Outline by Rachel Cusk

I’ve come to Rachel Cusk late. Having heard so much about her and her work before even turning the first page, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found was a very compelling novel almost of absence. It was as if the main character existed only to hear and record what others said to her, as if she herself were only an excuse for others to express themselves and show their best theories and thoughts. Of course, what I read was actually what the narrator chose to tell me. The self-effacement was a choice which I couldn’t be certain existed for the other characters. Perhaps this character was as verbally present as they were, but that part of the story was elided for the purposes of retelling.

It’s delightful to read a novel that has a sense of movement but no discernible plot as such. The narrator goes to Athens to teach creative writing. She teaches, meets some friends and acquaintances, then prepares to travel back. There is no great moment of epiphany (apart perhaps from the moment at the end with the other woman coming to teach screenwriting and live in the apartment that the narrator has been renting), and the dramatic moments fall quietly into the fabric of her days, so that a verbal attack by a student and an attempted kiss from her neighbour on the airplane she flew in on, aren’t the central moments, as they might be, but are instead part of the stories of these other people’s lives who seem to have taken all the drama, all the comedy and tragedy for themselves. Continue reading

A new Author QH interview with Stephan Collishaw

I met with Stephan Collishaw just last week to discuss his writing shortly after the publication of his novel, A Child Called Happiness, which I reviewed here. Do take a look at the interview here.

I’ll be reviewing Outline by Rachel Cusk in the next few days and have another Author QH interview coming up in July with C. G. Menon whose debut collection of short stories, Subjunctive Moods, comes out in July, published by Dahlia Publishing.

A Child Called Happiness by Stephan Collishaw – Review and Book Giveaway

The novel opens with the discovery of an abandoned baby on a farm in Mazowe Valley, Zimbabwe. An English woman, Natalie, is visiting her aunt and uncle on their farm, riding out over the landscape when she hears the cries of a lost baby that echo the loss she left England to escape.

Alongside her story, and the story of the farm and her family’s legacy on that land, is the story of a Zimbabwean man whose family owned the land long before the white men came and took it for themselves. His is another story of loss and as we read, we uncover his identity, and follow him on his quest to reclaim his birthright. Continue reading

Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

I don’t often review non-fiction, but Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race is exactly what the Observer called it, ‘A wake-up call to a nation in denial’. I finished the book – mine is the edition with the new Aftermath chapter – and all I wanted to do was read more from Reni Eddo-Lodge.

With a brief overview of black British history (far more in depth than anything offered in schools, where the focus remains on black American civil rights, as if there has never been a need for a civil rights struggle in Britain), a clear depiction of institutional racism (not that we should need reminding after the Windrush debacle and those Home Office deportation targets), what white privilege really is, why and how white privilege is afraid, how feminism interacts with race, and an unpicking of race and class, the book is a call to action.

We need a broader, more accessible British history that accounts fully for the wrongs of the past in an attempt to redress racism in the system as well as the individual. To do that, the white privileged, people like me, need to take a hard look at themselves. We need to bring something to the conversation about race, once we’ve really sat back and listened.

This book is a great place to start listening and thinking about how to act for equality. I can’t recommend it enough. I’ll be reading it again.

 

Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi, trans. by Joanthan Wright

I loved this novel. Hidden within multiple questionable accounts is the story of the One Who Has No Name, the Whatsitsname fashioned from the mutilated corpses of US-occupied Baghdad’s many victims of violence. Supposedly formed by the hands of Hadi, the drunken junk dealer and teller of tall tales in coffee shops, the Whatsitsname takes on the spirit of a bombed man whose body was blown apart and whose spirit was unable to find its resting place. Continue reading

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Esch lives with her father and brothers in Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. It’s a backwater place where they struggle against poverty: eating eggs from their multiplying chickens, wearing hand-me-downs from each other and friends and stealing what they can’t afford.

Esch’s mother died giving birth to Junior, the little brother she and her eldest brother, Randall, raised. Their father’s often drunk, his odd jobs not bringing in quite enough.

They like to hang out in the pit, where Skeetah, Esch’s other brother, has found a stray dog to raise into a fighter. There’s lots of money to be had from fighting dogs. Continue reading

Things Bright and Beautiful by Anbara Salam

Bea and Max are newlyweds with a mission to bring God to Advent Island. Max is the missionary, Bea the wife he saved from despair and destitution and took across the seas into the island jungle.

They had no idea the old missionary, a woman with a gammy leg, a facility for the local languages, and a domineering manner, was still there. When she moves back into the mission house with them, the difficult situation of managing the local interpretation of Christianity – centred around the need to cast out the devil in nightly vigils filled with singing, young women writhing on the ground and screaming as the evil is exorcised, along with holy water sprinkled around evil properties – is made worse by the additional burden of her presence. Continue reading