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The Book Trail: From Edith to Iris

I am beginning this edition of The Book Trail with one of my most highly anticipated reads, Edith’s Diary by Patricia Highsmith.  As ever, I have used the Goodreads ‘Readers Also Enjoyed’ tool to generate this list.

 

1. Edith’s Diary by Patricia Highsmith 27282871
As Edith Howland’s life becomes harsh, her diary entries only become brighter and brighter. She invents a happy life. As she knits for imaginary grandchildren, the real world recedes. Her descent into madness is subtle, appalling, and entirely believable.

2. The Book of Repulsive Women by Djuna Barnes
Originally published in the chap book series by Bruno of Greenwich Village in 1915, this renowned volume of poetry presented portraits of women of the period -a mother, prostitute, cabaret dancer, and others-which were wildly radical in their day dominated as it was by Victorian mores. But there is still in these “rhythms” a seething beat of sexuality and vice, whipped up into a delicious sense of perversity by Barnes’s art. On the evidence of Barnes’s numerous other works, most of which included art that was interleaved with her writing, Messerli has restored the drawings-which in the Bruno edition appeared in the back, after the poem’s-to the front of the book so that they can create an interplay with the texts.

4045323. Mysteries of Small Houses by Alice Notley
Alice Notley vividly reconstructs the mysteries, longings, and emotions of her past in this brilliant new collection of poems that charts her growth from young girl to young woman to accomplished artist. In this volume, memories of her childhood in the California desert spring to life through evocative renderings of the American landscape, circa 1950. Likewise, her coming of age as a poet in the turbulent sixties is evoked through the era’s angry, creative energy. As she looks backward with the perspective that time and age allows, Notley ably captures the immediacy of youth’s passion while offering her own dry-eyed interpretations of the events of a life lived close to the bone. Like the colorful collages she assembles from paper and other found materials, Notley erects structures of image and feeling to house the memories that swirl around her in the present. In their feverish, intelligent renderings of moments both precise and ephemeral, Notley’s poems manage to mirror and transcend the times they evoke. Her profound tributes to the stages of her life and to the identities she has assumed—child, youth, lover, poet, wife, mother, friend, and widow—are remarkable for their insight and wisdom, and for the courage of their unblinking gaze.’

4. In by Natsuo Kirino
R is the other woman. Labelled simply with one initial, her identity in the famous 1940s novel that recounts the damage she did to her lover’s family remains shrouded in mystery. The novelist who carried out an illicit relationship with her, and then used her as material for his work, became a celebrated writer. But R never had the chance to put her side of the story.  Tamaki is determined to find out who R really was. A writer herself, she is working on a book about R and begins to uncover clues about the real story behind the novel, and the great tragedy of the novelist’s life. While she throws herself into her research she’s aware that her own imperfect relationships are also up for scrutiny. Her ex-lover, Seiji, is gravely ill in hospital and her reminiscences about their long affair strike echoes with the subject of her work.  In this compelling and moving novel, prize-winning author, Natsuo Kirino explores the themes of love and death, and the significance of fiction.

5. Woman on the Other Shore by Mitsuyo Kakuta 1401908
This compelling novel, widely acclaimed for its perceptive portrayal of the everyday lives and struggles of Japanese women, struck a deep chord with readers throughout Japan. In 2005 it won the prestigious Naoki Prize, awarded semiannually for the best work of popular fiction by an established writer.  Sayoko, a thirty-five-year-old homemaker with a three-year-old child, begins working for Aoi, a free-spirited, single career woman her own age who runs a travel agency-housekeeping business. Timid and unable to connect with other mothers in her neighborhood, Sayoko finds herself drawn to Aoi’s independent lifestyle and easygoing personality. The two hit it off from the start, beginning a friendship that is for Sayoko also a reaffirmation of what living is about.  Aoi, meanwhile, has not always been the self-confident person she appears to be. Severe classroom bullying in junior high had forced her to change schools, uprooting her and her family to the countryside; and at her new school, she was so afraid of again becoming the object of her classmates’ cruelties that she spent most of her time steering clear of those around her.  The present-day friendship between Sayoko and Aoi on the one hand, and Aoi’s painful high school past on the other, form a gripping two-tier narrative that converges in the final chapter. The book touches on a broad range of issues of concern to women today, from marriage and childrearing to being single and working for oneself. It is a universal story about both the fear and the joy of opening up to others.

6. Now You’re One of Us by Asa Nonami
In the tradition of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, here is a new classic about the bride who’s no longer sure what to think. All families have their own rituals, secrets, and credos, like a miniature religious cult; these quirks may elicit the mirth or mild alarm of guests, but the matter is rather more serious if you’re marrying into a household. If its’s a Japanese one with a history, the brace yourself: some surprising truths lurk around the corner.

9227137. Autofiction by Hiromi Kanehara
Rin is flying back from her honeymoon. She’s madly in love with her husband, Shin, and the future looks rosy. Then Shin disappears to the bathroom while he thinks Rin is sleeping and she starts to imagine that he has gone to seduce the flight attendant. As her thoughts spiral out of control the phrase ‘madly in love’ takes on a more sinister meaning.  Prizewinning author Hitomi Kanehara’s sensational novel, Autofiction, follows Rin’s life backwards through time from this moment so that we see her when she is eighteen, sixteen and finally fifteen, and a picture of the dark heart and violent past of this disturbed young woman gradually develops.

8. Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa
A tale of twisted love from Yoko Ogawa—author of The Diving Pool and The Housekeeper and the Professor.  In a crumbling seaside hotel on the coast of Japan, quiet seventeen-year-old Mari works the front desk as her mother tends to the off-season customers. When one night they are forced to expel a middle-aged man and a prostitute from their room, Mari finds herself drawn to the man’s voice, in what will become the first gesture of a single long seduction. In spite of her provincial surroundings, and her cool but controlling mother, Mari is a sophisticated observer of human desire, and she sees in this man something she has long been looking for.  The man is a proud if threadbare translator living on an island off the coast. A widower, there are whispers around town that he may have murdered his wife. Mari begins to visit him on his island, and he soon initiates her into a dark realm of both pain and pleasure, a place in which she finds herself more at ease even than the translator. As Mari’s mother begins to close in on the affair, Mari’s sense of what is suitable and what is desirable are recklessly engaged.  Hotel Iris is a stirring novel about the sometimes violent ways in which we express intimacy and about the untranslatable essence of love.

 

Have you read any of these books?  Which have piqued your interest?

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Three Recommendations

I have not had much time to read of late, and my blogging time has been close to zero hours per week; not ideal, but as I am sure you’ll understand, I need to prioritise my studies.  That said, I thought I would take the opportunity to recommend three standout books which I have very much enjoyed reading over the last couple of months.

1. Nightwood by Djuna Barnes (1936; one of the first novels to portray homosexuality) 9780571235285
– ‘A masterpiece of modernism’ (The Washington Post Book World)
– ‘To have been madly and disastrously in love is a kind of glory that can only be made intelligible in a sublime poetry―the revelatory and layered poetry of Djuna Barnes’s masterpiece, Nightwood.’ (Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina)

Nightwood is not only a classic of modernist literature, but was also acknowledged by T. S. Eliot as one of the great novels of the 20th century. Eliot admired Djuna Barnes’ rich, evocative language. Barnes told a friend that Nightwood was written with her own blood ‘while it was still running.’ That flowing wound was the breakup of an eight-year relationship with the love of her life. Now recognised as a twentieth-century classic, the influence of Djuna Barnes’s novel has been, and continues to be, exceptional.’

2. Passing by Nella Larsen
9780486437132
– ‘Absolutely absorbing, fascinating, and indispensable’ (Alice Walker)
– ‘A work so fine, sensitive, and distinguished that it rises above race categories and becomes that rare object, a good novel’ (The Saturday Review of Literature)

‘Married to a successful physician and prominently ensconced in Harlem’s vibrant society of the 1920s, Irene Redfield leads a charmed existence-until she is shaken out of it by a chance encounter with a childhood friend who has been “passing for white.” An important figure in the Harlem Renaissance, Nella Larsen was the first African-American woman to be awarded a Guggenheim fellowship. Her fictional portraits of women seeking their identities through a fog of racial confusion were informed by her own Danish-West Indian parentage, and “Passing” offers fascinating psychological insights into issues of race and gender.’

3. Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
9780486404295

‘In “Herland, ” a vision of a feminist utopia, Gilman employs humor to engaging effect in a story about three male explorers who stumble upon an all-female society isolated somewhere in South America. Noting the advanced state of the civilization they’ve encountered, the visitors set out to find some males, assuming that since the country is so civilized, “there must be men.” A delightful fantasy, the story enables Gilman to articulate her then-unconventional views of male-female roles and capabilities, motherhood, individuality, privacy, the sense of community, sexuality, and many other topics. Decades ahead of her time in evolving a humanistic, feminist perspective, Gilman has been rediscovered and warmly embraced by contemporary feminists.’

 

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