I need time alone the way other people need air.
(I also need air. I’m not a robot, contrary to popular opinion.)
From the beginning of February to the end of April, I did not have a single 24-hour period when I was alone the whole time. Frankly, I’m surprised I didn’t totally crack up, what with builders building and people staying and flying around Europe and conferencing and working and…
I needed a break.
Last Sunday I finally got back. There were no people in my house. The builders had finished building. And I had probably the most scar day ever.
I locked myself in my flat in total silence. I made a cafetière of coffee, which progressed into wine as the day drew on.
And I read four novels.
It was SO GOOD.
I recommend all four of these as weekend reads. I wasn’t disappointed by any of them, which is nice when you’re trying to have a satisfying day of reading.
Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
Karin Slaughter is one of my fall-back authors to whom I return again and again, because I know roughly what I’ll be getting each time and I know it’ll be fun to read.
Pretty Girls is a cut above her normal work, though, and I’m a fan of everything I’ve read of hers so that’s saying something.
The story follows two sisters, Claire and Lydia, whose other sister Julia went missing in her late teens. Another girl has just gone missing, and both are concerned that her disappearance may be linked to their sister’s. On top of which, they’ve never found out what happened to Julia, and both are feeling the need for closure.
Lydia and Claire haven’t always had the best of relationships, not least because Lydia doesn’t like Claire’s husband. But familial bonds are strong, and they must set aside their differences and work together if they want to solve the puzzle.
Along the way, both women learn more about themselves and each other than they were expecting.
I really liked this book. It was one of those that had several passages I could relate to, and I kept stopping to write things in my notebook and take pictures for Instagram.
I love it when a book gives me that feeling – the Oh thank fuck, I’m not alone one. And Pretty Girls did this again and again, sometimes in passages that will be sadly relatable for the vast majority of women…
“It’s the truth. I’m sorry to be blunt about it, but girls don’t like guys who are doormats. Especially pretty girls, because there’s no novelty to it. Guys are hitting on them all of the time. They can’t walk down the street or order a coffee or stand on a corner without some idiot making a comment about how attractive they are. And the women smile because it’s easier than telling them to go fuck themselves. And less dangerous, because if a man rejects a woman, she goes home and cries for a few days. If a woman rejects a man, he can rape and kill her.”
I wish that were less relatable than it is. But having spent at least ten minutes the other day trying to get the fucking food shopping delivery man out of my living room while he stood threateningly close to me refusing to leave, begging for my number and asking if he could “try to change my mind” once I’d told him I was gay, while my heart thumped a warning rhythm in my chest, it’s a pretty damn relatable passage.
And there are some that are perhaps less hard-hitting, but that still comment on the way society views women, and how they react:
And also some that make you stop and think about how we define people and why. How our definitions can change over time, and all of a sudden it’s too easy to find yourself being judged for things that only a short time before seemed praiseworthy. Especially when we talk about victimisation, and how quick people are to jump to conclusions about victims of crime. Female ones especially.
“[After her disappearance] Julia Carroll was no longer the selfless girl who volunteered at the animal shelter and worked at the soup kitchen. She was the strident political activist who’d been jailed at a protest. The pushy reporter who alienated the entire staff of the school newspaper. The radical feminist who demanded the university hire more women. The drunk. The pothead. The whore.”
As well as the searingly relatable passages, there are also the downright hilarious comments:
It is, in summary, a book that is gripping, fun and thought-provoking. Which is all you can ask for from a novel, really.
Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
This one suffers from having a very similar cover to A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman, which meant I nearly didn’t buy it because I was standing in an airport scanning the covers before heading to my gate, and I assumed I’d read it already.
But I realised I hadn’t just in time to pick it up and add it to my carry-on before running off to catch a plane.
This one’s dark. Very dark, in places. But the pleasant kind of dark – the kind that’s interspersed with light.
It’s about Peggy, who is eight years old when her survivalist father takes her to live in a remote cabin in the woods in Germany, and tells her that the rest of the world has been destroyed. For years she believes him, because why wouldn’t you believe what your own parent has told you?
But gradually Peggy begins to explore, and when she befriends a mysterious boy who lives nearby, she starts to understand that the whole world can’t have disappeared after all. Perhaps there is a world outside of her limited experience – there’s only one way to find out, but will she have the strength to leave the comfort of the known?
I enjoyed Our Endless Numbered Days because it can be read as a metaphor for a lot of things. From growing up in a cult and gradually realising that the whole world isn’t *actually* controlled by Satan, to just overcoming your own preconceived ideas about what the world might be like and learning to expand your horizons, the story brings hope that something more is out there to be explored.
There’s a nice twist at the end too, which I guessed long before it came up, but which was still delivered with a nice chilling dose of ice down the spine.
Fishbowl by Bradley Somer
I picked this one up purely because I needed a fourth book to make up two “BOGOHP” offers. It looked intriguing and it sounded quirky, although I didn’t hold out much hope for it, if I’m honest.
Well, I was wrong to prejudge it, because Fishbowl is quite a beautiful little book.
It’s a quick read that nonetheless covers a lot of ground – or perhaps a lot of sky?
The story is told from the perspective of a goldfish named Ian, who has lived in a fishbowl on the balcony of a 27th-floor apartment for most of his life. Now he’s bored of sharing with his snail tankmate, and when a rogue gust of wind suddenly blows away the items covering the hole in his tank, he makes a bid for freedom.
As Ian plummets down twenty-seven floors, he catches momentary glimpses of the people inside the apartments. We learn more about each of these people throughout the book, and gradually we come to understand how they ended up at the snapshot moment Ian sees as he flies past.
It’s artfully written, to the point where I found a couple of the stories – particularly the large lady in the red dress- quite moving. There’s something about grabbing a snapshot of someone’s life and then extrapolating backwards that makes you question your own assumptions about people, and wonder what that guy in the park outside your window does when he’s not exercising with a long elasticated rope against a tree.
Here, have a relatable passage from one of my favourite characters:
Definitely recommended if you enjoy books that make you look sideways at life.
That Girl From Nowhere by Dorothy Koomson
Am I saving the best till last? I’m honestly not sure, since they were all so good, but That Girl From Nowhere was especially lovely.
It follows the story of Clemency Smittson, who was adopted as a baby and has no clues to her previous life except a mysterious box decorated with butterflies, which she slept in when she was very small.
Now an adult, Clem’s father has recently died and her long-term relationship has broken up. Needing a new start, she moves to Brighton, unexpectedly accompanied by her mother, with whom she has a fractious relationship at the best of times.
During the first few days, Clem uncovers something that might lead her to her birth family – but does she want to go down that path and let loose all the demons it threatens to unleash?
Dorothy Koomson manages to transport the reader directly into the mind of her protagonist. Rarely do I feel so utterly convinced by a character’s feelings, as if I know them well enough to predict what they’d do in any given situation.
Clem is the kind of character most of us can relate to: essentially, she’s just desperate for it all to work out, but she has no idea how to make that happen. While adoption and living in a multi-racial family aren’t things all of us can relate to, the concept of wanting to Sort Things Out and Have Your Shit Together is definitely something I think most people feel from time to time. Likewise, the feeling of Oh crap, I’ve opened this door and now it’s made my life even *more* complicated is certainly one that happens to us all.
That Girl From Nowhere is therefore the kind of book I’d recommend for anyone who enjoys reading books. You don’t need to love a particular style of writing or story trope; you just need to enjoy a good narrative, well told.
These are affiliate links, which means that if you buy the books after clicking on them, I will receive a percentage of the sale price. The books will be the same price whether you buy them through my links or by searching on Amazon. I did not receive review copies of this book, I bought them in the airport while I was waiting for my gate to open. All opinions are my own.