Need a book to read on a train
September 12, 2018 10:43 AM   Subscribe

I have two five-hour train journeys coming up over the next three days and I'm looking for some fiction to read. The last three books that totally captivated me were The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell and Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and I'm looking for something similarly enthralling.

I have a strong preference for books written by women/non-binary/gender non-conforming people, and ideally something with LGBTQ themes and/or characters. No preferences in terms of genre - SFF is welcome, as is broad-strokes fiction.

I like lots of dense, complex emotional themes - when I say "captivating" and "enthralling" I mean that more in terms of characters and feelings rather than page turner-style thrillers. Ideally nothing with tons of man-on-woman (or adult-on-child) violence/trauma/abuse.

Must be available on the UK Kindle store. I made this post last year asking for more specific (YA fantasy) recs, so it's safe to assume I've already read everything I'm intending to from the suggestions there.
posted by terretu to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
How about Donna Tartt? My personal favorite is The Little Friend, but that begins with a trauma, so given your criteria you might prefer The Goldfinch. I find her books to be dense and enthralling with significant character development and emotional resonance, although it doesn't quite match the poignancy of Pachinko (but what could!).
posted by stellaluna at 11:10 AM on September 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Ancillary Justice, forever and always, amen.
posted by gideonfrog at 11:17 AM on September 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

Early novels by Sarah Waters. Louise Erdrich (especially her latest, Future Home of the Living God, if you like SFF). I've been reading Ali Smith (finished Autumn, in the middle of Winter) and loving her work.
posted by lazuli at 11:31 AM on September 12, 2018

I LOVED and can't stop thinking about The Heart's Invisible Furies (might not be obvious from the description of the book, but LGBTQ themes are major throughout)
posted by nuclear_soup at 11:34 AM on September 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I recently read Chloe Benjamin's The Immortalists, and I think it might fit what you're looking for here. It's about four siblings who visit a fortune teller and are told (individually) the date they will die. The rest of the story is about how each sibling lives their life as an adult, with the knowledge of their "death day" in mind. It's very character driven, but I did find it to be a page turner as well. Strong LGBTQ themes.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:57 AM on September 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Gladstone's Craft Sequence. Fantasy-punk, lots of LGBT and other diversity, and he's got that multiplicity of POVs and inexorably moving events that Pachinko shares. First book has a warning for survivor facing down her ex-abuser, in a rather cathartic way.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:06 PM on September 12, 2018

The Goldfinch starts with a pretty big trauma, too! It's not abuse, though, so if that's primarily what you were worried about, it might work for you.

You might try Smith's How to Be Both first before launching into the seasonal novels, which are planned to be a quadrology and thus more of a commitment. You'll be able to tell if you like her style from that one.

I found Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers to be rather frustrating in the end, but it's certainly emotionally chewy.

You might be tempted by Elena Ferrante, but though she ticks your other boxes, it's a cavalcade of abuse of all kinds.
posted by praemunire at 1:02 PM on September 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Door by Magda Szabo is gorgeously written and thick with emotional themes to mull over (but no LGBTQ presence).
posted by esoterrica at 1:54 PM on September 12, 2018

Sacred Games, by Vikram Chandra, doesn't tick your boxes exactly (although it is available on the UK Kindle Store), but it is lovely, engrossing, telling the story of many people and many walks of life and is also a detective story. It is almost 1000 pages and in my opinion, never loses the reader's interest. I've read it twice. I think it's Pachinko that makes me think you would like it.

For sure it's Pachinko that makes me think you would like A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry, which also doesn't really tick your boxes. But it's a beautiful and touching family story that I thought of frequently when I was reading Pachinko.
posted by janey47 at 2:33 PM on September 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

(Sacred Games is great but please note that there is A LOT of violence and trauma in it)
posted by EmilyFlew at 2:45 PM on September 12, 2018

Yes, the Elena Ferrante series, beginning with My Brilliant Friend.
posted by mmw at 3:41 PM on September 12, 2018

Sorry, OP, when you wrote "nothing with tons of man-on-woman (or adult-on-child) violence/trauma/abuse" I assumed that you meant no personal domestic violence, physical or otherwise, and no child abuse. The book is a detective story, and the detective is hunting an Indian mobster.
posted by janey47 at 3:45 PM on September 12, 2018

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders?
posted by exceptinsects at 4:20 PM on September 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I didn’t see this rec’ed here or in your post last year, so The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, and possibly its two sequels. Written by a woman, has LGBTQ main characters, feels a bit like The Goblin Emperor to me in terms of coziness and a focus on found family. Not too much violence period. Just so, so great.

The second book (different characters, same universe) has some institutional child abuse to show why a main character was raised by a ship but still focuses on found family and the power of love and acceptance. The third is new and I haven’t read it yet but I can’t wait to!
posted by bananacabana at 5:01 PM on September 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

Have you read The Tale of Genji? I read it a long time ago and so I'm basing my answer based on feel (and not, for example, on a detailed memory of the plot). I'm leaning on your desire for "dense, emotional themes", as well as having read over your previous post. I remember feeling immersed in a different world (Japan, a thousand years ago), and enjoying both what I slowly understood was familiar in their emotions and their silences, as well as the strangenesses and unfamiliarities of the characters' choices and words. Well, I have erased these sentences about three times because they don't seem to capture how amazing an experience I had reading this book, but I'd better just leave it like this. Perhaps you might enjoy it too. It's a long book, but you write like a prolific reader who wouldn't mind. I read the Edward Seidensticker translation: perhaps the relatively recent Dennis Washburn translation is considered by experts to be superior? I don't know. Oh, I now remember that the language used to describe natural phenomena (seasons, the sky, animals and the forest) was vivid and beautiful.
posted by sommerfeld at 6:11 PM on September 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Kameron Hurley's The Mirror Empire? It's feminist grim-dark fantasy, so there is a lot of people being awful to each other, but since it's feminist, the women are awful to people with equal opportunity. It has gender-fluidity, matriarchal warriors, patriarchal warriors, extra-dimensional drama, lots of stuff. It should be in the UK Kindle store, I got it on my US Kindle years ago.
posted by fiercekitten at 11:51 PM on September 13, 2018

- Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
- The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
- The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst
- The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
posted by trillian at 7:05 PM on September 14, 2018

In case of interest, All the Birds in the Sky is free to download on through 9/22!
posted by exceptinsects at 1:32 PM on September 20, 2018

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