It’s a wrap! My first proper attempt at a readathon is done and I have to say it’s been a blast. Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon is, as the name suggests, a readathon that takes place over 24 hours. It has a set start time world-wide meaning that everyone participating is, in theory, reading together and can cheer each other along when the going gets tough. Some participants do try and read for the whole 24 hours but I become a very bad person with lack of sleep so I opted for a slightly less hardcore approach and chose instead to dedicate my waking hours to reading during the 24 hour period. So, how did I get on?
Well, I am proud of how much I managed to read. During the readathon period, I read a total of three books and started on a fourth, a total of 704 pages. I also listened to 60 minutes of my current audiobook during a short gym break. The books I read and finished during the readathon were:
‘Hag-Seed’ by Margaret Atwood
‘Bodies of Water’ by V.H. Leslie
‘Today Will Be Different’ by Maria Semple
I also started Wilkie Collins’ ‘The Haunted Hotel’ and progressed the audio of my current book club pick ‘The White Tiger’ by Aravind Adiga (read by Bindya Solanki).
My favourite read of the readathon was definitely Margaret Atwood’s ‘Hag-Seed’. This is the latest in the Hogarth Shakespeare re-tellings of Shakespeare’s plays in novel form (although the only one to date that I have read) and I have to say that I think Atwood has pulled it off brilliantly.
Atwood’s Prospero is Felix, a prominent theatre director who has been unceremoniously ousted by his right-hand man, Tony. Twelve years later, Felix has landed a job as the director of a prison theatre program when fate intervenes to place Tony directly in his path. As the possibility of revenge presents itself, Felix dreams us a theatrical, illusion-ridden version of ‘The Tempest’ that will change his life, and that of his cast, forever.
Capturing the revelry and mystery of Shakespeare’s original (along with a great deal of Shakespeare’s swearing!), Atwood adds plenty of her own magic to this re-telling, ending up with a novel that has warmth, humour and darkness in equal measure. I love Atwood’s writing and her sly observances of human nature and there’s plenty of wit and spark in this – it really was a joy to read and a great choice to kick the readathon off.
‘Bodies of Water’ was my next choice, begun as daylight was fading and the evening drawing in. A slim volume, coming in at 130 pages, it’s a ghost story with a neat psychological twist that slips between the modern day and 1871.
After ministering to fallen women in Victorian London, Evelyn has suffered a nervous breakdown and has been sent to the imposing Wakewater House, a hydrotherapy establishment on the banks of the Thames, to undergo the fashionable Water Cure. Years later, Kirsten moves into Wakewater – now transformed into modern apartments – fresh from a break-up and eager for the restorative calm of the river. But who is the solitary woman with the long black hair that Kristen keeps seeing by the riverbank? What is her connection to Wakewater? And what does she want from Kirsten?
At its heart a ghost story in the classic mould, filled with a creeping sense of unease and trepidation, this slim volume also examines issues surrounding women’s rights, including female sexuality and mental illness. Whilst to slender a volume to fully examine the fascinating topic of the Victorian treatment of women’s illness, it’s surprising how much ‘Bodies of Water’ manages to touch upon. It’s almost a shame that Leslie didn’t make this longer and turn it into a full novel as my only criticism would be that some of the characters felt a little slight and the ending, whilst sufficiently sinister, did feel rather rushed. That said, this is a novella chock full of atmosphere and made a great mid-readathon book to finish off before heading to bed.
Finally, I read Maria Semple’s latest novel ‘Today Will Be Different’, a contemporary novel with comic elements about a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown who, over the course of one day, revaluates her life and her place within it.
Eleanor Flood is a talented, middle-aged illustrator who has lost her mojo following a move from New York to suburban Seattle. Nobody remembers her cult TV animation, her graphic memoir is 8 years overdue, her precocious son Timby is faking illnesses at school and, to top it all off, her marriage to husband Joe has hit the rocks. Taking place over the course of one day, Eleanor resolves that today will be different – she will get up, get dressed and get her life back on track. But, as is the way with life, that doesn’t exactly go to plan.
I really enjoyed Semple’s ‘Where’d You Go Bernadette’ with which this novel shares many similarities. But what made quirky heroine Bernadette – another woman on the brink of a mid-life crisis with more baggage than an airport and enough neuroses to keep an entire hospital full of shrinks busy – so engaging was that, underneath all that, she was a likeable person. Crazy, neurotic and a little bit selfish but still with a great deal of warmth, humour and heart. Sadly, Eleanor Flood has none of that. She’s crazy but not in a kooky way, self-absorbed as opposed to neurotic and sarcastic to the point of acidic, instead of waspishly witty. All in all, she’s not that nice a person to spend an entire book with.
In addition, I failed to see the point of the plot. Throughout the course of Eleanor’s day, a series of anarchic incidents and mad-cap escapades sets her off course, including a lunch-date with a bitter former colleague, an unexpected run-in with a frustrated poet and a head-injury caused by a contemporary art installation. All of which are kind of funny in themselves but, collectively, just felt a little insane. And none of which really added anything to Eleanor’s character or to her sense of herself, which is bought out more in remembrances and flashbacks to her childhood with her drunken father, the death of her actress mother and the causes behind her strained relationship with her sister Ivy.
I really wanted to like this book because Semple has such a gift for turning a phrase and a really excellent sense of the absurd. She’s brilliant at black humour and capable of writing real wit and warmth into her characters. Sadly though, I just didn’t get that feeling with ‘Today Will Be Different’, which lacked the warm and gentle humour of ‘Where’d You Go Bernadette’ and, sadly, felt like a bit of a mess. I finished it more out of sheer stubbornness that anything else.
Oh well, onwards and upwards as they say. With an hour of two left of the readathon, I started on Wilkie Collins’ ‘The Haunted Hotel’, another ghost story in the classic mould. I only managed 50 pages by the time the readathon came to a close but I’m really enjoying it so far as it’s nicely combining good-old fashioned Victorian gothic with a pleasant mystery and an easy writing style.
I also mentioned my current audiobook, Aravind Adiga’s ‘The White Tiger’, which is my book group pick for November. Set in Bangladesh, the book seems to be the life story of Balram Halwai – also known as ‘The White Tiger’ – told via emails that the adult Balram is sending to the Chinese Prime Minister. It’s engaging so far, although I’m still in the early parts of the book, and the audio narration by Bindya Solanki is wonderful. I think audiobooks are a great choice for book group picks as they allow me to free up physical reading time for books on my personal TBR but still read my book club pick in time for group when I’m driving to/from work or doing chores.
All in all, a really excellent weekend of reading! I really enjoyed being part of an international community of readers, all cheering each other on. I also picked up some great book recommendations over the course of the weekend, took part in a couple of the mini-challenges being hosted and had some Twitter and Litsy chats with fellow readathoners. Plus it really revitalised my reading and put a nice dent into my TBR pile, as well as adding to my Goodreads Reading Challenge target (where I’ve been flagging behind a little).
I’d definitely readathon again in future and would like to thank all the hosts, cheerleaders and readers for making this such a fun event to be a part of. I’d love to know if any of you have ever taken part in a readathon and what you thought of it, or if you’d like to take part having read about my experience over the weekend. As always, drop me a comment down below, tweet me @amyinstaffs, or find me over on Litsy @ShelfofUnreadBooks, on Instagram @amyinstaffs and over on Goodreads.
Happy Reading! x