Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams and Things in Jars by Jess Kidd
This month I’ve been reading two novels with
lovably quirky protagonists.
Queenie is a funny, honest and sometimes heartbreaking novel about a young woman trying to find her feet in the world. The titular Queenie is vivacious, neurotic and recently dumped. She launches into the world of dating with an open mind, but quickly discovers that modern relationships aren’t as straightforward as they may seem. And perhaps she has to resolve her personal baggage before she takes on anyone else’s?
I have read and enjoyed both of Jess Kidd’s previous novels, and her new one is no disappointment. It follows the Victorian lady detective, Bridie Devine, as she tries to track down a lost child – who may or may not be a merrow (a relation of the mermaid). The first problem is that her father doesn’t want Bridie to tell anyone what’s missing. The second problem is that she is being haunted by the ghost of a boxer … and he has developed a crush on her. Delightfully creepy and strangely tender, Things in Jars is based in Victorian-era London but people with thoroughly modern characters. Fans of The Essex Serpent and The Rivers of London series will enjoy this fantastic historical romp.
Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson
Jeanette Winterson has been one of my favourite authors since the late 80s when I was given a copy of The Passion. I was totally amazed at this magical fairy tale and have read most of what she has written since. Later this month her new book Frankissstein will be published and this one is a must read (I haven’t loved everything that she has written). The story is set in two time frames. One in 1816 when Mary Shelley is writing her story about creating a non-biological life-form. The other in Brexit Britain where a young transgender doctor is falling in love with a prestigious professor who is leading the debate on Artificial Intelligence, another character is launching a new generation of sex dolls and in America, men and women who are medically and legally dead have used cryogenics but are waiting to return to life. The writing is daring, funny and pacy – the issues are provocative and timely.
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
I’m enjoying reading this book slowly, taking time to research and write down quotes along the way. I haven’t read like this for a while and it’s a pleasure to be so interested and in the moment with a book. Lost Children Archive follows a family of two sound-artist’s and their children from New York City to the Apacheria, the regions of the US which used to be Mexico. The parents are working on their own projects and have become distant from one another while in their own worlds. The father is working on a project about the history of the Apaches, retracing the steps of the last Native Americans conquered by European settlers; and the mother is working on a project archiving undocumented children travelling between the border of Mexico and the US.
As they travel, it feels as if you’re part of the family holiday with all the food stops, motel decor, quibbles in the car, map reading mishaps. It is a work-focused family travel trip, told through the lens of capturing moments through sounds. Alongside this narrative is that of undocumented children travelling from Mexico to the US border, hoping for safety, but facing the brutality of a system that doesn’t want to help them. The comparison between the children in the car and the children travelling without adult protection is an obvious but powerful one. The narrator wonders if it’s ethical to make art with someone else’s suffering and I’m not sure she finds an answer, but I think this book succeeds in humanising the border crisis and in turn, humanising the readers, so often desensitised by the news.