An Unreliable Reader’s Review

This post was going to be a confessional, of sorts. It was going to be me telling you that I’m an unreliable reader. That I feel guilty. See, there are lots of books I want to read. I buy loads, I get sent some, and I want to read them all. But something happens. I know exactly what it is – it’s a complete lack of time coupled with my being cautious of what I read while I’m writing (and I’m writing most of the time). So what ends up happening is many, many books get added to the To-Read pile, and they’re often there for a long time.

But sometimes something strange happens. I don’t know if it’s me thinking sod it or just chance – but I’ll buy a book and read it straight away. It’s not planned, it’s not that I fancy it more than the others that are waiting – it just happens (can you see why I’d feel guilty?).
But I’m not going to tell you (any more) about that. Because I have just finished one of the best books I’ve read, the reading of which, it just so happens, was precisely one of those jump-to-the-front-of-the-queue-without-reason occurrences. (And I hope that is more interesting than telling you what I haven’t read.)
It’s called Black Boxes and it’s written by a very lovely lady by the name of Caroline Smailes. There’s a strong possibility you’ll have heard of her for it is she who’s responsible for that terrific Black Box widget that’s appeared on many a blog over the last few months.
Now, I don’t do reviews (I’m no good at them, you know this) and I’m not going to go into too much detail about the book – wouldn’t want to give too much away – but, but, but – I do want to tell you what I think.
The book tells the story, the recording of sorts, of the last hours of 37 year old Ana’s life, which is about to end by her own hand. It’s told in her own words and those words are told just beautifully. It’s poetry, beautifully tragic and honest and brutal – as are the words we find in her teenaged daughter’s diary.
The subject matter’s not pretty – it’s heart-breaking (no bad thing). But it’s the story and the way it’s told that makes it so brilliant. It’s hypnotic, it’s sad, it’s beautiful, it’s fresh, it feels original and, most importantly, it feels real. It’s not easy to do haunting and affecting, and it’s not easy to write about depressing situations convincingly and make them entertaining without relying on people’s morbid curiosity (or just plain wallowing) – take it from me, Caroline Smailes has managed it here. And how.
I’ve mentioned here over the past few months how chuffed and lucky I’ve been to discover some utterly wonderful writers recently (Aimee Bender, Lorrie Moore and Etgar Keret most notably) and I’m chuffed and lucky again because Caroline Smailes has gone straight onto that list. Black Boxes is wonderful – in content, in story and in its telling. It could very easily be my book of the year.
I just wonder now what other gems I’m missing out on by not getting more stuck in to my To-Read pile.

0 Comments on “An Unreliable Reader’s Review

  1.  by  Sheila Cornelius

    I can so empathise with your point. I also have about piles of ‘good intention’ books to which I devote the odd half hour when it suits. Then I pick up one so enthralling the pages fairly whizz by. With me, it’s something that chimes with a current mood or interest. Sheila

  2.  by  annie clarkson

    I have a heap of books I’ve been meaning to read for ages too…Black Boxes sounds great… thanks for the review, very enthusiastic

  3.  by  Nik's Blog

    I am glad I’m not alone, girls!I think the mood thing’s an interesting point, Sheila (though I ought to point out that my mood was far from suicidal when I picked up BB!) and often true. I’d not thought of that. Also, as we all know too well as writers, a good story pulls you in, makes you want to read on, which BB definitely did.Annie – hello – lovely to see you over here. How far back does your pile go? I know there’s books on mine that easily stretch back four years. Eek. Guilty.Black Boxes is great, imo, and I think I sound as enthusiastic about it as I am. Proper good!Nik

  4.  by  Samantha Tonge

    Glad i’m not the only one who neglects her reading pile. In fact that’s one reason i do reviews for a reading site – it forces me to read.It is hard though, at the end of the day when all you’ve done is work with words – the last thing i feel like doing is reading more.x

  5.  by  Nik's Blog

    I know what you mean. but-but-but when it’s a good book it’s a pleasure (and it can show me how it should be done!).N 🙂

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