I have had the most terrible reading drought recently. Some of you will know what I mean, those periods when you are just Teflon for the printed word. Nothing sticks. Nothing goes in. The drought was broken by a Marian Keyes book, called The Break, which I loved and realised why she is so incredibly popular. I am now reading The Woman Who Stole My Life, which I’m sure a lot of you have read. I just adore the character of Jeffrey, the vile teenager.
Anyway this is not about Marian Keyes, but Ottessa Moshfegh. You may have read Eileen, her Booker-shortlisted book (I have just started it) but her new book My Year of Rest and Relaxation is the one I have read and am recommending to you.
I don’t think you need my thoughts about it, it’s just a very good book. I mean, (sorry, wait, you are going to get a thought now): I feel like the ending falls a little flat but in fact, really who cares. Flat endings often make it easier to let go of a book; a great ending to a novel – Richard’s final dream about Henry in The Secret History for example – can turn the book into a ghost that haunts you forever.
Anyway My Year of Rest and Relaxation is about a smart young heiress who decides to lock herself in her smart Upper East Side flat for a year in a sort of on-and-off induced sleep, aided by medication from a batty psychiatrist. I am so totally obsessed by sleep at the moment that the fetishising of it here is genuinely sort of pornographic.
But when a book is good, it’s just good. You don’t need to know what it’s about. Having said that, I always need prior warning if a book is going to be about torture or anything particularly bad happening to children. Yeah, yeah whatever, I know – I’m pathetic. But there’s nothing bad or scary here. It’s all good, well-expressed, thought-provoking. Mostly provoking thoughts in me like “Why have I not written a novel yet?” But that’s my problem.
Dianne Beck says
I love Marian keys also. She’s laugh out loud funny. So are you. You should definitely write a novel. I would buy it. I used to read so much then my friends daughter died in 2015. She was 14, my daughters best friend. I haven’t been able to read that much since. Anyway I used to read recipe rifle and it was so funny and honest. You certainly are a talented writer and have a writers voice. Get cracking .
I’ve tried Dianne – novel-writing is not the life for me. It’s unbelievably hard work and boring 🙁
Dianne beck says
Yes I can imagine. Anyway you’ve found a good writing style. I love your posts on clothes. I bought some lovely ash trainers and I had never heared of and other stories or whatever it’s called. Then I found out they have a store in Leeds, where I live. Ooh I got some good stuff so Thankyou.
I absolutely adored Eileen!! It is incredible. Keen to read ‘My Year..’ too, although I’d heard it’s not as good! Would be interested to see how you compare the two…
I disliked The Break. Didn’t ring true somehow. The Heirs was great through, Susan Rieger. As Was the totally shlocky The Fall Guy.
Nothing I love more than a good book recommendation, thank you! I also love Marian Keyes – if you haven’t read her book “Making it up as I go along”, do, it’s so wonderfully funny. Also it’s a collection of shorter pieces of writing, so you can dip in and out when you’re otherwise busy 👍💕😊
Oh I was a bit put off Eileen because it seemed bleak and I wasn’t in the mood for it so didn’t even look at this one. I will. I’ve never read any Marian Keyes but I love listening to her being interviewed. Reading droughts are horrible, I know exactly what you mean. It’s especially bad if the person you live with is merrily reading away, blocking out the real world, while you have to just live in it and watch. I had an awful one over the summer, which broke with those Madeleine Millers, thank you. I had another just recently after school went back and the thing that pulled me out of it was Milkman. I absolutely loved it. Brilliant narrator, a bit dark, but so funny as well. But then I read all this stuff about it being difficult and pretentious and now I can’t recommend it to anybody in case they think I’m a terrible wanker. If you do write a book can I write the cover quote?
of course! *
*I will never write a book
Great! It’ll be a good one.
*I’ll see if Anna Burns wants it
I’ve had a real drought recently but then bought a copy of the Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle on a whim and it was brilliant and I’m very much back into reading again. Currently reading the Night Circus, which is also great.
I read The Secret History as a 19yr old History of Art student and it just SPOKE to me, you know. I obsessed about it for years and when I worked for Waterstones people would come in on a weekly basis and ask for her next book. When the next books came they just weren’t a patch on it (apart from The Goldfinch which is 100 pages too long) and I was simply gutted. However I went back to Secret History recently as a 45yr old mother of three and my god, it felt like a load of unbearable pretentious nonsense. I must have been a terrible pretentious student.
I know what you mean about reading droughts too. I’ve been on my own for half term and had all these plans to read and read myself into a stupor but have realised that I basically can’t read during the day. Telly or films I can do, but reading is a bedtime thing for me (or when I am travelling). I was full of good intentions but have been to the cinema 3 times instead. Maybe I’m too lazy to commit to reading these days, or my mind doesn’t switch off enough to immerse myself. I can recommend The Glass Castle though, if you like Educated by Tara Westover. Easy and gobsmaking in the way it breezily describes the most extraordinary upbringing.
I read Beautiful Boy last week. In a way, it’s about a bad things (drugs) happening to a child but it is very good and a tiny bit hopeful.
Genuinely the only thing that bothers me about caring for a tiny baby is the situational reading drought. Somehow, despite masses of time spent sitting about doing nothing (when you should be at some sort of weight loss boot camp but somehow just can’t), it always takes me about a year to get back into reading and a year without books leaves me a bit tetchy.
I’m wondering whether the new Barbara Kingsolver will be good enough to suck me in? Has anyone read it? I loved her early books but the Poisonwood Bible (so lauded) marked a decline and the Lacuna was total crap. Flight Behaviour was pretty good, though…
Remember being a teenager and reading three or four books every week?
It’s mother nature’s way of keeping you on HIGH ALERT so you don’t relax for A SECOND around the baby. it’s very annoying when one would be a better mother if you were able to zone out for an hour every now and again
I agree – though I actually read quite a lot when I had small babies, my husband bought me my first Kindle when our son was born and I breastfed for a long time precisely because “oh dear, stuck here on the sofa again oh well” – my situational reading drought came in the 9-18months phase, and it was just so so depressing, and I do still panic slightly when I can’t get into something that it’s a sign of impending mental decline. The only Kingsolver I’ve got all the way through is Poisonwood Bible, but I have just started Elizabeth Gilbert’s Signature of All Things, which strikes me as bit Kingsolverish in its themes.
Gosh I’m the opposite, the years I’ve now spent breastfeeding the suckers have been the most reading time I get. I’ve even got in tge very bad habit of reading through the night feeds. Pachinko was good for that and Little Fires Everywhere was fun. I read something else I’ve already forgotten.
I love the use of the word “suckers”. Real little mother suckers, bless ’em.
Yeah. I made the mistake of having a third, and apart from the milk I think she has quite literally extracted every brain cell I possessed.
Me too, FK2005, me too. But third babies are lovely things.
It’s like ye olde religious texts which glorify suffering. My spirit is broken and I am created anew; I no longer resist the demands of motherhood and am thus made whole in it.
Haha now that is very true, no longer resisting the demands! I only wish I had made more of the acres of time I had as a single girl…
Thanks everyone for your book suggestions. I too am in a reading drought, but have downloaded a few samples.
I think I have lost my ability to read because of social media- it’s terrible. I love reading, read English for my degree (well, Old English mainly) and used to read hundreds of books a year. Now I buy them and they sit untroubled in piles around my bed, while I scroll through a lot of pointless rubbish on Twitter. Oh, my poor brain, what have I done to it? I think I need to go cold turkey and pick up a book every time I want to reach for my phone.
I love your writing, Esther. If you don’t want to write a novel, how about another non-fic? I’d love to read something funny and opinionated on style and beauty.
The Break made me realise that about Marian Keyes too. I think I had – unfairly, predictably, snobbily – pigeonholed her and her writing as rather vapid and firmly for flibbertigibbets but I was very stupidly wrong. I think because she is genuinely *nice* I had bitchily (illogically!) thought she was *thick*. What a horrible admission. My reading habits are very feast or famine but right now I am going through an intense Gillian White phase, I am obsessed and have had to feed the beast by ordering lots of her stinky old second hand paperbacks from amazon. She is so underrated and relatively unknown that it’s bordering on a crime. If you ever watched The Beggar Bride and liked it (’90s BBC drama, Keeley Hawes at her finest) you have to read the book it’s based on. It’s brilliant and ridiculous and full of flaws and wild tangents that would probably be edited out nowadays but in a strange way add to the story’s perverse charm. Just finished Mothertime by GW too (which is about a group of moneyed children locking their alcoholic Mother in a sauna in their basement gym and what it does to the screwy family dynamics. Sounds terrible, but it is *brilliant*).
I love Marian Keyes, she’s hilarious. Subscribe to her news letter, it’s really funny. Don’t think The Break was her best book though. She’s such a joy.
What Marian Keyes would you suggest to begin with? X
sorry to butt in but I am now on Rachel’s Holiday and it’s about rehab and it’s actually incredibly good
Yes butt out (thank you)
Hi Cindy. Any that feature the Walsh family. Rachel’s Holiday is great, and the other books tell the stories of the other sisters. The Woman who Stole My life is good too. They are just good stories.
Thank you Petra
I love Marian Keyes. I think her later books are less engaging than the earlier ones, some of which made me hoot with laughter. It’s easy to be snooty about her and “chick lit” but, as she says, it’s all part of looking down on women and things women like.
I’m going to sling an amen at you over on this thread now Elena. I realised recently that a lot of the books I read are by men and I’ve been trying to redress the balance.
Thanks. Down with the patriarchy.
I hate it when you read a really good book because nothing you read straight after seems to match up to it and you end up having to wade through a few rubbish ones, waiting for the next gem. Like when I read Eleanor Oliphant last year ….. However, I have just read and can recommend The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne (as in ‘Boy with the striped PJs’). It’s one of those epics that charts someone’s life from childhood to old age and manages to be both sad and very funny.