Unfortunately the number of books I read during my reading slump/unintentional blogging break hasn’t been high, but I thought I’d write a short roundup of the two standout books I did read.
June – Gerbrand Bakker
As soon as I heard that there was a new Gerbrand Bakker novel out, I ordered it immediately. Not only did I hope it would lift me from my reading slump once and for all, but Bakker is certainly on my list of favourite writers and so I’ll read anything he writes. I absolutely love The Twin and The Detour: I love the sparse and atmospheric writing style – Bakker manages to say so much in so little.
It’s a hot summer’s day in June 1969 and the residents of Denmark’s towns and villages have gathered enthusiastically to welcome the Queen. In one such village, a woman and her young child arrive late and, just as the Queen is about to return to her car, she breaks protocol and greets the pair, stroking the little girl’s cheek as she does so. It should have been a day of celebration, except later, little Hanne is struck by the baker’s van and killed at the roadside.
The majority of June is set years later: we see the various family members, and those villagers linked to them, on the anniversary of Hanne’s death. Jan tends his little sister’s grave; his niece wonders loudly why her grandmother hates her and has been hiding in the hayloft all day. The novel, akin to a family portrait, follows the ripples from that one tragic event as they spread through the people and the years that follow.
I noticed a difference in Bakker’s prose in this novel. There’s still the sparseness which I love, and saying so much in few words, but there seems to be more substance there somehow. Something I love about Bakker’s writing is the attention to detail: small actions by characters that could easily go unnoticed speak volumes, and while lines can be heavy with emotion, there’s a lot in what is left unsaid. Dialogue is more of a feature of the prose this time, something which I didn’t notice so much in the other two novels, and there’s more complexity in the novel’s structure. The storyline isn’t linear: we move between the past and the present; switch between characters and see fragments of their days. There’s a larger cast in this novel than Bakker’s others, but the characters certainly don’t lack depth. I read this book in July and I still find myself thinking about them, and the urge to reread the novel just to be with them again is quite strong.
As with Bakker’s other novels, the translation is (to my reading) impeccable. On another note, I love the cover. It’s sparse and serene; its simplicity belies the complex characters in the novel under its covers. June is resonant and moving, and it certainly made me excited about reading again.
Weathering – Lucy Wood
This book deserves a full post and I’m just sorry that my period of being unmotivated to blog has meant a lack of posting about this wonderful novel. Ada returns to her childhood home after her mother’s death to sort through her belongings as quickly as possible. She arrives with her daughter Pepper, who is used to following her mother from place to place, never settling. Pepper is fascinated by the old house, especially the river running nearby and the old woman who sits along it. The mother and daughter soon find themselves intertwined with the village, and realise how a place binds people together.
Wood has a wonderful way with words and language; individual sentences are beautifully written and the story as a whole is atmospheric. Something which stands out when I remember this novel is Wood’s characterisation, particularly of Ada and Pepper. I love the way their mother-daughter relationship is portrayed, and it reminds me of Beachcombing from Wood’s Diving Belles (review here), one of my favourites from the collection. Wood is clearly skilled at portraying family relationships in a realistic way, sometimes with a wry humour. One short sentence can speak volumes about the characters, and shows Wood’s control over her prose and story. Pepper is particularly well-characterised. I can picture her vividly; she’s funny, she says things that I can perfectly believe a child of her age saying. Dialogue is sparse throughout, but it’s highly effective.
I’d highly recommend both of these books. Have you read June or Weathering? What did you think?