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Reviewed by Kayleigh Perumal for Readers' Favorite
Barbara Monier’s The Reading is a literary novel about an established writer named Esme. From the outset, you are immersed in Esme’s vivid world. Esme is critically aware of her feelings and those of the people surrounding her. This is partly because her father died when she was very young, and this trauma has left a lasting impression. When a friend from her worst days in college shows up forty-odd years later at one of her book readings, Esme is confronted with her troubled past and identity. On the same day, her long-term partner asks Esme to take the next step in their relationship. The timing of these two events leaves Esme bewildered, causing her to reflect on other factors that have shaped her into the person she is now.
Barbara Monier allows us to accompany Esme on her journey of self-discovery. The Reading deals with the human condition of loneliness, addresses the complexity of relationships (regardless of age), and illustrates the difficulty of understanding both youth and loss. I relished the descriptions of Esme’s physical surroundings because they were poignant and evocative. Monier also uses humor, and I found myself laughing out loud at some of Esme’s observations in her internal monologue. Besides her wit, Monier’s intertextuality and literary references are particularly apt and add context to Esme’s character. The novel also touches on the contemporary concerns of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Reading will appeal to anyone who appreciates self-reflective writing and a complex main character.