• Sharon Chau

Book Reviews: MT20

I've always been an avid bookworm and amateur writer (2014 Wattpad fanfics anyone?). I sadly haven't been able to read as much outside my course this term as I'd have liked, but am hoping to remedy that this Christmas!

MT20 consisted of books ranging from fun trash to reasonably heavy political commentary, including, in that order - Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian, Midnight Sun (Twilight from Edward's perspective), The Testaments, White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Boris Johnson: The Gambler and Left Out: The Inside Story of Labour Under Corbyn. Warning: spoilers are contained in the following reviews!

Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian, E.L. James

I first read the Fifty Shades trilogy ages ago during my Twilight and Robert Pattinson phase - and absolutely loved it. (It was sent to me as a PDF disguised as schoolwork from my friend Annie, which prompted my sexual awakening). It tells the story of shy English student Anastasia Steele, who meets elusive billionaire Christian Grey, America's most eligible bachelor. Christian is immediately taken in by this awkward but hot gal (the "she's not like other girls" trope, classic), and obsessively stalks her to get her to be his sub in a strictly sexual BDSM relationship. The trilogy then looks into Christian's complicated past and how him and Ana's relationship blossoms. Grey recounts the same story, but from Christian's perspective. The main difference was the "wow, Christian is seriously a fucked up stalker and should be locked up" vibe, as well as the references to Christian's childhood in which both him and his mother were abused.

This was a fun, but super, super trashy read. Perfect after a long day of maths and essays and not much else. But just to clarify, I disagree that this has no literary merit - there are several passing references to Hardy when Christian is trying to woo Ana. Might be my favourite parts of the book.

Midnight Sun, Stephenie Meyer

Twilight, but told from Edward's perspective. Enough said - my 2014 Team Edward fangirl is screaming. For those who don't know (shame on you - this might be the defining saga of our generation), Twilight is about the relationship between shy, awkward human girl Bella Swan and literally omniscient and hot vampire Edward Cullen. Spoiler: Bella gets turned into a bloodsucking vampire and they have a half-vampire baby. If this rings a bell, it's because Fifty Shades was originally a fanfiction of Twilight, just with additional erotica and less blood for sexually dissatisfied white middle-aged women.

This was again a fun read, but less interesting than I thought it would be, given Edward's ability to read minds. There wasn't much the original Twilight saga didn't already cover, and Edward is a rather dull character. But this did shatter the sexy veil of mystery for Edward, which is good because now I can finally move on to other, hopefully non-fictional, crushes.

The Testaments, Margaret Atwood

The Testaments is the sequel to Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, which is in my top ten fiction list (which also includes Anne of Green Gables, Brave New World, Persuasion (!!), The Kite Runner, A Tale of Two Cities, The Grapes of Wrath and Wuthering Heights). It is set in the dystopian, deeply patriarchal and totalitarian Christian state of Gilead, narrated by three separate characters - Aunt Lydia, a high-ranking "Aunt" who plots to overthrow the state; Agnes, a girl with high social standing in Gilead who gives up a coveted marriage; and Daisy, a girl in Canada who learns she was smuggled out of Gilead as a baby and is now an important symbol in the totalitarian state. Without giving too much away, the initially separate lives of these three characters eventually intertwine for a satisfying and "I can't believe I didn't connect the dots" conclusion.

I was originally worried this would disappoint after The Handmaid's Tale - lots of dystopian sequels often do after setting up a brilliant world in the first book. This did not. All three characters are intricate and complex, and the unique structure of the book keeps readers on tenterhooks throughout. Would recommend without reservation.

White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin DiAngelo

White Fragility is a concept created by DiAngelo to describe defensive reactions by white people when their white privilege or (usually unintentional) acts of racism are pointed out. The book discusses a system of racism where white people are unwittingly privileged and must acknowledge that to start an honest dialogue about race. One of the most interesting arguments in the book is that against "white tears", specifically when white women cry. DiAngelo argues that this draws attention away from the actual victims of racism and causes harm to black people. She specifically raises the example of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old accused of flirting with a white woman who was lynched in 1955. The white woman later confessed to lying about their interaction, and DiAngelo uses this example to show how "white tears" can lead to disastrous outcomes.

I quite enjoyed White Fragility, especially its unique perspective from a white woman working in diversity training. It paints a realistic picture of casual, unintentional racism among white people (distinct from being a morally good/bad person) that many would be familiar with. Despite this, it is more diagnostic than constructive - I would have loved concrete policy proposals. Overall a good read, but would recommend Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge over this.

Boris Johnson: The Gambler, Tom Bower

This book was recommended and lent to me by Darian, a good friend. It was one of the most fun non-fiction books I've read in a while, filled with juicy and quite surprising revelations about BoJo. The central thesis is that all character flaws of Johnson are a result of his traumatic childhood, in particular the sins of his father, who was a domestic abuser and adulterer who deliberately pitted his children against each other. Only the most heartless readers would be unmoved by the story of childhood neglect and Johnson's subsequent need for validation. However, Bower seems to use this to justify Johnson's rather terrible actions, including being a serial adulterer throughout his two marriages. I would have liked to see a more balanced account of Johnson's personality flaws - surely Ockham's razor suggests that maybe he could just be a pompous, narcissistic, flamboyant person thirsty for attention? Regardless, this is a great read for anyone who wants to know more about the current administration and the man at the heart of it.

Left Out: The Inside Story of Labour Under Corbyn, Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire

Again recommended and lent to me by Darian, this was an amazing book. Denser than Boris Johnson: The Gambler, Left Out details the demise of the Labour Party under Corbyn from 2017-19. Quite a bit of the damning book is focused on Corbyn's failure to lead, including the topical issue of antisemitism. Pogrund and Maguire argue Corbyn at best tolerated antisemitism; and at worst made prejudiced statements and was friends with antisemites. In addition, Corbyn's aversion to conflict made him reluctant to take a strong stance during Brexit, which was strategically unsound in a polarised Britain. But Corbyn undeniably had a strong influence on British politics, and despite Starmer's best attempts, Corbynism may be here to stay.

Overall, this was very well-written and packed with information. Might be quite heavy and slightly overwhelming to read, but is the most rewarding out of all the books here.

On a separate note, please give me recommendations for my Christmas booklist! And please let me know if you would like book reviews on any other non-fiction books I've read.


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