May 2019 Wrap-Up: From When Rain Clouds Gather to Idaho

This is Bessie Head’s debut novel and what a debut it is! Set in Botswana, the story tells of a refugee from South Africa Makhaya who, together with idealistic Englishman Gilbert Balfour, helps to transform the village of Golema Mmidi, finally seeing it rising above the tyranny and oppression. Head’s writing style means that the plot is easy to follow, and every character is complex and multi-dimensional. 

  • Hunger [1890] ★★★★★

Written before famous existentialist writers put their pens to paper, including Kafka and Camus, this short novel by Knut Hamsun is a convincing portrayal of one man trying to find his way and survive in a big city. Having no money, the unnamed narrator’s hunger and lack of shelter are palpable in the story as he also faces other hardship and absurdities of life. An introspective novel, Hunger focuses on such themes as loneliness and the oppression of the human spirit.

Davis Grubb’s The Night of the Hunter is not only “that book which later became a film”. Suspenseful and surprisingly poetic, The Night of the Hunter is a great read with well-written characters and an atmospheric plot, whose main villain and his horrific presence are bound to enter one’s imagination and never want to leave.

Graeme Macrae Burnet may be a Scottish author, but he conveyed perfectly the atmosphere of a small French town with its café culture and odd inhabitants. When a local waitress disappears, the book’s focus shifts to the thoughts, feelings and actions of one suspected-in-her-disappearance lonely man, who starts a cat-and-mouse game with a local detective. I am surprised how nuanced and understated this detective story is (written in a French style, too). It really is an unputdownable book whose ending will surprise you.

  • Serena [2008] ★★★★1/2 

In this book, Ron Rash takes you deep into the wildness of North Carolina, introducing the hardship and hidden dangers involved in a tree-cutting job. Some of the danger is unexpected, and much more sinister and horrifying than anyone may imagine.

This creatively-structured book is about one moving friendship between two women in Depression-hit Alabama, but it is also about unexpected friendship developing between two women in the 1980s who find themselves finding in each other both a listening ear and an inspiration. Transportive and touching, this book will lift your spirits on a rainy day.

  • Ancient Rome on 5 Denarii a Day [2007] ★★★★

I have been interested in ancient Roman and Greek civilisations since probably the age of around six when I was gifted colourful illustrated books titled “(Ancient) Greeks” and “Romans”. There is so much exciting information to discover about these civilisations, and their architectural, intellectual and other advancements still astonish today. In this non-fiction pocket book, Philip Matyszak takes the reader on a journey to ancient Rome, starting by enumerating ways to get to Rome and finishing with banqueting with a Roman. Despite not providing a lot of information, the book is still insightful as the author talks about various elements of Roman life, from aqueducts and gladiator battles to the state of medicine, and law and order.

  • The Man in the Brown Suit (Agatha Christie Mystery) [1924]★★★★

In this mystery thriller from Agatha Christie there is no Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, and the setting is hot South Africa. The book may not be the perfect Agatha Christie novel, but it is still an enjoyable, adventurous book with a memorable heroine at the centre – Anne Beddingfield, a girl who would like to uncover the identity of one enigmatic man in a brown suit killed at London’s metro station; see also this list of my favourite Agatha Christie novels.

  • Malice [1996/2014] ★★★1/2 

I re-read Keigo Higashino’s Malice, and my initial impression of the book did not change. In this book, Higashino turns one’s usual who-done-it mystery on its head, focusing instead on the psychology behind a crime and on the motivations of a murderer. Malice is a brainy and engrossing read, but I still think the book’s final solution is not as clever (or believable!) as the author thinks it is.

I found French Exit a curious read, even if my expectations were not wholly met. It was interesting to read about eccentric characters in Patrick deWitt’s fourth fiction book, even if the main characters’ journey and “adventures” in Paris were not that exciting. Besides, the sudden emotions coming at the end of the book sit oddly and uncomfortably with the light and funny style deWitt employs in the rest of the book.

Steven Rowley’s second novel has many things to recommend it at first glance, including the character of Jacqueline Kennedy and the New York City setting. Perfectly readable, the novel tries to be both emotional and amusing, but ends up being more melodramatic and predictable than anything else. For my list of books to read which are set in New York City, see here. 

  • Idaho [2017]★★1/2 

It is now wonder that Emily Ruskovich set her debut book in the state of Idaho – she grew up there. Idaho is a strange book with what appears to be an intriguing plot. Unfortunately, it does not quite manage to pull its interesting ideas together satisfactorily, and the result is an incoherent and almost pointless book.

This May I also re-read one of the Tintin comics, reminisced about my time in Siena, Tuscany, as well as tried to uncover the meaning behind Remedios Varo’s enigmatic art. 

Have you read or want to read any of the books listed above? What books did you read in the month of May? 


4 thoughts on “May 2019 Wrap-Up: From When Rain Clouds Gather to Idaho

  1. You’ve had a great month! Congratulations! I really want to read When rain clouds gather. Beside the very tempting title, it looks like the story is quite interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, I personally regret I picked “Idaho” up. It was not only dull, it is one of those recent books that, in my opinion, want to sell their “pretentious pointlessness” as “beauty and art”. A book that does not tell its story? I have better things to do than read it.


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