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Gaming Events 2019 - My Year in Books 2018: August - infogaming7.blogspot.com

This post is a little delayed, but I've finally had chance to catch up with my New Year's Resolution (which I'm still sticking to). Only four books this time, but that's not too bad. So here's the list of books I read for pleasure in August...

(Here are my lists for the rest of the year: January, February, March, April, May, June, July)

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (2013)


I discovered Fowler’s novel while looking for books with unreliable narrators and genuine twists. I really wasn’t sure what to expect from it, except that there was a secret that would be revealed on around page 77. The book’s narrator is Rosemary, a young woman studying at university who is rather reticent about her family. We know from the beginning that Rosemary has (had?) two siblings, Fern and Lowell, who are no longer part of her life. Fern, particularly, is something of a mystery as all we know is that she ‘went away’ one day without warning. Although I did guess in advance what the secret about Fern was, this didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book. It’s an unusual story that’s both very funny and utterly heart-breaking. The style reminded me at times of Kate Atkinson and Marina Lewycka (two writers that I really like), particularly in its non-linear structure (the story loops back a couple of time, revealing things that may not have been clear the first time round) and in the often painful juxtaposition of comedy and the brutality of life. This is a book about empathy and kindness – a sort of coming-of-age story – but one that doesn’t shy away from presenting cruelty and unfairness. I can’t say too much more without giving major spoilers, but this was a genuinely unexpected story with a central character I was really invested in and ending that stayed with me long after I’d finished reading. I highly recommend this one.

Before I Let You In by Jenny Blackhurst (2016)


Somehow, I got sucked back into domestic noir after swearing blind that this genre is not for me. I don’t know how I keep falling for the promise of mind-blowing twists and endings I won’t see coming. Sadly, I’m just setting myself up for disappointment. Blackhurst’s book is very much of a type. It has a very intriguing blurb, but it just doesn’t deliver. Karen is a psychiatrist (apparently, though she actually spends most of her time giving psychotherapy sessions), who gets a new patient called Jessica. Jessica seems to know things about Karen’s personal life, and their sessions start to unsettle Karen. The book is told in genre-typical fragmented style, including the near-ubiquitous ‘unnamed narrator’ sections designed to add sinister intrigue to the proceedings. The book’s hook is the relationship between Karen and her mysterious patient, but most of the story focuses on Karen’s relationships with her two best friends, Bea and Eleanor, and her affair with a married man named Michael. The plot is, unfortunately, ploddingly predictable, and the characters are drawn with very broad strokes. As with other books in this genre I’ve read recently, you can see the oversold ending coming a mile away. I know this genre is really popular, and books like this are very readable (I got through this one in just two sittings), but I don’t think it’s for me. Admittedly, I’ve said this before, and yet here I am reviewing another one. But I’m definitely out now: I’m going cold turkey.

Discovering Scarfolk by Richard Littler (2014)


So after finally quitting domestic noir (and I’m serious, I’ve really quit this time), I decided to turn to something I know I like: folk horror. I’d been familiar with Scarfolk via Twitter for a while, but hadn’t read Littler’s book. Scarfolk is a fictional north-west town that is permanently stuck in the 1970s. It first appeared on a blog creater by Littler, which purported to publish ‘artefacts’ of the town. The ‘artefacts’ on the website are public safety posters, leaflets and book covers, all based on British public safety information from the 70s, but with a disturbing, often horrific, twist. I’ve always enjoyed the way the posters and leaflets were stand-alone artefact, but that they gradually built up to create a sense of a place (and even a narrative) without spelling things out. I was curious to know how this would work in book form, where there is more text used to string things together. Undoubtedly, the star of the book is the material replicated from the website. However, there’s also a narrative (of sorts) that explains and contextualizes the artefacts. There’s a frame story about how the ‘artefacts’ came into the hands of the compiler, and the book is presented as an academic outline of the experiences of Daniel Bush, a man who accidentally ends up trapped in Scarfolk. The humour is satirical, though occasionally puerile, but I particularly loved the footnotes scattered through the story of Daniel’s descent into the madness of Scarfolk. Definitely enjoyed this one.

Outskirts: Living Life on the Edge of the Green Belt by John Grindrod (2017)


The next book I read definitely isn’t folk horror, but it is about some of the quirks of urban, suburban and rural Britain that might inspire folk horror. Grindrod’s book is part memoir, part exploration of the history of the green belt. We’re introduced to New Addington, the council estate where Grindrod grew up, which was constructed right on the edge of London’s green belt. Taking his experiences of his childhood home as a starting point, Grindrod unpeels the layers of history to this peculiar (and often misunderstood) aspect of town planning. I found the history here fascinating – Grindrod jumps back and forth across the centuries, introducing the many writers, planners and politicians who have played a role in shaping our modern concept of the green belt. If it’s sometimes confusing, that’s because the green belt itself is a contradictory and complex mass of (often competing) ideological and pragmatic concerns, and its very existence is often misunderstood or misquoted by both its defenders and detractors. Alongside this history, Grindrod offers a more personal narrative of family life. The memoir element of the book is utterly compelling and very moving in places, but the real charm lies in the way this is woven into the story of the green belt itself. With carefully researched history and a good dose of personal reflection, the book offers an endearing snapshot of family life, personal identity and planning strategy, revealing the ways in which these connect to one another. I really recommend this one.

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