Our Goodbyes: the Final Recommendation List from the 2020/2021 Literature Editors

From Quench’s 2020/21 Literature Editors, Neus, Nicole and Ona:
It’s been quite a year, but being able to read and talk about books is one of the things that helped us through. We want to thank all of our contributors and readers who’ve made the first year of Quench’s literature section so phenomenal. To say goodbye, we’ve each recommended a book worth mentioning for our last online article.

Neus Forner on Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

Finishing university is a weird time. Lots of mixed feelings happening at the same time. This past year has been a heck of a ride, and even though I was convinced lockdown was going to be the best time to read books, there was too much going on in the world and I did not end up reading as much as I thought. Of course, I chose to read Ghosts by Dolly Alderton while I was finishing up my last assignments, which was a bit stressful but nevertheless made the book even more memorable.

Ghosts follows Nina Davies, a thirty-something-year-old food journalist, and her life in London. I usually find it hard to relate and connect with older protagonists, but reading this book was like reading someone’s thoughts. Transparent, satirical, and extremely funny. Nina’s life becomes a bit more complicated when Max pops into her dating scope. Nina struggles with the whole online dating gist and we see her trying to find herself through this relationship. Ghosts is not only about dating and romance, but more about the intricate parts of all the different types of relationships we have. The way Alderton speaks about the relationships we have with lovers, friends, and family is refreshing and sometimes a bit too honest. I saw myself in some of the situations and found it relieving to see someone talk about them so honestly. This, in turn, made the book even more relatable for me and my life in general.

I guess Ghosts is also special because I read it with my flatmates. We discussed the book, the characters, and the ending, and it made it ten times better. It made us talk about our own relationships and how we deal with them similarly or differently to how Nina does. It made me think of all the friends and people I have met during university and how some have become like family to me. If I had to choose a book to represent my time in university I would for sure pick Ghosts because it has gifted me some of the most interesting talks with my closest friends.

Nicole Rees-Williams on The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

In terms of literature, I am a huge lover of all things crime, mystery and horror. Whilst studying my English Literature degree at Cardiff I’m sure you can imagine that this kind of genre didn’t pop up too much in our essential reading. So, because I was too busy slogging my way through the classics it had been a while since I’d read my favourite genre. Since finishing my degree this year though, the first book I picked up was The Sun Down Motel, and I’m so glad I did.

If you’re into true crime, mystery, and the paranormal – this book is for you. With the plot set in the eerie town of Fell with a focus on the spooky roadside motel, I was immediately hooked. Viv Delaney works as the night clerk at the motel in the 1980’s but she soon starts to realise that something about her workplace is not quite right. Not long after her suspicions arise – she disappears. Present-day, Viv’s niece Carly is determined to find out what happened to her aunt. She retraces Viv’s steps by moving to Fell and getting a job at the Sun Down only to come across the horrifying secrets that loom over this forgotten motel.

Simone St. James builds tension incredibly in this novel. No chapter ends without making you need to find out what happens next. With a riveting plot and a truly satisfying conclusion, I highly recommend reading The Sun Down Motel.

Ona Ojo on Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

I’ve always believed in the power of literature to teach empathy and facilitate necessary conversations. I read Such a Fun Age last summer, in the midst of widespread protests against police brutality following the murder of George Floyd. Though the protagonist Emira leaves the novel’s kickstarting racist incident unharmed (physically), Kiley Reid taps into the same conversations on race, power and privilege that communities across the world have been engaging in.

Emira is called late at night to take the toddler she babysits to the supermarket after the family’s home is vandalized. At the store, she is confronted by a security guard and accused of kidnapping, and the novel explores the aftermath and growing uncomfortable overlap between her work and personal lives. When her boss Alix learns of the incident, she clumsily attempts to make up for sending her to the store by taking Emira under her wing. Emira has so far had a polite but distant relationship with Alix and for many reasons would rather just move on. Her focus instead is on Alix’s toddler Briar, who she cares for deeply, and finding a career years after graduating from university. At the same time, Emira faces pressure in her new relationship – her white boyfriend Kelley, who prides himself in being woke and enjoying ‘Black’ things, is urging her to take a stand and seek some sort of justice. Through Alix and Kelley’s well-intentioned but overbearing reactions despite Emira’s wishes, Reid points to the tendency for discussions of race to centre around white voices and opinions instead of the lived experiences of people of colour.

Such a Fun Age maintains a light, funny tone while commenting on the intersections of race, privilege and the delicate nature of transactional relationships. A key takeaway from Reid’s novel is that many times, people with (arguably) good intentions cause just as much harm. For a thoughtful exploration of real, varied Black experiences, what it means to be an ally, and the struggle to ‘become an adult’, I recommend everyone read this book.