It’s January. The excitement of the recent holiday season has died down, and in its wake remains a slight hangover, a load of discarded wrapping paper, and a sense of impending doom as you remember that you’ve completely neglected your pre-reading for next term. It’s all a bit much, isn’t it? Well, fret not: The Arts team has sorted you with the perfect reads to carry you into the New Year feeling refreshed and ready for anything.
Wise Children by Angela Carter (1991) – Emily (Senior Arts editor)
Carter’s latest novel has the same jaded, cheeky energy as a great after, and brims with energy and cheer like a cheap bottle of prosecco. Told from the point of view of a former showgirl, the story follows two interconnected families, the intellectual Hazards and the other Chances. Their performance exploits trace the entire globe, from the bright lights of Hollywood to the dim bulbs of south London clubs. A story about Shakespeare, music hall, love and rebirth, Wise children is the perfect regenerative novel to greet the new year. As the septuagenarian protagonist of the novel, Dora Chance, would say, sometimes we all need to be reminded what a joy it is to dance and sing.
The ocean at the end of the lane by Neil Gaiman (2013) – Leo (Assistant Art Director)
A few days ago, I saw a peasant girl fighting a mysterious monster, Stranger things-style. It was terrifying, it was beautiful, and it was the best show I’ve ever seen. This is the world of The ocean at the end of the lane – now touring as a play with the National Theater but based on a novel by Neil Gaiman. It’s a fanged, fantasy world where duck ponds can be oceans and kittens can be harvested like carrots. It is also, quite literally, a trip down memory lane. Ocean it is narrated by a middle-aged man through memories of his seven-year-old self. In his memory, he finds not only magic and myth, but pain, fear and family. In Gaiman’s own words, “Middle” is a story “about survival”. Whether you encounter her by stage or by page, it’s a story that will swallow you whole.
“It’s a story that will swallow you whole”
The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West (1930) – Eve (art writer)
The new year encourages us to break with what, in the past, seemed impossible to leave behind (procrastination, bad habits, attending the DoS Zoom meeting without sound) and invites new possibilities. The Edwardians distills this spirit into a sumptuous and moving novel about the end of an era and one man’s efforts to escape predestination. Handsome and disaffected, Vita Sackville-West’s young duke Sebastian serves as an unlikely reminder that when life seems too hard and going nowhere, you can always strike up a romance. Warning: he is an Oxonian.
“When life seems too much and at the same time going nowhere, you can always start a romance”
I stared at the night of the city by Bachtyar Ali (2008) – Imaan (art writer)
Four friends team up to write a “book of death” and uncover the truth behind a murder amid rising authoritarianism in Iraqi Kurdistan. The first Kurdish novel to be translated into English, it combines magical realism with memorable characters: a reformed assassin who produces rosewater, a poet who writes charming ghazals, a carpet weaver and a man who takes blind children on imaginary sea voyages . The novel is a splash of rosewater on a sweltering day, and its whimsical elements make it the perfect break from college reading.
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The Lonely City by Olivia Laing (2016) – Jamie (art writer)
Olivia Laing always manages to come up with something spectacular: from her examination of art and its artists, she draws an unpretentious and empathetic reading of human experience. In the The Lonely City, Laing traces the lives of Andy Warhol, Edward Hopper and others, exploring how they represent the experience of loneliness and the difficulty of forming connections in urban spaces. Winter can be a season of isolation and fitting back into our social circles after six weeks away from Cambridge can feel daunting, but, as Laing says: “There’s no shame in that. Loneliness is a special place… intrinsic to the very act of being alive.
Lie with me by Philippe Besson, translated by Molly Ringwald (2017) – Grace (Art Writer)
Both nostalgic for lost youth and filled with the hope of young love, Lie with me it’s the perfect short read for those dreary January evenings. Translated from the French by Molly Ringwald, this novel sensitively captures the intimacy and intensity of a first relationship complicated by class differences and shame in a small rural town. In just over a hundred pages, the breathtaking writing immerses you in the anticipation, passion and pain of the clandestine relationship between two teenagers. Each twist in their story comes as a stinging shock, despite the underlying sense of inevitable heartbreak as a writer is suddenly plunged into memories of his first lover. Besson’s musings on a relationship made impossible by the inevitability of fate will make you hate this book for destroying your soul, as you savor every word of it.
The Unabridged Diaries of Sylvia Plath by Sylvia Plath (2000) – Michelle (art writer)
I recommend that aspiring writers and journalists browse through it The Unabridged Diaries of Sylvia Plath: “My God, Cambridge is full of scientists, printing presses, theater groups, and all I need is the courage to write about them… Maybe I’ll try to University next term.” Plath kept a diary while studying at Newnham College, documenting her experience and reflecting on womanhood, her career and the rejections she faces. She also sketches ideas for a novel that would later become The glass bell. His journals are a gentle reminder that all writing takes courage.
Why be happy when you could be normal? by Jeanette Winterson (2011) – Famke Veenstra-Ashmore (Editor in Chief)
As a memoir buff, my discovery of Winterson’s memoir at my local Oxfam for £2 was a welcome one. Revisiting much of the same subject matter as his famous debut, Winterson writes with a fresh perspective, incorporating a restructuring of his troubled childhood with an urgent exploration of his own identity. The main subject of him is the chronicle of a discovery of him: the truth about his birth parents. As a theme, adoption is treated both introspectively and candidly, resulting in a deeply emotional narrative that is as moving as it is real.
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