Looking for a book recommendation? Here's three
If you're looking for a great read while winding down over silly season (lol so quirky) or if you're seeking a great gift to give or even an audiobook to assist with a long trip, here are three solidly sized reviews of the stuff I've loved in 2020.
3. 'Rodham' By Curtis Sittenfeld
What would have happened if Hillary never married Bill? That's the focus of Curtis Sittenfeld's work of historical fiction, 'Rodham'. As a novel, this is a really enjoyable, even delightful read. At times, the tropes are clear and it feels less about Hillary Rodham and more about the feminist-nerdy-romantic gal stereotype. Nonetheless, I ate this book up and just thoroughly appreciated the concept.
"In the old days, people used to think Hillary was hitching a ride on Bill’s career – now it is possible to think that he held a good woman back. Rodham is an account of what might have happened if she had taken one hard look at Bill’s promiscuous nature and run the hell out of the relationship. It is a very exciting conceit; the only pity is that Hillary’s life feels more dull as a result."
- Anne Enright
The connections and cameos in this novel are clever, sharp and are a testament to the writing of Settenfeld, who has become somewhat of an expert in the field following a debut novel, 'American Wife', which was a fictional framing of Laura Bush.
While 'Rodham' at times lacks plot points and climaxes, it still holds an immense pull over the reader.
One overarching point defines this text: love can have the biggest impact on the course of our lives and yet, it is impossible to test whether the path you choose is 'right'.
I would also recommend reading the book after watching the four part documentary series available through SBS on Demand, which you can click here to access.
2. 'The Body Keeps the Score' by Bessel van der Kolk
This non-fiction read is not for the faint hearted with small-font, dense content and brain diagrams and chemical breakdowns that I need absolute silence to comprehend. I fucking loved this book. The stories are genuinely engrossing, the insight is phenomenal and as someone working in a field involving vicarious trauma, this book brought understanding to the pain I experienced and brought into my own life.
If you're interested in dipping a toe into the waters of psychology, this book is guaranteed to reel you in. I love a good nonfiction read and while this one can be overwhelming at times, the no-nonsense, plain speaking approach to complex psychological concepts was refreshing and make it one of the most genuinely interesting books I've had the pleasure of inhaling in years.
An excerpt: 'Traumatised people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.'
― Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
1. 'Orchid & The Wasp' By Caoilinn Hughes
Caoilinn Hughes's masterpiece, 'Orchid & The Wasp' follows a central female of mythic proportions. This piece of realist fiction focuses on a truly unique family dynamic, with prose that blew me out of the water and a storyline to match. This is the best debut novel I've read in the last three years.
As I gift myself Hughes's other novels for Christmas, I feel compelled to scream about the triumph that this book absolutely IS...from the rooftops. A clearly underrated author, Hughes beats out Sally Rooney's characterisation in a heartbeat, with an unparalleled eye in detailing the complexities of modern relationships. Orchid & The Wasp is not for surface level readers. It demands as much as it gives. It is, above all, a gutsy, gritty and magnificent piece of art.