Women’s Prize for Fiction Winners – Books I Read and Want to Read

Susanna Clarke has been chosen as the winner of the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction with Piranesi, a book I haven’t read yet but that I definitely want to. I don’t tend to pay much attention to literary prizes, to be honest. However, the enthusiasm that so many readers show for the Women’s Prize usually makes me at least want to know who has won and what the book in question is about.

Having taken a quick look at the prize’s website, I discovered that I’ve read three of the previous winners and am interested in reading not only Piranesi, but also other four in the future. None of the books ended up on my wish list because they were the winners of this particular prize. It was either the premise or the general work of the authors that first appealed to me.

 

Winners I Read

 

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

A fictional story about the events surrounding the death of the son of a famous playwright, William Shakespeare, Hamnet was a worthy winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2020. The feelings of the characters are tangible and duly intense. Agnes’s suffering in particular is poignantly portrayed. Set mainly around 1596, this book about grief, parenthood, love and family life also has some chapters set in previous decades, which allows readers to learn more about the characters and better understand their actions. Continue reading

How the Seasonal Quartet by Ali Smith Ultimately Disappointed Me

My first foray into Ali Smith’s work was with Autumn, the first published novel in the Scottish author’s Seasonal Quartet. After finishing reading it, I was not eager to pick up any other of her books, but many positive reviews of Winter convinced me to continue to read this collection of novels. It ended up being the correct decision, seeing that I subsequently enjoyed both Winter and Spring. Sadly, I cannot say the same about Summer, which I’ve recently DNFed.

One of the aims of the Seasonal Quartet is to record the times we live in. For that reason, there’s an obvious immediacy to all of the books, current affairs playing an essential role in them. As much as I enjoy books that deal with politics and social issues, they only work for me when at least the characters are attention-grabbing. And that, unfortunately, was not being the case of Summer.

 

Four novels for four seasons

I was left with mixed feelings after finishing reading Autumn. It is essentially a collection of fragments focusing on how 101-year-old Daniel influenced the life of the much younger Elisabeth, plus various references to current events, including the Brexit referendum, the situation of refugees, the lack of job security, and the difficulty in finding an affordable house. There’s no real plot being developed. The book mainly only comprises the characters’ thoughts and reminiscences about their lives. Reading it both bored me to death and left me in awe of how well Ali Smith can craft sentences. Continue reading

‘Spring’ by Ali Smith

My rating: 4 stars

The third stand-alone novel in Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet suits its title. Spring, just as the season it is named after, is a book about the need for new beginnings and being hopeful even when facing a dire situation. References to Brexit, Trump and the downsides of social media are spread throughout the book, making it not only a pertinent story for the times we live in, but also an important record for those who will read it in the future.

Spring is written in the third person mostly from two different points of view, those of Richard and Brittany, who end up meeting at a train station in the north of Scotland. Richard Lease is a TV and film director who is struggling emotionally, which is conveyed via a suggestive erratic type of narration when he is introduced. The woman he loved, Paddy, has recently died. He remembers her with immense and poignant admiration.

Richard visited Paddy not long before she passed away. Although she was already ill, they discussed his next project. He was working on an adaptation of a book, set in 1922, about the fictional relationship between Katherine Mansfield and Rainer Maria Rilke, two authors who never truly met. Richard didn’t like the script nor the book, but his visit to Paddy, with whom he had worked in the past, inspired him to suggest some changes to the adaptation, which are swiftly ignored. Continue reading

Book Haul – March 2021

March felt like a good month to get more books, though since last year I’ve been trying to read all of the books that I own before buying new ones. This haul consists of both novels and short story collections, almost all of them written by women. Some have been on my wish list for ages, others are more recent discoveries.

 

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Inspired by Johannes Vermeer’s famous painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring tells the story of Griet, a servant girl who becomes the student and muse of the Dutch painter. Scandal erupts when he gives her his wife’s pearl earrings to wear for a portrait. I’ve been meaning to read this historical fiction novel for ages and hopefully won’t be disappointed.

 

Salt Slow by Julia Armfield

Julia Armfield’s debut collection of short stories is supposedly filled with lyrical prose and dark humour. How could I resist buying it? Various feelings are explored in these tales: isolation, obsession, love and revenge. Continue reading

Writing the Seasons with Books: Winter

This year I decided to write the four seasons with books. Thus, at the beginning of each of the previous seasons (Spring, Summer and Autumn), I selected books from my shelves whose titles begin with the letters of the name of the season in question. The time has finally come to do the same for Winter!

When I had the idea for this sort of series, I didn’t expect that it would be so difficult to find on my shelves books with titles beginning with certain letters. In order not to pick Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier again, I had to cheat slightly this time, as I’ve done in past seasons for other reasons.

 

Winter by Ali Smith

Told from the perspectives of Sophia and Art, her son, this book, which is part of Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet, delves into how dissimilar world views can cause rifts between family members. Art was supposed to take his former partner, Charlotte, to spend Christmas at his mother’s house. As she left him, he decided to pay a young woman to go with him. Although the plot is not outstanding, the characters are compelling. Continue reading

Writing the Seasons with Books: Autumn

This year, instead of recommending books that some people may deem appropriate to read during a specific season, I’m writing the four seasons with books. I take a look at my shelves and select books with titles beginning with the letters of the name of the season that is just starting. And the time has come to welcome autumn! Temperatures have started to slowly drop. The leaves of the trees are getting ready to fall.

 

Autumn by Ali Smith

This was the first book that I read by Ali Smith. It’s not easy to describe what Autumn is about, as it mixes a couple of elements. Not only does it compile recollections about how 101-year-old Daniel Gluck, who lives in a care home, influenced Elisabeth Demand’s life, it also alludes to a variety of current events. Brexit, the plight of refugees and various economic issues connect this novel to the time of its writing.

 

Uma Casa na Escuridão by José Luís Peixoto

The Portuguese author José Luís Peixoto penned a hugely implausible story that doesn’t aim to be anything else. The plot of this novel, which hasn’t been translated into English yet as far as I know, is merely used as a way to convey feelings – love, jealousy, fear, suffering and solitude. Although I struggled to finish it, I truly cared for the characters and enjoyed the poetic prose. Continue reading

‘Winter’ by Ali Smith

My rating: 4 stars

The first book I read by Ali Smith, Autumn, left me with mixed feelings and not particularly eager to read more of her work. Nevertheless, various good reviews convinced me to give Winter, the second instalment in her seasonal quartet, a try. And I’m glad that I did! This novel shows how dissimilar world views can cause rifts between family members. Still, despite all differences, common old memories can make a family come together again, even if the renewal of that bond requires external help.

The narration is done mainly from the perspectives of Sophia and her son, Art. Sophia is over 60 years old and hasn’t spoken with her older politically-minded sister, Iris, in the last thirty years. Art (short for Arthur) is a nature writer for a blog who, at the beginning, acts like a selfish bastard with no empathy. The parts of the book told from Art’s point of view are more gripping at first. However, when we learn more about Sophia’s past and her personality starts being clearer, they become equally compelling.

Art had a partner, Charlotte, with whom he used to have heated political discussions. She seriously cared about what was happening around her, while Art didn’t. Throughout the book there are, in fact, various references to many current affairs: humans being replaced by machines, EU citizens in the UK not knowing what it’s going to happen to them after Brexit, refugees crossing the Mediterranean, climate change, etc. Continue reading

Book Haul – September / October 2018

We are less than three months away from the end of the year, and I still have quite a few books left to read in order to complete my ‘EU still 28’ reading project. Last month, I realised that I needed to buy some more of the books on my predetermined list. I obviously also took the opportunity to order a couple of other ones in preparation for winter, although I’m not normally a seasonal reader. Every excuse is a good one when it comes to justify buying books, though!

Below are the nine newest additions to my shelves:

 

Tula by Jurgis Kuncinas

Written by the Lithuanian author Jurgis Kuncinas, Tula takes place in a poor neighbourhood in Vilnius. The narrator dwells on the fringes of society and meets other various curious inhabitants of the same area. I don’t know much more about this book, which I believe also involves a love story. Continue reading

Authors I Want to Give A Second Chance to

To delve into the work of an author for the first time is both a thrilling and unnerving experience. While to read a book by a writer we are familiar with feels like returning home, to immerse ourselves in the work of an author new to us is a foray into uncharted territory. Although sometimes we end up discovering a new favourite, it is also possible to get highly disappointed. Below are some of the authors whom the only book that I read by didn’t impress me much (I rated it with either 3 or 2 stars), but to whom I want to give a second chance.

 

Ali Smith

I made my first foray into Ali Smith’s work with Autumn, the first book in a planned seasonal quartet. The plot isn’t easy to explain, because it wanders amidst the flow of the characters’ thoughts and reminiscences. It delves into the bond forged between Daniel Gluck and Elisabeth Demand, as well as into some current events, including Brexit. I was left with quite mixed feelings, being both in awe of the way Ali Smith managed to craft some sentences and bored by the lack of plot development.

At first, I thought that I wouldn’t want to read Winter, the second book in this collection of standalones, but so many people have been praising it that I’ve changed my mind. Continue reading

‘Autumn’ by Ali Smith

My rating: 3 stars

Autumn, the first book in a seasonal quartet by Ali Smith, is not easy to describe. I would say it is a compilation of fragments about how 101-year-old Daniel influenced Elisabeth’s life mixed with references to current events. But for the majority of the book, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, it feels like there is no real plot being developed via the flow of the characters’ thoughts and reminiscences about life occurrences.

Daniel Gluck lives in a care home and currently spends most of his time sleeping. Some chapters are reproductions of dreams he is having. He is visited by Elisabeth Demand who pretends to be his granddaughter when in fact they used to be neighbours. She is 32 years old and a contract junior lecturer at a university in London. They first met because, when she was younger, she had to do a homework about a neighbour.

After that, they started spending a lot of time together, and she even called him her unofficial babysitter. They used to speak about art, poetry, books and photography. Those conversations influenced her future life, as she went to study history of art and do her thesis on Pauline Boty, a forgotten female artist from the Pop Art movement, who Daniel had met and adored. Continue reading