Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
Nothing starts off the third term of the year quite as nicely as a little dash of murder. That being said, this book is nothing as banal as a simple murder thriller. In true Margaret Atwood style, this book crafts together a careful analysis of not only the real life murderess Grace Marks, but also of the tropes that surround female criminals. Biting, brutal and beautiful, the book is nothing short of a literary success.
Fans of Hannah Kent’s celebrated ‘Burial Rites’ will not struggle to find similarities between the two stories: real live female murderers of history, recounting their stories of enslavement to a sympathetic confidant as they await their judgment. The two books are even structured the same way, switching between first and third person narration, punctuated by correspondence and other, more official, documents. Yet, where Kent’s works are set in the glorious landscapes of Iceland, ‘Alias Grace’ has a much darker, more confined tone, that makes the novel almost chilling. Still, if you’ve been swept up by the recent surge of thriller novels, you should most definitely take a look back at how the trend became so popular in the workplace.
If you take gender studies, this book is a delightful read, crammed full of subtle touches and references to the relationship between men and women. Power games are beautifully expressed and explored in Atwood’s works, making it a novel worthy of deconstruction and analysis. However, even if you don’t ascribe to Judith Butler-style language study, this novel is worth picking up. For fans of twists and turns, you may find the novel a tad dull – nonetheless, murder is murder, and Atwood chronicles it with her classic brilliant style.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith)
Sometimes, a book comes along that reminds you exactly why you choose to read. If you ever become disenchanted with modern writing and find yourself lamenting that there’s just no more good writing ‘out there’, this is the book to restore your faith in the unending value of novels. Expertly translated from its original Korean by Deborah Smith, the book is only about 150 pages long, so not one word is wasted.
A delicate balance is struck between the beautiful and the visceral in this story of a Korean housewife who makes the radical decision to turn vegetarian. This marks the beginning of her rebellion as she takes control of her body and her life. The novel carefully touches on a number of taboos you may not even be aware control social interactions, exploring them with an exquisite subtlety.
Undoubtedly, the story loses something in translation. A number of sentences sound strangely artificial, such as the practice of referring to a character by the simple phrase ‘sister-in-law’, but this hardly detracts at all from the carefully crafted story. Delicate as silver and just as rich, the dense story is almost lovely enough to be considered poetry. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy today. You’ll thank me for it.