Though the book is set in Japan, it is universal in its approach. Murata touches on loneliness, middle-age, the way we see ourselves against the parameters set by society (marriage, child-birth, job satisfaction, what job you do, whether you fit in or not, and the gender stereotypes set for us from the time we are born), and above all of this the need to belong at a very basic level – that of acceptance.

Keiko and Shiraha (A part-time worker at the store. That’s all I can reveal about him) are so different and of course similar on all counts. Murata’s characters are constantly on the edge, on the brink of falling apart or coming together to save what they can of themselves, and more than anything they are about life being lived in the mundane with pragmatism and ironically hope at the same time.

The translation by Ginny Tapley Takemori is nuanced in every single way, and like I said would appeal to every single reader, in any part of the world. Ginny transports us to the store, and Keiko’s world with a sudden rush as it should be and before you know it, as a reader you don’t want to leave the world created by Murata. For every translation, it must be so difficult to get the exact phrase, the nature of the dream, aspirations, and thoughts of characters down to pat the way the author intended it. The translator also then is nothing but a co-writer of the book in the truest sense of the word.

Convenience Store Woman’s title when read in Japanese is Convenience Store Human or Person and that to me makes more sense. It somehow adds that layer of making it common – of the tonality it deserves even if it is also in the title. But that is something that can be overlooked in a jiffy only because the book is par excellence. It touches all the notes – the awkward ones, the peculiar, the bitingly familiar, the hauntingly real, the one that sets you apart, and achingly wants to be a part of the world at large. This August, it being Women in Translation, please do read this book. You must.

 

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

City of Girls Title: City of Girls
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1526615237
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

I am just going to go on record and say that I absolutely love Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing. I remember the time Eat, Pray, Love had released in India and had become an overnight sensation. The literary snobs (as they are called) were pretty hesitant to even read it, often dismissing it as “chick-lit” (hate this term by the way). And then “The Signature of all Things” was published a couple of years later and it was a literary sensation. More than anything else, just the way it was written – the characters, the setting, the prose – all of it. But this review is about City of Girls.

 City of Girls is a novel that seeps you into its timeline, makes you feel for the characters, and makes you aware of the fact that you are under a spell as long as you’re reading it. City of Girls may not also be everyone’s cup of tea. It is slow and takes time to build up, but I loved every bit of it because it is atmospheric and lures the reader in – with every turn of the page.

 The book is set in New York of the 1940s – the world of theatre at that. Vivian Morris is eighty-nine years old, looking back on her life in the 40s – freshly kicked out of Vassar College, arriving at Manhattan to live with her aunt Peg who owns the crumbling theatre called the Lily Playhouse. This is where the story begins with oddball characters, and a mistake committed by Vivian that sends her world twirling headlong upside down and more.

 This is the plot of the book to put quite simply. The book is about growing-up at a time when the world was changing at a neck-breaking speed and to keep up with all of it. Of course, the book is also about war and what it does to people. Gilbert writes about it realistically and yet not losing her touch of empathy and emotional quotient.

City of Girls may seem extremely slow in bits and parts (especially in the middle), however, just like any other book it works for some and doesn’t for the other. Gilbert’s writing prowess is the same or even better when it comes to this read, and please don’t compare The Signature of All Things to this one, because they are vastly different. What most certainly worked for me was the transition from the 1940s to the current time and Gilbert has done a stunning job of bringing it all together, in one book. Read it if historical fiction interests you, or if you are comfortable with a book taking its own time.

 

The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda

The Last House Guest

Title: The Last House Guest
Author: Megan Miranda
Publisher: Atlantic Books
ISBN: 978-1786492913
Imprint: Corvus
Genre: Thriller
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

I’d forgotten how much fun it is to read a thriller. I was too caught up reading literary fiction, till I picked up this thriller I had requested from Atlantic Books UK, and couldn’t stop reading it until I was done. That’s the true worth of a great thriller, I guess. You have to read it in one-sitting. The Last Guest House has all the tropes of a good thriller – environment, the right kind of pace, characters that are being looked on with suspicion, police that are clueless and earnest at the same time, and a local detective who seems to know it all.

The Last House Guest is about a wealthy woman named Sadie who dies unexpectedly on a holiday. The destination: Littleport, Maine – a vacation spot for the wealthy, and the people in the town who take care of them. Friendship strikes between a visitor and a local – Sadie Loman and Avery Greer. A solid friendship – that comes to an abrupt end when Sadie is found dead, and well of course the one under big-time suspicion is Avery.

You might think you know how this will pan out (as did I) but you are wrong (as was I). The thriller elements of The Last House Guest , like I said are just about right – including the timeline jump – past to present which works all the time for me as a reader. The twists and turns seemed generic sometimes, but I am willing to let go of that because the story reads in a very straightforward manner and that helps. The book does pack in the right amount of punch (apologies for using this word), just that sometimes you also wish that there was more of the characters’ backstory and motivations. All in all, a great read – a thriller I enjoyed after a long time.

Bingo Love by Tee Franklin, Jenn St. Onge, Joy San, and Genevieve FT

Bingo Love by Tee Franklin Title: Bingo Love
Author: Tee Franklin
Illustrators: Jenn St. Onge, Joy San, and Genevieve FT
Publisher: Image Comics
ISBN: 978-1534307506
Genre: Comics, LGBT,
Pages: 88
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 3 stars

Maybe it was just me, but I was expecting a lot out of Bingo Love after reading so much about it online and it being included in almost every 2018 best book list. While it is a great book, it yet disappoints in some ways. I was very happy reading it, and that too month of Pride and all that, yet something felt less and not up to the mark. Wish there was more to it.

To cut to the chase, the story is about two women Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray, who meet as girls at a church bingo in 1963 and fall in love at the very first sight. They hesitate to tell each other and when they do, their families tear them apart. They then meet again, decades later, now in their mid-60s, once again at another church bingo (Loved this part by the way. It made me weep and how), and then the story begins from thereon.

What I love about the comic is of course that it is diverse, of course that it is about two women who love each other very deeply and the love is still alive and lit even after decades of changes taking place. What it didn’t work with me was the entire time thing – racing to 2030s and then 2050s I think, which wasn’t needed. Also, the book was too rushed to encompass or make the reader feel the love between Hazel and Mari.

I am elated that comics such as Bingo Love exist. I really am. I just feel that it should explore more, and not be dealt with in a rush. It left me wanting a lot more. But you must read it, to understand love is love. Give it to children, to young adults, and to adults who also need to understand that love is love.