My Month in Books: January 2022

Faithful Place by Tana French

What’s really interesting about Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad novels is that they are in-depth psychological portraits disguised as detective novels. In The Woods was a portrait of a shattered childhood, The Likeness is a twisted take on a campus novel and now Faithful Place enters the ring with a story of generational trauma and family drama disguised as a murder mystery. This novel centres around Frank, the head of the undercover unit who we encountered in The Likeness. We learn that when Frank was a young boy growing up in an abusive home in Dublin’s Liberties, he had planned to run away to England with the love of his life, Rosie Daly. Only on the night they were due to catch the ferry and start their new lives together, Rosie never showed and Frank found a note from her implying that she was leaving him to go make her fortune in England alone. Devastated, Frank never returns to The Liberties and drops out of contact with his family altogether. But when Rosie’s old suitcase is found stuffed up a chimney in a disused house on their street, Frank gets pulled back into their orbit to find out what really happened to Rosie on that fateful night. Once again, French totally sucked me into her world and brought Dublin to life like very few authors can. Faithful Place is an excellent further addition to the Dublin Murder Squad series and I’ll definitely be reading the next one.

Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding

Growing up I seem to have missed all of the Bridget Jones hype, but having recently watched the movie for the first time I though now might be the time to give the book a go. While Bridget’s constant internal monologue about her weight was hitting me a little hard at the start of January, ultimately I really enjoyed this book. I don’t find Bridget particularly relatable (I personally identify as a Shazzer), but Helen Fielding is a really funny writer and I can see her influence in so many of my favourite female characters in literature and on screen. It ultimately had a weird effect of making me feel nostalgic reading this book, even though I was only reading it for the first time. While many elements of this book haven’t aged incredibly (so much smoking!), hating the absolute emotional fuckwittage of Daniel Cleaver is timeless.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

This book has been on my to read list forever but it was only when the culmination of Elizabeth Holmes’ trial for fraud started making headlines that I actually motivated myself to pick it up. I quickly realised that as batshit as the headlines had made the story seem, they had barely scratched the surface of the layers and layers of crazy that had been going on at Theranos for years. Between the audacious lies Holmes spun to the incredibly hostile work environment that she created for her staff, it’s easy to get swept up in the drama of it all. But the most important and shocking story remains Holmes’ willingness to put people’s lives at risk so that she could cosplay Steve Jobs using a prop machine that didn’t even work. Carreyrou’s book is a fascinating insight into the darkest elements of Silicon Valley start-up culture and a timely reminder that, whatever they tell themselves, the owners of Big Tech often don’t give a damn about the users that they profit off.

A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee

A Rising Man is a historical fiction mystery novel set in Calcutta in early 20th century. Our narrator is the British officer Sam Wyndham, fresh out of the trenches of World War I and the newest recruit to Calcutta’s police force. When a senior official of the British Raj is murdered and a note is found on him warning the British to leave India or more deaths will follow, Wyndham is thrust into a world whose politics he doesn’t truly understand. Thankfully he has the assistance of Sergeant Bannerjee, one of the few Indian officers in the police force and a significantly more interesting character than Wyndham, to stop him completely botching the entire investigation. This novel was pretty good from a historical fiction perspective, giving insight into the atmosphere in India as British rule begins to crumble. However, it was absolutely dire from a mystery perspective and I found it difficult to retain my interest when Wyndham seemed desperate to do everything but follow incredibly obvious leads to solve a high profile murder. I’ve heard that the second book in this series is better, but to be honest I have so many more books I’d rather read that I doubt I’ll follow up on it.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Being a person who studied Classics at a pretty wanky university surrounded by posh people (at least some of whom had probably murdered someone…), people were generally very surprised when I admitted I hadn’t gotten around to reading The Secret History yet. Now that I’ve finally read it, I am slightly kicking myself over the fact I didn’t do it sooner. The novel follows a young man, Richard, as he falls in with a crowd of wealthy and eccentric Classics students and their charismatic lecturer. Richard is completely entranced by their world of academia, luxury and beauty, but realises too late that there is a much darker undercurrent of rot and decay under the sparkling surface. Before long, one of their number is dead and from there the group undergoes a slow, excruciating decline culminating in an explosive finale that leaves the survivors scattered to the winds. The novel consists of Richard looking back over this time in his life, giving the whole story a sense of grim inevitability right from the first shocking sentence. It’s funny, having read this now I realise how many other books I have read are trying to capture what Tartt seems to so effortlessly. That sense of undying devotion that you only really feel for people you meet in the turbulent days of your youth, the giddy hedonism of those first years of having moved away from home, the absolutely unironic pretension of young people who know nothing and yet think they know everything. To everyone who tried to get me to read this sooner: You were totally right and I am sorry.

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

People We Meet on Vacation is precisely what I needed at the end of a cold, wet January and after a stream of pretty uniformly grim books full of people behaving unethically and/or homicidally. It’s a romantic novel that tells the story Poppy and Alex, who are two totally platonic best buddies (yeah right) who take a special vacation just the two of them every year (totally normal). But, after a mysterious and awkward event happened on one of their vacations (They shagged. I’m not even counting this as a spoiler. This is blindingly obvious to anyone with a brain), they haven’t spoken in ages and Poppy has determined that they need to go for one more vacation to save their friendship. Obviously they fall in love instead. Now, I’m rarely reading romantic books for their realism but the relationship between Poppy and Alex stretched even my credulity. There is literally no reason for two people who find each other attractive, spend copious amounts of time together and are best friends to take over a decade to realise that they should just get together already but maybe I’m just old-fashioned. Either way, the descriptions of various exotic vacation locales gave me just the escape I needed in the bleak midwinter so if you, like me, have pretty limited holiday days this year, People We Meet On Vacation could prove a very effective substitute.

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