[review] The Mermaid & Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

“Angelica knows about women and their empire-building. She knows also that a woman in perfect control of her fate never resorts to rudeness, and this gives her a small glow of satisfaction.”

Mermaids? Courtesans?! The Georgians! For somebody who ‘doesn’t read historical fiction’ this was one hell of a read!

We follow two characters who couldn’t be more different, Angelica Neal – a courtesan in need of finances and a Mr. Jonah Hancock – a widowed merchant who comes into a bit more luck than he can scarcely imagine.

Gowar’s prose is indeed excellent, both immersive and beautiful, and in places so visceral as if one really were down at the confectioners buying Rose jelly in the year 1785.

“The carriage is built so as to be smooth in movements and almost silent; done up in pink silk so they nestle like pearls in an oyster shell. Its windows are small and curtained, but Angelica peeps out as they roll past the great things of Piccadilly.”

The novel is both saucy and seductive while maintaining great elements of wit and humour. It’s also dark at times and although it’s not gripping like that of a thriller, I still found myself racing through page after page. Gowar’s protagonists are fully fleshed and her passion is evident through her attention to detail and it is a work that appears very well researched, all while being incredibly accessible. (quote me if i’m wrong hah)

Basically it’s an insanely evocative and mesmerizing debut! AND any book that can turn someone into a genre lover ought to be on a shortlist in my opinion! (Also, dual narrative alert! – another of my preferred things)

“[…] it is always better to be fierce than to be sad, just as it is always better to fight than to run.”

If you’re a bit like me and have never felt ‘drawn’ towards historical fiction, yet this one sounds promising, do give it a go!  The historical fiction I have really enjoyed have always been, dare I say it, different? The Butcher’s Hook – I really loved the other year – is another saucy one (oops!) although much grittier than Gowar’s. In fact, it’s kind of like The Butcher’s Hook and The Essex Serpent had a love child…. Ellis’ Georgian London with Perry’s mesmerizing language and attention to detail…

All in all, another great shortlisted novel! I do not envy the judges at all :’)

“We must always be prepared for change. That is how we survive.”


How did you get on with this one?? Do you agree with it’s shortlisting? Tell me more in the comments below!

For now,

– xx

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[review] Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

“It’s SpongeBob, Eleanor,” he said, speaking very slowly and clearly as though I were some sort of idiot. “SpongeBob SquarePants?” A semi-human bath sponge with protruding front teeth! On sale as if it were something completely unremarkable! For my entire life, people have said that I’m strange, but really, when I see things like this, I realize that I’m actually relatively normal.”

This novel has been doing the rounds for months in all the bookish places on the internet. Am I surprised it was longlisted for the Women’s Prize? No. Am I pleased? Heck Yes!

Eleanor Oliphant does the same thing every weekend. Buys herself pizza and vodka. You’ve heard the synopsis: She lives alone, is a little socially awkward, doesn’t have any friends, but when she helps to rescue an elderly gentlemen with a fellow employee – the three of them form a bond and Eleanor learns that friendship is essential to survival.

“There are days when I feel so lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether me to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar. A strong gust of wind could dislodge me completely, and I’d lift off and blow away, like one of those seeds in a dandelion clock. The threads tighten slightly from Monday to Friday.”

Honeyman’s prose is simple yet witty and engaging. We are introduced to Eleanor, a self contained entity she refers to herself as and she is at once an immensely likeable character. Through Eleanor we meet Sammy – the elderly gentlemen, and Raymond – the new IT guy at her office. All three of the characters are isolated in their own ways – though Eleanor’s loneliness is of course the focus.

“I suppose one of the reasons we’re all able to continue to exist for our allotted span in this green and blue vale of tears is that there is always, however remote it might seem, the possibility of change.”

The novel is structured in three parts: Good Days, Bad Days, Better Days and each section deals with, you guessed it, the good, the bad and the getting better. Eleanor Oliphant is a story of navigating life and of having courage to face the dark hallways of one’s mind. It’s a story of friendship and connection; of how to be human. There is no right or wrong but a good friend never goes astray.

“I pondered what else I should take for him. Flowers seemed wrong; they’re a love token, after all. I looked in the fridge, and popped a packet of cheese slices into the bag. All men like cheese.”

Eleanor Oliphant reminded me of The Bell Jar meets The Rosie Project. Honeyman has crafted a sad, yet uplifting novel that is hilarious at times while both heartbreaking and endearing and it is definitely one of the more accessible works on the Women’s Prize longlist.

Did you enjoy this one? Do you think it will make the shortlist?

4 out of 5 stars.


 

ROSEHEAD by Ksenia Anske

“Lilith Bloom had the peculiar feeling that the rose garden wanted to eat her.”

I don’t often re-read books. It’s something I’m not violently opposed to I just feel I don’t have the time with so many new books coming out each week and TBR pile all the way to Jupiter & back again.

So when I do re-read a book it must be insanely gripping and give me all of the feels. Either that or it’s from my childhood and I’m kind of obsessed with nostalgia. ROSEHEAD is definitely one I wish I had read in my young adult / twee years. I remember lurking in the libraries on a Friday after school was out – there’s something about the Friday feeling when you’re a school kid. Everyone rushing off home or to the mall to spend their weekend while you sink back into the bones of the school – slink between the shelves of books and studious high school kids working over time.

I read lots of Nancy Drew and stories with an arty-twee-mysterious edge. The Ghostop Series by Libby Hawthorn was a particular favourite of mine. On a Friday I felt like Harriet M. Welsch or at least pretended to be, book in hand, the late rays of sunshine streaming in through high windows, illuminating the dusty top shelves.

“Upon hearing a scary noise, most children typically scream and flee. Not Lilith. Excited by the prospect of solving a mystery, she ran after Panther, deeper and deeper in to the sea of roses.”

I can’t quite explain how but reading… ROSEHEAD gives me these feels. It’s set in Germany. In a rose garden. A large rose garden which eats people.

Yes you read that right.

Carnivorous roses.

Ever considered why roses are so, well, blood red?

Our protagonist is twelve year old Lilith Bloom. She likes berets, ballet, has a keen sense of smell and a pet talking Whippet called Panther Bloom Jnr. And yep, you guessed it – the two of them begin to unravel the mystery of the rose garden and it’s origins all while dealing with an overbearing family reunion in a mansion that moves and is home to several talking heads.

“The ceiling split open with a groan. A thick cloud of dust filled the air. Lilith choked back a cry, afraid the noise would wake everyone, her grandfather especially; but she soon relaxed and allowed herself to breathe, to Panther’s relief. He suffocated in her grip. It seemed nobody heard a thing.”

However, ROSEHEAD is more than just a Sherlock Holmes meets Alice in Wonderland fable. Anske weaves themes of importance in such a way that the book is neither didactic or a cautionary tale. Lilith is an over medicated and over diagnosed child learning to find her place in a world where a quick fix is the only way. She learns not only to love but to forgive, not only to trust but to stay loyal to herself and her family whether she understands their adult ways or  not. Lilith is a smart, quick witted twelve year old who endures more than imaginable (not just murderous rosebushes & talking heads) and comes out unscathed, with the ability to still find the good in people. Basically she’s an all powerful goddess who can fight giant mutant plant freaks and psychiatrists and still come out singing.

“A foul vapour rolled over them in waves. Its misty tongue licked everything into oblivion, carrying the type of smell that penetrated bones, putrid, as if something long dead stirred to life.”

You will enjoy this if you have enjoyed the likes of Coraline, Harriet the Spy, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler, The Hound of the Baskervilles or the Nancy Drew series.


You can try Ksenia Anske’s books for free. Head on over to her website to find out more –> https://www.kseniaanske.com and oh, beware of your neighbour’s rose garden….

 

do svidaniya my lil detectives

xx

Stay With Me – Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀

“I convinced myself that my silence meant I was a good wife. But the biggest lies are often the ones we tell ourselves.”

An absolutely phenomenal read and I’m going to take a leap and say one of my top five reads of this year. (I’ll eat my hat if I read five other books that surpass this baby in the rest of 2017). Stay With Me first came to my attention with it’s Bailey’s Prize long-listing and I’m so so glad it did.

The novel follows the story of a Nigerian couple and their attempts at creating a family. It is set in 1980s Nigeria and imbued with the political tensions of the time. But it is so much more than this.

Filled with themes of motherhood, love and grief, Adébáyọ̀ skillfully weaves a tale of reality versus societal expectations that will leave you grasping for air.  Her writing style is startling fresh; both eloquent and gripping and just when you think you’ve worked out where the novel is heading, she’s got you guessing all over again.

“If the burden is too much and stays too long, even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking and sometimes does break. But even when it’s in a thousand pieces around your feet, that doesn’t mean it’s no longer love.”

Stay With Me is a colourful compulsive reading experience and Yejide (our main character) is one who will (sorry not sorry) stay with me for a long time. Adébáyọ̀’s women are strong, fearless, fearful, brave, scheming, loving, longing, human. Everything a woman is and could ever be. I’m still in awe that this is a debut. The final fifty pages left me a blubbering mess.


If you like…

  • plot driven family narratives
  • strong female characters
  • the other side of motherhood
  • masterful writing filled with both suspense and beauty
  • the works of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • contemporary African literature

… you ought to relish this one!

5/5 stars. I want to read everything Adébáyọ̀ ever writes.

“Sometimes I think we have children because we want to leave behind someone who can explain who we were to the world when we are gone.”


Isn’t it exciting finding awe inspiring debuts, knowing that there is so much more to come. Did you love this one? It’s the only one of the Bailey’s prize I managed to get to this year so I may be biased in thinking it should have won :’) what was your favourite? Perhaps next year I’ll give the Bailey’s a go as the listed books are often my preferred kind of reading… or so I like to think… :’)

Stay tuned for my next reviews of the Man Booker longlist….

For now,

Do svidaniya  xx

Girl, Interrupted (book & film review)

“It was a spring day, the sort that gives people hope: all soft winds and delicate smells of warm earth. Suicide weather.”

Girl, Interrupted is the true story of Susanna Kaysen’s time spent in the infamous McLean Hospital* and you have probably seen the cult film adaptation with Winona and Jolie or at least heard of it unless, like me, you live under a rock and this is all news to you. Okay, so I had heard the title and vaguely knew about a late 90s blonde Jolie. But still, I’m kicking myself for not having read (and watched) these sooner.

*famous due to it’s clientèle in the past.

“Ray Charles was the most famous ex-patient. We all hoped he’d return and serenade us from the window of the drug-rehabilitation ward. […] Robert Lowell also didn’t come while I was there. Sylvia Plath had come and gone.

What is it about meter and cadence and rhythm that makes their makers mad?”

In 1967, Susanna is admitted to McLean Hospital for the treatment of depression which is later diagnosed as borderline personality. She was eighteen.

“One of my teachers told me I was a nihilist. He meant it as an insult but I took it as a compliment.”

Kaysen’s memoir reads like a diary and whilst it deals with a rather harrowing topic it is both poetic and humourous. She doesn’t romanticize her condition but rather documents her experience living in the ward and the lifestyle it affords her. The novel is a slim one and best read in one sitting and it was definitely more heartwarming than I had initially expected. If you have ever read & loved or wanted to read, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath then this book is also for you.

Filmically, Girl, Interrupted also works well. However, it’s a glossy piece of cinema, rather than a raw period piece.  (Think: Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides).

Ultimately I expected more from the film, due to it’s cult status and my having read the novel first but Mangold’s interpretation is addictive in its own right. Lisa’s dominance in the film caught me off guard but I feel it’s effective in portraying Susanna’s sense of loss.

“People ask, How did you get in there? What they really want to know is if they are likely to end up in there as well. I can’t answer the real question. All I can tell them is, It’s easy.

And it is easy to slip into a parallel universe.”

In the book, there are two Lisa’s. Perhaps this would’ve confused the audience had it been translated to film, however, Jolie’s role is spectacular enough that perhaps with another Lisa, Winona would’ve been felt completely overshadowed. I really enjoyed the portrayal of Daisy (Brittany Murphy) in the film, but found it became all a bit melodramatic as Susanna and Lisa’s relationship deepened. I also enjoyed the ending of the book and sort of wished it was in the film – but alas – I think it may have left the film feeling a little too Hollywood if that makes any sense.

Ultimately, I love the book that little bit more, but I enjoy each piece in it’s own right. One cannot fully compare such different media. I think I love the book more because it reminds me so of The Bell Jar, my first true love. It also got me thinking of other books I loved with similar themes like:

  • Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood
  • An Angel At my Table by Janet Frame. (There is a great film version of this!)
  • The Vegetarian by Han Kang (now that would need a raw, no holds barred, throw in some magical realism effects, don’t you think!?)

“But most people pass over incrementally, making a series of perforations in the membrane between here and there until an opening exists. And who can resist an opening?”

 

 

rad women – short stories j’adore (pt. ii)

Writing up notes for this post, as I battle a headache, pms and the making of a fodmap friendly (read: sliced vegetable layered) lasagna and if that’s not fate, then what is… hello & welcome to this week’s edition of short stories that I freaking adore, and let’s talk about some rad women writers!!

“The sun was collapsing with a glare that seemed prehistoric; I felt not only blinded but lost, or as if I had lost something. And again she appeared, the woman in the yellow bathrobe.”

from, ‘Majesty’ published in No One Belongs Here More Than You.

I’m not a fan of the word ‘quirky’ but it’s one way to describe Miranda July‘s collection, No One Belongs Here More Than You. Her stories – utterly human and affecting – deal with loneliness and the slightly more perverse side of life. Awkward, yet endearing and kind of graceful – you will either love or hate her, she’s either original or contrived.

There is a story called ‘The Swim Team’ about elderly people who live in a desert community being to taught how to swim in a bathtub. (OKAY YOU GOT ME AGAIN. Not sure what it is about old people & bath tubs but give me all the stories). In ‘Birthmark’ a woman loses her dear friend: a wine-stain birthmark. In ‘The Moves’,  a father teaches his daughter how to pleasure women. So you get the idea. Revolting with a sense of charm, i.e. Human.

“This made her so angry that she did the dishes. We never did this unless we were trying to be grand and self-destructive. I stood in the doorway and tried to maintain my end of our silence while watching her scratch at calcified noodles. In truth, I had not yet learned how to hate anyone but my parents. I was actually just standing there in love.”

from, ‘Something That Needs Nothing’

Some of my favourites are: ‘The Swim Team’‘This Person’, ‘Mon Plaisir’ & ‘Something That Needs Nothing’ which I remember the most. (I have a shocking memory so if I don’t remember things it doesn’t mean they didn’t blow me away at the time). A solid 4.5/5 stars.

FUN FACT: July is a pretty spiffing film maker as well. Me and You and Everyone We Know and The Future are two I loved. And I still think about her recent novel  The First Bad Man on a weekly basis.

“We met twice a week in my apartment. When they arrived, I had three bowls of warm tap water lined up on the floor, and then a fourth bowl in front of those, the coach’s bowl. I added salt to the water because it’s supposed to be healthy to snort warm salt water, and I figured they would be snorting accidentally.”

from, ‘The Swim Team’


Single, Carefree, Mellow is Katherine Heiny‘s debut collection and what a debut it was! Contemporary with both charm and wit and a little snarkiness thrown in too. The title story is one of about three(?) in a set of interlinking stories dispersed throughout the collection. Heiny’s prose focuses on modern women and their extra-marital choices, their sexual freedoms and a life chosen despite of its dictations. It was an easy read but that’s not denying Heiny’s talent. Her writing is simultaneously subtle and laugh-out-loud funny and very American NY Girl if that’s your thing.

“The cake you bake on the morning of your son’s eighth birthday party is strangely slanted to one side. You check the oven rack but it looks perfectly straight. You wonder uneasily if maybe the house is canted on its foundation. Your children could be growing up with one leg longer than the other.”

from, ‘That Dance You Do’

I enjoyed the title story and its main character Maya and it was delightful to meet her again throughout the collection at different stages in her life in ‘Dark Matter’ & ‘Grendel’s Mother’. I also enjoyed: ‘Cranberry Relish’‘How To Give the Wrong Impression’ and ‘Blue Heron Bridge’ had me giggling a bit.

“Josie thinks that the problem with being a writer is that you miss a lot of your life wondering if the things that happen to you are good enough to use in a story, and most of the time they’re not and you have to make shit up anyway.”

from, ‘Cranberry Relish’

FUN FACT: Heiny’s debut novel Standard Deviation was published this month.


Lucia Berlin. What more can I say. Everyone raved about this collection and don’t be fooled by the hype, for this selection of stories is definitely worth your time. Berlin’s prose is insanely gorgeous. She has been likened to Carver and Munro. Her innately human stories are both heartbreaking and humour filled with articulation not unlike Chekhov. Not a word is wasted and although some stories went over my head there are others I could read over and over again and still be continuously filled with feelings of warmth and how can you possibly write so damn beautifully?!!!

“She was silent. But I could see death working on her. Death is healing, it tells us to forgive, it reminds us that we don’t want to die alone.”

from, ‘Mourning’

Berlin manages to infuse everyday situations with such profound feeling it’s astounding, really. Just go and read them and see for yourself. All the stars, 5 stars.

Stories I have marked with a tick in my edition: ‘Phantom Pain’, ‘Toda Luna, Todo Año’, ‘Good and Bad’, ‘Melina’.

Stories I have drawn hearts beside on the contents page: ‘Friends’, ‘Bluebonnets’, ‘Mourning’  ‘So Long’  and I have drawn a star beside ‘Point of View’ whatever that means :’)

“You arrived a few days after the blizzard. Ice and snow still covered the ground, but we had a fluke of a warm day. Squirrels and magpies were chattering and sparrows and finches sang on the bare trees. I opened all the doors and curtains. I drank tea at the kitchen table feeling the sun on my back. Wasps came out of the nest on the front porch, floated sleepily through my house, buzzing in drowsy circles all around the kitchen. Just at this time the smoke alarm battery was dead, so it began to chirp like a summer cricket. The sun touched the teapot and the flour jar, the silver vase of stock.
A lazy illumination, like a Mexican afternoon in your room. I could see the sun in your face.”

from, ‘Wait a Minute’

 

keep well and read women,

for now

do svidaniya xx

 

 

the absolute faves – short stories j’adore (pt. i)

My favourite form, my preferred mode of writing, the highlight of my dream of a mediocre life – is the short story. I can understand why people mightn’t adore poetry, but the short story, there’s no excuse, why you can read one in twenty minutes, a novel on your lunch break! And there’s every kind imaginable, from horror to dirty realist, minimalist, flash, classic, romance, poetic – the list goes on.

Pt. I – The Absolute Favourites

Those which have stuck with me over the years, stories and authors I come back to with reverence, whose words linger on my skin long after dusk.

“She did not know; she could not think; she knew only that she did not want to go home, she wanted to sit here on the edge of the grave, never catching any more buses, crossing streets, walking on icy footpaths, turning mattresses, trying to reach jam from the top shelf of the cupboard, filling coal buckets, getting in and out of the bath.”

    from ‘The Bath’ published in You Are Now Entering the Human Heart: Stories

I read ‘The Bath’ by Janet Frame in high school and not a year has gone by where I haven’t thought of it or the author herself.  A day in the life of an elderly woman who lives alone, it isn’t a happy story but this is Frame’s forte: a depressive look at the life of the lonely people.

Frame is New Zealand born, and if you  haven’t heard of her –  she had an interesting life in and out of psychiatric hospitals and she was nearly given a lobotomy until the surgeon due to operate recognized her name and was like, oh hey you’re that writer who just won an award in the paper. Her writing is lyrical and soulful and at times it makes no sense. She plays with language, colour and perception. Lots of her works have themes not too dissimilar her own experiences in life. Others I adore are: ‘The Reservoir’ and ‘You Are Now Entering the Human Heart’.

“Her eyes faced the lighted exit. I saw her fear. The exit light blinked, hooded. The children, none of whom had ever touched a live snake, were sitting hushed, waiting for the drama to begin…”

from ‘You Are Now Entering the Human Heart’

 

◊ ◊ ◊

 

Raymond Carver, I discovered in my first year of Uni in an American Literature, a class I nearly didn’t take because I was an angry little punk back then, but man, I did and I can’t imagine my life without it. We briefly studied ‘So Much Water So Close To Home’ and it probably remains one of my top favourite stories of. all. time.

“In the kitchen I find a note from him signed “Love.” I sit in the breakfast nook in the sunlight and drink coffee and make a coffee ring on the note. The telephone has stopped ringing, that’s something.”

It’s about an everyday family in a small town. The husband goes on a hunting trip and they find a dead girl floating in the river. I can’t explain the feelings it gives you. And there’s also a movie adaptation of this particular story – Jindabyne – I thought it was a’ight eh…

Carver is a minimalist writer with a focus on the ordinary day to day lives of the working class. Now, there wasn’t a particular quote that ensnared me, in fact I don’t find Carver as quotable as other writers, but merely a feeling. I had never read anything like it. His way of creating lasting images, the ordinary moments of ordinary lives, everyday events with a melancholic twist that tugs away at you in the early hours. Not creepy like a Shirley Jackson story, it’s not even unease, it’s a mere feeling; the exhaustion that begins to settle with the twilight.

“I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.”

from ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’

I also often find myself thinking about: ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’ and ‘The Bath’ – yes, another melancholic story with a bath in it. This could be a theme of mine… FUN FACT: Carver greatly admired Chekhov and Murakami used to be friends with Carver.

 

◊ ◊ ◊

 

“The slowness of Sundays. Something about the glare, the smell of warm grass, the church service, the relatives visiting in nice clothes. The whole day kind of lasts forever.”

from, ‘Human Moments in World War III’ published in The Angel Esmerelda: Nine Stories

Another discovery thanks to that first year paper and if there could be a perfect man, he would be a pretty even mix of Greg Graffin and Don DeLillo. A punk rock veteran, paleontologist and post modern novelist – how could you go wrong?

“She knew there was someone else in the room. There was no outright noise, just an intimation behind her, a faint displacement of air.”

from ‘Baader-Meinhof’

DeLillo writes sparingly much like Carver, but there’s a lyricism to his works, he’s more quotable and less blunt, I find. I’ll be honest and confess that on the whole I prefer DeLillo’s novels to his short stories: (White Noise, Mao II, The Body Artist – being my faves), however, his stories are probably a great place to start and get a feel for his work as they follow much the same themes of his novels. He focuses on post-modernist themes like mass media, rampant consumerism and the idea of violence generating a sense of rebirth. Stories I have enjoyed more than once are: Baader-Meinhof and Midnight in Dostoevsky.

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FUN FACT: you can probably read a good portion of the stories mentioned and others at the new yorker -> just search the title/writer!

For now my chickens,

Do svidaniya xx