Marcus Murray had just completed the scoop of his journalistic career. When his editor suggests he return to Medway, his hometown, to write a story about the body uncovered in the building of the Cross Euro Speed Link, it feels curiously as if he’s being punished. A return home is always difficult, not just because he feels guilty for rarely visiting his mum, but because he can’t help thinking of Melanie, his best friend who disappeared in 1990.
Forced to leave private school for the local comprehensive, it was Melanie who helped Marcus navigate his new world and Marcus idolised her. She seemed fearless to him, moving ‘as if she skipped through the world unchanging, untouched by her environment’ (page 31). Continue reading
Before I talk about the contents, Such Small Hands is a beautiful object. Published by Portobello Books, it is one of those books you want to buy simply to hold. The gorgeous green hardback with gold lettering and a terrifying image of a tiny plastic doll, its relationship to the human form so stylised it looks more like a jelly baby than a girl, is a book lover’s delight. The sense of the uncanny delivered by the cover is exactly what the book explores. What we seem to be on the surface, and what desires writhe within makes a frightening topic, especially when its subjects are all little girls.
Marina was once an ordinary, middle-class child. Then her parents die in a car crash and everything changes. Badly injured from the accident, she isn’t good at talking to the psychologist at the hospital and so she is given a doll to try to get her to confide in something. So the power of the silent, inanimate doll, the observer, is born.
How would this child with such a rich history of experience, both good and traumatic, be accepted in an orphanage of girls who have been living and growing together for years? Continue reading
I hate straplines that say a book is heart-wrenching, but The City Always Wins is definitely that. A telling of the 2011 Egyptian Arab Spring, after its seeming early success, the novel is full of hope, horror and a painful sense of needing to keep wading on despite the impossibility of fighting those with all the guns (my echo of Macbeth is intentional; it’s as if attempting to change the leadership will always lead to blood and monsters).
Like all summaries, this doesn’t do the novel justice. Mirroring the situation, The City Always Wins is complex, with multiple voices – not just of the central couple, Mariam and Khalil, whose lives we follow – but the voices of the parents of the martyrs killed in the first 18 days and endless tweets and texts, podcasts, snippets of internet and social media that helped to create and fuel the revolution. Indeed modern technology as a tool for connecting disempowered voices is explored. Khalil wonders if there is any point in continuing to use your voice to tell the story of the underdog, if no one is listening. As a founding member of Chaos, a media organisation set up to report and comment on the revolution, another member believes in the importance of telling stories regardless of the numbers of listeners; the stories can always be found if anyone looks for them. Continue reading
Theo was seven when he was taken from Rwanda and given a new foster family. Plagued by terrible memories of tribal genocide, Theo is given a new chance in Dublin, but as he grows up and falls into selling drugs, he begins to wonder if you can ever escape your past.
The other voice we hear in the novel is Deirdre’s. She is a forty-year-old ex-nurse working in a restaurant, washing dishes. Her husband beats her. Her children test her with their adolescent disaffection.
When Theo starts at the restaurant, working alongside her, they form a surprising friendship, one which helps them face their increasingly entangled and dangerous lives. Continue reading