Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.
While only one of these two novels can be rightly categorized under otherworldly realms or fantasia (with a dystopian, chillingly-realistic-and-contemporary vibe), I thought it would be good to pair them here as I share my musings about these controversial dual Booker Prize 2019 winners (see here for more details).
The Testaments (Amazon | Book Depository)
Written by Margaret Atwood
Published by Chatto & Windus (2019)
ISBN: 1784742325 (ISBN13: 9781784742324). Literary Awards: Booker Prize (2019), Scotiabank Giller Prize Nominee (2019), Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction (2019). Bought my own copy of the book.
There was much hype leading up to the sequel of The Handmaid’s Tale published over 30 years ago. Perfectly understandable especially given the recent success of the Hulu TV series (I have watched up to the middle of Season 2). I think it also helped that I have just reread The Handmaid’s Tale for a book club discussion in 2017 and read the stunning graphic novel adaptation by Renee Nault a year ago (see my review here).
Before reading my copy of The Testaments (that I pre-ordered – but of course), I also had a chance to read some of the thoughts of fellow bibliophiles including Kenneth who reviewed the book here. While keeping my mind open despite the multiple lukewarm reviews I’ve read, I ultimately found the story superfluous (The Handmaid’s Tale did not need a sequel) and generally underwhelming.
I shared my thoughts on Litsy as I nearly finished the novel while with family in the US during the winter break – and this pretty much sums up my thoughts about the book.
It was still an entertaining read; however, it felt rushed, anticlimactic, and almost like an afterthought – like something that needs to be submitted to the printers immediately without having had the chance to really sort through the story gaps. There may have been little time to really question the depth of the narrative, the story arc, character development, etc – as the publisher may have been working towards a deadline. I am aware that the story is never really just the product of the author’s imagination – but a collaborative, intensive, engaged effort with the editors, the beta readers, and whoever else had the strength of will to challenge Atwood’s brilliance. Still, I was glad to have read it before the end of 2019.
Girl, Woman, Other (Amazon | Book Depository)
Written by Bernardine Evaristo
Published by Black Cat/ Grove Atlantic (2019)
ISBN: 0802156983 (ISBN13: 9780802156983). Bought my copy of the book.
This was a book that I looked forward to reading every night before I went to bed. I was riveted by the stories of 12 British women – all fierce, all female, brimming with unbridled artistry oftentimes appearing as rage. Each one had their own unforgettable tale; others annoying and grating, a few heartrending, most awe-inspiring. Reading the book was like being part of a warm, gossipy enclave of women, occasionally tearing each other’s hair out, pointedly accusing one another with sharply-hurled invectives, or pulling each other in a comforting embrace.
Each story is so finely wrought that it has embedded itself into my consciousness. Evaristo seemed to have whispered the secret tales of each of these women to me, and it is now my responsibility to pass it on to the next woman, and another, and another – until we all collectively grow from the experience.
While there were times when I felt that the narrator was pontificating somewhat, intruding into a character’s actual narrative (politicizing with an agenda that was written in all caps – with several exclamation points to boot) – it can be dismissed with a storyline so sinuous and entangled: a clear work of art. There is such a satisfying feel at the end, with the feeling that I have been privileged to bear witness to the life stories of make believe women who felt very real to me. What a feat. Evaristo was robbed (in my humble, ultimately value-less opinion).
#ReadIntl2020 Update: Bernardine Evaristo is a biracial British novelist.