The Outrun by Amy Liptrot (Canongate, 2016) - I got this book in a second hand bookshop because of its beautiful cover and it took me some time to actually open it. The plot is not something usual and in certain parts even easy to read. It follows the author herself ending up back on the island in Scotland and her home, Orkney. Being thirty, Amy must find who she is and defy the controlling power of alcohol over her life. And the wilderness of the island might be the perfect cure. It took me some time to actually grasp Liptrot's writing style, moving in between the present time depicting a life of an alcoholic, unemployed woman, and the past revealing the woman's childhood and origins. Yet the author's raw use of language quite easily got me and I was galloping through the book to find out if Amy manages to reshape herself, or if she says yes to the glass of alcohol. In certain parts I was not sure if I wanted to keep on reading as Liptrot does not avoid detailed descriptions of alcoholic's life, with all its darkness and stickiness. But as I realized after finishing the book, since there are only few writers who actually describe alcoholism in such extent like Liptrot, this might be the reason why we are not used to be discussing so openly this taboo. So if you find yourself wanting to stop reading, do not give up and keep turning pages. Because Liptrot knows exactly how to capture both the cruelty and beauty of everyday life, with its all simplicity and yet eventfulness. A beautiful story reflecting on alcoholism, astronomy, the power of Internet and social media, and importance of swimming in the cold sea in Scotland. Definitely worth of your attention.
A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert (Virago Press, 2017) - A small Ukrainian town is overtaken by the SS in 1941, changing lives of its inhabitants forever. This was the first time I have read anything by Rachel Seiffert and I am glad that now I know at least some of her work. Seiffert was born in Britain, however, her parents came from Germany and Austria, resulting that they brought up their daughter in a bilingual family. Regarding her rich heritage, Seiffert reflects on the themes of guilt, enemy, victim and brotherhood. Therefore, in A Boy in Winter she does not only depict Ukrainians' point of view but also the German occupiers', showing that both sides are human (despite the terror the SS inflicted during WWII). As I studied the representation of the Second World War in literature at my university, it was interesting for me to come across a story that is not set in either Britain, France or Germany, but is located in Ukraine, which, I believe, has been quite overlooked in the WWII literature. Seiffert skilfully portraits the everyday lives of the villagers, their fears and hopes. The characters are not flat but have history, helping you to root for them. However, sometimes it seems like Seiffert takes on so many characters' points of views that in the end I felt like I did not get enough time with either one of them. The story includes thoughts of an old teacher, another chapter follows a German engineer who sees through the brutality of his very own nation, the following chapter describes two young Jewish boys escaping from the SS, another one their desperate parents captured with the rest of the Jews, waiting for the transport, then comes up a chapter with a girl who wants to find out what has happened to her lover, then again, the engineer, the boys, after that the girl's lover gets his own space, etc. Seiffert knows how to write, how to build up the tension (like when she leaves heavy silence after the aftermath of the unexpected shooting) and good story, yet, for me the book focuses on too many characters, resulting that sometimes I had to force myself to keep my attention to finding out new details.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (Little Brown UK, 2017) - I noticed this book thanks to people from the USA I follow on my Instagram, and I loved its cover so much I wanted to read it (I know, you should not judge a book based on its cover, oh well, I am not one of those people). The psychological novel is about a perfect, peaceful suburb of Cleveland, Shaker Heights, and the family Richardson, whose lives change when the single mother and her daughter move to their sublet. Following her previous novel, Everything I Never Told You, Ng once again follows everyday lives of everyday people (artist, high school students, lawyer, waitress), starting seemingly an ordinary story. Just later on the subtle hints on the question of race, class, parenthood and notably motherhood start appearing, making you think twice about your attitude towards your surroundings. Ng sets the novel back in the 1990's on purpose, highlighting how much our society has or has not changed from then. I enjoyed Ng's writing style (notably the opening chapter revealing that the youngest daughter of the Richardsons burned down the family house, leaving a blank space for the explanation, which is revealed in the ending) and I kept reading as long as my eyes allowed me to - so 2am. The book makes you think, question and judge, just to later on prove that nothing is as simple as it might seem in the first place. My only little, tiny tiny problem was with the final revelation of why the daughter burned down the house. I do get it, but on the other side, it seems to me a little bit too extreme. So to put is simply, it is a novel with great psychological inputs, gripping beginning, brilliant middle part and slightly extreme, yet well managed ending. Plus, Little Fires Everywhere made me to read Ng's very first published novel, which I have fallen in love with.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (Little Brown UK, 2014) - I cannot put in words how much I love this book. Ng's debut novel takes on a mixed race marriage in the 1970's, on how parents put their unfulfilled hopes and dreams on their children and what consequences this can have. Lydia, the middle daughter of Marilyn and James Lee, is found dead in a lake, her death bringing back old wounds, memories and lost potentials. The novel then follows the months (and in my opinion, even decades) inevitably leading to this tragic event. Ng is able to capture feelings of fifteen-year old just as well as of a married couple in their fifties, depicting the overwhelming and suffocating atmosphere of the Lee family household. James Lee, whose family came from China in the days when Chinese students at the American universities were a shocking idea (do not forget that the book is set in the 1970's!), wants nothing but to blend in, trying to teach his children how to make friends and live a better life which is not defined by their heritage. Marilyn, a beautiful blond American, on the other hand, wants to stand out by studying medicine and becoming a doctor instead of aiming to get a husband and settling down with children. When their dreams do not work out, both of them try to influence their kids to lead better lives, resulting they cause more damage than help. Brilliant, with depth and everlasting impact. I know this might sound like a cliché, but read the book and you will understand my enthusiasm for Celestine Ng.
Autumn and Winter by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton, 2016 and 2017) - I was reading about Smith's work everywhere (notably as she was shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2017), but it was on my way home for Christmas when I finally bought both of her books, Autumn and Winter, and got to know her a little bit better. I decided to review these two books together as they make part of the planned tetralogy. Autumn follows two different characters, Daniel, one hundred years old, and Elisabeth, born in 1984, closely after the Brexit vote. Winter reflects on the politics and the current world situation (including Trump's presidency and the refugee crisis) while depicting Christmas time in a family composed of four people, some strangers, some relatives. When I started reading Winter, I was expecting a political novel. I can assure you that it is nothing like that. Smith has the ability to insert the burning political questions into an everyday conversation, only giving hints and questions to be answered by the reader himself, instead of starting a heated discussion (except one or two scenes in Winter, which are followed by quotations from Shakespeare, obviously). I feel like to fully enjoy Ali Smith's writing, you need to be in the right mood and have enough time to both slowly read it or completely devour it within two days (the first case scenario was me trying to finish Autumn, the other one was me finishing Winter within three days). Get ready for beautiful, poetic language, floating heads, death, life, a man in a tree, brilliant and witty post office's and bank's visits, philosophical dialogues or completely average discussions about TV shows. I am not sure if I enjoyed Winter more because it was my first book by Smith, or because I had more relaxed time to actually read it, however, both are definitely worth of your attention. Either if you are looking for a completely different read, you are in mood for something poetical, or because you enjoy stories about nothing and everything at once.