This month I have decided to publish a ‘reading round up’. Being a book lover, I’ve always supported and bought from independent stores, but due to the current restrictions, I’ve made the late transition to the digital era! I purchased a Kindle and I can’t put it down.
April reads have been varied – ranging from Romantic Classics, Caribbean Literature, to Dystopian Societies and Religious Sects.
- La Belle Créole, Maryse Condé
Condé is a Guadeloupean, French-language author of historical fiction.
La Belle Créole is set in Guadeloupe in 1999 – a difficult period of social disintegration, racial hatred and political tension. The plot revolves around a young black gardener, Dieudonné. He is accused of murdering his employer and lover, Loraine – a wealthy white woman descended from plantation owners. When Dieudonné is released from prison, he finds himself in a city amidst economic collapse and social conflict. With no friends or family to turn to, the only refuge he finds is in his old sailboat, ‘La Belle Créole’. This brings back happy memories. As the narrative switches between a series of flashbacks and the night of Dieudonné’s release, we learn how he comes to represent a tragic and misunderstood figure in a passionate love story. Although Condé’s flowery language brings the tropical island to life, she paints a chilling image of a contemporary society with a heritage of slavery, racism and colonisation.
This novel is available in both French and English.
- Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots, Deborah Feldman
Feldman tells her story of escape from an ultra-religious Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism in New York City. Plunging us into a world of her childhood memories and anecdotes, she details her struggles growing up as a curious child in a neighbourhood of strictly enforced customs and beliefs. Feldman knew little of the modern world, despite living in 1990s Brooklyn. Secretly reading forbidden secular books and inspired by literary heroines, Feldman believed she could choose her own path, even if her community preached the opposite. After an arranged marriage at age seventeen, to a man she barely knew, she then gave birth to a baby boy at age nineteen. Feldman then took the unprecedented step and left the suffocating community with her son, abandoning everything she had ever known. This autobiography is empowering and moving; a story of a young woman who possessed incredible personal strength and courage.
Exodus, the sequel to Unorthodox, documents Feldman’s life with her son in Berlin. The memoir inspired a Netflix mini-series Unorthodox, which aired in March 2020.
- Normal People, Sally Rooney
Rooney’s unique take on a classic teen love story. Set in a small town in County Sligo, the novel introduces Marianne and Connell. Marianne – a loner and victim of school bullying doesn’t ‘fit in’. She comes from a wealthy yet dysfunctional family. An unlikely friendship begins between Marianne and the family cleaner’s son, Connell, – the ‘popular boy’ in school. A deep connection forms and they start meeting up in secret.
They come together again at Trinity College. Their roles have now reversed; Marianne finds herself with a circle of friends and Connell without. Rooney takes us on a journey through their university years, alongside their love affair that blossoms on and off.
This novel is so much more than the cliché teen romance story. Rooney fluidly incorporates class, power and desire with a careful examination into the impact of first love. She writes with an incredible depth of the characters, their behaviour, social awareness and also explores the emotional effect people have on one another. The sensitive issues raised along with the intensity and raw emotion will leave you in tears. The BBC series complements the novel perfectly!
- Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
I’m taking the time to re-read some of my favourite romantic classics – reading for pleasure rather than for a literature exam. I turned to one of the most popular reads in the genre, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Written in Austen’s flowing and beautiful language, Pride and Prejudice explores the themes of love and marriage, social class and self-knowledge in early nineteenth century England. As we join young Elizabeth Bennett navigating her way into womanhood, we can still learn the important lesson not to judge a book by its cover or make hasty first impressions.
- Nineteen eighty-four, George Orwell
Orwell’s famous dystopian novella has been banned in various places since its publication in 1949, due to its political ideas and sexual content.
It follows the life of Winston Smith, a government worker, frustrated by living under an oppressive regime. In a society where the Party controls everything, mass social surveillance is carried out. The omnipresent eyes of Party leader ‘Big Brother’ remind the people they are under constant scrutiny. By rewriting history and developing Newspeak language, the Party controls every source of information. Smith expresses his criminal thoughts in a diary, and pursues a relationship with Julia. They attempt to undertake a mission to overthrow the government. The message of the novel is more important than the plot. Orwell portrays a perfect totalitarian society but warns readers against the dangers of a totalitarian government. With careful consideration of a government who psychologically manipulates, controls history and uses language as mind control, the message is chilling and unsettling!
Reading Nineteen eighty-four certainly won’t lift your mood during times like these, but at least we can take comfort that our society isn’t quite as bad as the one Orwell portrays.
One More Croissant for the Road, Felicity Cloake