Friday, February 2, 2024

What we’re reading


Our Share of Night by Mariana Enríquez; Middlemarch by George Eliot; Things I Don’t Want to Know by Deborah Levy. Photograph: Granta; Penguin

What we’re reading: writers and readers on the books they enjoyed in January

Authors, critics and Guardian readers discuss the titles they have read over the last month. Join the conversation in the comments

Simon, Guardian reader

I’ve been reading Our Share of Night by Mariana Enríquez, which concerns Argentina in the 80s and 90s. It deals with the dictatorship and its aftermath, using horror, witchcraft and familial relationships as tools of investigation. I liked its insights into life and the way the central father/ son relationship was investigated from different angles. I found the darkness, brutality and strangeness of the novel compelling, but this was juxtaposed with moments of sweetness.

Zachary C Solomon, author

In a deeply surreal confluence of big life things, January saw the publication of my debut novel and the birth of my second child. As a result, my reading time has taken a nosedive; nevertheless, there have been a couple of short, smart novels propulsive enough to keep my tired eyes open just a little longer.

The first was The Cipher, speculative writer Kathe Koja’s 1991 debut novel about Nicholas, an alcoholic video store clerk, who discovers a black hole in the floor of his building’s utility room. But this isn’t one of outer space’s light-bending, time-sucking curiosities – instead, this dark spherical oddity deforms everything that it comes in contact with: bugs, mice, steel artworks, Nicholas’s hand. I am constantly disappointed by genre fiction – yet I keep trying and trying, hoping to find a novel where the sentence level is as beguiling as the premise it describes. The Cipher is one such book.

I was drawn next to the frightening literary realism of the Dutch writer Tim Krabbé and his novel The Cave. This is my first of Krabbé’s novels and, while I’m only halfway through it, I know I’ll be seeking out his others. It reminds me in all the best ways of Ian McEwan’s The Comfort of Strangers, a mean and perfect little book that I admire greatly. I didn’t realise until this week, however, that one of my favourite horror films, The Vanishing (the original 1988 Dutch version) was based on Krabbé’s novel of a similar name. So far, The Cave is the rare novel in which I feel both utterly lost and in the capable hands of a master storyteller.

But the truth is that, more than anything else, I’m still thinking about Jenny Erpenbeck’s latest novel Kairos, which I read way back in June. That’s how good it is.

 A Brutal Design by Zachary C Solomon is available now.


Kate McCusker, Guardian writer

Like every other Irish person I know, I recently finished Paul Murray’s tome-heavy The Bee Sting and was after something decidedly lighter to carry around next. I picked up Deborah Levy’s Things I Don’t Want to Know and devoured it in one sitting.

skip past newsletter promotion

I’m shamefully late to the church of Levy, coming to her writing via her novels Swimming Home and Hot Milk a couple of years ago. Although I enjoyed her fiction, it was only after reading her “living autobiographies” The Cost of Living and Real Estate towards the end of last year that I really got what other people had been harping on about for so long. (My admiration was only strengthened by reading that the author is partial to a lunchtime rollie with a vermouth on ice.)

Written in response to George Orwell’s 1946 essay Why I Write, Things I Don’t Want to Know moves through a despondent working holiday to Mallorca, Levy’s childhood in apartheid South Africa and an adolescence spent performatively scrawling on napkins in a north London greasy spoon. There are so many good lines that if you took a highlighter to them the book would be cover-to-cover neon yellow. (A favourite is: “Yes, there had been many times I called my daughters back to zip up their coats. All the same, I knew they would rather be cold and free.”) On finishing it, I was less concerned with why Levy writes than just glad that she does.

Alun, Guardian reader

On my third attempt to read George Eliot’s Middlemarch in 20 years, it just clicked into place. Sublimely written, perceptive and funny, while all fitting neatly into some well-navigated Victorian tropes.

You’ve chosen to read 28 articles in the last year
Article count

Well, 2023 didn’t exactly go to plan, did it?

Here in the UK, the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, had promised us a government of stability and competence – not forgetting professionalism, integrity and accountability – after the rollercoaster ride of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. Remember Liz? These days she seems like a long forgotten comedy act. Instead, Sunak took us even further through the looking-glass into the Conservative psychodrama. 

Elsewhere, the picture has been no better. In the US, Donald Trump is now many people’s favourite to become president again. In Ukraine, the war has dragged on with no end in sight. The danger of the rest of the world getting battle fatigue and losing interest all too apparent. Then there is the war in the Middle East and not forgetting the climate crisis …

But a new year brings new hope. There are elections in many countries, including the UK and the US. We have to believe in change. That something better is possible. The Guardian will continue to cover events from all over the world and our reporting now feels especially important. But running a news gathering organisation doesn’t come cheap. 

So this year, I am asking you – if you can afford it – to give money. Well, not to me personally – though you can if you like – but to the Guardian. The average monthly support in Portugal is around €3, however much you give, all that matters is you’re choosing to support open, independent journalism.

With your help, we can make our journalism free to everyone. You won’t ever find any of our news reports or comment pieces tucked away behind a paywall. We couldn’t do this without you. Unlike our politicians, when we say we are in this together we mean it.

Happy new year!

John Crace

Guardian columnist

John Crace, Guardian columnist

Contribution frequency

Contribution amount
Accepted payment methods: Visa, Mastercard, American Express and PayPal

What we're reading

  • What we’re reading: writers and readers on the books they enjoyed in December

  • What we’re reading: writers and readers on the books they enjoyed in November

  • What we’re reading: writers and readers on the books they enjoyed in October

  • What we’re reading: writers and readers on the books they enjoyed in September

  • What we’re reading: writers and readers on the books they enjoyed in August

  • What we’re reading: writers and readers on the books they enjoyed in July

  • What we’re reading: writers and readers on the books they enjoyed in June

  • What we’re reading: writers and readers on the books they enjoyed in May

More from Culture

  • Beyond the pale
    Where are all the films about ‘whiteness’?

    8h ago
  • Grammys
    Female musicians set to be celebrated as Taylor Swift eyes a record-breaking win

    4h ago
  • The Guide
    From The Zone of Interest to My Bloody Valentine, good art is worth the wait

    2h ago
  • 28 Years Later
    Can Danny Boyle and Cillian Murphy’s followup take zombie films to the next level?

  • Stage
    Andrew Scott: sex scenes less ‘embarrassing’ for audience if one actor plays both characters

    5h ago
  • ‘I hate it. It sucks. But it didn’t defeat me’
    Michael J Fox on pity, Parkinson’s – and a potential cure

  • Street fighting years
    When Tekken and its enemies ruled the world

Comments (69)

Sign in or create your Guardian account to join the discussion

Guardian Pick

My January:
Fyodor Dostoevsky (trans. Alan Myers) – ‘White Nights’ – ‘It was a wonderful night, the sort of night that can only occur when we are young…The sky was so starry and bright…’ – we've all been there. A perfect little novella of dreaming and unrequited love, set beside the Ekaterina Canal in Petersburg. And at the end, do we agree with the un-named narrator (at least ten years older than his seventeen-year-old belove…

Guardian Pick

Have just finished reading J. P. Hartley's The Go-Between - and I am feeling like an onion that has lost two or three protective layers. A great book. Hope to write more once I have recovered at least one of these layers...