The Secret History

2016 Year in Review

In terms of global and national politics, of all the dead famous people, of the fact that chrome stopped letting me use the backspace as a ‘back’ button, and of books, this year kind of sucked. Nevertheless, while world was busy falling apart, my own little life has been slowly knitting itself back together in a way that is scary and new and wonderful and very different than I expected; I have been busy finishing my first full year of studying in a long time, (sort-of) going back to work, and turning 30. For the first time in my adult life, I managed a full year where mental illness didn’t completely knock me off my feet, even if  it did come close a few times. Basically life happened and reading took a back seat, along with this blog. I am not sure if any of you are still hanging around, although I hope you are, but I am planning on being more active in the coming year and hopefully you’ll be around for that, too.

This wasn’t wasn’t the worst year that I have ever had with regards to reading (I’m looking at you 2012) but it wasn’t particularly good, either. I managed to read relatively few books, twenty-two in the end, most of which were for university or picked for my book clubs, and nothing made much of a lasting impact. As a result, I don’t have much to talk about. You can see my rather unimpressive 2016 reading list here but I’ll just stick to the best and the worst here in order to avoid simply listing the things that I don’t really want to talk much about.

ceciliaFirst, I need to give an honourable mention to Cecilia by Fanny Burney because it was the most enjoyable experience that I had with a book all year.

Burney has managed to pack a little bit of everything into this one thousand paged, eighteenth century novel. There is romance, drama, tragedy and intrigue, there are hipsters and gossips, ridiculous parties where people literally swing from the ceiling, duels and dramatic breakdowns. Basically, Cecilia is bananas and if you can imagine it then you will probably find it within these pages. However, underlying all of the crazy is a harsh critique of patriarchal hierarchies and Burney exposes the limited control that women in the eighteenth century had over their own lives and destinies.

I read Cecilia as part of the #summerofcecilia read-along, hosted by Laura at Reading in Bed, which definitely made this a much more enjoyable experience, and if you decide to read a gargantuan eighteenth century novel next year, then I recommend that you start with Cecilia and that you take part in one of these read-alongs next year.

 

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The only book upon which I bestowed The 5-star Goodreads Rating on this year was The Secret History by Donna Tartt. The story of Richard Papen, a college student newly arrived at a private university in New England, who is thrust into a world of intellectual debate and murder after befriending a tight-knit group of classics majors, this is a beautifully written and atmospheric book. Tartt has that particular talent which allows the construction of exceptionally despicable characters, including a wonderfully unreliable narrator, while still making the reader care enough to continue with the narrative.

The Secret History is a story about friendship and obsession, with a dark and Gothic tone that has stayed with me since February; it is likely that this disquieting atmosphere will continue to haunt and envelope every single grey and rainy day in late Winter.

 

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I don’t particularly enjoy writing about books that I dislike but it was a slow reading year and there wasn’t much that I loved to talk about, so why not?

The low point of the year was, without a doubt, Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. This was a book club read and although I was a little turned off by the rumours surrounding the publication I went in with an open mind. I still disliked it.

Personally, I didn’t find it very well written  (the narrative point of view would frequently jump between characters in a confusing manner), it was horrifically racist, and I had to rely on my memory of To Kill a Mockingbird (which I did enjoy, in case you are wondering, but it has been over a decade since I read it) in order to supplement the lack of characterisation, particularly in relation to Atticus. On the flip side, it did make me think a lot and it felt unfortunately relevant to a lot of conversations that are happening today, so it wasn’t that I didn’t get anything out of it but it certainly doesn’t have enough merit for me to recommend it.

In terms of 2017 and reading I don’t have many goals. I am going to set my goodreads challenge to twelve again because I like feeling like an overachiever and setting the bar low is a good way to do that (I hit 183% of my goal this year). I also want to tackle Tolstoy’s War and Peace as my Dad bought me the world’s heaviest copy and I am looking forward to reading that, probably in the late autumn or winter time.

I hope that 2016 has treated most of you well, at least on a personal level, and that 2017 will be better on all fronts.