Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann

The fact that I’ve long wanted to read this novel and have always been a fan of stream of consciousness literature, Woolf, Joyce, Finnegan’s Wake, river run, on and, the water cycle, doesn’t detract from the fact that reading it takes a lot more concentration than the thinking it represents, brand, identity, big concept, Heinz, Booker, Baileys, drinking, drunk on listening to the sound of the thoughts of the housewife who survived cancer and now makes pies, missing her children, especially her little boy whose chubby toddler phase was lost to her, to her illness, to the cancer, the cells splitting and reproducing in naughty, naughty ways like her DNA was having a tantrum ♪We plough the fields and scatter♪ shows the fact that I, like her, am no longer in the prime of life, no longer as actively angry and filled with belief that I can change anything, the fact that I want a book that not only tangles and mesmerises me with its words, with its poetry, Darrieusecq, why are the Europeans so much better at that kind of fiction? Ariana Harwicz, but also picks me up and lifts me on a journey that I can slip in and out of as I leave the house on the school run or answer an email so the fact that I am reading at all becomes a miracle of time management, of priorities, and the incredibly long sentences of this very clever and diverting book with their interrupting sections about the story of a mountain lion are hard to read piecemeal, regardless of its cleverness, regardless of the messages it wishes to send about the way we live and think today, makes for a novel that I don’t find easy to read but the fact that I appreciate it anyway and am glad such literature has a place among the modern shelf makes this wonderful flood of thought a novel to celebrate ♪the good seed on the land♪ and work hard to harvest the fruit of journeying into another mind added to the fact that it was rejected by the establishment and published by an independent press, the wonderful independent Galley Beggar Press.

I’m reviewing Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz next. Can’t wait to review that one. I won’t be doing it in the style of the novel though, unlike this one (just too hard to resist, even though it’s been done before).

The Faculty of Indifference by Guy Ware

Robert Exley works at the Faculty, a counter-terrorism branch of government in which his father also served. His wife, once a member of the Faculty herself and a supposedly more promising one, is dead. She was hit by a bus years ago and Robert lives with their son, Stephen, who asks him every night how his day was – ‘If I told you I’d have to kill you’ being the standard response – and who writes a diary in code on his mother’s old typewriter, leaving the pages temptingly on display for Robert to decode. This diary is the only way in which Stephen ever fully communicates with his father – assuming he wanted his father to read it all along, for the novel makes it clear, nothing should be assumed.

Divided into two halves, the four or five years before he meets a prisoner in the basement, and four or five years later when he does, the novel is also divided into before Stephen goes to university and when he returns. In the first section we hear Stephen’s imagined telling of his grandfather’s life as a beacon keeper. For his diary morphs into a fictionalised biography rather than a daily account of his life. This telling is somehow implicated in a particular case Robert is handed by a colleague that leads to the incarceration of that prisoner in the basement. Continue reading

Adults by Emma Jane Unsworth

The third novel from the author of the critically acclaimed novel and film, Animals, I came to the novel through chatter on twitter. Oh, I thought, people are saying some great things about this book, I’d love to read it. 

I haven’t read Animals or seen the film so I’m probably quite a rare reader of this novel, coming with fresh eyes, though I suspect, from reading a review of the film, that Animals has a similar approach to Adults, one that looks at its female characters not in terms of likeability but in terms of verisimilitude, warts and all. Continue reading

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Alongside many, I was eagerly awaiting The Testaments. I had it on pre-order and dragged it from the packaging with delight. How was Margaret Atwood going to take The Handmaid’s Tale further? Would it reference the television programme that extended the original novel? What more could be said by June?

Once again, Margaret Atwood showed what a fantastic storyteller she is by choosing a story that could be read on many levels. You could read The Testaments without reading The Handmaid’s Tale; I suspect it would stand as a novel on its own. Similarly you could definitely read The Testaments without having seen the television series. However, there is a greater richness to the story when you can hold them all together. There is something very interesting about this idea of using multiple media to expand and enhance a world. It is not new, of course, but it does provoke interesting opportunities for the writer whose skills are pushed in new directions. It can’t have been possible to write this novel in isolation from the response to the original novel and then the television series. How do you write something new on a subject so many see themselves as being experts in? Continue reading

Glitch by Lee Rourke

L-J is travelling back to England after 20 years in the States. The journey begins with a plane ride that is anything but routine. From the very start we are introduced to the idea of the glitch, the fault in the system, the fracture that reveals what is below the surface. Something happens to the plane, some kind of tear in business class that decompresses the aircraft and forces an emergency landing. 

L-J films it. L-J photographs the glitch on the screen when it’s display doesn’t work correctly. He has always loved those little fractures that have come, through long discussions with his mother, to represent not only what art should attempt to unveil – the imperfections that reveal different realities that lie beneath – but the essence of what it is to be human, to be alive. We are the glitches. Continue reading

Sealed by Naomi Booth

Everything I’ve read about Sealed doesn’t really do it justice. Though the story is horrifying and gory with a great deal of menace; though there is an interest in what it means to be a parent when facing difficult times; it is also more than a young parent’s ecological horror story. This is more than the usual gore of birth, toil, poverty and death. It’s about things turning on themselves, about judgements and decisions that come in the face of a world changed by our use of it. Not only a world changed, but our bodies changed.

Cutis, a skin disease where our largest organ grows more than it needs to, sealing over the important orifices like mouths, nostrils, ear canals and anuses, is spreading. Thin stretchy white tendrils seem to form overnight, suffocating, poisoning, deafening, maiming. A disease only the richest can afford to fix, a disease whose spread governments are keen to conceal, where ‘natural causes’ like heart-attack (from panic), or obstructed bowel etc. hide the spread of cutis, leaves Alice, a pregnant housing officer whose mother has recently died from cutis, obsessed by the reality of the disease. Though Alice and her partner Pete attempt to escape Alice’s fears of this disease by moving out into the country, way out to a remote mountain house near the forest, the sense of menace never leaves them and all Alice’s promises to put her obsession behind her are forgotten in the face of an epidemic that no one seems able to escape. Continue reading

Unmastered by Katherine Angel

I loved this book. At first, I was taken aback by all the space; there is an aphoristic feel to the style, to the layout and there are many quotations from Susan Sontag and Virginia Woolf in particular. Was I reading a compilation of other people’s thoughts? Sometimes the simple clarity of the prose knocked me off guard. What was I reading? What would this book give me? 

Then, as I read on, I found myself delighting in the space, embracing all that room for contemplation that the book gave to these simple, difficult words about female desire. I say difficult because, as the book explores, discussing female desire is fraught with conditioned expectations, dichotomies of interpretation, a fear of how it will be interpreted and a culture that prefers women to stay silent about their desire. A woman full of desire, a woman hungry for sexual experience or to be in charge of her sexual experience, a woman who refuses to be good, to be compliant, is threatening. It is far easier to stay silent.

This hunger, this desire to consume and explore, to gorge on pleasure, to take centre stage, is at the heart of a feminism that is all about owning every part of a woman, even the desires that play with misogyny, that sit at the painful edge of a cultural shift away from patriarchy that we are still very much in the middle of.

Unmastered is a totally engrossing read. I know I will go back and back to it. I’ve turned down so many pages the book now has that fan quality, its edges ready to be unfurled, ready to fuel my own thoughts.

Go Katherine Angel! Thanks to Heidi James for suggesting this. What a great read. I’ll be reading and reviewing Sealed by Naomi Booth next.

What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky is a beautiful, diverse collection of stories. There is no one genre and yet all the stories have a definite voice that make it clear they belong together and to Arimah. This is impressive in a short story collection, to have such different stories feel as if they speak from the same place, a place that feels like a longing for home, love and freedom of expression. Lesley Nneka Arimah is a true and mesmerising storyteller.  Continue reading

The Wayward Girls by Amanda Mason

Told across two timelines: one in 1976 when Loo and Bee were children living on a farm in Derbyshire with their three other siblings and their father, Joe, and mother, Cathy; the other in the present when Lucy (Loo) is the only child living close enough to visit Cathy, who suffers from dementia and lives in a care home. What connects the two is the farm house they lived in and a paranormal investigation that began when a police officer was called to the house by Cathy back in 1976. After days of knocking on the walls and slammed doors, a hail of marbles was pelted down on the two older girls and with Joe away working, Cathy was scared. All these years later, a new investigation is beginning and Cathy has been contacted by the new team of researchers looking for evidence up at the farm.  Continue reading