So, half term was great: I ran, I went to the gym, I walked in the Lake District and I read four excellent books, all by women. First up was Carolyn Ives Gilman's Dark Orbit. I'm not sure what I was expecting but it wasn't this. I really, really enjoyed it. I found it richly imagined and absorbing and I loved its focus on female characters. I guess I don't read that much 'straight' sci-fi (whatever that is) and nor have I read enough sci-fi to know whether some of the ideas in the novel have been explored before or explored better before. There were hints of Le Guin in there I think and I remembered too her essay on the Carrier Bag. The writing felt like a wonderful mashup - parts that were simple and elegant; parts that carried a pulp sensibility. Every now and then, especially in the first third, there were sections with a little too much explanation and the satire at the expense of scientists was a little overdone. But these are minor quibbles. Highly recommended.
Sara Taylor's The Shore has bagged a place on the Kitschies Golden Tentacle (Debut novel) shortlist but it's so good it could easily have earned a place on the Red Tentacle list instead. Nina Allan's review over at Strange Horizons says it all. If I have a 'Books of the Year' roundup come December The Shore will be in it.
I was going to carry on reading sci-fi but saw a conversation on Andy Miller's Twitter feed. He'd just read Elizabeth Taylor's Angel and lots of people were joining in with the Taylor love. I only discovered Taylor after seeing M John Harrison praise her work (a number of years ago now) and I love her novels and stories so much that I've been trying to eke them out over the years. But I couldn't resist it and so reread Angel.
Elizabeth Taylor is one of those rare writers who have it all. My copy is marked on every page - not with amazing metaphors or juxtapositions, but with satire, cruelty, longing and bathos. She mixes hardness (I've tried to come up with a better word but the texts ARE hard and sharp) with empathy and kindness, cheeky humour with an implacable gaze. You get the sense that she looks at life without flinching and somehow matches that with the textures and rhythms of her writing. Part of me sometimes thinks she tells us too much or she can be too cruel and then in the next paragraph I'll be won over again immediately. Hopefully I'll be brave enough to write about one of the novels in more detail.
Finally I read Amy Liptrot's The Outrun. I'm glad to see this is getting plenty of praise in the media because it is brilliant in every way. Her story of fighting alcoholism in London and returning to her home in Orkney is full of fine, direct writing. She communicates the otherness of Orkney and island life and their different ways of living fantastically well. It's impossible not to admire Amy's resilience and bravery, her lust for life, her curiosity and openness to experience. Her book is full of hope and a sense of wonder. I identify very closely with much of what she writes about. I too grew up with a manic depressive father and struggle with addictive tendencies. The restlessness and dissatisfaction that she writes about so brilliantly haunt my life. Many, if they are anything like me, will find inspiration, courage and solidarity in these pages.
It's a book I'll return to again before too long for the companionship and the peace it brought me.