See Now Then – Jamaica Kincaid (2013)

Going along my TBR shelves and looking for my next read, I came across “See Now Then” by Jamaica Kincaid, which was her seventh novel. I’d not heard of the title, but have had some good reading from two of her other novels (see Annie John [1985]) and Lucy [1990]), and was hoping for a similar experience with this novel.

WARNING: Slightly grumpy review ahead. You may want to avert your eyes.

I do have to say that this was not the easiest read in the world. It did all the other ideal characteristics checked off for a reader like me: good quality paper, nicely sized font, and a novel from the experience of a POC author. However, what made it seem rather hard for me to follow was how the book was written: it’s in a solid stream-of-consciousness with never-ending sentences making few paragraphs so the reader is faced with large blocks of text (even if it is in a nice font on lovely paper). Plus, when you add to that the fact that the whole book is focused on Time (with a capital T), and you have one rather confused reader.

(In fact, Kincaid admitted in one of the interviews, “The one thing the book is, is difficult and I meant it to be.” The NYT review described it as “not an easy book to stomach” and “the kind of lumpy exorcism that many writers would have composed and then allowed to remain unpublished…It asks little of us, and gives little in return.” Ouch. )

The basic plot revolves around a family with the last name of Sweet  (husband, wife, two adolescent kids), but the surname doesn’t fit: it’s a family rife with problems. The husband hates the wife, the wife knows this but doesn’t seem willing or able to address it, and so most of the novel is written via the thoughts of the unhappy couple. (It’s not a cheerful novel, to say the least.) 

And the couple is really unhappy all the time, judging from the continuous stream of thoughts that is reported. It’s rather a grinding experience, really, and although it’s a pretty short read, it’s not an easy read due to this incessant negativity stemming from both people. (The kids aren’t that happy either.)

I’m not even sure why I kept reading it because it was a solid broccoli book – even worse, it was a solid raw broccoli book. There was no joy anywhere in the novel (apart from my own when I turned the last page). Most reviewers seem to believe that the plot is strongly autobiographical along with being quite an angry read, but Kincaid has denied that charge. (Still, quite a bit of the narrative plot does seem to track along with her own personal experiences though.)

Grumpy review finishes here. 🙂

So – quite a bitter read that was challenging at the same time. Phew. I’m glad I read it, but I’m even more glad that it’s over. I’m pretty sure that I’m over Kincaid’s writing now, but there are lots of other great POC authors ahead. Onward and upward to the next book.

If you’re interested in a couple of other Kinkaid reads for which I felt more positive, you might want to try Lucy (2002) or Annie John (1983).

This is part of JOMP’s celebration of Black History Month (in the U.S.)

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The End of Year “Best of …” Lists

end-of-the-year-reflection

So, in the manner of a lot of book bloggers, I have compiled a list of my “Best of…” titles that I’ve read this year for both fiction and for non-fiction. In the same vein, titles on these lists are not necessarily published in 2016 – this is just when they made their wending way into my grubby little mitts and off the TBR pile (for some of them)…

To the lists:

Fiction Top Five:

 

Non-Fiction Top Five:

Just adored this photographically heavy book, and actually read this twice B2B as I enjoyed this read so much. As close to a perfect read at the perfect time as I’ve ever had. Squee.

Not an easy read, but this was a heart-rending experience of Auschwitz and its aftermath by one of its most eloquent survivors. Amazing read.

A more academic read than the usual NF and about the history of the American contemporary frontier. Really an in-depth exploration of an influential part of America’s history and would be interesting for anyone curious about the early days of U.S. history.

Usually listed in the Top 100 Adventure Books, last year I had read and loved Volume I of this heart-racing non-fiction account of an Edwardian Antarctic expedition which went hideously wrong. This volume covers the second half of the journey which went even more wrong than the first bit (if that’s even possible), but it’s written by someone so charming that you forgive them for their unwitting errors right way.

The story of African-American pioneers who move north after the Emancipation Proclamation, and a more forgotten side of early American life on the plains of Kansas. This sent me down a whole other world of rabbit trails learning more about these families who worked so hard to get a better life for them and for their families.

General numbers:

  • Total books read: 56. (Woah. Low for me, but no biggie. Had an interesting year, shall we say.)
  • Total number of Fiction: 25
  • Plays: 2
  • Short stories: 1
  • Non-fiction: 28
  • Books written by POC: 30% (17)
  • Books Owned (%): 40% (rounded up)
  • Total pages: 13, 659

So, overall a good reading year (despite the low-ish total). I think that most of what I’ve read has been really good, with only a couple of stinkers, and I’ve read pretty widely as well. More NF than F which is interesting to me.

In the new year, more of the same! Happy reading!