Quench’s Year in Books: 2020

Jasmine Snow on Olive by Emma Gannon

Olive is the debut novel from the Sunday Times bestselling author, Emma Gannon. Olive is about a woman of the same name, who is struggling to come to terms with the fact that she does not want children. As she does so, she reflects back on her University days which she spent with her three best friends and where they are today. Bea married young and had many children, Cec became a successful lawyer and got pregnant late in life and Isla desperately wants a family but has fertility issues.

As a woman who is uncertain of whether she wants children, this novel affected me in a profound way. I have not concretely decided whether or not motherhood is the right path for me which should be socially acceptable, but surprisingly is not as accepted as many believe. I’ve often found that I feel as if I have no choice, even some of my closest friends and family inadvertently promote this with comments such as “you’ll change your mind one day”, or “what else will you do with your life?” and “aren’t you afraid of being alone?”

Within the very first chapter, this book bought me to tears. It felt like someone had entered my mind and wrote a book addressing my inner most worries, doubts and fears. This book discusses even the smallest, most nuanced issues like the pressure a woman feels to make her life remarkable if she chooses not to be a mother. Upon recommending this book to someone, they replied “I don’t think anyone actually worries about that though”. This is why this book is so special and my favourite read this year. The issues Olive faces are so relevant and yet still so taboo in society. So much so, that some people don’t even realise that these are issues countless women face. However, this book doesn’t judge women who find happiness in motherhood, or those who choose otherwise. Above all it promotes the freedom to be able to choose and lead a life which truly brings you happiness.

Elly Savva on Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

“Sometimes I love you and sometimes I think it would be best if a plane flew into your office and you were on the plane or in the building.” 

Deftly exploring love, sexuality, and power, Exciting Times is a striking debut by Naoise Dolan. The story follows the apathetic 22-year old Ava, who uses the savings of her “abortion fund” to leave Dublin and teach English in Hong Kong. After her arrival, she becomes embroiled in relationships with a wealthy British man and a local woman. 

The prose is caustic and unequivocal, with short sentences carrying weight and landing precisely. The bluntness of the text allows for the protagonist’s emotions to be laid bare, exposing her fear of vulnerability. Her frosty relationship with Julian, the Etonian banker a few years her senior, is largely driven by her desire to win at their power dynamics. She confesses that she wants other people to care more about her than she does about them. This way, she doesn’t have to let anybody in or face the reality of how “broken” she feels. 

Things grow complicated when she develops feelings for Edith, a successful lawyer who is unafraid to make her feelings for Ava known. With their relationship comes the added complexities of queer love, summed up concisely by the line; “I wanted people to know we were together, but only the ones who wouldn’t hurt us for it”.

Set in the pre-Covid world, Exciting Times explores the struggles of human connection in modern dating. Whilst the story of a love triangle is one of the oldest romantic clichés in the book, its exploration of sexuality and fragility in the 21st century brings something completely new and pertinent. 

Josh Ong on The Kitchen: Essays on Food and Life

I didn’t read much in 2020, surprisingly. I had all the time in the world and nearly nothing to do with it, yet during this time I only picked up a few books. Then again, it’s also not totally out of the ordinary given my regular fickle relationship with book reading. 

That being said, one book really did speak to me; In the Kitchen: Essays on Food and Life. This book is less like a conventional one, and, quite predictably, more like a short collection of pieces that touch into the details of stories of various food writers from around the world. 

Despite each essay’s relatively bite-sized length, each one exudes an abundance of character and context. From personal connections to dim sum, to the comforting permanence of cookers past and present, each piece is a reflection and insight into the subjective world of food and food writing. 

Within the world of culinary literature, there’s a lot of manufactured and doctored material floating around, most of which come in the form of unjustified celebrity ghostwritten cookbooks. To me, the stories that stick out are the ones that speak authentically about personal experience. By providing almost autobiographical accounts of their relationships with food, each writer provides eloquent wisdom and lessons on their specialty, as well as life. 

I haven’t, and will never, experience a lot of what these writers have, but I can find bits of myself across each of their essays.