As promised, here’s an update on the books I read during the month of April and my thoughts on them.
I found April to be realtively successful reading month and I’m very happy about that!
For some bizarre reason, I’m having a serious case of déjà vu at the moment and my brain seems to think that I’ve already written a post on the books I read the past month. Probably just another symptom of quarantine life…
How To Fail by Elizabeth Day
Inspired by her hugely successful podcast, this book is an honest, funny and heart-warming look at how we can take positives from all of our inevitable failures in life. From school, work, relationships, family situations and anger, Elizabeth Day explains how she has lived through all these failures and, even in the darkest of times, has managed to find something good about them. Part memoir, part manifesto this book is based on the idea that understanding why we fail is pivotal to the acceptance of our failures and, although our failures may seem awful at the time, there is always something to be learnt.
This was a really enjoyable and quick read for me, full of personal anecdotes that everyone can get something from. The book definitely takes a feminist angle and tries to raise awareness of failures that tend to be normalised by society for women (e.g. not being able to have children, not wanting to get married, being unable to reach unattainable beauty standards…).
Dickens’ Women by Miriam Margoyles and Sonia Fraser
This book is based on a one-woman stage play that Miriam did in Edinburgh. It brings to life some of Dickens’ most memorable female characters. You can really tell that Miriam has a respect for Dickens but also wants to hold him accountable for certain things. It is a satirical look at how Dickens’ misfortune and experiences with women shaped his writing and how he formed female characters.
Before reading this, I had always been under the impression that Dickens had understood women – he gave his female characters personality (just as much as the men) and not all his female characters were meek. But this book has made me think that he didn’t really understand women at all. His experiences with women as he was growing up definitely shaped his views that later found themselves in his books. His stories of love, lust, being jilted at the alter etc. were all ways for him to write down his anger. Even his daughter said that her father “did not understand women”. Although this book has made me think of Dickens in a new light, I still find this man to be a bit of an engima; though he did not understand women, he helped to form Urania Cottage which was a place for working girls to get off the streets and turn their lives around. This makes me want to desperately learn more about him.
Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
This is one of the most well-known children’s classics. It follows the (mis)adventures of Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad from stolen sports cars and getting lost in the wild wood. The Wind in the Willows began as a series of letters from Kenneth to his son. Since 1908 their exploits still remain very much a part of children’s classic literature.
I really enjoyed reading this book and found Mole and Ratty’s genteel life on the river bank very calming and serene to read. It is the perfect spring read! It’s a refreshing tale and Kenneth Grahame has created the most whimsical world full of lavish, spring-like descriptions. At times, his work reads like a pastoral poem and makes me want to sit and read the book by a river.
Melmoth by Sarah Perry
For centuries, the story of Melmoth the Witness has been told to children – a dark, robed figure that searches the world for cowardice and complicity in history’s darkest hours. Helen Franklin lives in Prague working as a translator and leading a relatively bland and uneventful life. But all that changes when she meets Karel who holds a mysterious letter discussing Melmoth. Helen starts on a journey to discover more, delving back into her past and into the written accounts of others.
The book is incredibly chilling, even more so than Sarah Perry’s previous book “The Essex Serpent”. The book follows the general pattern of a Victorian gothic novel – a secret diary, mysterious letters, imposing buildings and a chilling atmosphere that makes you feel like you’re reading the book in winter (even though it’s warm outside!) Sarah Perry writes beautifully, using beautiful language throughout the story. This makes for a very intense and thrilling read. “I wonder, when God permitted us to fall, if he knew we would fall so far”.
Night Walks by Charles Dickens
A short-read featuring various essays of Dickens’ about the walks he would take in London at night due to insomnia. Dickens was very interested in the lives of the poor and social reform so his walks often took him to the “underworld” of the capital. He visits work houses, children’s hopistals, a betting shop…. Dickens has an extraordinary eye for detail and gives an honest account of what he sees. He treats people he writes about with respect, never in a voyeuristic way, giving us all a window into the life of Victorian Londoners.
I would recommend this to avid Dickens fans as well as those who are new – it gives such a great idea of who Dickens was and who he championed in the world. You can really see where he got a lot of inspiration from for his longer novels. I wish there were more stories in this collection!
I’ll Never Be Young Again by Daphne Du Maurier
Richard has always grown up in the shadow of his very successful author father. In a moment of crisis, Richard decides to take his own life by jumping off a London bridge but he is stopped at the last moment by a stranger called Jake. The two men, both at turning points their lives, decide to go on an adventure together, jumping aboard the first ship they see.
This is Du Maurier’s second published book and, according to some reviews on Goodreads, you can tell. I have never read any Du Maurier before so I have nothing to compare it to. As such, I really enjoyed it.
For me, this book naturally is divided into three parts; Norway, Paris and London. I very much enjoyed the Norway part – it was full of adventure, beautiful descriptions and friendship. I also enjoyed London, as Richard returns to his home you get a sense of how much his life has changed. However, surprisingly enough (as I love Paris!) I didn’t enjoy the Paris section and this is the main reason why I can’t give the book a 5 star review. Though description of Paris was beautiful, the actual events that take place there are clichéd and, at times, uncomfortable to read given the language used.
What books did you read in the month of April?
Thanks for reading!
Love, Zoë xx