February 2021 reading round-up

Beckett and a book

It finally feels like spring is here. I have more energy with each week that passes. And it’s way easier keeping a dog with very long fur clean when it’s dry weather for a few days in a row.

This month’s reading was pretty good. Five books, of which I loved two. I watched some pretty trashy films but for a genuinely good watch, I highly recommend The Handmaiden.

Here’s to a March of walks, bike rides and more good books.


The Five: the Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold
This is an attempt to piece together of the lives of Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly. If those names aren’t familiar to you, that is precisely what historian Rubenhold is trying to fix. Why is so little known about the victims of the most famous murderer ever? It’s partly because they were working class, but also because the police approached the investigation with assumptions that limited the questions that were asked. Rubenhold does a fantastic job of enlightening the period and the individuals.

Concerto for Sentence by Emiliya Dvoryanova
After saying a few weeks ago that maybe I shouldn’t read experimental fiction right now, I picked up this novella written in the form of a concerto. It elliptically describes a romantic relationship between two musicians from their perspectives and from the viewpoint of observers. I quite enjoyed the beauty of the writing but I wasn’t always sure what was happening.

The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw
Set in Malaysia, with its key events taking place in the 1940s, this is ostensibly the story of Jonny Lim, a poor country boy turned wealthy textile merchant, but his story is told through the lens of three narrators who all think they knew him far better than their accounts suggest is true. Was Jonny a Communist leader, a gangster, a murderer, a traitor? I thought this an interesting concept but two of the narrators irritated me enough that I didn’t really enjoy it.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
I love Matt Haig. I just know his books will be entertaining, warm, funny and sad. There’s the tiniest tone of self-help, but I love him too much to really mind. This is the story of Nora, who in a moment of depression wants to die. But instead of dying, she finds herself in a mysterious magical library where the librarian tells her all the books represent other versions of her life…and she can test drive them. It’s sweet and moving and all the things Haig always delivers.

Sylvester by Georgette Heyer
I found this a little slow to start, because it opens with the titular Sylvester – an elegant, wealthy duke who suffers from a little too much arrogance but I just found dull. He has decided at last to marry and, unable to choose from all the polished, beautiful women throwing themselves at him, decides to check out his mother’s suggestion, the daughter of her childhood best friend. Phoebe is initially a very confusing character, but is gradually as a bundle of witty repartee and sparks fly. Once it got going I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even (maybe especially) in its glorious silliness.