April and algorithms
April came and went in a flurry. It seemed like I had only just put away my wooden rabbit decorations before they were out again. Easter was sponsored by Reese’s Peanut Butter and Peeps carefully brought back from New York in Walgreens carriers. We spent the first week saying ,’This time last week we were….’ and everywhere there were little reminders; receipts stamped ‘251 e 13th st nyc,’ in trouser pockets, ticket stubs from the Staten Island ferry lurking at the bottom of bags. I wondered who was looking out of our hotel window, watching the lights come on over the skyline.
Back into the routine, I logged on to an inbox teeming with press releases about Father’s Day. ‘Treat him to a new Lawnmower – you know he deserves it!’ Next came Facebook’s cheery messages Hey – Alison, exactly this time two years ago your father was critically ill in hospital? Remember?’ Yes, I remember, thanks. Every last thing. I know it’s only algorithms that brought that post up to the surface, but yeah, good old Facebook.
I had lots of things on the April calendar which, one by one, were scuppered. A vomiting child, a derailed train (empty so thankfully no one hurt but caused days of havoc). I should have just carried on enjoying Frank Underwood’s machinations, but instead I tortured myself by watching the events I should have been at unfold online. That’s the double bind of social media – whilst it is still amazing to me you can experience things vicariously, I still ended up feeling like Tiny Tim pressing his nose up against the window of the toyshop.
What I read in April
Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller (Penguin)
I really loved this beautifully crafted tale. It’s the story of 8 year old Peggy who is taken deep, deep into the forests by her father to an abandoned wooden cabin. She thinks they are just going on a long hike but they end up staying for nine years. Set in the long hot summer of 1976 (which has inspired so many authors) he tells her that the world has been destroyed and that they are the only two left. It swaps between then and 1985 so we know from the outset she survives but the way Fuller reveals the truth of what really happened is expertly handled. The descriptions of nature and how they actually live day to day are riveting. It’s about the lies that adults tell and the damage they can inflict; the way that children can’t read a situation and how it becomes clear to them only in adulthood. It had extra resonance because I was about that age in 1976 and so all the references to The Railway Children etc really took me back. This is me during that summer (wearing an Aaran jumper in the heat for some peculiar reason).
All This has Nothing to Do With Me by Monica Sabolo (Picador)
This is a very odd little book – very slight and barely even a novella, with many of the pages taken up entirely with photographs. Translated from the original French, it chronicles one woman’s obsession with a male colleague who takes a job on the magazine where she works. She steals a succession of his cigarette lighters as little souvenirs and catalogues them. She draws a map of where he sits in the office complete with photocopier. If you’ve ever stalked anyone on Facebook, some of the letters she writes to the CEO of the Parisian office, seeking clarification about whether people can tell how many times their profile has been viewed, were very funny. Overall, it was a bit style over substance and it will be compared to Leanne Shapton’s Important Artifacts and Personal Property…’ which told the story of a relationship breakdown presented as an auction catalogue. Maybe I’m not the target market but ‘All This’ didn’t quite work for me.
How To Make a Friend by Fleur Smithwick (Transworld)
This is the story of Alice, a photographer, who is driving herself and two good friends, Rory and Daniel, back from her Dad’s wedding to his second wife, when they are involved in a head on car crash. She wakes from a coma, to discover that Rory died. Sitting on the end of her bed, is her invisible friend, Sam, who was her companion through her lonely childhood – all grown up. Why is he back now? Is he more than a figment of her imagination? Is it the result of the head injury or is she going mad? Knowing that if she is ‘cured’ he will no longer be needed, Sam begins to be threatening towards those she loves, especially to Jonathan, the long held object of her affections. I found the premise really fascinating and the family relationships (a cold distant mother, the dynamics between blended families ) very well drawn. Fleur also has a great author blog here.
I also read the ubiquitous The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins (the fastest selling adult novel in history!), Disclaimer by Renee Knight (yes, my jaw was on the floor) Nora Webster by Colm Toibin which left me slightly cold, the excellent The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett which is going to be huge (more on that closer to publication) and the also brilliantly original suspense novel What She Left by T R Richmond (a Q & A with the author is in the pipeline).
How was your April and what did you read?