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  • Maddie Noton and Kirsten Provan

the edi Book Club

Maddie Noton (M) and Kirsten Provan (K) briefly summarise several books, which will be later explored and discussed via a virtual Book Club.

Dedicating a portion of our day to reading a mere page of a book has become an almost impossible feat. In an age where instant results seem to incentivise action, reading outside of the assigned reading list for work assignments is becoming infrequent (especially alongside the increasing volume of work!). Amid our busy lives, we often neglect reading anything that does not yield some sort of instant benefit (from acquiring digitally dispensed gossip via Instagram to crossing a tick box off your assignment list).

However, this past year has seen a sharp uptake in those, who have decided to take up reading, and there is certainly no shortage of books from which to choose. Genres ranging from horror, fantasy, crime, science-fiction as well as non-fiction autobiographies and informative texts, are all available on multiple platforms: online, offline and even audiobooks.

In this article, we have collated and condensed some worthwhile reads, which we believe will offer direction for those struggling to find the perfect book.

Manifesto prt. 4 by Holly Overs (Instagram: @heovers)

Image Description: I illustrated this piece in response to a uni project, in which we had to create our own manifestos. I decided to make mine based around my workplace mindset and wellbeing. It’s essentially little reminders for me to work hard, remember to breathe every now and then.

Macbeth, William Shakespeare (M)

Perhaps a cliché, but Shakespeare never fails to amaze and inspire me. The thrill factor of his work evokes a sense of grotesque intrigue. As we see Macbeth and Lady Macbeth switch between their gender roles, as well as deteriorate in mental stability, Shakespeare appals his audience with scenes of theatrical horror. This sense of darkness, I think, ties in nicely with Edinburgh. Not only being “The Scottish Play”, but also its tales of Machiavellian manipulation and betrayal parallel the city’s dark past.

There have been many variations of this work, both on the stage and screen, but if reading is not enough, then I thoroughly recommend watching it.

Firstly, and my favourite, the 2015 film with Michael Fassbender as the lead. Filmed on the Isle of Skye, the eerie adaptation is in keeping with the traditional writing (the Scottish moors providing its setting), and Fassbender’s portrayal of the hauntingly monstrous title character merits his overall capabilities as an actor.

Another favourite (yet slightly unconventional) version is James McAvoy as Macbeth, ShakespeaRe-told (2005). Released in the second episode as a part of a four-part series of Shakespeare plays, it showcases a Glaswegian restaurant that descends into anarchy after murder becomes the means of obtaining power. The modern setting allows for a wider scope of audience, who may be initially apprehensive at the archaic writing, but its gruesome plot lives up to the text’s gory reputation.

This play goes well with a picturesque view of the Scottish Highlands (google images for southerners like me), a foggy night and a glass of brandy (for shock).

Conversations with Friends, Sally Rooney (M)

Eclipsed by the widespread popularity of its sister Normal People, this book parallels the similar social mundanities and routines of everyday life. However, it’s clever in the sense that we view one rather theatrical and striking character (Bobbi) against a backdrop of regular, every day, normality. I found this read to be strangely freeing, as it details the life of Frances – an introverted, awkward writer from Ireland. Overshadowed by her opinionated and somewhat possessive best friend, Rooney highlights her struggles with identity, sexuality and family. A reserved and partially vanilla individual, she perhaps doesn’t fit the archetype of the traditional protagonist, making her character arguably more compelling.

The text does not shy away from political issues such as class, sexual liberation and feminism. Centred around university and student life, it speaks to my own experiences as a student – most notably the undercurrents of wealth division in a city as widely diverse as Edinburgh. This is also especially relevant at a time where we are viewing the repercussions of blind-sighted wealth in our government.

This book goes well with a cup of tea, a self-reflective attitude and an appreciation of the Irish.

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (M)

Possibly the founder of our preconceived notions around the term ‘Monster’, Mary Shelley continues to enthral readers in her creative construction (and deconstruction) of human identity. Told through the perspective of an ambitious traveller named Robert Walton, we learn of Victor Frankenstein’s devastating and destructive journey in which he seals his demise.

His tales of reckless adolescence and relentless Hubris, all in efforts to usurp divine will and restore life to a corpse, are horrifying, harrowing and, yet, somewhat enlightening. What makes us human? The physical attributes of the Monster seem to contribute a lot more to his overall antagonistic character portrayal than his actions.

Like any good piece of literature, this text forces us to reflect and question our judgments when faced with similar metaphysical obstacles as fictional characters. Although, I’m not expecting anyone to reanimate corpses in a German laboratory.

This book goes best with a stormy night, some scientific understanding (although, I coped fine) and a good Swiss accent.

Girl, Woman, Other, Bernardine Evaristo (M)

Although divided into individual narratives, the characters in this text are united by their ‘Coming Of Age’ style reflections. Offering us an almost extended-family setting, we hear accounts of their lives and experiences - covering topics such as sexuality, race, education and class. The chronology of this writing also ranges across the century: despite taking place in the modern-day, the stories of these characters stretch back across the years, encapsulating change not only within themselves but also as a part of a wider, shifting society.

One particular character, who stands out amongst this impressive crowd of individuals is Penelope, for whom we may feel little empathy due to her archaic ideology. Yet, it is this attitude and this character, which perhaps surprises us the most. Her development seems almost greater than any other, and the ultimate plot twist of this book makes it a heart-warming read.

The words of this book encourage us to grow; to change and to mature. But it equally reminds us of our heritage and reinforces the vitality of maintaining our connections to the past. Above all, to our loved ones.

To accompany this book, I would recommend a furry blanket, good attention to detail and a nostalgic mood.

This Is Going To Hurt, Adam Kay (M)

Unlike anything that I have read before, this book opened my eyes to the relentless tenacity and resilience of those who work in the NHS. Adam Kay (having been motivated by Jeremy Hunt’s 2015 attack on junior doctors over a contract dispute) published his documented accounts of his medical training from 2004 to 2010. The most prominent theme throughout this book draws on the improper treatment that the NHS receive in terms of government support. The repercussions of financial cuts, leading to overworked and underpaid staff take centre stage in his writing and offers an alternative voice to that of the front liners on the NHS itself. Alongside governmental neglect, Kay records his interactions with particularly “tricky” patients: interactions that make me feel almost embarrassed to be a member of the British general public.

In its flinchingly gory accounts of past patients, this text elicits a holy trinity of hilarity, devastation and rage. Furthermore, despite some altered names due to privacy reasons, this book is far from fictional, making its writing further compelling for readers like me, who entered into reading with no background understanding of the inner workings of the NHS. For some, this may differ, but regardless of your medical knowledge, this writing is assured to gauge your interest.

Goes well with a strong stomach, a box of tissues and a deep reverence of the NHS.

A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James (K)

Anyone who knows me knows Marlon James. I never let a day pass without mentioning him and I refuse to stop. He’s the most refreshing writer I’ve read in recent years; a true individual with a distinct and confident style. A Brief History of Seven Killings, his most famous book, sees those allegedly on the fringes of the attempted assassination of reggae legend Bob Marley step into the spotlight. Throughout the novel, Marlon James explores gang culture; the toxic input of the CIA in Jamaica during the Cold War; and the impact of corrupt, violent, and powerful politicians and policemen. However, it is James’ characters that stand out here, as is true of everything he writes. James has a great knack for turning incredibly flawed, ostensibly unlikeable individuals into utterly compelling and strangely loveable people. He humanises the baddies and demonises the goodies.

James’ prose throughout is poetic and lyrical; it begs to be read aloud. The novel incorporates myth, legend, folklore, and the fantastic, combining it all with a history that we know so little about. All this comes together to make a story that, at its heart, feels alive.

The Driver’s Seat, Muriel Spark (K)

The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark is the kind of book that it’s best not to know too much about before reading. Even the blurb feels like too much information. It follows a woman named Lise who decides to take a holiday, and that’s all you need to know. Spark, the queen of opening sentences, really strings her readers along with this truly bizarre little book. It’s one of the only novels I’ve come across that changes with every read. The first time, you are utterly manipulated by Spark, allowed to feel clever, before the proverbial rug is well and truly pulled. The second read, well, Spark expertly reveals every little thing you missed and everything you took for granted becomes skewed; characters somehow take on whole new personalities. The Driver’s Seat is completely mad, absolutely astounding, and clever at its core; the genius of Spark is out in full force here. It’s a book that destabilises and discombobulates; not once does Spark let her readers in the driver’s seat.

Piranesi, Susanna Clarke (K)

There’s nothing quite like a bit of escapism while the world burns around us. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke was that book for me in 2020. Clarke’s first novel since the highly-acclaimed Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell graced our shelves sixteen years ago, Piranesi is a quirky little book brimming with imagination, world-building, and mystery. Piranesi, the loveable protagonist, lives in the House, a large, labyrinthine building where forceful tides sweep through the rooms and statues make up most of the population. He and his curious friend, the Other, believe themselves to be the only living occupants of the House, but as mysterious messages start appearing in its vast halls, Piranesi must consider the possibility that they might not be alone. Clarke combines intricate, evocative descriptions of the House with a perfectly paced mystery, making Piranesi an intriguing little puzzle with the power to transport readers to a world blissfully far away from our own.

Morvern Callar, Alan Warner (K)

Morvern Callar by Alan Warner opens with the fairly gruesome suicide of Morvern’s nameless boyfriend. But far from remaining in a stagnant grieving period, Morvern Callar is a novel about impulsive decisions, action, and the need to always keep moving. Set primarily in an isolated, rather depressing Scottish port town, the novel charts supermarket worker Morvern’s desperate need to escape and the structures of society that make it almost impossible to do so.

Strangely for the brusque young woman, it is only with the death of her boyfriend that Morvern’s own life begins. Though she remains lonely at heart throughout and does grieve for her lost love, Morvern moves from Scotland to Spain to London back to Scotland again, seeking pleasure and parties wherever she can. Warner’s portrayal of a solitary but steadfast Scottish girl is deeply skilful and sensitive. She truly comes alive on the page; her tenacity and self-assurance remain charming throughout. Undoubtedly, Morvern Callar is one of those great literary characters that persist.

The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead (K)

Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys is not for the fainthearted. Set in a segregated reform school called the Nickel Academy, the story follows Elwood and Turner, two students, as they try to survive the torrent of abuse they experience there. Moving back and forth between Jim Crow-era Florida and 2010s New York, the novel, based on a real reform school, brings the devastating truth of such recent history to light. Whitehead, a double Pulitzer winner, very sensitively and deftly brings the Academy and all its horrors alive. While Elwood is devoted to Dr Martin Luther King’s peaceful protests, relying on corrupt, self-interested, abusive white men to see reason, by setting a portion of the novel in the present day, Whitehead shows how such abhorrent attitudes are not so easily overturned. It is a harrowing, haunting novel that forces readers to confront the brutality of the all-too-recent past, making it clear that the aftershock of such horrific events is still being felt today.

Keep an eye out on our Instagram page (@theedimagazine) for when the book club is going live!

Kirsten Provan and Maddie Noton are two students at the University of Edinburgh. This article was edited by Tamara El-Halawani, also a student at the University.



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