Tag Archives: A. Igoni Barrett

Savidge Reads’ Books of 2015 Part Two…

And so we arrive at the last day of 2015 and my last selection of books of the year. Yesterday I gave you the books that I loved the most this year that were actually published originally before 2015 (yes, even the ones that came out in paperback in 2015 but were in hardback before then) and today I am sharing the books that I loved the most that came out this year. You can probably all hazard a guess at the winner. Without further waffle or ado, here are the twelve books I really, really, really loved that came out in 2015; you can click on the titles to go to my full reviews, with one exception…

11.

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Starting off my list is a book by my favourite author which made does something incredible with a single paragraph that changes the whole meaning of book. Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins charmed me, entertained me, thrilled me, beguiled me and then in the simplest, smallest and most understated of moments completely broke me when I never expected it to. It is also a wonderful insight into what it is that makes us human, what can make anyone of us become a hero and the highs and lows that might follow such an act. Kate Atkinson is a master of storytelling, character and celebrating those simple day to day moments (and people) we often overlook.

10.

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A Place Called Winter is a blooming marvellous story. Gale is brilliant at placing you into the heads and hearts of his characters, mainly because his prose calls for us to empathise with them, even if we might not want to. We have all been in love, we have all done things we regret, we have all fallen for a rogue (or two or three), we have all felt bullied and the outsider at some point, we have all had an indiscretion and left the country to become a farmer in a foreign land… Oh, maybe not that. Yet even when our protagonist goes through things we haven’t Gale’s depiction and storytelling make us feel we are alongside Harry. We live Harry’s life with him; the highs and the lows, the characters and situations good or bad.

9.

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Grief is still something that we modern human folk are pretty rubbish at. It is something that we don’t like to talk about along with its frequent bedfellow death. I have often felt that in The West and particularly in Britain we are told to keep a stiff upper lip and get on with it. In reality this doesn’t help. If we are going through it we bottle it inside, isolate ourselves and tend to make it look like we are fine. When people are grieving we tend to find ourselves unsure what to do and either go one of two ways by being over helpful (and accidentally overbearing in some cases) or by distancing ourselves from people thinking they probably don’t want our help or need us in their faces – or maybe that is just me. Yet until we talk about it more, in all its forms, we won’t deal with it better individually or as a society, so thank goodness for people like Cathy Rentzenbrink who have the bravery, for it is a very brave act, to share their real life experiences with grief in a book like The Last Act of Love.

8.

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Physical is a stunning, raw and direct look at what it is to be male. It celebrates the male physique in all its forms as much as it celebrates the foibles of the male species. It is a collection that asks a lot of questions, primarily ones such as in the poem Strongman, which asks ‘What is masculinity if not taking the weight?’ Be you male or female you need to read this collection. Books, poems and stories are all about experiencing the world of others and walking in their shoes, Physical excels at this and from an unusual and original view point.

7.

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If I told you that you should really read a book set during the Troubles in Ireland which throws in poverty, religion, sexuality and violence, both domestic and political, you would probably look at me in horror, which is why The Good Son is such a brilliant book. It has all of those elements in their unflinching rawness and yet with Mickey’s voice and cheeky sense of humour McVeigh gives us an image of an incredibly difficult and fractured time in some sort of rainbow technicolor whilst with a very black and white viewpoint. It is something I have not experienced before and I thought it was marvellous. It also gives us hope.

6.

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I loved, and hugged, Mobile Library which is frankly some of the highest praise that I can give it. It is a book that reminds you of the magic of books, friendship, family and love without any magic having actually occurred. It is also an adventure story, possibly the most quintessentially British road trip novel you could encounter. It is also a book that despite being marketed for adults, I think many a ‘youth’ should read as I think it will remind them of the brilliance of reading and the fun it can be, as much as it reminds we adults of all ages, of just the same thing. I’m a massive fan of books, Mobile Library reminded me why whilst making me even more of a fan.

5.

Faber and Faber, 2015, hardback, fiction, 128 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Faber and Faber, 2015, hardback, fiction, 128 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

It is no surprise that from the title of a novel such as Grief is the Thing with Feathers the subject is going to be, you guessed it, grief. Whilst the idea of members of a family coming to terms with the passing of a loved one and the effect this has on them might not be the newest of subjects, I think it is safe to say that I have never read a book that describes the varying emotions of grief in such an honest and fractured way. We see grief through the eyes of the three people in the house, a father and two sons, as they try to come to a way of understanding the loss that now surrounds them and the blank unknown of what lies ahead. Into this space appears Crow an unwelcome guest who is both helpful and hindering and who will stay put until these three no longer need him.

4.

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As the Yorkshire Ripper began his several years of killing women, Una herself was the victim of sexual abuse. Una looks back on this period in hindsight and looks at how the situation around the Yorkshire Ripper and the attitude towards predatory men and their victims not only caused the murder of many innocent women and the pain and loss to their families and loved ones, but how the ‘victim blaming’ culture of the time also affected people like Una who were the victims of crimes that went undetected/unsolved or people feared reporting. Becoming Unbecoming is a very brave, important and thought provoking book. I urge you all to add it to your reading stacks and talk about it once you have.

3 (=).

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So here is the thing my next choice, Joanna Cannon’s The Trouble With Goats and Sheep, it is not actually out until the end of next month, however I had the delight of reading it in advance early this year and fell completely in love with the writing, the characters, everything. So really I couldn’t save it until my best of 2016 list even though I know I will read it again in the new year! My review is set to go live around release but for now I will tease you with this – England 1976. Mrs Creasy is missing and The Avenue is alive with whispers. As the summer shimmers endlessly on, ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly decide to take matters into their own hands. And as the cul-de-sac starts giving up its secrets, the amateur detectives will find much more than they imagined…

3 (=).

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The Natural Way of Things is a book that will shock many of its readers for all the right reasons. By the end you will be enraged as to why women are still subjected to ‘slut shaming’ and victim blaming if they speak out about something bad? That is the dark root at the heart of this novel from which everything else spirals, only not out of control as scarily you could imagine this happening. That is where the book really bites, its reality and its all too apparent possibility. Shocking all the more because what seems extreme isn’t the more you think about it. This is a fantastically written horrifying, whilst utterly compelling, story that creates a potent set of questions within its readers head and asks you to debate and seek out the answers yourself. I cannot recommend reading it enough. (It is out in the UK in June but already available in Australia, I suggest trying to get it early!)

2.

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I do love it when a book takes me by surprise, even more so when one takes me out of my comfort zone. What makes this all the better is when this comes at the least expected time. This happened with All Involved by Ryan Gattis which when I was first emailed about, being told it was the tale of the 1992 LA Riots from a spectrum of seventeen witnesses and participants, I instantly thought ‘that isn’t my cup of tea’. Thank goodness then for several people raving about it and saying I must read it because one I started I couldn’t stop reading, even when I sometimes wanted to. It is a book that has stayed with me ever since I read it and lingers in my brain, when it is out in paperback everyone I know is getting a copy.

1.

So my book of the year will not surprise many of you. I think A Little Life is just incredible, it is a novel that looks at love, friendship, loss, pleasure, pain, hope, survival, failure and success. It is a book about class, disability, sexuality and race. Overall it is a book about what it means to be a human. It’s amazing, it is also brutal. Saying that you read a book like A Little Life I actually think does it a disservice as it is one of those all encompassing books that you live through. It is rare that a book as it ends leaves you feeling a somewhat changed person to the one who started it, that is what happened to me and is probably why this will be one of my all time reads. (Yes, I stick to that claim and you can hear me on Hear Read This defending that statement in a special that went live recently!)

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So there we are the first half of my books for the year. I do feel like I should give some honourable mentions to A. Igoni Barrett’s Blackass, Everything is Teeth by Evie Wyld & Joe Sumner, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian and two corking crime novels Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, I don’t care if this is deemed as cheating. Let me know your thoughts on those in my first list you have read. Oh and fancy ending the year/starting the new by winning some books then head here. What have been some of your books of 2015?

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Blackass – A. Igoni Barrett

If I had to pick the book which I have picked up and put down most in book shops in 2015 then A. Igoni Barrett’s Blackass would probably win that title. Everytime I picked it up the same things went through my head. Yes, for the name, which I found cheekily (no pun intended) daring. No, because it compared itself to Kafka’s Metamorphosis, which takes itself far too seriously and takes me back to secondary school drama where I was a beetle for a month and a table for two. Yes, lots of people I trust really loved it and spoke of it highly all over the shop. No, lots of people I trust felt let down by it at various points. Someone at Chatto &Windus clearly felt my panic in the ether (or as some call it Twitter) and soon it kindly fell through my letter box and, instead of my usual ‘pop it on my chest of drawers and think about it’ routine I started reading it straight away…

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Chatto & Windus, 2015, paperback, fiction, 272 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Furo Waiboko awoke this morning to find that dreams can lose their way and turn up on the wrong side of sleep. He was lying nude in bed, and when he raised his head a fraction he could see his alabaster belly, and his pale legs beyond, covered with fuzz that glinted bronze in the cold daylight pouring through the open window. He sat up with a sudden motion tha swilled the panic in his stomach and spilled his hands into his lap. He stared at his hands, the pink life lines in his palms, the shellfish-coloured cuticles, the network of blue veins that ran from knuckle to wrist, more veins than he had ever noticed before. His hands were not black but white… same as his legs, his belly, all of him. He clenched his fists, squeezed his eyes shut, and sank into the bed. Outside, a bird chirruped short piercing cries, like mocking laughter.

When Furo wakes up on the morning of a very important job interview, as job interviews are few and applicants many, he initially thinks that he is still dreaming for the body he seems to be housed in no longer resembles his own. Overnight it seems that somehow he has turned white, well not quite all of him, as the titles suggests part of his anatomy is still very much its original colour (something we the reader know from the off but Furo discovers sometime later in a very funny scene). What follows in Blackass is how Furo deals with the physical change, initially just in the interim and then over the longer term, followed by the deeper change as he discovers life as a white man in Nigeria is initially alienating and then quite useful, if somewhat detrimental to his soul.

I found following Furo a rather eye opening experience unsurprisingly. As he walks through the streets of Lagos people point, jeer and mutter. He has become a minority very quickly, yet once he starts to speak to people in Nigerian he becomes an oddity, why would a white man know pidgin Nigerian, something must be suspect with him. Yet at the job interview this makes him a valuable asset in the business world and soon finds him offered a position far above the one he was aiming for, all because of his skin colour, but what will he do in the two weeks before he starts his job? Can he go back to his family and if not what will he do as a poor man, easily noticeable and therefore vulnerable?

He had always thought that white people had it easier, in this country anyway, where it seemed that everyone treated them as special, but after everything that he had gone through since yesterday, he wasn’t so sure any more. Everything conspired to make him stand out. This whiteness that separated him from everyone he knew. His nose smarting from the sun. His hands covered with reddened spots, as if mosquito bites were something serious. People pointing at him, staring all the time, shouting ‘oyibo at every corner.

Initially we have the discussion of race and skin colour, how does the colour of your skin affect you and define you? Yet as the book goes on the remit gets wider both as Furo’s situation changes but also through the people he meets along the way. Through his circumstance we soon look at how the world changes be you rich or poor, lowly or powerful. As he meets Syreeta we are initially given an insight into the world of the trophy mistress and the kept woman, yet with her relationship with Furo we find ourselves looking at the trophy white lover and the kept man, which I found fascinating.

In a rather unexpected twist, with the character of an author called Igoni, we also look at the changes in gender and hinted sexuality. If I had one wish it was that the Igoni sections had been fleshed out and explored more as they were really interesting and yet we don’t get into the crux of them as much as I would have liked, there felt much more to discuss rather than a whole section of the book being in tweets. There was a lot that could have been done here and whilst I found a whole section of the book in tweets very modern, and rather meta with the character of the author having the same name as the, erm, author, I felt we only skimmed the surface of this transition and we could have got even more riches if Barrett had gone deeper. Anyway, a small quibble that has lead me to digress.

There are many layers and many riches in Blackass. I found the way Furo changes externally drastically yet changes internally much more slowly compelling and rather confronting reading. It raises all the questions I mention before whilst also unflinchingly and bluntly looking at society and the flaws it can all too often try to hide. Yet whilst doing this it doesn’t take itself all too seriously or do it without any witt or vibrancy, quite the opposite and how could it with its title which is a very clever move. Lagos pours off the stage with it’s hustle and bustle, the smells, tastes and noises all unfurl around you and the characters, if often not always likeable, arrive fully formed with all their complexities and quirks.

I can’t really comment on the parrallel’s or riffs that it has with Kafka’s Metamorphosis if that is what you are after, I have tried to wipe those weeks being a table from my memory. I don’t think it is right or beneficial to either. How can you compare the two?  Yes they both have levels of metamorphosis in them, yet one is a cult European classic and one a new satirical (and a lot more fun) tale of modern Nigeria. Where does it get us to compare the two? Read them both if you like, or don’t – personally I would suggest reading this one, you’ll have more fun and be made to think just as much.

I think Blackass is a really interesting and different novel from many of the things I have read, or have seen published, this year. You can simply read it as a darkly witty escapist fairytale/myth/fable or you can or as a wonderful, sattircal and occasionally daring way to look at society and questions of class, gender and race. Either way you are going to have a great read ahead of you. One thing I know for sure, I need more of this kind of quirky and thought provoking fiction in my reading diet. Don’t we all? I should have picked it up off the book shop shelves sooner.

I didn’t read this book for #DiverseDecember, it would be a great one to add to your reading list for the month though if you are still looking for titles, really it should just be on your reading list regardless. Has anyone else read Blackass and if so what did you make of it? Have you read Barrett’s short story collection, I shall be adding that to my collection at some point in the future.

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Filed under #DiverseDecember, A. Igoni Barrett, Chatto & Windus, Review