Compiled by Michael Bird
What are you reading this month? Our team of international volunteers at Bandit Fiction share with us the highs and lows of the current book scene. Keep reading to learn what Bandit volunteers find engrossing or disappointing about their choice of novels, poetry and memoirs.
1. ‘White’ by Bret Easton Ellis
It is difficult to tell whether time has planed off a few of brat-pack alumni Bret Easton Ellis’s sharper edges, or if the reflective and somewhat compassionate mode we find him in for his first non-fiction book was always residing within, sheltered behind a guillotine of satire and casual cruelty. Whatever the cause, the results are the same, and this surprising spirit of generosity extends as far as a respectful (though nonetheless critical) commentary on his faux arch nemesis David Foster Wallace. Unfortunately, this also means White is not nearly as controversial as Ellis’s title suggests. With a cover that proudly lists off Transgressive, White, Privileged Male, the book sets itself up for a big statement that is lost in a rambling and terminally unstructured text. Ellis skirts around Trump for the majority of the book, claiming himself largely apolitical, but the latter section ramps up a defence of the ex-Commander in Tweets alongside a bitter attack on the modern Left, both of which look shockingly out of touch in wake of the events spanning the two years since the book’s publication. The cogent and authentic criticism on the state of the social media persona and the New Digital Morality can’t seem to save Ellis from a disappointingly flat take on a society he no longer understands.
Alisdair Hodgson (Stirling, Scotland)
2. ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ by Iain Reid
The narrative follows the story of a young woman who is considering ending things with her new boyfriend as soon as they return from a visit to his parents’ remote farm. The main character is also experiencing a number of concerning phone calls and messages left by an unidentified stalker. At the stage I’m at in the novel, the relevance of the latter storyline is yet to be revealed but never feels misplaced and the confusion merely adds to the mystery and the vulnerability of the narrator. This book is quintessentially gothic but does not lean into tired conventions. The initial encounter with the farm is uncanny and makes sinister a typically mundane rural setting. So far it is an incredibly tense read and am very much looking forward to seeing where this goes next.
Sophie Raine (Newcastle, UK)
3. ‘The Plague’ by Albert Camus
Ranging from hopeful to hopeless and bleak, The Plague was an incredibly timely read for being stuck inside during the lockdowns. The plague-ridden Algerian town of Oran and its inhabitants are wonderfully realised in the absurdist style that you would expect from Camus, being especially relatable with town officials seeming inept and slow to act, the townsfolk working together to fight back in whatever way they can, and others simply wanting to return to the ‘picture-house’ when the plagues finally ran its course. The townsfolk isolate and see no end to the disease and much thought is delivered by the narrator over why anyone deserves these things to happen to them, if they are a test of faith or strength, and if the experience will change things and whether or not it should. I wouldn’t begrudge anyone who would see this as a tough read for the times we’re in now, but it’s helped me think over the position we’re in right now and what effect these great shared experiences can have on us and our view of the world around us.
Hughey Herbert (Buckinghamshire, England)
4. ‘A Recipe for Daphne’ by Nekataria Anastasidou and Other Stories
I am in the middle of two very different books. A linked short story collection: A Faithful but Melancholy Account of Several Barbarities Lately Committed by Jason Brown (The Missouri Review) – a family history set in New England of compelling characters wrapped in humour, self-delusion, absurdity and a spurious story of an Aga previously owned by John Updike.
The other book is a novel by Nektaria Anastasidou, A Recipe for Daphne (Hoopoe Fiction), set in the dwindling Rum community of Greek Orthodox Christians whose roots go back to the Byzantine in Istanbul. Superficially light-hearted, it is a paean, a love song for a community by one of their own. Rich with cultural details, humour, politics the protagonist is Fanis, a debonair, womanising septuagenarian who is smitten with the much younger Daphne from Miami. Both books are taking me to places I don’t know, and to cultures I haven’t experienced.
Shannon Savvas (Cyprus)
5. ‘In/Spectre’ by Kyo Shirodaira and Chashiba Katase
One-legged and one-eyed teenager Kotoko teams up with brooding student Kurō to catch a faceless murderer who bludgeons pedestrians to death with a steel girder. A typical crime thriller kicks off, where two mismatched heroes fight superhuman crime, while solving their own feelings for one another. But this is manga, which means the 12-strong book series embraces as many genres as possible, from fairy tale to creepypasta, serial-killer thriller to high-school drama, and love story to meta comedy, and then undermines every one of these with twists, tonal shifts and self-awareness. Kotoko’s disability makes her a God in the view of immortal spirits called the Yokai, who follow and protect her, while Kurō can survive death, due to his consumption of mermaid flesh as a child. The story then shifts into a philosophical investigation on reality and the perception of truth in the Internet age. Brilliantly, In/Spectre explores how an online audience can use the power of mass popularity to will a being into existence, and then encourage this entity to commit multiple murders. The only way Kotoko and Kurō can stop the killing spree is to create a more compelling narrative the audience will believe. To save the day, the supersleuths must not uncover the truth, but create a plausible lie, a move which overturns the whole basis of detective fiction.
Michael Bird (Bucharest, Romania)
Interested in sharing your reading list with us? We want to hear from you on the books you’re reading, and what you love and hate about them. We want honesty. Variety. As many different voices as possible, from as many different places.
All you need to do is tell us which novel, short story, poem, anthology, or creative non-fiction you’re reading and two or three sentences about what you think. Send us an email on email@example.com, or leave a comment below, and we’ll include you in next month’s reading list.
About the Contributor
Michael Bird (he/him) is a Romania-based writer and journalist, with stories published by Bristol Short Story Prize, Storgy, The University of Huddersfield Press and Bandit Fiction, among others. As a journalist, he has investigated the last convicted vampire hunter in Romania, Donald Trump’s dealings with Kazakh oligarchs, home-made killer drugs in Georgia, and, currently, how Covid-19 spreads among migrant workers in meat-packing factories across Europe. https://michaelbirdjournalist.wordpress.com