This is a fabulous book that tries to step out of the confining and controlling aspects of certain stories.
A young black woman, whose parents are Windrush survivors, describes her upwardly mobile education and career from a working class background into Cambridge, banking and a boyfriend in the political, elite British classes. The ascent is hard work and it has costs, costs that impair her health, freedom and conscience.
The story explores the lead up to a weekend at her boyfriend’s family seat alongside a doctor’s appointment in which she discovers she has cancer. No one will let her escape the blackness she embodies within and without. She longs for freedom, but it will cost her life.
Helen ran away from home as a young teenager. Bad things happened to her and she had a baby too young to know how to look after it. That baby was taken away by the System. But twenty years later that baby comes looking for her and along with love and hope comes a need to face the past, especially when her baby, her bee, has children of her own.
I don’t want to say much more about the plot of the story because that would ruin the novel. I will say that Alex Morrall approaches the complexities of Helen’s life with careful consideration, thinking through how hard it is to live with truths we would all want to run from. Helen’s mental health naturally suffers and Alex Morrall develops a linguistic tic – Beep. Beep. Bop. – that represents Helen’s attempts to run from the pain that still lives in her mind.
The story is a difficult, but heart-warming one and would make a wonderful read for a book group eager to explore all the issues that surround the characters. Mental health, social services, racism and abuse are all explored and looked at from multiple facets with different perspectives coming in to give their sides of the story. This is a modern, multicultural Britain in all its beauty and ugliness.
For those of you interested in exploring more, I’ll be discussing this novel with Alex Morrall at City Writes, the showcase for all the wonderful writing coming out of City, University of London’s creative writing short courses, this Wednesday 7th July at 7pm on zoom. You can register here.
This is an extraordinary book that defies expectations.
Vern lived and grew up in Cainland, in the deep South of America, where a community of black people believe their God, the God of Cain, will keep them from harm, keep them honest and safe from the white devils.
Vern is albino and as such has always been different. Cainland’s leader takes a fancy to her, partly because she brims with questions and defiance and thinks marriage to him, despite her young age, will keep her tame. But Vern will not be contained. When she runs from the compound she is heavily pregnant.
We think we know this story. It holds familiar echoes. But what teenage mother could give birth to twins, alone in a forest, strap them to her chest and run and swing through trees to escape a pursuer with a gun and wolves? What teenage mother could survive in a self-made shelter, foraging for food, making her own clothes, teaching her twins, alone in the forest? This is no ordinary young woman and Cainland is much more than it seems. How could such a community survive in the American South without incident? Who really has the power in Cainland? Why can no one seem to run away, until now…
Part speculative fiction, part painful contemporary realism, Sorrowland doesn’t fit the usual moulds but takes the reader on a journey for freedom that explores race, sexuality and the boundaries of the human mind and body as something rooted in the natural world. At times crazy, but always an exciting ride, this is a genre busting novel with a powerfully raw emotional heart that beats loudly in the reader’s ears. You’ll know if this sounds like your kind of thing.
I’ll be reviewing Helen and the Grandbees by Alex Morrall next, followed by Everybody by Olivia Laing. Apologies to those who follow the blog for my slow write-ups recently! I’m reading the books but not getting the blogs up fast enough. I hope you can bear with me.