What We’re Reading: September

Fault Lines, by Emily Itami & Great Circle, by Maggie Shipstead

Champing at the bit to get out of our bubble recently, I’ve been reading a few books about journeys to appease the travel bug.

Fault Lines has leapt to the top of my best books of the year list. A slim novel, it is set in Tokyo and follows Mizuki, a housewife and mother who mourns the loss of her more daring younger self. Frustrated at the inattention of her husband and feeling trapped by the constraints of expectation, she meets Kiyoshi and allows herself to slip back into her younger, adventurous self. As she shows him around her Tokyo, the reader gets an insider’s view into an incredibly vibrant but rigid culture. Itami’s writing is clean, witty and poetic, and the structure of the novel cleverly mimics the fault lines of Mizuki’s relationships and the city beneath her feet.

I have only just begun Great Circle, but I can already see why it has been longlisted for the Booker Prize this year. It is a big, chunky story of a fictional woman aviator, Marian Graves, and the discredited actor who wins the lead role in a biopic about her tumultuous life. Epic in scale, Marian’s adventures growing up through the 1930s are rollicking fun, and the modern-day story mirrors her own life in canny ways. Reminiscent of American greats such as Elizabeth Gilbert or Donna Tartt, the contemporary plotline could also appeal to fans of Taylor Jenkins Reid. I’m keen to see where it goes!

Leave the World Behind, by Rumaan Alam

I took this away with me to a holiday house and I had to put it down until I came back to the city! It was too thrilling and close to my situation to keep reading. I have however started it again and it’s an extremely gripping read. Amanda and Clay have gone to an AirBnB in a remote part of Long Island with their two children for a quiet holiday away from New York. They are hoping for long summer days by the pool and rest from their daily lives. The feeling of the luxury vacation is eerily interrupted when a couple claiming to be the owners of the house show up and say there is a blackout in New York- they didn’t know where else to go. Phone and internet signals are not working and that is when it starts to get very tense. It is hard to know who to trust and what is happening in the world outside of their weird situation. I’m not far in enough to know if I’m reading a psychological thriller- are they in danger from the couple? Or is there some sort of global disaster happening that is a threat to them all? I haven’t figured it out yet but I’m enjoying the awkward tensions between the two families and the suspense is very satisfying! 

Open Water, by Caleb Azumah

Open Water is a sharp debut from Caleb Azumah Nelson. It only takes a few hours to read, yet intricately explores the nuance of two young Black artists coming together in London. It begins when the protagonist is casually introduced at a party to the girl his friend Samuel is seeing. Over the next few months this intelligent, graceful dancer offers a gentle love that is frightening in its simplicity. The unusual second person narration allows the reader crucial, heartbreaking insight into the inability of this young man to let himself go in a world defined by racism and police brutality.

I particularly enjoyed that the novel is filled with references to familiar films and books that help the characters navigate Black British identity. Caleb Azumah Nelson’s ability to capture intimacy in Open Water means that these characters will stay with me, and has me eagerly awaiting his next work.