Recent Reads #4

Hello Everyone!

Firstly, I want to say thank you to the hundreds of you that have now followed my blog! Secondly, I want to apologise for not writing on here since September, whilst I finished my degree. I thought I would make a return with one of my most loved posts and share the books I have recently read. Since leaving University, I have done nothing except read, watch TV, and sleep, which sounds very unproductive (especially now I’m unemployed), but at least I have something to write about.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold – Toshikazu Kawaguchi 

‘Water flows from high places to low places. That is the nature of gravity. Emotions also seem to act according to gravity. When in the presence of someone with whom you have a bond, and to whom you have entrusted your feelings, it is hard to lie and get away with it. The truth just wants to come flowing out.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold is Kawaguchi’s debut novel, which explores regret and heartache through the opportunity to return to the past. Limited by the constraints of a small basement coffee shop, the concept of time travel resists a Doctor Who-like exploration by successfully adhering to a strict set of rules:

  • nothing you do in the past will change the present
  • you can only time travel in a specific chair
  • you can only interact with those who have been in the coffee shop
  • there is a time limit to your journey… before the coffee gets cold

Kawaguchi’s characters interact with the time travelling chair to find closure in their personal lives. He explores deeply moving scenarios involving Alzheimer’s disease and death, whilst ensuring the love between family and friendship remains central.

I really enjoyed reading this book, especially because it contrasted completely to the novels I did my degree on. It was a nice short story that I would definitely recommend.

Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata

‘As long as you wear the skin of what’s considered an ordinary person and follow the manual, you won’t be driven out of the village or treated as a burden.’ 

The Guardian summarised this novel as a ‘deadpan Japanese tale of an oddball shop assistant [that] possesses a strange beauty’, and this beauty has resulted in the novel becoming one of the most famous and captivating pieces of translated Japanese fiction in our contemporary society.

Thirty-six year old Keiko is the convenience store woman, who is perfectly happy with her career, yet she falls victim to comments from those closest to her, encouraging Keiko to question her sense of self and what it means to be ‘normal’.

Societal expectations of women, particularly in respect to marriage, is explored as Murata’s protagonist attempts to abandon her contentment to fit into a culture that falsely presents itself as progressive.

This book was definitely unique, but if I am honest, I found it pretty boring. Whilst the ‘deadpan’ writing was part of the ‘strange beauty’, I just found reading it rather dull, despite this, it was very short and the writing was pretty large so it really didn’t take long.

My Policeman – Bethan Roberts

“I laughed. ‘For a policeman, you’re very romantic.’
‘For an artist, you’re very afraid,’ he said.” 

I am going to insert the book description before I start talking because it does it so well…

It is in 1950s’ Brighton that Marion first catches sight of Tom. He teaches her to swim in the shadow of the pier and Marion is smitten – determined her love will be enough for them both.

A few years later in Brighton Museum Patrick meets Tom. Patrick is besotted with Tom and opens his eyes to a glamorous, sophisticated new world. 

Tom is their policeman, and in this age it is safer for him to marry Marion. The two lovers must share him, until one of them breaks and three lives are destroyed.

Set in the 1950s and present day Brighton, Roberts explores how Tom, Patrick, and Marion deal with heartbreak and secrecy. This novel highlights the impacts of homosexual prejudices and brings awareness to LGBTQIA+ issues. My Policeman addresses hidden sexuality and the role of women, like Marion, during this time, producing a heartbreaking and eye-opening novel.

This book switches between Patrick and Marion’s perspective on Tom as they reflect on how they grew to love him, and alongside the present day narration, these accounts of the 1950s allows readers to see the consequences for their past actions.

Out of all the books in this post, this would be the one I recommend the most.

On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous – Ocean Vuong

‘You once told me that the human eye is god’s loneliest creation. How so much of the world passes through the pupil and still it holds nothing. The eye, alone in its socket, doesn’t even know there’s another one, just like it, an inch away, just as hungry, as empty.’

Ocean Vuong’s debut novel is a painful reflection on the life of a gay Vietnamese immigrant living in Connecticut. The young boy, referred to as ‘Little Dog’, is writing a letter to his illiterate mother who doesn’t speak English. Aware that she will never read his words, the writing is brutally honest and deeply moving as he processes and articulates difficult life-changing memories.

Vuong’s novel is divided into three untitled parts, however, to summarise these parts would be simple (being an immigrant in America, homosexuality, death). As a poet himself, it is unsurprising how his beautifully crafted novel is packed with metaphors and images that allows the whole experience to reflect the reading of a poem. I saw a review which summarises my point stating how ‘this is not just a novel in verse and its not just a letter… it blurs the lines and its does it without you even noticing’.

I really enjoyed reading this book and will definitely read any future publications from Ocean Vuong.

It Ends With Us – Colleen Hoover

Where does this book get its hype? I bought it because I kept seeing it everywhere, but I really didn’t like it. This is my first book by this author and the only part I enjoyed was the ending when the protagonist showed immense bravery through a decision that tied together all the important themes surrounding domestic abuse. However there was so much wrong with this book…

  1. The protagonist’s name is Lily Blossom Bloom and she conveniently runs a florist shop…
  2. Lily is so obsessed with Ellen Degeneres (literally writing her diary to her) to the point Ellen is practically the fourth main character.
  3. To carry on from the last point… the repetitive ‘just keep swimming’ references and even naming her daughter after Dory from Finding Nemo.
  4. Ryle is repulsive and creepy
  5. Atlas (all these names are so bad) sleeping with a 15 year old Lily when he was a legal adult.
  6. Also within about 2 pages Lily and Ryle got engaged, married, have a honeymoon, come home, and then he abuses her… the pace of this book was all over the place.
  7. Some of the worst quotes I have ever read came out of this smut… ‘Don’t tempt the scorpion if you don’t want to get stung.’

Despite my excessive criticism of this book, I do understand the valuable messages that it contains as Colleen Hoover addresses the difficulty of leaving someone you love in situations like this, which are shown to be never black and white.

Thank you for reading!

Sam xx

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