Welcome to Triple Choice Tuesday. This is where I ask some of my favourite bloggers, writers and readers to share the names of three books that mean a lot to them. The idea is that it might raise the profile of certain books and introduce you to new titles, new authors and new bloggers.
Today’s guest is Poppy, who blogs at Poppy Peacock Pens.
Poppy describes herself as “a limited, sporadic reader, and talker not writer”. Then severe illness all but silenced her. For cognitive rehabilitation – and sanity – she began studying Creative Writing & Literature with the Open University and discovered a much broader literary world.
“After graduating, I revelled in reading and writing to my own whims; whims fed and nurtured by the bookish folk on Twitter,” Poppy tells me. “With so much to read, so much to write, so much to ruminate over I recently started to blog to keep track. Now writing more, including my first novel, reading widely plays an integral part.”
A favourite book: The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky
One of the biggest delights of expanding my reading repertoire has been discovering far more interesting female protagonists; discovering women who challenge the societal norms and offer far more than the archaic stereotypical – and often secondary – roles that, with hindsight, seemed to dominate the books I read. I have particularly been taken by the anti-heroines of Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge and Lucy Barton, Jennifer Tseng’s Mayumi, Elena Ferrante’s leading ladies in her novellas The Last Days of Abandonment, Troubling Love and The Lost Daughter, but my hands-down favourite is Rosa Achmetowna from The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky published by Europa Editions.
Rosa is at best delusional, at worst devious and despicable yet utterly compelling and at times highly comedic. Her story – not just because it’s first person narrative, it is always all about her – is how she strives to improve life for herself, her daughter and her grand-daughter, ultimately getting them out of Russia to Germany. It is so well nuanced by Bronsky, that while we obviously hear and witness her good intentions, we also see her flaws, which in turn can both repel and charm. And see that she kind of means well, no matter how deluded that may be.
I’ve always enjoyed biographical tales from foreign countries but in the past two years another delight has been exploring the world of translated fiction; more specifically, texts I had always presumed were way out my league. Studying literature has given me the confidence – and to a degree an improved aptitude – to tackle texts I would normally have body swerved. One such story is She Came To Stay by Simone de Beauvoir; classed as autobiographical fiction, as it is her literary revenge on younger adversary Olga Kosakievicz who almost derailed her legendary relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre.
Based in Paris in the late 1930s, the story revolves around the established, loving relationship between Pierre and Françoise when the much younger and beautiful Xavière enters their lives and is determined to come between them. It is a quiet book – in the sense it is more observational than action-packed – but the tension intensifies; the suspense of how the relationships will play out and specifically how Françoise will react is palpable.
Aware, and in awe, of de Beauvoir’s work developing post-war feminism I found this both accessible and compelling, which boosted my confidence enough to blow away the self-imposed reading restrictions. My copy was published by Harper Perennial Modern Classics and has some great contextual essays in the back too.
Combining my love of anti-heroines and quiet books with finely nuanced relationships, The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso, published by Chatto & Windus in May this year is one I am surprised hasn’t attracted more attention. Of course, it’s impossible for me to know for sure what readership it has attained but judging by only being able to find a handful of reviews post-publication I really want to encourage more people to read it.
Set in Cape Town, the story revolves around two retired widows – one black, one white – who, having had successful careers of their own, live next door in the wealthy suburb of Constantia. They are ‘sworn enemies, sharing hedge and hostility which they prune with a zeal that belies the fact they are both over eighty.’ When an incident forces the women together – and they discover they share common circumstances both past and present – their relationship gradually, very gradually, evolves from antipathy to acceptance.
Deftly handled during current events and recollections Omotoso ensures we are privy to how themes of love, marriage, employment, health, dependency, race and prejudice have affected both ladies which make their stories compelling. Having spent some time in South Africa I certainly recognised their portrayal. But the icing on the cake is the astute characterisation and observations which often lead to hilarious exchanges and events. This book isn’t just an arresting and informative insight into one aspect of post-apartheid South Africa and women’s relationships, it’s very entertaining!
Thanks, Poppy, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!
What great choices. I’ve not read any of them, but they all sound intriguing. I think my wish list just grew by three more titles!
What do you think of Poppy’s choices? Have you read any of these books?