Unsettling

Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee. (also filed under100% brilliant) Mr Coetzee (pronounced kut-SEE-uh) has a way of simply describing brutality and violence in a cold and detached voice that chills you to the bone. The story’s about a professor who’s been fired from his university and goes to live with his daughter on a farm in South Africa, and she later becomes the victim of a violent crime. You can’t read this book without walking around afterwards feeling like you’ve had a terrible nightmare that you can’t really remember but can’t shake off either. – yasmine

The Sea, John Banville. (also filed under Literary Acrobatics) A man returns to a decaying beach resort where he used to spend summers as a boy, in an attempt to confront his grief for a dead wife. Delicious descriptions of the people he encounters alternate with his memories of an event that occurred decades before that he thinks is pivotal to his life. You can’t read this expecting much plot – just relish the beautiful passages, let them wash over you like the heart-wrenching poetry that it is. Mr Banville writes like someone who’s sold his soul to the devil for a pen. – yasmine

Veronika Decides to Die, Paulo Coelho. As these things do play out, Coelho is now much maligned for being a peddler of spiritual hogwash. But don’t burn/spurn his books yet. This one is about one of those delightful literary types I love – the girl who wants/tried to kill herself. Thwarted and sent to a mental institution you always feel is dark and blue, Veronika observes, learns about and befriends the other residents, who (like all mad people in books) teach her much about how to think about life, and the world. – joon

The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides.

We Need To Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver. (also filed under100% brilliant) This is one of those books that makes you feel depressed because you know you would never be able to write this well. A 16-year-old boy kills seven of his fellow students at school. What we see is his mother’s letters to his seemingly estranged father, a laying bare of all the fears, doubts and hatred that a mother could feel towards her own child. It’s powerful and shocking and unbelievably well-written. – yasmine

White Noise, Don DeLillo. I really cannot grasp how he does it, the way he writes about contemporary society and lays bare its crassness, superficiality, paranoia and hysteria without sounding like a crazed messiah or a hippie. White Noise is really funny and if you’re honest enough with yourself you’ll also realise it’s true. The characters are people you know in everyday life, their heads filled only with rubbish they picked up from TV. Supermarkets are the new temples. In an age of rapidly-evolving technology and super advanced medicine, death seems more like a stroke of bad luck than a definite eventuality — and all the more fearsome for it. – yasmine

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