People in the Room by Norah Lange
I purchased Argentinian author Norah Lange’s novella, People in the Room, after randomly coming across it during a weekly browse of the Kindle store. Much to my dismay, I have read very little Argentinian fiction, and would like to remedy this. Lange’s novel – which is, as far as I am aware, the only piece of her work currently available in English translation – sounded fascinating.
The introduction, written by Cesar Aira, is both insightful and interesting, despite the fact that it gave quite a lot of the story away. I loved Lange’s writing style and its translation into English felt fluid. I loved the way in which almost all of the characters remained unnamed, and the element of obsession was so well handled.
I found People in the Room to be unsettling and beguiling in equal measure. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and could feel the claustrophobia closing in as it went on. The tension in the novel is almost palpable. I’m not sure that I have ever read anything quite like People in the Room before, and it is certainly a book which will stay with me for a very long time.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
I was a little sceptical about picking up Sally Rooney’s second novel, Normal People, due to the sheer amount of hype which it has been getting since its publication. I have been disappointed before by novels which many others have raved about, and am therefore a little wary whenever I see the same cover splashed over blogs and BookTube. However, I need not have worried. Normal People is wonderfully perceptive, and I got a feel for its two main characters, Connell and Marianne, immediately. There is a lot of dark content here, which becomes more prominent as the novel progresses, and I cared immensely for the protagonists.
The structure which Rooney has adopted here was effective, and kept me interested throughout. I admired the fact that she focuses in such detail upon relationships, and the ways in which they can shift. There are some very topical issues which have been tackled well here. Whilst I was a little disappointed by the ending, which I felt was a little too twee to match the tone of the rest of the book, Rooney’s writing is so pitch-perfect, and her characters so real, that I could not give this anything other than a five star rating.
Normal People is incredibly immersive; beware, and only pick it up if you have a whole afternoon free to spend in its company. I read this in two sittings, as I could barely put it down, and am now incredibly excited to get to her debut, Conversations with Friends.
Florida by Lauren Groff
Lauren Groff has been one of my favourite authors for years now. I have always been astounded by how much atmosphere she creates, and yet how succinct her writing still is. The stories in her newest collection, Florida, have the US state at their centre, ‘its landscape, climate, history and state of mind’ are what each character and each plot revolve around. I love collections with a centralised heart like this, and loved being able to revisit Florida without having to take another eight-hour flight.
Showcasing eleven stories in all, and coming in at less than 300 pages, Florida is a truly masterful collection. Groff demonstrates her insight and understanding of the diverse state in which she lives, and the sense of place which she creates is always highly evocative. In ‘Ghosts and Empties’, for example, she writes: ‘The neighborhood goes dark as I walk, and a second neighborhood unrolls atop the daytime one. We have few streetlights, and those I pass under make my shadow frolic; it lags behind me, gallops to my feet, gambols on ahead… Feral cats dart underfoot, birds-of-paradise flowers poke out of the shadows, smells are exhaled into the air: oak dust, slime mold, camphor.’ In this story, we are walked through what was once a poor neighbourhood, but which is beginning to gentrify.
Groff showed me a Florida which I was largely unaware of in these stories, and which I haven’t seen with my own eyes. Tales are set in Florida during the cool wintertime, as well as in areas which I haven’t visited – the Everglades, for instance. The darker side of life nestles up against the bright vibrancy which tourists see. Never is Groff’s version of the Sunshine State sugarcoated; she shows poverty, homelessness, abandonment, neglect, and death. Throughout, she challenges perceptions, and she does this so well.
One never knows what will happen in one of Groff’s stories, and this collection shows just how strong a writer she is. Each tale is perfectly formed, and together they provide a kaleidoscopic view of a state at once beautiful and wild. As anyone familiar with her work will know, she uses magical realism to perfection. Florida is a wonderful short story collection, and one which I cannot recommend enough.