Late spring reading micro-review dump

I’ve gotten behind on my review dumps, so here are a bunch of one-sentence reviews that span my reading from February through April 2019. It’s pretty obvious which ones I’ve read most recently and which are disappearing into the fog of memory. Hilary Mantel, Sarah Moss, Elizabeth Taylor, E.M. Forster, Ursula K. Le Guin, Lara Elena Donnelly, Mary Renault, Madeline Miller.

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Hilary Mantel, Beyond Black (novel, 2005): Mantel’s gently ironic compassion for her middle-class characters gives this book a remarkably light touch given the darkness of her subject—a medium haunted by the ghosts of her rapists.

Sarah Moss, The Ghost Wall (novella, 2018): In her brief, chilling tale of archeological students “re-creating” Bronze Age British life, Moss shows how abuse traps women into justifying their abusers, and how men use the supposed testimony of history to excuse their crimes.

Elizabeth Taylor, The Soul of Kindness (novel, 1964): In such a short book, Taylor manages to craft at least ten memorably-individual characters whose reality makes their dull, bourgeois conflicts surprisingly compelling.  

E. M. Forster, A Room With a View (novel, 1908): Forster earnestly, and apparently deliberately, tries to de-objectify his book’s female love interest by inhabiting her perspective, but unfortunately she’s so shallow that the book’s p.o.v. keeps bobbing beyond her surface and floating elsewhere—usually into men.

Ursula K. Le Guin, Always Coming Home (novel, 1985): More anthropological scrapbook than novel, Always Coming Home is Le Guin’s best effort at imagining the good life (not a utopia, she doesn’t believe in those), and at least in my case, she succeeded: I found the book’s quiet agricultural society, which values craft and caretaking and has no concept of currency or teleology, very attractive. 

Lara Elena Donnelly, Amberlough (novel, 2017): I love the movie Cabaret, and this novel is more or less a fantasy Cabaret, only Michael York’s character is dating the M.C., who is played by RuPaul, and everyone is a spy.

Mary Renault, The Mask of Apollo (novel, 1966): Fifth-century tragic actor Nikertaros pinballs around the Mediterranean, pining after Sicilian prince Dion and bumping into every major figure from your first-year Classics course—but Renault is the kind of teacher you want, pumping blood into Platonic debates about the value of art and spicing all of her history liberally with sex.

Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles (novel, 2012): This is the kind of melodrama I am absolute garbage for, and no matter how many times it happened, I could never get enough of Patroclus turning to the camera to say, “My moody bae will only die after he kills Hector, so thank goodness he has no reason to kill Hector!”