I’m continuing with my reading frenzy – I’ve almost got the TBR down to just one shelf again, although to be fair, only 4 of my 10 new Christmas books have made it onto the shelf. Here we have one novel of America and Nigeria that I could NOT put down, and one quintessentially English novel which was a lovely comfort read. Two novels … but I think I’ve still read more non-fiction than fiction this year (for the first time in recorded history). Watch out tomorrow for one or two more reviews, then on Thursday it’ll be time for Books of the Year, a photo of my Christmas Haul, and a photo showing the full horror of the TBR …
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – “Americanah”
(12 April 2014 – from Bridget on our wedding day)
This – THIS – is why I leave doing my Books of the Year until the year has properly ended. In fact, I think that one of the books I’m reading now will make it into my Top 10 for the year, too. You never know what you might come across. I have had compulsive reading sessions over the year, but I actually missed the opportunity to open a couple of presents on Christmas Day before our carriage arrived to whisk us off to the in-laws’ for lunch because I could. not. stop reading this book. I’m even excited about the fact that I can now go back and read other people’s reviews that I’ve saved up for months!
A novel of Nigeria, the US and (less) the UK, this is the story of Ifemelu, who can never quite forget her first love, Obinze. She makes a new life for herself in America – becoming the ‘Americanah’ of the title – discovering issues about race that she never knew existed and ending up being a successful blogger. When she returns to Nigeria to work for a magazine run by a wealthy socialite, she finds Obinze, who she has pretty well lost touch with after experiencing tough times in America, is now a wealthy property developer. The experience of her aunt, favoured by a general on one side of a power struggle and forced to flee when the struggle turns, is always in the background, and she is confused by and wary of the new social order she finds herself in.
This unputdownable novel flits between many locations, but it’s always clear where we are, when, and with whom. We keep returning, in a nice framing motif, to the hair salon where Ifemelu is getting her hair braided before returning to Nigeria, which allows us to learn a great deal about the experience of Nigerians in the US and the contrast between their experiences and expectations and those of people from other African countries and American-born black people (to use the categorisation used in the novel). There are sympathetic and nasty characters of all races and positions in life, making this a colour-blind as well as racially aware novel, and it’s also a very good story.
In addition to the characters and story, and the excerpts from Ifemelu’s fictional blog, there were also interesting discussions about whether you can understand a culture from reading novels about it, a real index of white privilege referenced and inserted into a blog post which should be required reading for everyone in the world, and a fascinating portrayal of some aspects of what it was like to be black and in America when Barack Obama was elected. I’m very glad that I’ve finally read this excellent book.
Georgette Heyer – “The Talisman Ring”
(16 April 2014 – The Works, Kendal)
Bought on our post-wedding break in the Lake District. A jolly read and a classic Heyer, even though it’s one of her very early ones. There’s an ageing patriarch deciding to marry off his grand-daughter to ensure her inheritance, and some argumentative cousins, a feisty heroine and a second heroine with amused grey eyes and a more sensible outlook – so lots of boxes ticked there. We even have someone being shot in the shoulder, which is a regular occurrence in Heyer’s novels. But it’s not samey at all – it’s delightful and has a galloping plot, period detail, charming characters and some light satire of young women’s flights of fancy based on the Gothic novels they’ve been reading (“Northanger Abbey” of course also does this).
This book also ticks off 1936 in my Century of Reading.
More reading to come, as I said. Hope you’re having a warm, well and book-filled time of it!