Revision season is upon us, and now more than ever is the time to pick up a good book and forget the impending doom of our final exams. Despite the mountain of course reading they’ve yet to do for their degrees, our writers proudly present what they’ve been reading over the Easter break below.
Heartburn by Nora Ephron
by Megan Kenyon
Nora Ephron, perhaps best known for her wonderful contributions to the rom-com genre (see When Harry Met Sally or Sleepless in Seattle), also wrote beautiful prose. Her semi-autobiographical novel Heartburn is a heart-wrenching yet hilarious insight into the breakdown of a marriage, based predominantly upon Ephron’s own experience of heart-ache.
Set between New York and Washington, the book follows its pregnant heroine, Rachel Samstat (based upon Ephron herself) as she navigates the fall out of her discovery of her husband’s affair. Ephron’s narrative is witty and original whilst maintaining an air of raw insight, emphasising that for the author, this novel has come from a tangible and painful experience.
Much controversy arose around the book upon publication, which Ephron herself described as “a thinly disguised novel,” due to its complete parallel with the events which had occurred in real life. Littered throughout are recipes, from mashed potatoes to Key Lime pie, which again add a more heartfelt and personal air to the novel. The addition of recipes, although not well received when the book was initially published, has since gone on to give Heartburn the endearing and iconic reputation it deserves.
Stoner by John Williams
by Rob Lownie
Stoner is a weird one. Praised by one reviewer as “the greatest novel you’ve never read,” it seems like everybody has now read it, and has their own view on a story which has been labelled ‘overrated’ and ‘underrated’ with equivalent conviction. Though it appeared on numerous Book of the Year lists for 2013, it should be noted that John Williams penned his novel in 1965, thus achieving a belated success which is both baffling and thrilling.
The novel recounts the ostensibly unremarkable life of the eponymous William Stoner, a reserved English professor. That his story is dramatic without ever veering into melodrama is largely down to Williams’ prose, which is clipped and beautifully simple: a reflection of the ascetic protagonist. We are presented with the numerous small tragedies of Stoner’s life, including, to my mind, the most devastating literary portrayal of a disintegrating marriage since Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, all set against the backdrop of the larger tragedies of the 20th century. It is a novel of quiet sadness, but also of understated triumph. Stoner emerges as a very particular kind of hero, an everyman we can root
for. As much as anything, Stoner is a celebration of literature, and of learning for its own sake, and if that doesn’t motivate your revision this Easter, I don’t know what will.
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
by Boris Kostadinov
Okparanta’s debut novel, while not taking place in spring itself, reflects the time of growth and renewal in the civil war-torn territory of modern-day Nigeria. We see through the eyes of Ijeoma, a young girl coming to terms with her sexuality and her mother’s religious teachings, finding a balance between staying true to her own desires and following her mother’s faithful designs for her future. As a victim of this conflict, losing her father and home, Ijeoma is continually pressured into succumbing to the traditional status quo of patriarchal Christian Nigerian society while struggling to understand her own attraction to the same sex, finding a balance between herself and society. Okparanta’s language and imagery beautifully encapsulate this internal conflict within the main character, while also conveying both the picturesque and desolate environment of the war-torn country at the same time. Under the Udala Trees combines the time-old wisdom and language of the Igbo people with the modern-day struggle to be true to yourself in one of the least accepting and tolerant countries in the world today.
Image: Marketa via Flickr.