Daddy by Emma Cline

Daddy is a series of ten short stories that delve right into the heart of character. The stories work well collected together, as each seems to address some darker menace hovering below the normal-looking surface of people’s lives. Each main character has such a specific outlook that behaviours others may recoil from are presented as almost inevitable, sometimes regrettable, but still somehow impossible to avoid.

A father erases his past violent behaviour through the filter of memory and the insistence upon his own change (‘What Can You Do with a General’). Another father, in ‘Northeast Regional’, goes to his son’s school to sort out what will happen after his son assaulted another pupil, all while he’s trying to text a married woman he’s having an affair with. He knows his son only vaguely and is cross when his son’s girlfriend doesn’t eat the food she ordered for lunch. The girlfriend drops her fork and the waitress comes to pick it up and give her another. In a line that seems to sum up the strange mutable sense of individual morality the collection explores, Cline writes:

‘When she retreated, leaving Richard alone with his son and the crying girl, it occurred to him, with the delayed logic of a dream, that the waitress must have thought he was the bad guy in all this.’

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One Circuitous Path Soundwalk

I’m so excited to announce the launch of my soundwalk, One Circuitous Path: a retelling of the Minotaur myth. Released today, listen or download the sound piece here and sign up for the socially distanced event here. Part of #SoundWalkSeptember 2020 the piece is just over 20 minutes long and asks you to reimagine what might really have been at the heart of that labyrinth in Crete. With music by Ruth Bulman and voices by Bronwen Price and Christopher Simpson it’s a mythic feast for the ears. Do take a listen.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Although the novel brings us to the brink of the Millennium, The Vanishing Half feels like a mythical tale. Two identical pale twins of African-American heritage live in a town called Mallard in Louisiana. Mallard is a town established and built only for those African-Americans with the fairest of skins. They don’t want anyone darker skinned living in their town or marrying into their families.

The pale twins, Desiree and Stella watch their father being lynched and killed by white men when they are still only very young. This violence, without them realising it, seems to push them in different directions and whilst they flee Mallard together they do it for very different reasons.

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Interview with Irenosen Okojie

I’m delighted that my interview with the exceedingly talented Irenosen Okojie is now up. We managed to find a quiet spot to talk about her work. Do have a watch and listen. She has some great suggestions about getting up early and reading poetry first thing to really open your mind to the possibilities of language.

Just follow the link to the Author QH page here.

I’ll be posting up my next book review early next week.

Her Body & Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Her Body & Other Parties is one of those collections you start to read and wonder why you haven’t discovered before. How could I not have heard of Carmen Maria Machado? Why hadn’t I already read some of her stories?

If you haven’t this collection, do it now. Machado manages to give the oppressive politics of human relationships a sensual eroticism that is hard to look away from.  Continue reading

Chemistry by Weike Wang

Funny and agonising, Chemistry’s narrator is a young post-grad chemistry student whose loving boyfriend has just proposed. She doesn’t know what to say, or how to respond and he allows her time to think about it. This state of limbo exists in her research too. She can’t find anything of significance, she can’t even be sure she has settled on the right topic or question for her PhD and yet her Chinese parents, when they speak on the phone, are desperately waiting for her to achieve, to become a doctor, to make something out of their ongoing sacrifices for her.  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

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

Our life in the Forest by Marie Darrieussecq

Ok, I admit it, I’m obsessed with Marie Darrieussecq. Hers is the kind of fiction I long for us to write more of and value more highly in England. Regardless of the subject, she is always striving to uncover and express quite what it means to live and breathe as a human. In this novel, she goes further and asks how the surge in population sits not only with human nature but with the planet. Are we able to be social beings on such a grand scale? If we lose touch with the fundamentals of our bestial nature, what do we become? She is also interested in the physical act of writing – how the body is part of the conveyance of narrative – and the primal nature of our desire to record stories in ways that don’t require mass production or electricity i.e. the written word, those early handprints on rock.

In Our Life in the Forest, Marie Darrieusecq contemplates a future in which cloning is used to provide spare organs and body parts for the rich. What does this mean for the clones? Do they have rights? Are they unique individuals despite their genetic replication? 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