Matt’s Weekly Reads, January 28, 2023


The New Life, Tom Crewe (2023)

In Victorian England, two men — one medical doctor and one historian — try to bring ‘sexual inversion’ (what we call homosexuality) out of the realm of taboo and into the realm of science. But when the salacious details of the Oscar Wilde trial become front page news, they fear their hard work may come to nothing and they must figure out just how far they are willing to go to advance their study.

This was the first 2023 release I read and what a start! The professional reviews I’ve seen use words like ‘magnificent’ and ‘tour de force’ and indeed it’s hard not to fall into superlatives here. While the the book revolves around the topic of homosexuality, it is really about academic freedom and scientific progress, about personal integrity, about the politics of morality, and about the very real tensions that exist within every change movement: risk versus reward, boldness versus caution, revolution versus incremental change, and so on. This is no simple story of good guys and bad guys; it tackles important questions of significant moral complexity with great care. The characters are wonderfully wrought — the character of Catherine, the wife of one of the protagonists, stands out for being particularly well-realized, but really they are all fantastic in their humanity, strengths, passions, and failings.

I honestly cannot say enough about this book! (2023 has been good to me so far!)

Read this if you’re interested in:

  • Academic Freedom
  • Scientific Progress
  • Taboos
  • LGBTQ2S+
  • Trailblazers
  • Complicated Families
  • Victorian England

My Rating: Premise 10, Atmosphere 10, Main Character(s) 10, Plot 9, Intrigue 9, Relationships 10, Success 10, Writing 10, Enjoyment 10, Lasting Impact 10: TOTAL 98

Weekly Roundup

  • Thank You for Listening, Julia Whelan (2022), 97: After a disfiguring eye injury ended her hopes at Hollywood stardom, Sewanee has built a good life as an award-winning audiobook narrator. But when an offer she can’t refuse pulls her back into romance narration, she gets more than she bargained for in her co-star. Julian Whelan is arguably the best audiobook narrator in the business and this novel, her second, proves that she is more than just an unbelievably talented voice actress. This is utterly charming and delightful, with a loving wink to the tropes of romance fiction, while falling into none of their traps. (Bonus points for two great side plots involving her best friend and grandma!) Do yourself a favour and read this book — do yourself an even bigger favour and listen to the audiobook, perfectly voiced by the author herself. (Romance, Hollywood, Fame, Dementia, Complicated Families, Grief and Loss, Resilience)
  • Foster, Claire Keegan (2010, released in North America 2022), 86: A young girl in 1981 Ireland is sent by her struggling family to spend the summer with her mother’s relatives, who have struggles of their own. This award-winning novella was just released in North America and it’s a great short read with vivid characters and a lot of heart. (Novella, Ireland, Family, Grief and Loss, Poverty)
  • Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf (1925), 93: This classic twentieth-century novel follows Clarissa Dalloway, a wealthy, middle aged wife and mother, and those around her, on the day of a big party she is throwing in her home. This is my second foray into Woolf, and I enjoyed this one even more than the first. Here Woolf’s stunning, trademark psychological and existential insight is matched with an interesting group of characters at a moment of incredible social change in Britain. The socio-political elements — shifting ideas on class, gender, and Empire, for example, and the rise of the Labour Party — are present on almost every page, and yet touched on only obliquely, as though the world is changing around the characters, but not for them. I was particularly impressed by the compassionate rendering of a young man living with shell-shock (and unsympathetic doctors). This is a masterpiece. (Classics, Literature, British History, Twentieth Century, Psychology, 1920s)
  • Luisa, Now and Then, Carole Maurel (trans. Nanette McGuinness) (2015, trans. 2018), 93: Luisa has a good enough life in Paris as she’s approaching 40, but receives a shock when her fifteen-year-old self lands on her doorstep. This was a really beautiful graphic novel. Maurel’s illustrations are stunning and truly bring Paris to life. And as for the story, I loved how both versions of Luisa had something to learn from the other, as time has given Luisa the gift of wisdom and perspective but robbed her of some of her vitality and zeal. (LGBTQ2S+, Coming of Age, Graphic Novel, Time, Identity)
  • Small Town, Big Magic (Witchlore 1), Hazel Beck (2022), 79: Emerson Wilde is a Leslie-Knope-esque can-do do-gooder, the president of her small town’s Chamber of Commerce, who will do anything to keep local businesses afloat. But when she discovers that she is actually a witch (along with everyone she knows), she discovers her role in saving the town is is more literal than she imagined. This book has received very mixed reviews, and a lot of reviewers find Emerson unlikable and grew tired of her feminist diatribes. And I have to say that I agreed with this assessment for the first quarter of the book, which was pretty rough. But as the story went on it became clear that the book is in on the joke, and Emerson’s journey is largely about learning to lay down her guard and accept help (even from the men who care about her). On a bigger level, the book improved a lot after the rough start and I ended up enjoying this quite a bit. (Fantasy, Magic, Witches, Romance)
  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Robert O’Brien (1971), 79. Mrs. Frisby, a mother mouse, solicits the support of a group of super-intelligent rats to stave off disaster for her family in this classic of juvenile fiction. I liked but didn’t love this one, as it seemed like it approached the story it really wanted to tell — the rats of NIMH and their attempt at building a new civilization — from the side and ending up ‘telling’, not ‘showing’ their story as a result. The fate of Mrs. Frisby’s house didn’t seem nearly as compelling in comparison. (Children’s Literature, Middle Grade, Intelligent Animals, Laboratory Testing)
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum (1900), 83: A tornado blows Dorothy and her dog Toto into a strange land called Oz, where she joins with an unlikely crew of friends to find her way home. While I was familiar with the story from any number of adaptations that I experienced as a child, I’d never sat down and read this classic. It took me by surprise in some ways; I’d forgotten it is told more like a fairy tale than a novel, for one. But once I got used to that I was able to appreciate it for the fantastical tale that it is. (Children’s Literature, Classics, Fairy Tale, Fantasy)
  • City of Glass (The New York Trilogy 1), Paul Auster (1985), 78: In this classic postmodern novella, a middle aged writer of detective fiction slowly loses grip on his identity as he takes on a mystery of his own. There’s no doubt that this is very well done and I understand the reasons why it’s so highly regarded. That said, as with so much postmodern literature, I found this to be a little too proud of itself in the ways it plays with its themes, particularly how it treats identity and persona. (Novella, Postmodernism, New York City, the 1980s)

2 responses to “Matt’s Weekly Reads, January 28, 2023”

  1. […] now generally sold as a single omnibus. This one covers the same themes of identity and the self as City of Glass, but in a more succinct way. To me, Ghosts was more successful, though City of Glass seems to be […]


  2. […] the custodian of the man’s literary output and ends up falling into his life. As my reviews of City of Glass and Ghosts indicated, what ties this trilogy together are its themes of identity, presence, and […]


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