Book review – Good Me, Bad Me and Middlesex

It’s almost been a month since my last post, a busy July keeping me away from the blog.  One of my weeks in July was spent at a Jazz summer school.  While I’m not thinking of writing about that, I am thinking of writing some posts on jazz piano.  If this sounds of interest do let me know.

Anyway, back to this blog.  I’ve read a few books since my last book review so it’s high time I did another one.  Good Me, Bad Me (2017) is the debut novel by West-Londoner Ali Land.  I was compelled to read the book having read positive reviews and being intrigued by its premise.  The story centres around Annie, a school girl.  Annie is starting a new life, in a new family, in a new home, as a result of her turning her serial killer mother in to the police.

The trial of her mother is going on while she is at school and Annie has to deal with this, including her preparation as a witness, in addition to the trials of starting a new life and everything that brings.  As I said, an intriguing premise. As you’d expect, the book’s not a picnic and is a dark subject matter.  The character of Annie is well drawn – both her good and bad parts.  However, I didn’t find her the most likeable of protagonists.  Perhaps this was par for the course.  Nevertheless, I’d argue that you can have protagonists you like or root for even if, unlike Annie, they are intrinsically bad or evil.  It took a while for the book to get going but once it did it was enjoyable enough.  I don’t subscribe to the reviews which suggest it’s one of the best books of the year.  However, given the glowing reviews, I suspect that I may be in the minority.  It’s certainly an interesting premise for a book and they don’t all have that going for them.

Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex (2002) similarly comes with plaudits, in this case a Pulitzer Prize.  I’ve read quite a few Pulitzer Prize winning novels, some of which have been reviewed in these pages including Olive Kitteridge and A Visit from the Goon Squad.  One thing they all have in common, whether or not you ultimately enjoy them, is that they’re all very well written.  Middlesex is no exception, which is just as well as it’s a lengthy book at over 500 pages.

It’s epic and ambitious in its scope too.  The novel is narrated by Cal (formerly Calliope) Stephanides and follows the journey of the Stephanides family from the hillsides surrounding Mount Olympus in 1922 to late-60s Detroit, via prohibition America and race riots.  At the same time we follow Cal’s journey from female-born Calliope to our Berlin-dwelling male narrator, Cal.  While Cal is central to the novel, much of what happens doesn’t involve him or her.  We follow Cal’s grandparents’ voyage to America and their life in Depression-hit America.  We also follow the lives of Cal’s parent’s Milton and Tessie, which of course leads to the birth of Calliope.

The book takes a while to reach Calliope’s birth and her adolescent experiences.  The book does speed up and become more engaging at this point but what precedes this adds colour and depth to the novel, both in painting a vivid America and the characters inhabiting it.  I enjoyed Middlesex.  It’s certainly different to many of the books that I read and I’d recommend it.  Having re-looked at the list of Pulitzer Prize winning novels, which includes amongst many others Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, Cormac McCarthys’s The Road and Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, I can see where a lot of my future reads are going to come from.