Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce

I’m a huge fan of Sarah Pinborough and when she called this novel ‘shocking, additive, dark domestic noir’ I knew I’d be in for a treat. Blood Orange is the kind of novel that glues you to your seat until you’re finished, forgetting the tea long cold or the dog that needs walking. You just want to find out what happens.

Alison is a barrister whose husband does most of the childcare and who frequently stays out late drinking too much in order to fall into the way of a colleague with whom she’s having an affair. Her husband knows their daughter’s schedule, packs her lunch, and often puts her to bed while Alison is having her shirt buttons ripped off in the heat of a drunken moment. Continue reading

The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers

The Gallows Pole is the true story of King David Hartley and the Cragg Vale Coiners. It is both a history from the perspective of those who lost – in that the clipping and forging of coin for local benefit was stamped out by the establishment – but also a novel that enlivens a sense of the untamed landscape of Northern England in wood and moor just before the industrial revolution with its mills and mines and factories took hold.

David himself, the self-appointed King of the North, mourns an older, wilder landscape filled with wolves and his relationship with the woods and moors has a mystical quality. He sees the dance of the deer-headed men, feels the secrets of the land single him out for their mythic poetry. This connection to the land is one of the most pleasurable parts of the book. You can feel the breath of the landscape, hear the movements of creatures hidden within the trees and rocks and rivers. Setting really does live and breathe in The Gallows Pole. This visceral description of the land carries over into the interactions between people too. There is no shying away from the brutality of this history – its hardships and violence. Continue reading

The Dollmaker by Nina Allan

A modern gothic inspired by, amongst other things, a poem, ‘The Dwarf’, written by Matthaus von Collin and set to music by Schubert in Vienna in the early 1800s, the main character of The Dollmaker, Andrew is of short stature and his love of dolls not only provides him with a career but puts him in the way of another doll collector, Bramber, who is particularly interested in the dolls made by Ewa Chaplin, a woman who also wrote short stories that explore an uncanny fascination with dolls and dwarfs. Continue reading

My Life As A Rat by Joyce Carol Oates

It wasn’t until I began reading My Life as a Rat that I remembered I hadn’t taken to Oates’ previous novel, Hazards of Time Travel. I had that sinking feeling that perhaps this novel would fail to capture my imagination too, but in fact what I uncovered was a character, Vi’let Rue, the youngest in a Irish-Catholic American family, that really did stay with me. It reminded me of something I read a long time ago about Oates’ method of writing. Though I can’t find the reference to it now (this is my disclaimer here), I remember her saying that certain stories came from a character and wrote themselves without planning. She was talking about short stories, but still, there is this feeling, as you read her work, of discovery; that the story literally unfolds in the writing. She finds the character and they tell her their story. Continue reading

You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr

You Will Be Safe Here is an exceedingly powerful book with a narrative that weaves and twists in exciting ways. It might be tempting to say that the book is really about one person, Willem, a young boy sent to a camp in the outback where he can be reeducated into behaving in ways white South African Boer society would like, but in actuality the novel is threaded with multiple stories and perspectives. Continue reading