Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

Thank you to Netgalley and Pan Macmillan for letting me read this ebook! Before reading, I just want to say that I can’t figure out if this is spoilery or not. It’s not fully spoilery, but I do think it would be best to first read Young Mungo with little knowledge (apart from the triggering warnings), before reading a post like this. I’m also writing this immediately after reading, so this isn’t so much about my own rating of the book, or a ‘review’ of sorts, but for now it’s more a collection of thoughts. I will say before continuing, I do think trigger warnings are very important going into this book. It will make you feel rage, distraught and helpless at times.

‘’He was Mo-Maw’s youngest son, but he was also her confidant, her lady’s maid, and her errand boy. He was her one flattering mirror, and her teenage diary, her electric blanket, her doormat. He was her best pal, the dog she hardly walked and her greatest romance. He was her cheer on a dreich morning, the only laughter in her audience’’.

‘’Her brother was her mother’s minor moon, her warmest sun, and at the exact same time, a tiny satellite that she had forgotten about. He would orbit her for an eternity, even as she, and then he, broke into bits’’.

The first thing I noticed in this story, and love, is that Douglas Stuart’s stories always have semi-autobiographical elements. I’ve never heard him speak in person, and have only listened to a couple of interviews, but I get the sense through the lens of Shuggie and Mungo that Stuart is an artistic, incredibly kind and perceptive dreamer. I love that these stories feel real because they have elements of Stuart’s character within, and because any Glaswegian can feel the stories come alive in a setting that feel so familiar. It is the innocent and dreamy qualities of both Shuggie and Mungo that make their stories so sad and poignant. Douglas’s books feel like one world, where the characters from each book could meet. The themes in Young Mungo are similar to Shuggie Bain, yet almost shifted in focus; Shuggie’s relationship with his mother is to the forefront, whilst Mungo is older and growing to focus on his sexuality. Class and the cycle of poverty continues to play a large role in this book, which I feel is highlighted particularly strongly in this quote:

‘’You know, that’s not for boys like you;’…’’You’re not cut from university cloth’’.

Cycles of poverty and class are contained by the unjust society we live in, a society where people who stigmatise and believe in their own prejudice aim to segregate those who live in poverty from a young age, pushing them into boxes. The class division in Glasgow and Scotland remain strong today, and I realise that this is something incredibly difficult to break. I am privileged in that I have never had to worry about money to this extent, and that I have grown up with a loving, nurturing family. I know that there is not much I can do as one person, but as a teacher, I aim to always work in areas of deprivation like the one I grew up and live in, and I hope to use my voice to be the nurturing figure that some children are reaching out for. It is very important not to ignore privilege, and not to imagine that hope alone can overcome these barriers, but it is equally important to teach every children that dreams and ambitions are theirs to have.

A strong theme within Young Mungo is future, and choice within constrained options; or rather, what feels less like choice but may be predetermined fate due to the social structures of this family. Choices surrounding a sense of family loyalty, the bounds that can hold us when someone we love is suffering, the impact of making these choices- or rather, lack of choice- at such a young age, and how these can limit your own sense of identity. Choices become tied up with burden. I was therefore interested in the part minor characters had to play in this story. For example, Poor-Wee-Chickie’s reflections on his past choices and the life he leads now will resonate for lots of people, but I feel particularly people living in areas like Glasgow, where prejudice still exists. I believe his reflections will also resonate with many LGBT people. My choices have been impacted by my sexuality- consciously or otherwise, growing up hearing the negative connotations of being gay. This has resulted in a hesitancy in myself and a fear of taking chances. I enjoyed the parallels between Poor-Wee-Chickie and Mungo, and his part in the story of pushing Mungo to contemplate his own future.

‘‘Poor-Wee-Chickie has been surrounded by love. Where had it all turned for him?… ‘’What should I do, Mister Calhoun?’’… ‘That’s easy son. Put yourself first for once’’.

I also love Mungo and Jodie’s relationship with Mrs Campbell. She is facing deprivation amongst other issues and strives to support these children despite barely being in a better off situation herself. I believe this strongly shows the character of Glaswegian communities. This is why I feel that is so important that Douglas is a Glasweigan writer; this first hand knowledge, and love of Glasgow allows this story to be so nuanced. Douglas knows what it’s like to live here, and really explores the different levels of deprivation within this community. This story is not a 2-dimensional account with the theme ‘Glasgow is poor’. Encounters from Mrs Campbell and James highlight that the characters in this story experience differing degrees of deprivation, but that their other experiences can still equate to an equal impact on mental health and opportunity.  And this story highlights that people in these communities will always help each other despite the burden of their own pain. In this way, I feel that Young Mungo discusses two of the most famous or infamous paradoxical impressions of Glasgow: that it is a city of violence and poverty, and that people make Glasgow.

Please let me know what you thought of this book! I’d be really intrigued to hear others opinions 🙂

My favourite new reads of 2021

A very late Happy New Year! I am remotivated to post this then get on with some more up to date regular 2022 posts! I also love posting on Instagram @carlybooks_ and looking at bookish accounts, so please follow me there if interested! 😊 I never count rereads in this list because I reread old favourites, so here are my 5 favourite new reads of 2021 (p.s. there are fuller descriptions of each book in 2021 blog posts so these are just wee snippets):

Honourable mentions:

Klara and the Sun, Kitchen, After Dark, Luster, Exciting times. I’ve written about these books in more detail in 2021 blog posts, but they all have the sort of style of writing I love- character driven, almost plotless, somehow dreamy, reflecting on social issues and their impact on people in today’s society. I fell in love with Japanese literature this year, it’s very beautiful and almost magical!

Number five- Pandora’s Jar by Natalie Haynes:

‘’Now, in Pandora’s Jar: Women in the Greek Myths, Natalie Haynes – broadcaster, writer and passionate classicist – redresses this imbalance. Taking Pandora and her jar (the box came later) as the starting point, she puts the women of the Greek myths on equal footing with the menfolk. After millennia of stories telling of gods and men, be they Zeus or Agamemnon, Paris or Odysseus, Oedipus or Jason, the voices that sing from these pages are those of Hera, Athena and Artemis, and of Clytemnestra, Jocasta, Eurydice and Penelope.’’ (Pandora’s Jar synopsis)

I didn’t read as much non-fiction as I usually do this year, but this was a great one! I didn’t love Natalie Hayes fiction books as much when I read them, but the way this book was written weaved in all the characters with modern social issues so well, I’d recommend! I’d also recommend listening to the songs she mentions throughout, listening to Beyoncé lemonade during the Medea chapter was quite an experience.

Number four- Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

‘’Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend Eileen is getting over a break-up and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood. Alice, Felix, Eileen and Simon are still young – but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They worry about sex and friendship and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?’’ (Beautiful World, Where are You synopsis)

I listened to this as an audiobook which I think is always the way to go with Irish narrators because I love the accent and it adds to the feeling of a conversation unfolding. I think this might be my favourite of her books. I love the storytelling, elements of mental health and the social commentary on social media/technology and climate change. I do feel the need to say that the characters are a bit pretentious (why do they always go on a spontaneous holiday hahaha) and Rooney’s characters are definitely privileged with first world problems. I think it’s important to keep this in mind whilst reading, but I do always feel for the characters (I was more interested in one perspective than the other though). I’d love to read more books that look at the impact of social media on our self-esteem and mental health.

Number three- Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart


’It is 1981. Glasgow is dying and good families must grift to survive. Agnes Bain has always expected more from life. She dreams of greater things: a house with its own front door and a life bought and paid for outright (like her perfect, but false, teeth). But Agnes is abandoned by her philandering husband, and soon she and her three children find themselves trapped in a decimated mining town. As she descends deeper into drink, the children try their best to save her, yet one by one they must abandon her to save themselves. It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest. Shuggie is different. Fastidious and fussy, he shares his mother’s sense of snobbish propriety. The miners’ children pick on him and adults condemn him as no’ right. But Shuggie believes that if he tries his hardest, he can be normal like the other boys and help his mother escape this hopeless place.’’ (Shuggie Bain synopsis)

This book was so powerful, and the relationships were beautiful and very sad. I felt even more connected to the story because of the LGBT elements and the setting- some of my own family members have experienced some of these issues and I think they’re still sadly very relevant around Glasgow. I think this book manages to be filled with hopeful moments despite the poignant sad ones. I’m currently reading Young Mungo as I got a review eBook on net galley, woo (did not know that was a thing until last month!) and I think I like it even more, although I love wee Shuggie as a character so much. I’d 100% recommend reading some Scottish fiction if you’re from elsewhere around the world, I’d love to know if it still has the same impact or gives you a new perspective on Scotland. I’d also be curious to know where you are from and what books you’d recommend from your home country! 😊

Number two: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

’When he hears her favourite Beatles song, Toru Watanabe recalls his first love Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki. Immediately he is transported back almost twenty years to his student days in Tokyo, adrift in a world of uneasy friendships, casual sex, passion, loss and desire – to a time when an impetuous young woman called Midori marches into his life and he has to choose between the future and the past.’’ (Norwegian Wood synopsis)

This was one of the first books I’ve read translated from Japanese and I loved it! I always love books which are basically just about characters and relationships where nothing really happens, and this is exactly that bit with a kind of whimsical feeling. There was something so interesting and unusual about this book and it’s made me want to go to Tokyo one day even more than I already did. I”d really recommend this, although I’d first check the trigger warnings as there are themes such as suicide. I’d also recommend this as a first choice for Murakami’s books because it’s a lot more realistic and less insane than his others. I read 4 of his this year and I am finding some uncomfortable themes with the ways he writes women. Overall though, Norwegian Wood has become one of my favourite ever books!

Number one: Duck Feet by Ely Percy

’Twelve-year-old Kirsty Campbell used to like school – that is until she started first year at Renfrew High. Set in the mid-noughties and narrated in a Renfrewshire dialect, Duck Feet is an episodic novel comprised of 65 linked short stories, all following the lives of working-class school-girl Kirsty and her pals as they traverse from first to sixth year of high school.’’ (Duck feet synopsis)

Another Scottish book, they did well last year! I also went to a Waterstones reading and signing from Ely Percy and it was amazing to hear their perspective on their perspective on writing the story, it brought it to life even more. I’d like to go to more book events in 2022! I’m also happy that I joined an Instagram book club last year, hosted by @scottieandthebooks. It gave me the chance to read with others, making it a less solitary experience and creating a culture of celebration of Scottish literature (although I’m too shy to really speak in it haha!) Anyway, I loved book so much, I went to school nearby Renfrew a few years after this is set and it’s so close in time and place that I felt like I was reading about my own school (good and bad times haha!). My favourite chapter VL just flashed me back to forgotten (or repressed) times. I also loved the deeper moments and themes throughout and related to so many of the characters. I’d love to read more about the queer characters in Duck Feet if Ely writes this book. I’d 100% recommend this book to everyone!

Thank you everyone who read or commented last year, I honestly love reading comments and talking about books as reading can feel lonely otherwise! Please let me know of your favourites reads of last year, I’d genuinely love to know! 😊 I know we’re still in difficult times, but I hope you have an amazing year, and please reach out to me if you’d ever like to talk- about books, mental health or anything else!

Books I read in October & November 2021

I have covid, woo! So I’m using this time to write a wee summary of October and November books, because whilst I was too lazy to write them as a went along, I’m also too fussy to not write anything because it will annoy me not having a post for each book of the year haha. So please feel free to read this strange mini thing, and I promise to write proper full posts again next year for the 3 people who want them haha. Please let me know what you’ve been reading, and if you have any recommendations going into 2022! I always like to try and start off the New Year with some good books.

Duck feet by Ely Percy (new read, physical book)

My favourite of the two months, I loved this book so much. It’s set in a town not too far from where I grew up, a few years before I went to high school, and it honestly brought back so much nostalgia- in the best and worst ways haha! I loved it! I’ll talk more about this in yearly favourites, but if anyone reading is Scottish, was your school also obsessed with the idea of being a VL?

The Norse Myths by Carolyne Larrington (new read, physical book)

I still know very little about Norse mythology, so I enjoyed this book! It was fairly easy to follow and it’s interesting, so I would recommend it for the genre (also got me excited about rereading A Song of Ice and Fire at some point. BTW, analysed Daenerys’s whole story and wrote about 12,000 words for a blog post which got deleted and can’t get back- still too sad to talk about it more haha!) I still think it’s going to take me a long time to properly familiarise myself with these stories, primarily because I sadly only speak English, and I struggle with a lot of the pronunciation of the names and places. I love the monsters and creatures in these myths!

Antigone Rising by Helen Morales (new read, physical book)

This book was an interesting non-fiction analysis of mythology and modern feminism. I naturally ended up comparing it to Pandora’s Jar which I did find more interesting, mainly because of the choice of topics, I think. I found the latter chapters and topics far more interesting than the first. I’d be interested in reading more books like this, I think I’d like any I read now to be written by more people of colour to allow me to gauge a wider perspective and learn more, particularly important when reading about feminism.

No one is talking about this by Patricia Lockwood (new read, physical book)

This was such an unusual book and for that reason I can’t decide how I feel, however, it was very moving. I would recommend reading the themes and warnings before deciding whether to read, as I think this is a very unique experience so I wouldn’t like to say too much, but I would like anyone reading to feel prepared.

Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu (new read, eBook)

I really didn’t know how to feel about this, it was a short book and gave the Halloween vibes I was looking for, however, probably due to the period it was written in, it had some very old fashioned or unusual metaphors and imagery, particularly surrounding homophobia. I can’t decide if this was a commentary on the time and purposefully written, or the authors own views. Either way, I always try and fail to find new Halloween books I like, so I think I’ll just enjoy binging the Vampire Diaries tv show every October.

The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson (reread, physical book)

Back on my Jacqueline rereads, this is another great one- for slightly older readers, but saying that, I was probably about 7 haha, I think younger kids just tune out what they don’t understand yet. This one focuses on themes on mental illness in the family and the reversed parent/child roles.

Kiss by Jacqueline Wilson (reread, physical book)

Another of hers for older readers, this was always has a different feel for me but that’s maybe because it’s one of the last new books that I read by her, maybe aged 11. This one focuses on sexuality and puberty.

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer (reread, eBook)

Not going to give it more time, I had a low week and wanted a Halloween vibe hahaha.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling (reread, physical book)

For this book, I want to talk a bit about the idea of separating the art from the artist. My views on this- which I’m not saying are right, and I sometimes waver on myself- are that I will reread but not continue to buy. Once I know that an author has done something wrong, I will never support their work again by buying future books etc. I will never buy another Harry Potter book or merch that will help she who must not be named to profit. However, I have loved Harry Potter since I was a wee girl and it holds so many special memories for me. These books remind me of my childhood and of my dad who use to read them with me. He bought me the first 5 and I can remember the excitement of holding one of these books new in my hands. I have always felt so nostalgic and at peace when I read this series, especially leading up to Christmas. So, I think that in a case like this, only where the book is incredibly nostalgic and one which I read in childhood, I will separate the art and continue to reread the books. However, I will reiterate that I do not condone the words of the author and will never buy from them again.

Books I read in August/September 2021

Every time I went to write about my August books I just really could not be bothered, hahaha. One reason was that I leave it all too long and can’t remember lots- I’m trying to change this for October by writing notes after I finish each book so I can get a bit better. Instead of writing half remembered thoughts, I’m just going to list the books I read in August here: Such a Fun Age (mainly enjoyed), Soul Tourists (not my fav of hers), The Wolf Den (mainly enjoyed), The Mash House (not my genre, but good). I just decided to have a little break, especially considering this is just a hobby and really does not matter in the grand scheme of things! I did listen to a podcast today though, which made me very excited about reading and books, and it has motivated me to try to put my best effort into posts going forwards (excluding this one haha as I’ve done the usual thing of forgetting most of what I read). I hope you’ve been having a good couple of months, please let me know what you’ve been doing or reading! 😊

Buddha Da by Anne Donovan (physical book, new read)

‘‘Anne Marie’s dad, a Glaswegian painter and decorator, has always been game for a laugh. So when he first takes up meditation at the Buddhist Center, no one takes him seriously. But as Jimmy becomes more involved in a search for the spiritual, his beliefs start to come into conflict with the needs of his wife, Liz. Cracks appear in their apparently happy family life, and the ensuing events change the lives of each family member.’’ (Buddha Da synopsis)

In September, I found an Instagram book club called ‘The Scottish Book Club’, for which this was my second read (The Mash House was the first). This book club is great, encouraging Scottish people to read books written by fellow Scots, often including Scot’s language. The host, Natalie is really welcoming and often manages to contact the authors to get involved in live chats which is an amazing way to learn more about the books! I’d recommend joining if you’re Scottish and have Instagram! 😊 Buddha Da is written in Glasgow dialect which I find really easy to follow being from there, but I would encourage anyone interested to try as it makes for a really authentic account of many Scottish lifestyles. I loved this book, the characters were incredibly likeable with great relationship dynamics, even if they made some annoying yet realistic decisions. This book focuses on the themes of identify/future and loss/grief, using Buddhist philosophies to contrast with an ‘ordinary’ Scottish family. This was so interesting, because a lot of Scottish culture, especially Glaswegian is about humour which can often lead to people hiding their feelings, particularly stereotypically males. This made for such a great character study of Jimmy, with interesting perspectives on the changes he makes and whether things like taking the time to meditate or ‘self help’ can actually become quite selfish if they cause you to distance yourself from the needs of others around you. I felt like the story is reflecting on being your own person whilst in a relationship and the ways in which burying sad emotions can lead to co-dependency. There were so many themes to reflect on and I’m excited to hear from Anne Donovan to learn more, as it’s semi-autobiographical. I’d definitely recommend this book (please let me know if you do read it and want help with any Scots phrases haha!)

Favourite/Meaningful quote:

‘Glasgow for it. That’s the gemm. Embra’s lovely, a great place for a day oot or a wee break but Glesga’s hame.’

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney (audiobook, new read)

‘‘Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend Eileen is getting over a break-up and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood. Alice, Felix, Eileen and Simon are still young – but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They worry about sex and friendship and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?’’ (Beautiful World synopsis)

I haven’t read too many Irish books, but I’ve loved each one that I have read, I think mainly because they feel like a conversation almost, they feel quite homely if that’s the right description by marking out the simple details of daily life without every feeling slow. I’ve listened to all of Sally Rooney’s books which has definitely helped my positive opinions because Irish accents are my favourite and listening adds to the feeling of a conversation unfolding. I listened to her other books a few years ago so I don’t remember how strongly I felt, but like most people I enjoyed Normal People a lot more. I think Beautiful World may now be my favourite of hers. Before I compliment this book too much, I do feel the need to say that the characters are a bit pretentious (why do they always go on a spontaneous holiday hahaha) and Rooney’s characters are definitely privileged with first world problems. I think it’s important to  keep this in mind whilst reading, but her story telling is excellent and I do always feel for the characters (I was more interested in one perspective than the other though). I think they are very self-aware and reflect on their own feelings of guilt whilst dealing with mental illness, so their more pretentious qualities are definitely written intentionally. I enjoyed that this book almost breaks the fourth wall, giving Rooney an opportunity to add in some commentary on her own experiences as an author and the controversy/opinions that come with becoming more well known. I also really liked the discussions surrounding technology and social media and their impact on the modern world, these really resonated with me as I do often find myself thinking about the impact of media and technology on my ability to communicate and my own self esteem. I think social media has made a lot of things easier for us, but left us with a lot more time to fill, a lot of room for negative comparisons and a lot of isolation and loneliness. I find these conversations so interesting, and I would love to read more books reflecting on social media (please let me know if you’ve read any!) Overall, I would recommend this, but as with all her books, prepare for her characters to be very white and privileged. I enjoyed the overall message being conveyed, the characters finding a sense of peace or meaning in the modern world that they have been blaming for the sense of feeling unfulfilled; I think unfulfilled or lost is something that lots of people are now experiencing. I also enjoyed the links to our own reality at the end of the book.

Favourite/Meaningful quote:

‘’do you ever experience a sort of diluted, personalised version of that feeling, as if your own life, your own world, has slowly but perceptibly become an uglier place? Or even a sense that while you used to be in step with the cultural discourse, you’re not anymore, and you feel yourself adrift from the world of ideas, alienated, with no intellectual home? Maybe it is about our specific historical moment, or maybe it’s just about getting older and disillusioned, and it happens to everyone… When we were young, we thought our responsibilities stretched out to encompass the earth and everything that lived on it.”

‘’It is hard in these circumstances not to feel that modern living compares poorly with the old ways of life, which have come to represent something more substantial, more connected to the essence of the human condition.”

Six Tudor Queens: Katharine Parr by Alison Weir (audiobook, new read)

‘’Two husbands dead, a boy and a sick man. And now Katharine is free to make her own choice. The ageing King’s eye falls upon her. She cannot refuse him… or betray that she wanted another. She becomes the sixth wife – a queen and a friend. Henry loves and trusts her. But Katharine is hiding another secret in her heart, a deeply held faith that could see her burn… KATHARINE PARR. HENRY’S FINAL QUEEN. HER STORY.’’ (Six tudor Queens synopsis)

I won’t write too much about this book as I’m mentioned most of this series in previous blog posts, but I love this series! These books were interesting, at least semi-factual and a great way to learn more about the Tudors from the perspective of the Queens. They are such easy reads which provide great satisfaction to know that you are learning more about history in such an interesting way! This wasn’t my favourite of the series (she definitely wasn’t the most dramatic queen haha) but I still loved it and would recommend reading! I listened to these books which made it easier to read any slow bits and helped the characters to really come to life. So happy to have found these books! 😊

The Sopranos by Alan Warner (eBook, new read)

‘’The choir from Our Lady of Perpetual Succour School for Girls is being bussed to the national finals in the big, big city. And it’s an important day for The Sopranos – Orla, Kylah, (Ra)Chell, Amanda Konky and Fionnula (the Cooler) – pub-crawling, shoplifting and body-piercing being the top priorities. Then it’s time to lose that competition – lose, because a nuclear sub has just anchored in the bay and, tonight, the Man Trap disco will be full of submariners on shore-leave. There is no time for delays…But after the fifth bottle of alco-pop up the back of the bus it’s clear that all is not going to plan, for anyone. The Sopranos are never going to be the same.’’ (The Sopranos synopsis)

This is such a strange one to write about because I watched the film (Our Ladies) and read this book, but I can’t really decide what I thought of either. I found something very intriguing about both, maybe because they are Scottish are I can’t resist a book in a setting I’m familiar with. The fact that I chose to read the book and watch the film suggests that I did like them, but it is more of a feeling of intrigue rather than enjoyment. I think, on reflection, that I maybe feel strange because this was written from the male gaze when it is a story about catholic schoolgirls, two or who are gay (btw, I’m always strangely satisfied when I instantly know someone’s gay, it really is like a superpower hahaha). I think the fact that it was written by a male and is over 20 years old has led to a slightly uncomfortable vibe surrounding this book although it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why. It felt almost like an Irvine Welsh counterpart for young teenage girls. I think I’ll end by saying I do like the book, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker (physical book, new read)

‘’Troy has fallen. The Greeks have won their bitter war. They can return home as victors – all they need is a good wind to lift their sails. But the wind has vanished, the seas becalmed by vengeful gods, and so the warriors remain in limbo – camped in the shadow of the city they destroyed, kept company by the women they stole from it.’’ (The Women of Troy synopsis)

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve now read quite a lot of Greek myth retellings, so I’ve become fussy with them. I was interested to read a story which focuses on the aftermath of the war as I most of the myths I have read focus on before or during. This was an interesting perspective on the aftermath, questioning the meaning and purpose that people are left to grapple with after conflict, and our nature as human beings to feel dissatisfaction; we often strive to achieve something only to be left with a sense of discontentment or peace, in exchange for a drive to move on the next thing that we think will give us a sense of purpose. The characters in this story are (very rightly) left feeling doubt, dissatisfaction and intense guilt following the events of the Trojan war. I think the reason I was let down a little was the marketing- recent myth retellings always emphasise the need for female voices and a feminist take. This book is marketed as a feminist retelling, literally emphasising this in it’s title, which left me a little frustrated when it often strayed away to focus on male characters, often switching to Neoptolemus’ perspective. This was not a problem in itself, but I get a bit bored of such marketing because it appears to become about selling books and looking progressive, rather than the actual content (if that makes sense). I was hoping to learn more about the Trojan women themselves and would love recommendations for books following these characters. I didn’t realise that this is almost a sequel to the Silence of the Girls so I would recommend reading/rereading this first, as I couldn’t remember much about Breseis’ relationship with Achilles and inner monologue in this retelling. I think I’d have taken more from this book had I read it directly after the Silence of the Girls. I also found it a little strange (again, maybe I’m just very fussy haha) that sometimes the phrases used by characters seemed very modern or took me out of the story. This therefore made it uncomfortable when the R slur was frequently used in a very derogatory manner towards certain characters. It felt very odd and wrong to use this slur, and I feel that due to the modern phrases used elsewhere, the time period of the story cannot be used as reasoning.  

Nightshift by Kiare Ladner (physical book, new read)

’When twenty-three-year-old Meggie meets distant and enigmatic Sabine, she recognizes in her the person she would like to be. Giving up her daytime existence, her reliable boyfriend, and the trappings of a normal life in favour of working the same nightshifts as Sabine could be the perfect escape for Meggie. She finds a liberating sense of freedom in indulging her growing preoccupation with Sabine and plunges herself into another existence, gradually immersing herself in the transient and uncertain world of the nightshift worker.’’ (Nightshift synopsis)

This is an example of when my ramblings about books suffer because I forget to take notes- I read this in the first couple of days of September and I’m coming to realise that I have a shocking memory haha. Nightshift is advertised as a thriller, which I typically don’t read, but I was intrigued because reviews I watched on YouTube referred to it as more of a character study, which I would, having now read it agree with. I always get so excited for spooky season and Halloween as soon as I see one Autumn leave haha, so this was definitely a good time to read the book! I found the character Sabine to be quite annoying to read (actually, I disliked them all haha) because she’s written as that stereotype of a narcissistic ‘manic pixie dream girl’ trope, but this was very purposeful and contributed to the characters dynamics and decisions. I don’t tend to have a problem with books with unlikeable characters so I don’t think the story suffered because of that. The book was very fast paced- I read it in a day- and interesting throughout but wasn’t a favourite of mine. I would give it a go if you read the synopsis and like the sound of it, but please know that it is definitely a character study rather than a thriller. It’s also very important to read the trigger warnings as there is an incredibly difficult chapter in this book!

Her New Best Friend by Penny Batchelor (physical book, new read)

‘’Mum-of-two Audrey is horrified when during a moment of distraction in the park, her pram with baby Wilfred in it rolls down the hill and into a pond. Fortunately for her, Claire Jones is nearby and rescues Wilfred, soothing Audrey and daughter Antonia with coffee and cake in a nearby café. No harm is done. However, the frightening experience dents Audrey’s confidence and she replays the events over and over, convinced she can’t have forgotten to put the brake on. To make matters worse she keeps spotting a shadowy figure everywhere she goes and becomes sure that someone is stalking her. Does Claire really have Audrey’s best interests at heart?’’ (Her new best friend synopsis)

This is the first book I’ve been sent to read by a publisher (guess I’m famous hahaha) which was so fun! Crime and thrillers aren’t a genre I ever really read, but it was good to read a book out of my comfort zone. I’m glad I did read it because when I do read thrillers, I remember how fast paced they are, and the story was interesting. I also really enjoyed reading an own voices account of disability, of which I’ve read few in the past and need to read more frequently. The only thing I didn’t particularly enjoy was that at times I thought it was slightly too fast paced in the sense that there was not enough time to build up the thrills or twists. I’m still going to continue my pace of reading a crime/thriller every 5 years or less haha, but I know that this is one of the most popular genres for readers so I would recommend this one if you do enjoy thrillers, particularly around the spooky season. 😊

This ended up being very long hahaha. Please let me know how you’ve been and what you’ve been reading! 😊 I would recommend looking up the Scottish Book club on Instagram, it’s great! Also, may as well plug my own haha, please follow me on carlybooks_ if you’re interested (Dusty my cat is a regular feature).

Books I read in July 2021

This is posted so last minute, mainly because this month I found out that I’ll be working from home for a year which is always something I’ve said I would absolutely hate hahaha. So, I took a while to process, but now trying to make the most of it and be thankful in a time where so many are struggling for work. In book related news, I remembered that libraries are a thing and once again opened, and I got so many good books to read! Honestly such a good resource, good for the planet and also a much-needed money saver, I love libraries! Also, looking at the list there are probably a few trigger warnings for most of the books I read, so please look them up before reading these books!

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (physical book, new read)

‘’It is 1981. Glasgow is dying and good families must grift to survive. Agnes Bain has always expected more from life. She dreams of greater things: a house with its own front door and a life bought and paid for outright (like her perfect, but false, teeth). But Agnes is abandoned by her philandering husband, and soon she and her three children find themselves trapped in a decimated mining town. As she descends deeper into drink, the children try their best to save her, yet one by one they must abandon her to save themselves. It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest. Shuggie is different. Fastidious and fussy, he shares his mother’s sense of snobbish propriety. The miners’ children pick on him and adults condemn him as no’ right. But Shuggie believes that if he tries his hardest, he can be normal like the other boys and help his mother escape this hopeless place.’’ (Shuggie Bain synopsis)

I always love reading new Scottish literature and I don’t shy away from harsh realities or bittersweet stories: I love Irvine Welsh’s writing for example. This story was so poignant and moving, made more impactful by the fact that I’ve been to most of the places. Whilst I’m lucky enough never to have lived in poverty, I recognise some of the elements of this Glaswegian lifestyle even in some of my older family members, as well as direct parallels to the lives of some of the children I have worked with. My favourite stories have themes of family, love, loss and grief and it felt so important to read a Glaswegian book with these themes. Whilst I’m extremely lucky never to have experienced the poverty so many Scottish people face, I related to Shuggies unconditional love of his family after losing my dad at a young age, and the impact of mental health, grief and love on family dynamics. I also enjoyed the interlinking LGBT themes and like to think that Shuggie will live a true and fulfilling life as his story continues. Such a poignant Scottish story!

Kitchen and Moonlight Shadow by Banana Yoshimoto (physical books, new read)

‘’Kitchen juxtaposes two tales about mothers, transsexuality, bereavement, kitchens, love and tragedy in contemporary Japan. It is a startlingly original first work by Japan’s brightest young literary star and is now a cult film. When Kitchen was first published in Japan in 1987 it won two of Japan’s most prestigious literary prizes, climbed its way to the top of the bestseller lists, then remained there for over a year and sold millions of copies. Banana Yoshimoto was hailed as a young writer of great talent and great passion whose work has quickly earned a place among the best of modern literature, and has been described as ‘the voice of young Japan’ by the Independent on Sunday.’’ (Kitchen synopsis)

I love Japanese literature so much, honestly can’t even explain what it is about it but it’s so dreamy yet so focused on almost mundane details. This book focuses on themes that I’ve found to be key in the Japanese stories I’ve read- grief and relationships, but whether it’s the writing, translation or philosophies surrounding these books, such common themes just feel so different, magical and new compared to a number of British or American books I’ve read. This book is quite sensory as we follow the main character around at their daily pace, for example, hearing her slow thoughts on the weather, things she’s eating, furniture she sees, but I never felt bored because I felt immersed in her story and surroundings. I don’t think some of the terms used to describe the transgender character are now appropriate at this time, but I loved the interactions between the characters and ways in which the themes were explored.

As this book is so short, it featured another novella at the end called Moonlight Shadow, which again focuses on themes of grief. I actually think I preferred this story. I loved how dreamlike it was and the characters written- it almost felt like the episode of Black Mirror called ‘Be Right Back’ which I also loved. Sadly, I read it a while ago now and can’t remember more (need to stop being so lazy with blog posts haha) but I usually hate novellas and short stories, so the fact that I loved this so much sums up how I feel about Yoshimoto’s writing. I’d love to read more from her, if you have please recommend any of her books that you like! 😊

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (physical book, new read)

‘’It is July 1962. Edward and Florence, young innocents married that morning, arrive at a hotel on the Dorset coast. At dinner in their rooms they struggle to suppress their private fears of the wedding night to come…’’ (On Chesil Beach synopsis)

Before I start, since reading this I’m sure I’ve heard something about Ian McEwan having a transphobic past? I’m not sure what happened, but it’s definitely not something I condone or want to align myself with. As with so many others, this will sadly have to be a case of separating the art from the artist. I think I’ve read three of his books now and enjoy the themes of morality/ethical questions, and the way that these are weaved throughout the story we’re learning so that we reach the end of each book contemplating our own stances and opinions. With sex and sexuality as a key theme of this story, I’ve read reviews where it has brought up interesting discussions and reflections surrounding asexuality; some readers believe that the main character is asexual, some believe that past trauma has instead impacted her reactions, and others discuss the point that for some (not all, of course!) a person can experience trauma and be asexual. Trauma and asexuality definitely don’t have to be linked, and this link can be very damaging for what is already a very misunderstood sexuality. I’m finding it hard to really vocalise what I mean here; I think what I’m trying to say is that unfortunately lots of people who dismiss other sexualities than their own often reject asexuality (or being gay) as a real sexuality and assume that it is a ‘choice or response’ as a result of trauma. I think this results in these sexualities being dismissed or diminished, and I also think that it can make it difficult for asexual people who’ve experienced trauma to discuss their trauma without fear that ignorant people will state that this ‘explains’ their sexuality. Asexuality is real and valid, and definitely not a ‘problem’ or ‘trauma response’.

Anyway, I really hope I articulated what I meant to say properly there, I did not mean to ramble but I like books that make me think and that evoke strong discussions. Other than that, however, I found this book quite boring and didn’t really connect to/like the characters. I’m honestly starting to think I should avoid books set in this time period haha because I always seem to be complaining! I would like to see the film though, I love Saoirse Ronan as an actress and feel like she would bring the character to life 😊

The Returnees by Elizabeth Okoh (physical book, new read)

‘’After a bad break up, 25-year-old Osayuki Isahosa leaves behind everything she holds dear in London to return to Lagos, Nigeria: a country she hasn’t set foot in for many years. Drawn by the transformations happening in the fashion industry in the city, she accepts a job at House of Martha as their Head of PR. While waiting at Milan airport for her connecting flight to Lagos she meets Cynthia Okoye and Kian Bajo. After the plane lands at the Lagos airport, they all go their separate ways but their lives will intertwine again and change the course of their lives forever.’’ (The returnees synopsis)

This book was very fast paced with fairly likeable characters, so for this reason is was a quick and easy read. Unfortunately, though I got bored quite quickly and felt like the story lacked something. I can’t tell if this is YA or pitched at adults, maybe that’s why I felt this way (although, some YA books are incredibly detailed and interesting). I really enjoyed learning more about different parts of Nigeria and Nigerian culture, something I knew very little about before. I think, however, what frustrated was really interesting elements were touched upon but never given depth or detail; for example, the characters mention the stereotypes they perceived about Nigeria before living there, and the ways in which people of colour can experience negative perceptions or isolation on returning to their birth country after moving and being perceived as being ‘Westernised’. I’d love to have read a book focusing on these issues, however, a lot of the story instead focused on some elements that I never really like such an insta love, relationships that feel co-dependent and some twists that were not very surprising. I’m sure lots of people loved this book and enjoyed the main themes but sadly I am always very critical of insta-love tropes, maybe because I am a cat lady hahaha. If you have read any books focusing on the elements that I did find interesting, please let me know! 😊

Georgia Nicholson books 1 and 2 by Louise Rennison (e-books, reread)

‘’Brilliantly funny, teenage angst author Louise Rennison’s first book about the confessions of crazy but lovable Georgia Nicolson. Now repackaged in a gorgeous new paperback and looking even fabber than ever. Louise is an international bestselling author and her books can’t fail to make you laugh out loud. Follow Georgia’s hilarious antics as she tries to overcome the dilemma’s that are weighing up against her, and muddle her way through teenage life and all that it entails: how to replace accidentally shaved-off eyebrows; how to cope with Angus, her small labrador-sized Scottish wildcat; her first kiss with Peter – afterwards known as Whelk Boy; annoying teachers; unsympathetic friends and family, and how to entice Robbie the Sex God! Phew – she’s really got her work cut out!’’ (Angus, thongs synopsis)

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again- sign of my impending breakdown: childhood books hahaha. These, like many others of the time have not aged well, but I love the nostalgia and the way these books bring me back to some of the funny times me and my friends had in our early teen years (although I was very shy and awkward, my diary would not have made a good book series!). I read these through the kindle app, and if you haven’t I’d honestly recommend reading some of the silliest books on public transport through the inconspicuous comfort of your phone haha (this is how I got away with reading 50 shades in public when I was about 15).

I always leave these blogs too long and think I’ll have no thoughts then I end up absolutely rambling hahaha. I think my favourites this month were Kitchen/Moonlight Shadow and Shuggie Bain. I hope you’re well, please let me know what you’ve been reading or what you’d recommend- I genuinely love reading comments and learning about more books haha. Also, if you do comment, I’d be interested to know where you live (in a non-creepy way, more of a how far across the world are those of you I’m talking to hahaha).

Books I read in June 2021

Pandora’s Jar by Natalie Haynes (physical book, new read)

‘’In Pandora’s Jar: Women in the Greek Myths, Natalie Haynes redresses imbalance. Taking Pandora and her jar (the box came later) as the starting point, she puts the women of the Greek myths on equal footing with the menfolk. After millennia of stories telling of gods and men, be they Zeus or Agamemnon, Paris or Odysseus, Oedipus or Jason, the voices that sing from these pages are those of Hera, Athena and Artemis, and of Clytemnestra, Jocasta, Eurydice and Penelope.’’ (Pandora’s Jar synopsis)

I’ve previously read some of Haynes myth retellings and was sad to feel a bit detached whilst reading. I did, however, still want to read this book and I’m so glad I did because I really loved it, I think it could be in my favourites of the year! 😊 It felt to me like reading a podcast which I loved, it was easy to read, well written and always interesting. I love learning more through books and feel excited when I start to retain more knowledge about the many (MANY) characters in mythology, and it was great to learn more in this book, particularly about the amazons- I’d previously only really known a little about Penthesilea’s death and taken the rest from Wonder Woman- and Medea, who’s story is so horrifying and interesting. I also enjoyed Haynes references to pop culture throughout as they never felt like too much or brought me out of the book- I’d really recommend listening to Lemonade whilst reading Medea’s chapter! This book has intrigued me to read more non-fiction about these myths from different perspectives, please let me know if you’ve read any good books in this category!

Witches, Warriors, Women: Mythology’s Fiercest Females, written by Kate Hodges and illustrated by Harriot Lee Merrion (physical book, new read)

‘’From feminist fairies to bloodsucking temptresses, half-human harpies and protective Vodou goddesses, these are women who go beyond long-haired, smiling stereotypes. Their stories are so powerful, so entrancing, that they have survived for millennia. Lovingly retold and updated, Kate Hodges places each heroine, rebel and provocateur fimly at the centre of their own narrative. Players include:Bewitching, banished Circe, an introvert famed and feared for her transfigurative powers. The righteous Furies, defiantly unrepentant about their dedication to justice. Fun-loving Ame-no-Uzume who makes quarrelling friends laugh and terrifies monsters by flashing at them. The fateful Morai sisters who spin a complex web of birth, life and death.’’ (Witches synopsis)

This was my second mythology-based non-fiction book of the month, and it filled with short, illustrated character accounts. I bought this online from Edinburgh’s social justice book shop ‘Lighthouse’ after reading about the racially charged and homophobic abuse staff were dealing with, resulting in the shop temporarily closing; if you can, please support their shop! I enjoyed this book and the accompanying illustrations, although they weren’t my personal art style, I prefer really bright colours and patterns. It wasn’t my favourite book of the month, however, it was an interesting read and it was good to learn more about Scottish myths! I’d like to continue to learn about Celtic and Scottish mythology. 😊

Theogony and Works and Days by Hesiod (physical books, new reads)

‘’Hesiod belongs to the transitional period in Greek civilization between the oral tradition and the introduction of a written alphabet. His two major surviving works, the Theogony and the Works and Days, address the divine and the mundane, respectively. The Theogony traces the origins of the Greek gods and recounts the events surrounding the crowning of Zeus as their king. A manual of moral instruction in verse, the Works and Days was addressed to farmers and peasants.’’ (Theogony & Works and Days synopsis)

I do not know how I ended up owning this, which means I probably borrowed/stole it from my sister who has a random assortment of books from her literature degree haha. I tend not to like plays unless watching them as a play, especially those written long ago as the writing can frazzle my brain a bit. However, I was on a mythology binge and this was in my flat so here we are. These plays are so famous and studied so often that I know they are important, however, I am not their target reader and I found them very, very boring so I’m just going to leave this here.

Song of Achilles and Circe by Madeline Miller (physical books, rereads)

My last blog post is basically a love letter rambling about these books, so I won’t go into them here but I’d be thankful for anyone who’d like to read that post or comment your own thoughts about these books on it 😊

My Policeman by Bethan Roberts (physical book, new reads)

‘’It is in 1950’s Brighton that Marion first catches sight of Tom. He teaches her to swim, gently guiding her through the water in the shadow of the city’s famous pier and Marion is smitten–determined her love alone will be enough for them both. A few years later near the Brighton Museum, Patrick meets Tom. Patrick is besotted, and opens Tom’s eyes to a glamorous, sophisticated new world of art, travel, and beauty. Tom is their policeman, and in this age it is safer for him to marry Marion and meet Patrick in secret. The two lovers must share him, until one of them breaks and three lives are destroyed.’’ (My Policeman synopsis)

I loved the idea of this book, and I was very intrigued to read it. Sadly, I didn’t find this book very interesting, and it was quite a challenge to get through. This led me to think about this is more detail as I eventually dnf’d ‘The Paying Guests’ earlier this year as well as reading but feeling bored and disappointed by ‘Carol’. All three of these books are set in the early/middle 1900’s, and all three are centred around gay/bi characters. I’ve loved books set in this type period before, for example, ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’ which is one of my favourites. When reflecting on why I loved this as opposed to the others, I concluded that Crimson Petal is so vivid, passionately written and features dimensional characters. It also features themes that were particularly taboo for this time period, for example, prostitution, but Faber did not shy away from these themes and instead brought them to life, vividly highlighting the hardships and impact on the characters wellbeing. The other books I’ve mentioned, including My Policeman felt flat in comparison. I think the nature of this conservative time period can often mean that the characters can be written in a way which feels stilted. This works well in reflecting the constraints of the time, however, can- for me- make the reading experience feel flat and a bit glum. I think this explains why I am often disappointed by historical fiction set in this time period. Interestingly (to me, probably not to anyone else because I’m just rambling hahaha), I don’t feel this way whilst watching historical fiction of this time period. I love Downton Abbey and Titanic, for example, so it maybe that my imagination is lacking when reading.

In reflecting back, I also feel like I struggled with these books due to the exploration of life as an LGBT person in the early-middle 1900’s. I am always looking for LGBT representation and I appreciate that these stories reflect the risk, stress, homophobia and taboo surrounding being gay. I am thankful that these authors choose to write inclusively. I think, however, I’ve read enough depressing LGBT stories now that I just want to read happy or at least more positive depictions of gay relationships. I think in coming to accept my own sexuality, I already deal with internalised homophobia and feel the weight of current LGBT issues. Reading about them is therefore quite draining and weighs on me, although I acknowledge that it’s so important. I’m therefore going to avoid LGBT accounts in historical fiction for a while, and I’d love if you could comment any positive, happy LGBT books which you have read. 😊 (Sorry, I did not plan for such a tangent here haha!) Ps. I do think Harry Styles is a great choice, and think he has the charisma to play the character well in the film adaptation!

Everyday Activism: How to Change the World in Five Minutes, One Hour or a day by Rachel England (physical book, new read)

‘’This inspiring, easy-to-use guide will help kickstart any activist’s journey. From supporting independent businesses and amplifying marginalised voices, to community gardening and giving to a food bank, there’s something you can do to make a positive change – whether you have a day, an hour, or just five minutes to spare.’’ (Everyday Activism synopsis)

I found this by chance is a bookshop this month and read it in one sitting; this is an easy read with some interesting, positive reflections and ideas for activism. Some are common sense, but all were interesting and very achievable small ways to make a difference. I’m sure there are more advanced or nuanced books of this genre, as well as some books on activism which are far more diverse. I’d love to read these in the future and try to actively work to make positive change, but this book was an interesting starting point! 😊

Thank you for reading, especially as I accidentally rambled lots haha! I’d love any recommendations based on the books I’ve been reading, and I’d love to know what you have been reading recently. I hope you’re well! 😊

My love of Madeline Miller- Circe and The Song of Achilles

After rereading Circe and Song of Achilles this month I felt like I wanted a rambling little post to remember the way I feel about these books. Apart from a few books I vaguely remember years ago, Madeline Miller’s were the first Greek myth retellings I read. I first read Circe in summer 2019, choosing it without knowing anything about it firstly for the beautiful cover and then because it mentioned Greece where I was lucky enough to be going on holiday. So, on a beach in Crete feeling truly enveloped in the setting, I started the book which has spiralled me into an intense mythological fascination. I’m lucky enough to now own over 20 mythological books and I think I’ve read over 30, with each bringing more intrigue rather than any sort of feeling that I’ve ‘overdone’ it.

I absolutely love rereading books, arguably more than reading new books. As a nostalgic, semi-routine enjoying person, my favourite books bring feelings of comfort and warmth (almost said joy but I will leave the Christmas ramblings for another couple of months). Within two years, I’m usually ready to reread an old book and bring myself back into the memories and emotions that came with it. A year plus of a pandemic and two years in Scottish weather have undoubtedly contributed to my desire to reread Circe, a book which I now associate with the warmth and sea breeze of its origin country.

Madeline Miller has received lots and lots of praise and hype, which in her case I think is truly deserved. To explain why, I’ll now try to get on to the actual books and stop the rambling. Paralleling the order in which I originally read them, I’ll start with Circe:

Circe

‘’In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. Circe is a strange child – not powerful and terrible, like her father, nor gorgeous and mercenary like her mother. Scorned and rejected, Circe grows up in the shadows, at home in neither the world of gods or mortals. But Circe has a dark power of her own: witchcraft. When her gift threatens the gods, she is banished to the island of Aiaia where she hones her occult craft, casting spells, gathering strange herbs and taming wild beasts. Yet a woman who stands alone will never be left in peace for long – and among her island’s guests is an unexpected visitor: the mortal Odysseus, for whom Circe will risk everything. So Circe sets forth her tale, a vivid, mesmerizing epic of family rivalry, love and loss – the defiant, inextinguishable song of woman burning hot and bright through the darkness of a man’s world.’’ (Circe synopsis)

The writing in Circe flows so well. It’s beautiful and intricate, feeling very detailed and powerful whilst also being very easy to read: my favourite mix. Whilst focusing on Circe, her story weaves in other myths and we meet different famous or infamous characters. This felt interesting and natural to me, where it sometimes felt forced in other retellings. I’ve mentioned before that whilst I enjoyed some retellings including Ariadne, they felt almost stretched- as though they tried to do too much with too little source material. Miller manages to create full and meaningful depictions that interested and engaged me whilst feeling almost real in a way (this is a good time to mention that these are all my own random lil opinions and not necessarily correct). I love that in Circe, Greek terms and words are used (I was going to say that the reader learns Greek words, but I have a shocking memory for languages) and that so many of my favourite books are taken from Greek mythologies. For example, in my blog post called A Song of Ice and Fire Norse and Greek mythology parallels, I noted the parallels between GRRM’s Cersei and the Circe in this story. These were only basic thoughts and parallels from the endless ones to be found. I think parallels are one of the reasons I love mythology so much; rather than feeling frustrated that I’ll never realise them all, I love knowing that I’ll learn new things and feel excited every day I read a retelling.

Song of Achilles

‘’Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their differences, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’s mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.’’ (Song of Achilles synopsis)

Being the second myth retelling that I read (and remember), this book was my first experience of the Trojan War. I will say, this led to me feeling quite disillusioned about Achilles when I then went on to read any other account of his personality hahaha. I am glad to note that Patroclus remains one of the few genuinely good characters in any depictions he features in, I love him. Throughout this story I really felt the urgency, passion and struggle that these characters experience and whilst I didn’t cry, I felt very moved by Patroclus and Achilles story; I also love a book that really makes me feel the tension that the characters are feeling, and the cave parts of this book did it so well. Maybe I’m biased, but while I appreciate all retellings, I far prefer the stories that depict Patroclus and Achilles as a couple, and I do feel that the source material heavily hints this. Accounts that deny these characters as lovers give me strong ‘historians will say they were good friends’ vibe hahaha.

I love Miller’s narrative choices- whilst featuring some of the most famous characters, namely Odysseus and Achilles, she chooses to read about the lesser known or rather lesser heard characters of Circe and Patroclus and gives them such a full, interesting voice. Miller may almost romanticise characters, but in a mythological world of absolute horrors, I appreciate these depictions; particularly as these myths are just that- stories passed down for us to imagine and reimagine.

Themes and comparison

 On both first read and reread I’ve binged Miller’s books one after the other, which naturally leads me to compare and wonder which is my favourite. The answer is that I truly cannot decide. Both times, I’ve tentatively said that Song of Achilles just has the edge, but I genuinely feel that this is just because it was fresher in my mind. I love both for such different reasons and feel that they compliment each other almost as a duology. I will say that at times both felt slightly slow on my first read- Circe because it spans such a long time and Achilles because of such a heavy war plot. On rereading, I didn’t experience this feeling at all and read both books over 4 days. I think this is because I now have a better knowledge of the myths and endless characters featuring throughout. Despite saying this, I would 100% recommend these books as a starting place into the world of Greek mythology.

The pacing and writing style is something that I found very interesting whilst reading; Miller’s writing has objectively improved by Circe- whilst still being very accessible, it’s much more intricate than Song of Achilles. I do, however, think this is almost done purposefully; Circe is a complex Goddess with eons of time to pace out her life and develop her craft. She is also frequently lonely and lost. The pacing of this story heavily reflects Circe’s mindset and the timespan it follows- at times peaceful, at others almost stilted. The latter part, for example, felt more frantic to me and fast paced as Circe raised her restless, energetic mortal son. Song of Achilles, felt in comparison urgent and fast paced- for lack of another phrase, it felt very human. The characters are passionate and young and energetic, whilst facing the philosophies of a good life, and the loss and grief that comes with the prophesised early death. In saying that, the writing style also parallels Patroclus- human and simplistic as opposed to Circe’s intricate wisdom. I cannot decide which I liked more, I just hope I am projecting how much I truly love these books and would recommend them.

I was also very interested in the themes of humanity throughout both books. Whilst feeling so different and focusing on very different life experiences, both books centre around humanity and what it feels to be human, or at least what it feels to find a purpose in life. I loved Circe’s inner monologues depicting the Gods and her own distance towards her immortality, ultimately choosing her own life and embracing the paradoxical simplistic yet vivid and vital human life span.

I thought once that gods are the opposite of death, but I see now they are more dead than anything, for they are unchanging, and can hold nothing in their hands.”

This contrasts Achilles, and therefore Patroclus choice to forgo a peaceful life to engage in ‘heroic’ acts and the form of immortality that surrounds them. These books have philosophical undertones due to Miller’s choice to write from the perspective of very thoughtful, very human characters. It is this that has led to these stories becoming some of my favourites; themes of humanity, purpose, life and loss are always my favourites.

“True. But fame is a strange thing. Some men gain glory after they die, while others fade. What is admired in one generation is abhorred in another.” “We cannot say who will survive the holocaust of memory.’’

“I think: this is what I will miss. I think: I will kill myself rather than miss it. I think: how long do we have?”

I genuinely put off writing this because I wasn’t sure what I would say and now I have absolutely rambled on, hahaha. Thank you so much if you’ve read all of this, please let me know your own thoughts on these books. I’ll end by saying, Miller has become one of my favourite writers because she introduced me to mythology and I’ve yet to find a retelling that I’ve enjoyed or felt more from than hers. I loved experiencing these stories the first time and learning; I now love them in a different way. Rereading was so exciting because I know understand the references, know more about the characters and I can see what I’ve learned. These books reignited my love of learning in a way that I haven’t felt in a long time. Things like Uni didn’t really work for me. I’m not an academic, whilst I got the degree, I genuinely cannot think of much I learned from Uni due to the nature of cramming for exams and writing essays on areas I didn’t find interesting. Reading is a greater form of learning for me personally, and in mythology I’ve found books that match my personality and interests exactly- comfort and familiarity of a world and characters I’m starting to know, whilst always allowing for new material and things to learn.

Books I read in April 2021

Klara and the sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (new read, physical book)

‘From her place in the store, Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, watches carefully the behaviour of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass in the street outside. She remains hopeful a customer will soon choose her, but when the possibility emerges that her circumstances may change for ever, Klara is warned not to invest too much in the promises of humans.’ (Klara and the Sun synopsis)

I was excited to hear that this what coming out as I loved Never Let Me Go and hope to read more of Ishiguro’s books. I love that Ishiguro’s writing is almost plain and simplistic but very compelling too, it was really refreshing to have such an easy literary fiction experience, especially after the brain frazzling world of Murakami. It was so interesting to have Klara as a narrator and see the world from her perspective, as it creates elements of mystery for the reader and made me curious and eager to learn more. Klara’s relationship with the Manager and the Sun were really interesting as they almost take the form of a mother and a relationship with a God. As with Never Let Me Go, something in the writing style stopped the book for being as emotive for me as lots of people find them, but that hasn’t stopped his books from being favourites. I like feeling almost distance whilst still being engaged as this doesn’t often happen, and I think this leaves me more space to really reflect on the philosophy and the questions posed. I also loved how quick this book was to read and feel like I get the most from his books when I read them in just one or two go’s.  I’d definitely recommend this and Never Let Me Go, but please try to learn as little as possible about them before reading! 😊

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow (new read, audiobook)

‘The Other Bennet Sister shows another side to Mary. An introvert in a family of extroverts; a constant disappointment to her mother who values beauty above all else; fearful of her father’s sharp tongue; with little in common with her siblings – is it any wonder she turns to books for both company and guidance? And, if she finds her life lonely or lacking, that she determines to try harder at the one thing she can be: right.’ (The Other Bennet Sister synopsis)

I really liked the idea of this book, and the writing was amazing; at no point did it feel like fan-fiction or take you out of the world, it honestly felt like a companion to Pride and Prejudice. I enjoyed learning more about Mary and reading about her perspective, however, at times the extent of her self-deprecation and melancholy made this feel like quite a long book to get through. I understand that this was necessary, as Mary has experienced so much neglect and emotional abuse throughout her life. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy this book, I just felt that it was too long for me to feel that I loved it. Also, I just reread Pride and Prejudice at the end of last year, and due to the amazing writing style, this felt so similar that it was maybe too soon for me to listen to this book and get the most from it. I did find that I was more invested and interested in the later chapters, which I listened to over a couple of days. I always feel this way about audiobooks; listening to them frequently and quickly usually means I enjoy the book more, and for this reason I don’t really feel like my opinions are always truly reflective. Overall, I found this interesting and really enjoyed being back in this world, reading about a character who really didn’t get enough time or credit in Pride and Prejudice. I would recommend this, although I did feel it to be a little long at times.

Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian by Rick Riordan (new read, physical book)

‘Normally when you turn sixteen you get a really cool present. But, being sixteen and the son of Poseidon can never be that simple. So instead, I get a prophecy that says the fate of the entire world on my shoulders. Great. On top of that, Kronos, Lord of the Titans, is attacking New York City and the dreaded monster Typhon is heading our way. So, it’s me and forty of my demi-god friends versus untold evil. Happy birthday to me!’ (The Last Olympian synopsis)

Somehow, after reading (and loving) the series for the first time last year I managed to forget to read the last one hahaha. I didn’t remember too much before going into this, but for once that meant I was thankful for the middle grade trait of constantly recounting the previous books in the first chapter. I love this series, the characters are funny, kindhearted and a bit chaotic, the plot is always interesting (although I’m too lazy for fight scenes haha so I’d genuinely just prefer a book of them all dancing about camp half blood) and the myths are woven in so well for children, interesting enough that it never feels like a school lesson. I know that Percy has dyslexia and ADHD, which is something Riordan has written for children to relate to. I was thinking about this while reading, and I’ve noticed that these books and constantly full of twists, turns and actions; I think this was done purposefully to engage children with ADHD who would maybe otherwise find reading to be a chore. I think this was such a clever idea! I think this series is particularly good as I often find middle grade boring, but I was interested throughout despite reading these aged 24/25. 😊 Having read Harry Potter countless times throughout childhood, I definitely feel a stronger connection to those books (although I’m having trouble with she who must not be named), but I think Percy Jackson is such a good engaging and exciting series for children. 😊

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes (new read, physical book)

‘Married to brothers Johnny, Ed and Liam Casey. Three very different women tied to three very different men. Every family occasion is a party – until the day the secrets spill out.’ (Grown Ups synopsis)

I don’t know if every country has an Asda, but it’s always one of my favourite places to buy books, they have such good deals on and I come out with incredibly random selections of funny warm hearted books. I enjoyed this book as it was really easy to read and I liked the characters who were written too be liked as well as disliking those who weren’t. I would love to learn more about Ireland and visit it, and I enjoyed the Irish words and humour throughout (some is very similar to Glaswegian!). However, at times this book felt a bit long (I feel like I’m saying this about lots of things recently, maybe it’s just my pandemic mindset haha). I also think it’s really important to mention that this is advertised as funny and light-hearted; quite a significant plot point follows a character suffering from an eating disorder, which I really didn’t realise going into it. Family members close to me have dealt with eating disorders and I find it really difficult to read about them. I think it’s therefore important that books advertised in such a way acknowledge the triggers as I felt very upset and a bit overwhelmed whilst reading. Saying that, I acknowledge that I read lots of books with dark themes, many of which others may find triggering, and my emotions whilst reading this book probably wouldn’t be felt as strongly by some others. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about in the marketing of books. Anyway, this is otherwise quite funny and an easy read, so I’d recommend it for anyone who enjoys family themes.

A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll (new read, physical book)

‘A Kind of Spark tells the story of 11-year-old Addie as she campaigns for a memorial in memory of the witch trials that took place in her Scottish hometown. Addie knows there’s more to the story of these ‘witches’, just like there is more to hers. Can Addie challenge how the people in her town see her, and her autism, and make her voice heard?’ (A Kind of Spark synopsis)

As I said above, I sadly don’t really enjoy middle grade or children’s books unless I read them as a child. I can find these books quite boring at times. For this reason, I like to focus on how I feel the intended reader may find these books instead. I bought this book to read to my classes in the future and to pass on to children who enjoy reading, and this book was chosen for a number of reasons- the narrator is an autistic female and is this book is very importantly written by a neurodivergent author. Very little is known about autism in girls and the ways in can present in some individuals due to a lack of research and girls tendency to be very good at masking. I therefore think this book is so important in reading diverse voices, especially for children. The plot is interesting and touching, and I’m excited to have lots of conversations with my older classes regarding the themes of this book. I should also say I’m always more intrigued to buy anything Scottish, I am pretty biased haha! I’d definitely recommend this book for children, and adults who enjoy middle grade. 😊

Thank you for reading, I hope you’re well! 🙂 Please let me know what you’ve been reading. Also, please recommend anyone who writes like Ishiguro, I love his writing 🙂

Christmas wellbeing

I just wanted to write really quickly to say that I know in what has been a very difficult year, Christmas will feel very hard for most people. I hope you’re able to stay positive, things will get better soon x

If you are struggling please feel free to speak to me and I’ll try to help if I can. Please always always seek professional support, for example if you live in the UK:

Samaritan 116 123

CALM 0800 58 58 58

YoungMinds 0800 018 2138

ChildLine 088 1111

I love reading, singing and painting to try to distract myself when I can, singing is something that I’ve always found particularly soothing and it brings me so much joy (even if I’m not the best), I love being able to find small joyful moments in the day

Rereading the Hunger Games trilogy (spoiler: one of my favourite book series’)

The Hunger games

I decided to reread the Hunger Games this month for a number of reasons- I reread my favourite book series’ around every two years (I love rereading, it’s a problem haha), The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is causing a lot of Hunger Games discussions which really made me want to reread, and I’ve found that there is something strangely entertaining about reading dystopian during a lockdown (in a very odd, dark way).  I first read this series when I was around 14 or 15, without any expectations as I hadn’t heard about the series until my friend recommended it (thank you)- it’s strange to think about the extent to which a film franchise can influence the popularity of a book. I definitely think reading this series before the film came out gave me an advantage; I was able to objectively form opinions and I was unprepared for the depth of emotion and the attachment I developed to these characters whilst reading. I’d just like to say that this is not an academic analysis or review or these books, more so a stream of consciousness so that I can ramble about my thoughts and the emotions I experienced whilst reading. I’ll also say here that I typically do not like YA books and a number of their tropes, however, I would class this series as a favourite, and I think it’s beautiful. P.s. sorry this is a long one, also there will be spoilers.

Relationships:

I think I should first address the love triangle: it’s a standard trope in YA that I usually hate, but I think it works in this story. The format of the story and the situations that drive the characters actions and decisions allow the ‘love triangle’ to feel natural and true. A large part of Katniss’ story arc is initially feeling like a pawn of the capital with the burden that is thrust upon her. Katniss’ relationship arcs with both Gale and Peeta make sense within the context of the story and are very interesting in understanding Katniss’ character and the influence of this dystopian society. When I read the Hunger Games for the first time, I was ‘team Gale’ due to the similarities between Gale and Katniss, their pre-hunger games connection and I just liked him more overall. However, I think this was just to get away from the popular opinion haha, and even on first read, the love triangle was definitely not the forefront of my mind; these books are about character and identity, with love and relationships developing as a natural outcome of these themes. I love that the ‘romance’ has been written in this way and I’ll talk more about this when I think about Mockingjay. I love the metaphors and illusions to hope, life and future that are associated with Peeta, creating a subtle (in comparison to a number of YA books) depiction of Katniss’ connection to Peeta before their relationship begins. Peeta personifies safety, warmth and assurance for Katniss who would have been open to these qualities had she not been forced into such a horrific situation.

No one has held me like this in such a long time. Since my father died and I stopped trusting my mother, no one else’s arms have made me feel this safe.’ (Hunger Games pg. 363)

Characterisation and themes of grief/loss:

I don’t know if I feel more sensitive or ‘connected’ to books during this time of lockdown, but I instantly felt a strange sense of emotion and nostalgia when I started reading this book. I’ve spent a lot of time in woods and forests, and whilst I’ve definitely not been hunting or sleeping in trees, I’ve felt more connected to nature (I’ve always loved nature but a benefit of this time is experiencing it more deeply). I love birdsongs and I’ve been thinking and the importance of birds and nature within this story. I recently read Jen Campbells Instagram story (she’s a writer and talks about books on youtube), where she filmed a beautiful 5am sunrise in an isolated forest with birdsong and wildlife. Jen heard a bird mimicking an ambulance siren in a haunting and sad moment. This contrast of beautiful untouched nature, and the difficult experiences of human life was very emotional and reminded me of The Hunger Games, where the environment creates a peaceful escape for Katniss even within the confines and struggles of her lifestyle. I think in character I’m closer to Peeta than Katniss, and even more so Prim (although I’m not as kind, I think it’d be hard to be), however, I identify with Katniss’ independence and almost closed off nature that has been heavily influenced by the loss of her father (in writing a collection of my thoughts, this may become a bit deep at times). My dad passed away when I was 11 and the portrayal of grief and loss throughout this series is one of the main reasons it resonates so closely with me; I find Collins depiction of grief to be incredibly realistic and allows me to identify with the very real characters, even in such a dramatic story. I relate to Katniss’ sense of independence and extremely close relationship to her family (as well as her drive to look after and protect them)- I think it is extremely realistic to assume that these qualities would drive Katniss after the death of her father. Katniss’ sense of identity is primarily focused on her adoption of her father’s role as a hunter and provider for the family. Collins often emphasises the similarities between Prim and her mother, whilst Katniss has her father’s traits and favours her father. I think this is important is understanding her actions and sense of identity. This is also very important in understand Katniss’ relationship with Gale. Gale’s own grief is expressed as anger and rooted in the past. I feel that Katniss ultimately could not find peace in the future if she was to be with Gale, his anger has become so that it makes a large part of who he is- evident in Mockingjay during the rebellion without the confines of the Capitol.

I glance over at Gales face, still smouldering underneath his stony expression. His rage seems pointless to me, although I never say so. It’s not that I don’t agree with him. I do. But what good is yelling about the Capitol in the middle of the woods? It doesn’t change anything.. I let him yell though. Better he does it in the woods that in the district.’ (Hunger Games pg. 17)

I feel that several books, particularly in the ‘chosen one’ genre have the loss of a parent or carer as an adverse experience driving the main character, however, this loss is never mentioned again. Similarly, the main character will often experience a loss in the middle of a series, to move the plot forward and create character development. I feel that The Hunger Games deals with grief more authentically and Katniss’ memories of her dad are interwoven into the story in a very natural way, influencing her sense of identity and relationships (Katniss’ somewhat unconscious struggle to feel safe and let people in is a very important aspect in her dynamic with Peeta throughout the trilogy). I’ll reflect more on the themes on loss and grief in Mockingjay (after I cry for several hours haha) but I truly admire Collins ability to create a perfect, authentic tone.

Writing style:

I really enjoy the simple writing style and structured format of these books. It can’t be described as calming due to the subject matter, however, I find the format almost satisfying: Katniss deals with the immediate problem, breaks it down and finds a solution. This format ensures that the book is fast paced, interesting and easy to read. I also feel that this approach to problem solving matches Katniss’ instincts as a hunter, and therefore feels like the narration is personalised; it feels like the writing structure is reflective of Katniss’ character and role specifically, rather than a generic narrator. This writing style also creates fast paced storytelling and gets across the message of the story quickly and powerfully.

Identity:

I noticed in rereading that identity appears to be the key theme and is driven by the element’s safety vs. rebellion and family/relationships. Another element of this series that makes it a favourite for me is the fact that these characters are real multi-dimensional people aiming to find a purpose and dealing with the emotions that life brings; the dystopian setting and plot of the games feels secondary to me, but this setting has been used as a device to reflect upon the influence of society, culture and safety on a person’s identity and happiness. I find this incredibly interesting, and coupled with the attachment to the characters, this story is one that really stays with the reader (for the most part any way, I’m sure some people don’t like these books). I think themes of identity are set up in the Hunger Games and are explored more deeply in the next two books.

For the first time, I allow myself to truly think about the possibility that I might make it home.. No fear of hunger. A new kind of freedom. But then…what? Most of it has been consumed with the acquisition of food. Take that away and I’m not really sure who I am, what my identity is.’ (Hunger Games pg. 378)

As I slowly, thoroughly wash the makeup from my face and put my hair in it’s braid, I begin transforming into myself.. I stare in the mirror as I try to remember who I am and who I am not. By the time I join the others, the pressure of Peeta’s arm around my shoulders feels alien. (Hunger Games pg. 450)

Catching Fire

After the games, Katniss (and all of the people in her life) is impacted by more loss and trauma. Katniss has lost the sense of identity she has worked hard to create with the money (and notoriety) she has gained, and I was very interested in the ways in which this perceived freedom and ironically increased restriction impacted Katniss’ sense of identity. Katniss begins to try and align her identity with one that can exist within a state of rebellion. For Katniss, rebellion represents a shift from survival instincts to fighting for Peeta’s life.

Now a new kind of confidence is lighting up inside of me, because I think I finally know who Haymitch is. And I’m beginning to know who I am. And surely, two people who have caused the Capitol so much trouble can think of a way to get Peeta home alive.’ (Catching Fire pg. 244)

Katniss is still treated as a ‘pawn’ in catching fire, passive in the events and rebellious opportunities that have been created. Gale and Peeta represent interest in the building rebellion more so that Katniss, and throughout this story the shift can be observed. I liked Katniss’ uncertainty and shifts in attitude that continued throughout Catching Fire and Mockingjay with regards to rebellion, I think this uncertainty matches Katniss’ identity and is more realistic than the enthusiastic ‘chosen one’ arc that several main characters in dystopian or YA books take on. Again, these shifts and Katniss’ part in the rebellion feel more nuanced and realistic than the sudden and bold character changes I’ve observed in some books.

The berries. I realise the answer to who I am lies in that handful of poisonous fruit. If I held them out to save Peeta because I knew I would be shunned if I came back without him, then I am despicable. If I held them out because I loved him, I am still self-centred but forgivable. But if I held them out to defy the Capitol, I am someone of worth. The trouble is, I don’t know what exactly was going on inside me at that moment.’ (Catching Fire pg. 143)

Mockingjay

I should probably say that I’ve been writing this in chunks, and I’m writing this part directly after finishing Mockingjay- well, an hour after because I couldn’t see the keyboard through my tears (it’s 2am, I’m definitely a night owl). Thank you if you’ve made it this far, I’ve loved writing and reflecting in this way even though I know I’m going to post this and think of so many things I’ve forgotten to mention haha.

Haymitch:

The first thing it strikes me that I want to think about is Haymitch and his relationship with Katniss. Haymitch represents so many things: I see him as an equal to Katniss in a sense, they are very similar and mirror each other in personality, spirit and logic, however, he has a number of roles to play in Katniss’ life- almost a brother or an uncle and in some ways even a father figure (not in a traditional sense, but in the way that Katniss requires him to be and to the extent that she can accept). Relationships and character are the most important elements of a book for me, and I love Katniss’ relationship with Haymitch. At the end of Catching Fire, Katniss is left reflecting upon her own rage and the anger at Haymitch’s betrayal, the way that he has used her as she is consistently used. Katniss is continuously used by the rebellion, individuals, and the Capitol representing the war and politics around her. In this sense, Katniss is a pawn in the rebellion. I was, however, interested to note that Katniss’ instinctual actions in times of agency ‘spark’ the instances where she becomes- as she perceives herself- a pawn. The tribute for Rue, the berries, and Katniss decision to confide in- and therefore trust- Haymitch in her plan to rebel (during Catching Fire). As a side note, this quote represents important growth in Katniss’ transition from pawn:

It just goes around and around, and who wins? Not us. Not the districts. Always the capitol. But I’m tired of being a piece in their games.’ Peeta. On the rooftop the night before out first Hunger Games. He understood it all before we’d even set foot in the arena.’ (Mockingjay, pg. 252)

 Katniss truly understands her connection to Haymitch and feels like she is observing in him the qualities her own qualities that she does not like. I believe that this is why Katniss is incredibly intolerant of his drinking and depression, she cannot abide by weakness and is exceptionally hard on herself when she feels weak. Haymitch potentially represents the reality of the future Katniss could face. In saying this, I love the subtle but essential character development throughout the books as Katniss’ perception of weakness, grief and loss changes to become far more accepting and less black and white. In seeing herself in Haymitch, he is the character Katniss ends up confiding in and displaying vulnerability towards; this results in so many of the cutting remarks that create frustration or a sense of betrayal when Katniss or Haymitch inevitably hurt each other and ‘put up their walls’ to mask their pain. I find their relationship very interesting and touching. I also appreciate their ending in Mockingjay and the way it reflects their relationship and personalities- they are quietly and steadily there for each other even in the times where grief and illness create a need for solitude. Their relationship is consistently steadied by Peeta.

He looks yellow and has lost a lot of weight, giving him a shrunken appearance. For a second, I’m afraid he’s dying. I have to remind myself that I don’t care.(Mockingjay, pg.87)

Several sets of arms would embrace me. But in the end, the only person I truly want to comfort me is Haymitch, because he loves Peeta too. I reach out for him and say something like his name and he’s there holding me and patting my back. (Mockingjay, pg. 191)

‘A furious Peeta hammers Haymitch with the atrocity he could become party to, but I can feel Haymitch watching me. This is the moment then. When we find out exactly how alike we are, and how much he understands me. ‘I’m with the Mockingjay’ he says. (Mockingjay pg. 432, deciding upon a final games)

I’d also like to mention that I love Katniss’ relationship with Finnick. Finnick’s death is always a strange one for me. I feel that it’s a good example of the point about narration that I rambled about earlier. Finnick’s death is exceptionally sad but I never really feel it and this is because it’s over quickly and I feel numb. In writing this way, the reader experiences the numbness that Katniss feels at this moment, the lethargy and horror of War (I also feel that the volume of events and horror happening in this relatively short story are written to represent the strange mixture of lethargy and adrenaline felt in War. That sounds very dramatic, but I just mean I think Collins may be trying to engage us in the setting and tone, as she does throughout the series through the writing style. Then again, I always somehow end up reading this book in almost one go, ending in the middle of the night haha, so that might contribute to this feeling). I feel Finnick’s death more in rereading Catching Fire and Mockingjay as we see the elements of his personality. Some of my favourite quotes:

Really, the combination of the scabs and the ointment looks hideous. I can’t help enjoying his distress. “Poor Finnick. Is this the first time in your life you haven’t looked pretty?” I say.
“It must be. The sensation’s completely new. How have you managed it all these years?” he asks
.’
(Catching Fire)

Finnick grasps my hand to give me an anchor, and I try to hang on. (Mockingjay pg. 155)

It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart. (Mockingjay pg. 183)

I was going to say that I also love hearing Finnick recall his story, however, I realised that I just love his character and entire storyline including his humour and persona in Catching Fire. I love his relationship with Mags, Annie and Joanna, I love his reaction after he saves Peeta’s life and contemplates Katniss’ reaction, I just love his character. I’d also like to spend time thinking about Prim but this is going to become an entire dissertation in a minute so I won’t haha.

Peeta:

There is just so much to say about Peeta that it’s almost making me not want to touch on his character in a way haha, because I wouldn’t do it justice. I didn’t appreciate Peeta’s character the first time I read this series, I think he needed to grow on me because on first read as a teenager he’s not the most ‘exciting’ in comparison to characters like Gale, however, now I appreciate that he’s exceptional. As I mentioned, I love the mirroring of this series and I appreciate that Peeta’s traits, values and qualities align with Prim. Peeta therefore has the ability to recall Prim’s memory and he can support Katniss to process her grief in a positive healthy way.

While I was reading today, I began to consider that Katniss became close to Gale due to the connection in the grief for their fathers, however, Katniss subconsciously associates Gale with her own supressed grief and his rage. Peeta’s memories of Katniss’ father are distanced from the loss and grief, and Peeta therefore brings life to her father in the way he recalls his singing. In having this ability, Peeta creates an opportunity for Katniss to think of a way forward through her grief and create a sense of peace in her memories for her father (and sister). This is almost a metaphor for Katniss’ entire relationship with both Gale and Peeta and represents the way Peeta helps Katniss to live and grow and overall represents life.

Rue, who when you ask her what she loves most in the world, replies, of all things ‘music’. ‘Music?’ I say. In our world, I rank music somewhere between hair ribbons and rainbows in terms of usefulness.’ (Hunger Games pg. 255)

This is the first time music is referenced in the story. Katniss is in character here with her roles driven by a need to survive and her hunter instincts not allowing time for anything that is not a necessity.

Because when he sings.. even the birds stop to listen.’.. It strikes me that my own reluctance to sing, my own dismissal of music might not really be that it’s a waste of time. It might be because it reminds me too much of my father.’ (Hunger Games pg. 366)

Even as Katniss and Peeta are just getting to know each other, and within such extreme life threatening circumstances, Peeta is the one to draw out memories of Katniss’ father and allow Katniss to process her grief in subtle ways.

‘A hush in the trees. Just the rustle of leaves in the breeze. But no birds, mockingjay or other. Peeta’s right. They do fall silent when I sing. Just as they did for my father.’ (Mockingjay pg. 145)

He couldn’t Haymitch. He never heard me sing that song.’ ‘Not you, your father. He heard him singing it one day when he came to trade at the bakery. Peeta was small, probably six or seven, but he remembered it because he was specially listening to see if the birds stopped singing.’ (Mockingjay pg. 246)

Peeta and Rue allow Katniss to think about singing again, representing a healthy outlet for grief and the time to remember her father as he lived. I find this incredibly poignant. I’ve always felt deeply connected to music and singing, and I remember my Dad through his favourite songs. This can be painful but it’s very healthy and allows me to feel connected and feel the emotions that are important to experience. I can also feel incredibly happy when I sing a song that reminds me of childhood, or a funny memory associated with my dad. The moment that I really start to cry whilst reading Mockingjay is without fail always this one:

something unexpected happens. I begin to sing.. Hour after hour of ballads, love songs, mountain airs. All the songs my father taught me before he died, for certainly there has been very little music in my life since.. a voice that would make the mockingjays fall silent and then tumble over themselves to join in.’ (Mockingjay pg. 439)

The ending:

I’d like to reflect upon the ending of the story now. Because I love character driven stories, I’m actually quite lazy with plot and while I find action scenes interesting, I prefer them to be short to I can get to the impact of these events. This may be the reason that I was very happy with the decision to stay with Katniss and her recovery and discover the conclusion of the war as Katniss does. For one, Katniss has a strong presence as a narrator, and I hate when books turn to a different narrator nearing the end of a story as I find it very jarring. This is a story about characters (particularly Katniss) and the impact of War and loss. This is not a story about a rebellion or War, rather those who are impacted by the War and politics they had no intention to be involved in or no power to avoid. At no point did I want the story to become one of action and rebellion, and at no point did I feel I missed anything by staying with Katniss. I wouldn’t have brought this up, but I made the mistake of reading a number of Mockingjay reviews after reading it for the first time and I was shocked to read so many angry reviews that felt cheated out of the action. This is just my opinion, but I feel that this is missing the point of the series and I don’t know what readers are getting out of this story if after three books they do not feel close to the main character. I interpret the purpose of Mockingjay as being a story to reflect upon the themes of meaning, choice and identity within a society that limits free will through it’s constructs that confine the lifestyle people can have.

This leads on to another point that I saw several readers make- reviewers expressed anger or confusion about the way the romance ends. Some people commented that they expected Katniss and Peeta to be together immediately after the War, to be more ‘passionately’ in love. Again, in my opinion, I feel that this distance and time is the only realistic portrayal of love in a setting where the characters are experiencing so much grief and PTSD. After overcoming the initial trauma, Katniss is finally free to build her life, rediscover who she is out with the confines of the capitol and think about the future she wants- or even just the future she can cope with. This is also true for Peeta. To have these characters gravitate towards each other through choice after a period of  time portrays (in my opinion)  the depth of their relationship and is the only realistic way to express that Katniss loves Peeta- she chooses him, he is not chosen for her, she does not have to be with Peeta or see him ever again, she chooses him freely (as does Peeta). I absolutely love the way this happens even though it is heart-breaking. I also love the writing decision to rebuild their relationship by supporting each other through grief, this is again realistic and emphasises the love they feel (I also love that Haymitch continues to be in their lives as the three resume their roles in their relationship dynamics).

Lastly in my seemingly endless ramble, the epilogue. In general, I hate book epilogues, I don’t even like Harry Potters, I tolerate it. I think it’s the time element that can feel a bit jarring and makes me feel distanced from characters I love. I do, however, think Mockingjay did it well by keeping it brief, sentimental but with purpose. I’ve read reviews where readers were unhappy that we did not read more detail such as the children’s names. I’m very happy these details were not included; they don’t need to be and would take away from the ending of the story in my opinion. I’ve also seen reviews where people express anger that Katniss has children. I understand these more, however, I think the point within the story is not that Katniss doesn’t want children, but instead that she is afraid to raise them in a society where they could be involved in the games. Katniss is incredibly nurturing towards Prim and Rue and I personally believe that her actions express that she would like to be a mother, she has just never allowed herself to think about this. 

As I drift off, I try to imagine that world, somewhere in the future, with no games, no Capitol. A place like the meadow in the song I sang to Rue as she died. Where Peeta’s child could be safe. (Catching Fire pg. 427)

I was going to go into grief a little bit more, but I’d rather leave it where it is in a somewhat happier note. I do, however, as I’ve mentioned appreciate the portrayal of grief in this series, I find it very realistic (and therefore very hard to read at the end of Mockingjay). I’m sure this is going to sound dramatic, but I feel like books can be an outlet for grief. I’m constantly brought back to the comfort and nostalgia of rereading my old favourites, but ironically a lot of my favourite books feature elements of grief, for example, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and The Time Travellers Wife. These book also feature friendship, love and characters that I feel connected to, and I think I’ve therefore come to associate these characters and consequently reading as a safe and comforting way to cope with grief and anxieties in life. That sounds very depressing and morbid, but I think it’s quite magical in a way. That someone can write a story, create a fictional character that can resonate with your personality, experiences, interests, emotions and even grief, and that this work of fiction can comfort and potentially heal. This is why I think writers are incredible and why I read.

Thank you for reading, I hope you’re well. Please let me know what you think about this series.