‘Hot Milk’ -Deborah Levy

Hot Milk

The day I finished this rather unusual novel coincided with the announcement that ‘Hot Milk’ was on the short-list for the Man Booker Prize. This in no way impacts on my review – if anything, it makes me wonder whether I wouldn’t be better off focusing my attention on the ones that didn’t make the list, since I really found myself confused by this novel.

The story, such as I understood it, focuses on 25-year-old Sophia. We are told she has a first-class degree in Anthropology and is working on her doctoral thesis. For such a clever woman, she seems remarkably stupid. When she accompanies her mother to Spain in order to seek further medical intervention for the mysterious ailments that have plagued her mother for years, I can’t understand why she doesn’t leave her to it. The mother is manipulative and the manifestation of her physical ailments seems to come and go depending upon who she is talking to, or what else is happening. Yet Sophia happily accompanies her from appointment to appointment and seems content to do nothing to break out of this debilitating co-dependant relationship.

There are some quirky characters, though I don’t feel I really ever got to see them as anything other than a device to illustrate whatever point Sophia wanted to make about herself at the time.

Throughout the novel I was struck by a number of images or repeated references. I’m certain these were important, but I’m still not certain why. I found this an easy book to read as it is relatively short, and the action is easy to follow. However, the language is richly evocative and I cannot help but feel that it is the kind of novel that I ought to read again in order to try and make more sense of it. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I’ll be in a hurry to do so.

‘Eileen’ – Ottessa Moshfegh


I became aware of this when I saw it was longlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, so I was pleased to receive an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The most obvious thing to say upon completing the book is that this will not be to everyone’s taste.

The narrator of this story is Eileen Dunlop, a woman of indeterminate age, and she is looking back on events that took place around Christmas 1964.
Eileen is not a character you will easily warm to. As she describes herself – and we obviously don’t know to what extent she is manipulating our perceptions of her – we see a lonely twenty-four year old woman who behaves like a little girl in many ways. She lives with her alcoholic father and has a mediocre job in the local boys’ prison. She dresses in her dead mother’s clothes, has evident body issues, is quite unpleasant to those she encounters and has an obsessive need to detail her bodily functions. Yet there is something utterly fascinating about this quite grotesque character.

For a lot of the novel very little happens. Then Eileen meets new colleague Rebecca and her life changes.

What follows was not at all what I expected. It’s better to not know the details in advance, but Eileen gets to be the heroine of her own story. I was surprised that events took the turn they did, and the ambiguity of the ending sums up for me the utter selfishness of Eileen. What happens to others is simply irrelevant-once they don’t impact on her life it is as though they don’t exist.

I found this a puzzling but seductive read. Having enjoyed it so much I purchased my own copy.

‘A Spool of Blue Thread’ – Anne Tyler

a spool of blue thread

This was a book received as a digital copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, and part of my attempt to make a conscious decision this year to not just focus on YA fiction.

On the Man Booker shortlist, this is Tyler’s 20th novel and yet she is a writer that I’ve never read anything by before. I loved the idea of a novel that focused on a family that, in Tyler’s own words, are unremarkable.

This tells us the story of the Whitshank family and the home they live in. Nothing out of the ordinary really takes place, but I found this a really warming story. It felt familiar, even comforting, and I enjoyed getting to see the family over time and seeing how their relationships are affected by the events of their daily lives.

It felt a strange novel to be on the Man Booker shortlist, but it was certainly a book that I enjoyed…a lot.

‘Satin Island’ -Tom McCarthy


I received a copy of this from NetGalley as part of their shadowing of the Man Booker Prize process.

This wasn’t an author I was familiar with, so I went into this book somewhat blind. I can see it’s very clever, and I was expecting a book that explored concepts and was very different to those I would normally read. On that score, it delivered.

One review I read before starting this book said it was “Packed with daring cerebral insights and swashbuckling prose” and that it “could be about the futility of meaning.” Perhaps I’m a little out of practice with more cerebral reads, but this felt like being trapped with the pub bore and unable to escape as they ranted, over and over, about their important insights into the world. Not a pleasurable experience for me, I’m afraid.