As we get back into the swing of university and a new plague of academic reading, our writers reminisce on the books they read this summer.
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
by Evie Patel
Through the dissonantly immersive love affair of a woman and her full-time job, Sayaka Murata presents an ode to the mundane familiarity of the archetypal Japanese convenience store. Our protagonist Keiko is an oddity both among her career-driven family and, as we soon learn, the rest of society too. As she revels in her mutually-fulfilling dedication to the shop, this relationship becomes the only comprehensible one in the novella, amid her perpetual bewilderment at other people’s human behaviours.
Read in translation, the novella is an intimate glimpse into everyday Japanese cultural norms, rituals and relationships, contextualised against the backdrop of Japan’s falling birth rates and ‘celibacy syndrome’, and refreshingly presented through Keiko’s jarringly detached and deadpan voice. Whether you see Keiko as a feminist anti-hero or as a cautionary tale of life’s unfulfilled potential, her dry observations are nonetheless a universally relatable internal monologue, the cosy repetition of an unremarkable daily routine. Amidst the ever-increasing pressure to seize every opportunity and live the perfectly ‘instagrammable’ cocktail of #travel adventures, Murata’s work is the perfect tonic of contented inertia to embrace the lagging hometown- summer laziness; an ultimate celebration of the comfort zone.
Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
by Mark Marchenko
Solaris has become a rarephenomenon of sci-fi literature over the years, owed to how remarkably mesmerising and terrifying it is. For better or for worse, the gritty end of the story seems to be the only right way it could possibly end.
The novel was certainly a sensation in 1961, when it was first published, but it has become even more relevant to the human experience today. In the novel, Lem describes such a form of life that humans can only hope to ever understand. The reader will experience both shock and revelation when they realise the allegory at play: Lem is explaining that when you meet someone you are not even close to being able to understand, it shouldn’t end with you parting ways. Solaris has become a tale about accepting those who are so alien to us that it fills us with terror. And in the end, if we are brave enough to try, we will find a thirst for knowledge as well as the sudden realisation that ‘we do not need other worlds. We need a mirror.’
Solaris is a beautiful example of a book that is intensely captivating and at the same time eloquently delves into the most important existential questions.
Milkman by Anna Burns
by Erin May Kelly
Milkman weaves in and out of the consciousness of its narrator, with the style and structure perfectly mimicking a constant stream of thought. It effortlessly mirrors natural patterns of speech and thus adopts a kind of gossipy tone which carries the reader through humour and rather more intense aspects of the novel with similar ease.
Despite never directly referring to it, as Milkman keeps all names and places anonymous, the book is an account of Northern Ireland in the 1970s. Its perspective comes from that of a teenage girl, whose persistent stalker features as the most prominent musing throughout the novel.
Milkman dances around ideas of gender and political unrest in a way which weaves them both together into inseparable concepts, carefully drawing out the complications of the troubles for male and female identity in a churning, meandering monologue.
Milkman is an incredibly important novel, which assesses the tumult of the 20th century through a looking glass shrouded by teenage insecurities about gossip, and not at all concerned with the political problems which bring it into existence.
Illustration: Hazel Laing