By Millie Davidson
The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood
After pre-ordering The Testaments so that it would arrive on the day of its much-awaited release, it sat on my bookshelf, then on my bedside table, for months on end. I guess I was probably hesitant to actually pick it up and start reading it because I was anxious it wouldn’t come close to comparing with A Handmaid’s Tale. I’m annoyed at myself now that it took being in lockdown to pick it up because, let me just say, to say I was simply wrong would be an understatement. The Testaments offers the perspectives of three different women in Gilead; giving it a narrative edge and standalone ability to enthral the reader in a future illustrating the war against women, to that of A Handmaid’s Tale. Atwood creates a continuity of suspense that carries through the various narrative voices, simultaneous to giving them unique and complex characters that seek to divulge into creating a flurry of emotions for a reader that assumes Gilead is indestructible.
There, There by Tommy Orange
I read this book as part of my American Literature module, but I wish I had known of Orange to choose it for myself. We are introduced to different Native Americans from Oakland, California who all plan to attend the upcoming Oakland powwow, that is built up by Orange to be a time of hope and resolution for estranged families and undiscovered passions. Orange successfully tackles the challenge of writing from Native American viewpoints sensitively, yet with such insatiable rigour. I highly recommend this for anyone interested in American history and a book that is easy to divulge in and hard to forget.
Three Women, by Lisa Taddeo
Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women is devastating, captivating, desolate and troublingly sensational all at the same time. I admit that I was sceptical to buy this, thinking I was just seeing it circulating on Instagram because of its aesthetically pleasing cover. I now realise this assumption massively insults Taddeo’s work. It transcends its reader into the extreme pain felt by real-life characters Maggie, Lena and Sloane – who Taddeo spent eight years researching in order to write this book. It is told through the perspective of Maggie, who was groomed and raped by Teacher of the Year Mr Knodel, and decides to press charges against him whilst grieving for her father after his tragic suicide; Lena, who promises herself she will leave her husband if it gets to three months of him not touching her, whilst rekindling a deep set desire and profound love for a high school sweetheart; and Sloane, who every man wants to be with, and every woman wants to be, but whose husband likes watching her have sex with other men. Yeah, it’s a lot, to say the very least. Taddeo divulges into the secrets of three women with different desires undergoing separate tragedies whilst bearing something that is no secret to womanhood whatsoever. I wanted to throw this book to the floor out of frustration but knowing that I couldn’t not pick up again after a few seconds, unable to resist Taddeo’s alluring power she commits to holding over you.
*A trigger warning for rape, abuse, suicide and eating disorders*
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
To capture the voices of twelve characters is impressive, let alone to do so as convincingly as Evaristo does. When I encountered a new character, I would miss the last one; only to then miss the one when their chapter came to an end, as though being cut off from a close friend. Evaristo captures black female experience in twenty-first century London: submerging into race, gender and sexuality in a way that unites us all through the patriarchal issues raised. The characters are unique in their backgrounds, experiences and struggles; simultaneous to their constant overlapping and interaction throughout the novel – whether that be a mother daughter relationship, or a twitter spat between two. At many times Evaristo makes you feel hopeless, and hopeful two pages later – for characters we are routing for, secrets we wish to be exposed, and secrets we hope to remain secret.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
This book is undoubtedly in my top five of all-time favourites. If you’re searching for a novel that captures the romance and nostalgia of 1940s New York City the same way The Great Gatsby does, look no further than City of Girls. Gilbert puts us under the trance of loveable Vivian Morris, who writes a letter as an older woman reminiscing on moving to the city as “nineteen years old, and an idiot”. Unaware of her colossal privilege, Morris is thrown into city life as she is taken under the wing of alluring showgirls, old Hollywood celebrities, and her eccentric aunt who runs a shabby, even more eccentric theatre. It’s one you can’t bear to put down. I read it in two days and instantly regretted it as I wanted to experience Vivian’s humorous naivety and discovery of everything New York City; everything female; everything glamour; and everything grossly yet, confusingly corrupt in a way that is irresistible all over again, twenty times more.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
This novel is written as a letter by a Vietnamese boy who has been bought up in America addressed to his mother who cannot read. The speaker, ‘Little Dog’, wishes to confess his issues of masculinity, identity and poverty in a world in which he has no voice. As the novel progresses, you learn of his mother and grandmother’s schizophrenia as a result of the violence by American troops in the Vietnam War. Vuong is remarkable and revolutionary in his ability to write with such mesmerising style, such poetic quality; luring his reader into a dream-like state, of something that is tragic, devastating, and nightmarish at times.