Monsters, Frauds and Shrews: Here are the best books of the year… So far

Adriana Lima
By Adriana Lima 10 Min Read
origin 1Our Favourite Books of 2023… So Far ©The Borough Press, Sourcebooks, Knopf, Faber & Faber

The Edinburgh International Book Festival kicks off today, from 12 – 28 August.

The showcase celebrates the written word and brings leading and emerging international, British and Scottish authors together to inspire each other and audiences in a programme of public events.

What better time than to share with you the 2023 releases that the RockedBuzz via Euronews Culture team have treasured so far this year?

We’ve had to make some tough choices and narrowed it down to five books you shouldn’t miss out on. Here goes…

Monsters – A Fan’s Dilemma

by Claire Dederer

origin 1Monsters – A Fan’s DilemmaKnopf

In ‘Monsters – A Fan’s Dilemma’, American writer Claire Dederer embarks on a deeply introspective and thought-provoking exploration of an age-old question: Can we appreciate the art of morally questionable artists? Whether considering the films of Roman Polanski, the paintings of Pablo Picasso or the books of JK Rowling, Dederer dives headfirst into the core of this complex issue. If you’re looking for a quick and simple solution to this conundrum, Dederer can’t give it to you. But she can discuss how she’s approached the problem in her own life, as a film critic and lover of art. As society grapples with the intricacies of cancel culture and the #MeToo movement, Dederer invites readers to join her in an honest conversation about the dynamics of artist-fan relationships and the often overly high expectations we hold celebrities to. She also raises questions like whether male monstrosity is the same as female monstrosity, and if it’s acceptable to enjoy Michael Jackson’s early work with the Jackson 5, while distancing ourselves from his later controversies. And refreshingly, despite the weighty and sensitive subject matter of the book, it’s actually very funny. Dederer candidly shares her unique and personal perspectives with astute intellect and humour, making it an essential and fascinating read from start to finish. Theo Farrant

Shy

by Max Porter

origin 1ShyFaber & Faber

British writer Max Porter’s newest novel ‘Shy’ picks up where his other works left off. Following the lonely thoughts of a misunderstood teenager in a boarding school for troubled boys, Porter’s fourth book develops themes explored in the writer’s previous work through his distinctive stream-of-consciousness approach. Set in 1995, the novel takes place over the course of one night. It follows 16-year-old Shy as he leaves his boarding school with a backpack full of rocks, and the haunting voices of parents, friends and enemies flicking through his mind. He makes his journey while reflecting on funny and vulnerable times in his life, with a soundtrack of drum-and-bass to accompany him. In typical Porter style, the narrative skips and jumps through themes and stories, creating a mosaic of experiences. Porter’s oeuvre to date has been dedicated to considerations of masculinity, bravado, and social expectation, but ‘Shy’ allows him to interrogate these themes through a concentrated lens. His writing evokes layered interior landscapes that illustrate the intimate inner workings of emotional stress. ‘Shy’ captures the painful, absurd, and confused internal monologue of adolescence. Aoife Donnellan

Yellowface

by R. F. Kuang

origin 1YellowfaceThe Borough Press

This highly immersive satirical novel from American writer R. F. Kuang (‘Babel, or the Necessity of Violence’) takes us on a thrilling journey through the eyes of June Hayward, a floundering author who’s intensely envious of fellow author and current literary darling of the publishing world, Athena Liu. When June witnesses Athena’s sudden (freak accident) death, she seizes the opportunity to steal her friend’s last manuscript and claim it as her own. Success finally ensues, but one built on a lie. And June will do anything to cover her tracks and keep her moment in the spotlight. ‘Yellowface’ is a lot of things: a satirical thriller about a literary heist; a frequently funny and damning critique of the behind-the-curtain realities of the modern publishing world; a sharp indictment of white privilege and cultural appropriation (how do we decide who has the right to tell a story?); and a stealth ghost story. It could have lost its way, but Kuang deftly weaves these strands in a compelling manner, keeping you hooked with a constant wrestling match for the reader: June should get caught, but you can’t help but root for her in an ever-so-slightly disturbing way. Her story is full of biting and meta insights and ‘Yellowface’ perfectly captures the ongoing discourse regarding culture wars and the brutal social-media landscape. You won’t find a more addictive and timely read so far this year. And with a rumoured film adaptation in the works, this isn’t the last time you’ll hear of ‘Yellowface’. David Mouriquand

Greek Lessons

by Han Kang

origin 1Greek LessonsHogarth

It’s perhaps of little surprise that this book caught my eye. My mother is Greek, but I haven’t managed to learn the language, despite lessons on and off over the years. So the frustration of trying to say something and nothing coming out – is familiar. But this novel isn’t really about learning a language. Nor is it character or plot-driven but rather it’s about the dissolution of language – and human connection. In a classroom in Seoul, a young woman watches her Greek language teacher at the blackboard. She tries to speak but has lost her voice. Meanwhile, her teacher, who is losing his sight day by day, finds himself drawn to her. Each character takes turns to narrate scenes from their lives (the man in the first person and the woman in the third person). They soon bond over their pain – hers, the loss of her family, and his, the pain of growing up between Korea and Germany, being torn between two cultures and languages. ‘Greek Lessons’ is author Han Kang’s fourth full-length novel. She won the Man Booker International Prize for fiction in 2016 for her novel, ‘The Vegetarian’. It’s perhaps apt that a book which focused so much on the transience of language was first published in Korean in 2011 and is newly translated this year by Deborah Smith and Emily Yae Won. Katy Dartford

Unlikeable Female Characters: The Women Pop Culture Wants You to Hate

by Anna Bogutskaya

origin 1Unlikeable Female Characters: The Women Pop Culture Wants You to HateSourcebooks

For this thoroughly insightful debut, film programmer, critic, and host of The Final Girls podcast Anna Bogutskaya perceptively explores how “bitches, trainwrecks, shrews, and crazy women have taken over pop culture and liberated women from having to be nice.” Through tropes like “The Mean Girl”, “The Slut” and “The Shrew”, she traces the evolution of female characters in film, TV, and wider pop culture, how certain images have persisted within a systematic framework and been allowed to thrive as shackles through time, and how we’ve gotten to the point of being able to embrace the complexities of being a woman. Bogutskaya shrewdly narrows down what could have read like an endless catalogue of figures, focusing on how attributes have changed throughout history and questions what it means to be likeable. From Alison Drake in 1933’s Female to Succession’s Shiv Roy, via Fatal Attraction ’s Alex Forrest and Gone Girl ’s Amy Dunne, we are presented with evolving stereotypes throughout cultural history, as well as fascinating dives into the role of sexual agency in narratives and what Black female characters have been allowed to do on the screen compared to their white counterparts. It’s a revealing read and an absolute must-have. DM

Happy reading!

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