Autumn – 4/5 Stars
I liked this one a lot, and I have solid hopes for the second book. I do not know going into that one whether or not it will be a continuation of this story or a reversal or twist or riff off the themes. It’s also interesting to be reading these while sort of being in the middle of the Karl Ove Knausgard seasonal quartet as well.
So this book takes place among many years, jumping back and forth. It centers mainly on the friendship between a young girl and her older neighbor. It’s a relationship that is not scandalous in the remotest, but because of the differences in age and it being an older man and a young girl, there’s a tension among the family itself. But we have the story of a woman born in 1984 dealing with growing up in the kind of countryside, being friends with her neighbor who helps to give her a sense of intellectual growth and validation of someone who is smart enough and readerly, but not a hidden genius. In the present time, she’s also dealing with her sort of frustrations with being in a doctoral program, the care she has for her aging mother and family, and her still remaining relationship with the older man. She’s also dealing with the changing landscape of her country in the wake of the Leave vote.
It’s interesting to see writers of fiction dealing with the fallout of the Leave vote and what it seems to represent to the cultural landscape.
How to be Both – 3/5 Stars
Because of the structure of this novel, it’s inherently important to think about how one reads it. And because I chose to read it in order (note: I will ALWAYS choose to read things in order), I only have that one way to consider it. I don’t that it’s possibly to reasonably try that again. The novel is in two part, two different narratives, and two different narrators–a third person narrator telling the story of youngish girl considering the death of her mother, her relationship with her father, and a friendship with a girl in her school who provides a way for her to better understand her changed world. This girl, George, loved her mother dearly and her mother’s death was quite unexpected. Her mother was a kind activist Luddite, who came to understand enough about technology to work to undermine it. This death sends her into a spiral looking for meaning in the world. Part of this journey leads her to studying the life and work of a Renaissance artist Francesco del Cossa. The narrative then flips as George is staring at a portrait as we now get Francesco’s narrative of his own life, sex, gender, art, and how he came to find himself a disembodied entity looking down at what he assumes is a boy (George) looking back.
I found myself a little annoyed by the novelty of the story and felt the conventions holding together the two different stories to be oddly forced. I didn’t find them compelling or meaningful in that way. However, I did happen to like the two different narratives separately. I do think that perhaps the reversal might have borne different feelings, but alas.