It’s the third day of October already — how did that happen?! In September, I read four books — a varied mix. I enjoyed two of my September reads a lot, but I’d classify the other two as so-so: okay but not great.
Emma by Alexander McCall Smith
This book is part of the Austen Project: six contemporary authors who are retelling Jane Austen’s novels in modern settings. In 2013, I wrote a blog post with a critical viewpoint about these updated versions: Do Modern Retellings of Classic Novels Actually Work? This post was in response to the first publication of the Austen Project: a rewritten version of Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope. Despite enjoying the novel as a quick, light read, I still have mixed feelings about ‘updating’ classic literature.
My verdict on Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma is similar to my opinion about Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility: it was enjoyable because it was an easy bedtime read at the end of a long day, but I will always recommend the original work!
The Circle by Dave Eggers
This novel follows a woman in her early twenties, Mae, who gets a job at The Circle: a large and powerful internet/technology company. As a graduate fresh from college, she is relieved to move away from her dull small-town job to an exciting career which offers plenty of opportunities for progression. The Circle impresses her: workers are given all sorts of perks, from spectacular parties to healthy food in the free cafés dotted around the site.
The Circle has an emphasis on sharing and transparency. One of their innovations is a tiny camera that can be placed anywhere, a camera so small that no-one would even know it was there. These SeeChange cameras are widely available, so anyone can access real-time video footage of almost anywhere they choose. The Circle team markets these cameras as being a good thing: if someone is constantly watched, they are much less likely to do bad things, such as commit crimes. But I’m sure you can think of many sinister ways in which this technology can be exploited, not to mention the plain and simple fact that it’s unsettling to think that you are being watched at all times. Big Brother is watching you!
Mae quickly becomes fully engrossed in the world of The Circle and comes up with three slogans: “Secrets are Lies”, “Sharing is Caring,” and “Privacy is Theft”. She shuns her home-town ex-boyfriend, Mercer, for his distrust of technology and mocks him for his desire to live a private, quiet life off-grid, away from 24/7 surveillance.
“If things continue this way, there will be two societies – or at least I hope there will be two – the one you’re helping create, and an alternative to it. You and your ilk will live, willingly, joyfully, under constant surveillance, watching each other always, commenting on each other, voting and liking and disliking each other, smiling and frowning, and otherwise doing nothing much else […] We are living in a tyrannical state now” – Mercer
Dave Eggers’s novel is a disturbing, thought-provoking and dystopian look at what happens when technology goes too far. I highly recommend it!
Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding
I took a short break, just a few days away, in the middle of September and this is the book that accompanied me — very light and fluffy, and not the kind of book I usually read! It’s written in diary form by the comic protagonist Bridget Jones and it’s the last novel in a series — the other two (Bridget Jones’s Diary and The Edge of Reason) were made into popular rom-com movies starring Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant.
In Mad About the Boy, Bridget is in her fifties, widowed with two young children. True to form, she is as scatty and disorganised as ever, which provides fodder for most of the novel’s humour. It’s an okay read, but I did find myself skimming pages. The content is very trivial and although I laughed out loud a few times, the novel doesn’t really add anything different.
The character of Bridget hasn’t developed or matured, despite being at least fifteen years older since her last diary was published, and it feels as though the author relies on the same tropes as the previous two novels — funny at first but with repeated use, they fall flat.
Us by David Nicholls
David Nicholls is well-known for his novel, One Day, which was made into a film starring Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway, who sported an amusingly inaccurate Yorkshire accent. I saw the film but I didn’t read the novel, so Us is my first experience with Nicholls’s writing.
Connie, a lively artistic type, and Douglas, a pedantic biochemist, are an unlikely pair, but they have been (mostly) happily married for two decades. But then Connie says, out of the blue, that she wants to leave Douglas. It’s rather bad timing for this earth-shattering announcement, as Douglas has been planning a family adventure: a Grand Tour across Europe, with their seventeen-year-old son, Albie, in tow. The flights and hotel rooms are booked, and the itinerary is scheduled, so off they go anyway…
As the back-cover blurb says, “What can possibly go wrong?” Quite a lot, as it turns out!
The summary may sound like just another chick-lit novel, but Nicholls’s writing is subtle and lifelike, resulting in a tender, funny and moving portrayal of love, family and marriage in middle age.
What books did you read in September? Share your recommendations in the comments!
Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon affiliate links — if you click on the images of the books and purchase any of them at Amazon, I receive a tiny percentage. It doesn’t cost you anything, and any affiliate earnings go towards funding my graduate research in linguistics.