June by Gerbrand Bakker & Weathering by Lucy Wood

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

June – Gerbrand Bakker
Harvill Secker, 2015

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

Weathering – Lucy Wood
Bloomsbury, 2015

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?

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9 thoughts on “June by Gerbrand Bakker & Weathering by Lucy Wood

  1. My TBR list is expanding with your great reviews Gemma 😱. I’m adding them both, have not read them.
    I was just thinking the other day to create a reading book recommendations with your name, so I can easily keep track 😉.
    I’ve been on a major blogging slump, worst than yours… I’m planning to come back this month…
    Have a great weekend 🎉

    • Glad to hear I’ve encouraged you to add some books to your list – both of these are great, so I hope you enjoy them if you get round to reading them! Hope you have a great weekend, too 🙂 Thank you for your lovely comment 🙂

  2. I was interested to read that you thought June was different from Bakker’s other novels, Gemma. I enjoyed it very much – I’m a sucker for pared back writing – and have The Detour and The Twin on my TBR list, now. Weathering is also one of this year’s favourites for me. You’re absolutely right about the use of language and characterisation. It’s a mystery to me that it wasn’t on either the Man Booker or the Baileys longlists, let alone the shortlists.

    • If you like pared back writing Susan, I’m sure you’ll enjoy The Detour and The Twin. I remember them being even more pared back than June.
      I was surprised Weathering wasn’t on those longlists too! It is so wonderfully written!

  3. I’m really looking forward to Weathering. I plan to read it once my tbr20 is up. I’m glad to see you liked it, and Beachcombing while not my favourite story in Diving Belles did have a marvellous relationship at its core so it’s good to see that strength built on.

    It’s a drag when good books fall into blogging black holes, but we’re human and it can’t be helped. I have a six book backlog currently, plus two excellent books from an older backlog, and the truth is I won’t be able to give all of them the attention they merit. Sometimes that’s just how it goes.

  4. Pingback: A year in books: 2015 | The Perfectionist Pen

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