Herland by Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman

In the wonderful way that books speak to each other across continents and centuries, Herland is a novel that feels as if it should be compared. A utopian novel first published serially and then in novel form in 1915, Herland speaks directly to a whole area of literature devoted to considering the possibilities of matriarchy, or the balance of gender power in society.

Vandyck Jennings narrates his experiences of adventuring with his two school pals, Terry Nicholson and Jeff Margrave. Terry is rich and also a chauvinist. Jeff is a doctor, who puts women on a pedestal. Vandyck considers himself a man of science and hence of considered reflection and balance.

On a large scientific expedition – Vandyck doesn’t reveal where – the three of them hear rumours of a female society cut off from the rest of the world by sheer mountains. They get the guide to show them the red and blue river below the mountain and they discover died cloth, evidence of a society far superior (in their opinion) to that to which the guide belongs. They decide to come back and find this women’s world for themselves. Continue reading

Judas by Amos Oz

JudasIt is 1959 in Jerusalem. Shmuel, a university student with a large heart, weak lungs and an unruly beard, decides to give up his studies when his father’s business collapses. Shmuel couldn’t do military service. He has also just lost his girlfriend to her ex, whom she plans to marry. On top of that, his thesis about Jewish views of Jesus, had come to standstill even before his parents’ funds came to an abrupt halt.

Shmuel has come to some kind of hiatus, a threshold in which he has to decide upon a new path.

He thinks of heading off to a newly built town and becoming a night watchman when an advert seeking a companion catches his eye.   Continue reading

Butterfly Fish by Irenosen Okojie

ButterflyFishButterfly Fish is one of those rare books whose raw invention entices you in and cries out for a second reading. There are so many ideas and stories swimming in the novel that it is literally teaming, as if the book had tendrils reaching out from its pages, wiggling at you and reeling you back in, or sending you off down a new tributary of thought.

Joy is the centrepiece of the novel. A British Nigerian born and living in London, Joy loses her sense of gravity when her mother dies. She inherits the diary of her grandfather and a bronze head. In the quest to understand her identity, other stories unfold: we learn about her mother and we follow some of the history of the bronze head that takes us back into the history of the Kingdom of Benin. Continue reading

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

feverdreamFever Dream is the record of the last few memories and thoughts of Amanda as she lies dying. She is extremely worried about her daughter, Nina. Where is she? Is she safe?

The narrative is delivered as a conversation between Amanda and a young boy, David. David is the son of Carla, the elegant woman in gold sandals who lives not far from the holiday home Amanda and Nina are renting. Right from the first day of their stay Carla has stepped one gleaming foot at a time into Amanda and Nina’s life, her son David an ominous presence hovering in the background.

What does Carla want? What happened to her and her son? Continue reading