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The Devil and the Dark Water – Stuart Turton

0B8CC261-DF3E-4868-BBF8-65FD2A0FD831TITLE: THE DEVIL AND THE DARK WATER

AUTHOR: STUART TURTON

PUBLISHER: RAVEN BOOKS

ISBN-13: : 978-1408889640

PUBLICATION DATE: 1.10.20

PUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION:

An impossible murder
A remarkable detective duo
A demon who may or may not exist

It’s 1634 and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported from the Dutch East Indies to Amsterdam, where he is facing trial and execution for a crime he may, or may not, have committed. Travelling with him is his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who is determined to prove his friend innocent, while also on board are Sara Wessel, a noble woman with a secret, and her husband, the governor general of Batavia.

But no sooner is their ship out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage. A strange symbol appears on the sail. A dead leper stalks the decks. Livestock are slaughtered in the night. And then the passengers hear a terrible voice whispering to them in the darkness, promising them three unholy miracles. First: an impossible pursuit. Second: an impossible theft. Third: an impossible murder. Could a demon be responsible for their misfortunes?

With Pipps imprisoned, only Arent and Sara can solve a mystery that stretches back into their past and now threatens to sink the ship, killing everybody on board.

NO SPOILERS

I loved, really loved, Stuart Turton’s debut novel The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle so was chuffed to be given the chance to read an Advance Reader Copy of The Devil and the Dark Water. I like a good whodunnit and howdunnit; where the impossible is shown to be possible, where the irrelevant proves to be crucial. Agatha Christie was the absolute queen of this genre. Stuart Turton is the best example I have read of how not to write such a book.

Plot and story-wise, this is a muddled mess (something Evelyn was not) with a reveal which felt like it was written to fit and make sense of the story as an afterthought, instead of having a plan and executing it; with so many improbable and “Nope” moments which took way too long to explain and a final twist which makes a mockery of the whole tale. This is a tedious, convoluted book which was not worth the time spent reading. It’s rare I feel this way about a book but there you go!

Style-wise, I have never come across so many similes, some of them quite entertaining, most of them atrocious and nearly all of them unnecessary. The dialogue is bland, backstories clunky, structure a mess. This could do with a re-write and some heavy editing.

I am sure many will love The Devil and the Dark Water and I can usually see why a book will be loved by others though not me; but not this time.

And one more thing, it took me a long time read because frankly, I didn’t care how it was done but knew who did it very early on…one cliche led to another.

Incidentally, the ARC I received was too difficult to read so I waited until the ebook was published. This is no reflection on Turton but it contained  more typos than any other I have read.

Thank you to NetGalley and Raven Books for the complimentary copy of the boo which I have voluntarily reviewed.

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Shuggie Bain – Douglas Stuart

1602257206
TITLE: SHUGGIE BAIN

AUTHOR: DOUGLAS STUART

PUBLISHER: PICADOR

ISBN-10: 1529019273

ISBN-13: 978-1529019278

PUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION:

It is 1981. Glasgow is dying and good families must grift to survive. Agnes Bain has always expected more from life. She dreams of greater things: a house with its own front door and a life bought and paid for outright (like her perfect, but false, teeth). But Agnes is abandoned by her philandering husband, and soon she and her three children find themselves trapped in a decimated mining town. As she descends deeper into drink, the children try their best to save her, yet one by one they must abandon her to save themselves. It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest.

Shuggie is different. Fastidious and fussy, he shares his mother’s sense of snobbish propriety. The miners’ children pick on him and adults condemn him as no’ right. But Shuggie believes that if he tries his hardest, he can be normal like the other boys and help his mother escape this hopeless place.

Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain lays bare the ruthlessness of poverty, the limits of love, and the hollowness of pride. A counterpart to the privileged Thatcher-era London of Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty, it also recalls the work of Édouard Louis, Frank McCourt, and Hanya Yanagihara, a blistering debut by a brilliant writer with a powerful and important story to tell.

NO SPOILERS

Blimey!

I wanted to leave it at that for this review but that isn’t very professional so here we go…

No, this isn’t Angela’s Ashes, nor Paddy Clarke, nor Thomas Penman, all of which are written in the first person and all of which I love, (especially The Peculiar Memoirs of Thomas Penman). Yes, it is a tale of a tough, brutal childhood but is more contemporary than those mentioned and is written in the third person. Usually this would make everything feel a little distanced but not the way Stuart Douglas writes; he drew me in from the first page, taking me deeper with each chapter, with an intimacy seldom achieved in writing.

There were moments I wanted to abandon the book as I felt mostly anger at the majority of people in Shuggie’s life. Their aggression, intolerance, bigotry, ignorance made it impossible for me to sympathise with them and I did not want them in my head. But I did care about Shuggie; he deserved so much better.

Shuggie kept me reading and though heart-breaking at times, this book is moving and uplifting. Stuart is a skilled writer to bring these people off the page, to make me angry at some and feel pity for others.

There is beautiful prose, there is hideous description. Stuart’s style is very easy to read but it’s never “lite”. And of course, set in Glasgow, there absolutely has to be accents and while some authors do this so badly, so unintelligibly, Stuart’s dialogue is superb. To put the spoken word on paper is no easy thing and to put the dialect on paper and not staunch the flow is genius… and this is his debut novel!

As I write, Shuggie Bain has been shortlisted for The Booker Prize 2020. I have not read the other five yet so I do not know if it deserves to win, but I do know it belongs on the shortlist.

Thank you to NetGalley and Picador for the Advanced Reader Copy of the book, which I have voluntarily reviewed.

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This Mournable Body – Tsitsi Dangarembga

TITLE: THIS MOURNABLE BODY

AUTHOR: TSITSI DANGAREMBGA 

PUBLISHER: FABER & FABER

ISBN-10: 0571355528

ISBN-13: 978-0571355525

PUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION:

In this tense and psychologically charged novel, Tsitsi Dangarembga channels the hope and potential of one young girl and a fledgling nation to lead us on a journey to discover where lives go after hope has departed.

Here we meet Tambudzai, living in a run-down youth hostel in downtown Harare and anxious about her prospects after leaving a stagnant job. At every turn in her attempt to make a life for herself, she is faced with a fresh humiliation, until the painful contrast between the future she imagined and her daily reality ultimately drives her to a breaking point.

NO SPOILERS

The first thing which hits you about this book is that it is written in the third person. (See what I did there?) I know some readers have found this irritating and hard to read but I found it rather fascinating and after a few sentences it becomes natural. It feels as though Dangarembga is talking to me and although it is written in the present tense, the third person shifts it into the future and it becomes somehow directive. “This is how it’s going to be”. It is a little disturbing but then we should all be disturbed by such a history. So perhaps it’s more IF you do this then this will happen. Take heed! As a way of telling a history which needs to be heard though, it’s rather brilliant.

The writing is beautiful, almost poetic at times but effortlessly so. It flows so easily when read that some of its beauty can be missed and this is a book which would deserve a second reading though not from me. Whilst Dangarembga is a skilled writer, my favourite type of writer, it took me quite a while to finish the book as I mostly wanted to leave the protagonist, Tambu/me to stew in her/my own misery.

All in all though, this is a book worth reading. I understand it is a sequel to two previous books so perhaps I would have more sympathy if I’d read them first.  

Thank you to NetGalley and Faber & Faber for the Advanced Reader Copy of the book, which I have voluntarily reviewed.

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Life as a Unicorn – Amrou Al-Kadhi.Not a review as such, more a comment

1601374138

TITLE: LIFE AS A UNICORN
AUTHOR: AMROU AL-KADHI
PUBLISHER: 4TH ESTATE
ISBN 10: 000-8306106
ISBN 13: 978-0008306106

 

PUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION

Amrou knew they were gay when, aged ten, they first laid eyes on Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. It was love at first sight.

Amrou’s parents weren’t so happy…

From that moment on, Amrou began searching in all the wrong places for ways to make their divided self whole again.

Life as a Unicorn is a hilarious yet devastating story of a search for belonging, following the painful and surprising process of transforming from a god-fearing Muslim boy to a queer drag queen, strutting the stage in seven-inch heels and saying the things nobody else dares to ….

NO SPOILERS – Not a review as such, more a comment.

Judging this book by its cover, the blurb and the review quotes, I would never have picked it up. It looks like romantic chick lit for twelve year olds and in my experience, anything which claims to be hilarious rarely is. Also, I’m no grouch but I steer clear of hilarity and veer towards wit. But this came to me through my book subscription with Shelterbox Book Club (go check it out and JOIN!) and surely, one reason for joining a book club is to read outside my preferred genres.

So, I opened it and read the first few pages, which are a sort of introduction before the book itself and this gave me the impression I was in for “hilarious” anecdotes. I put it aside. A few days later, I picked it up to test a reading comprehension theory and began at the book proper and didn’t really put it down again until I had finished.

Never judge a book by its cover!

Amrou Al-Kadhi writes freely, without inhibition or hesitation. The writing is not that of a wordsmith but of an itelligent, eloquent person with something to say who says it with no fancy fillers, no trashy narrative but clarity and wonderful wit. (There it is…wit, not hilarity). It is a style which is very easy to read and flows with no stalling.

Anyone who does not aknowledge “otherism” exists or who has ever been otherist, even in the tiniest of ways or by omission  or by not standing against it, needs to read this book and see the damage caused.

1601374138

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The Wild Silence -Raynor Winn

IMG_0019

TITLE: THE WILD SILENCE

AUTHOR: RAYNOR WYNN

PUBLISHER: PENGUIN UK MICHAEL JOSEPH

ISBN-10: 0241401461

IBN-13: 978-0241401460

PUBLICATION DATE: 10.09.20

PUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION:

“Nature holds the answers for Raynor and her husband Moth. After walking 630 homeless miles along The Salt Path, living on the windswept and wild English coastline; the cliffs, the sky and the chalky earth now feel like their home.

Moth has a terminal diagnosis, but against all medical odds, he seems revitalized in nature. Together on the wild coastal path, with their feet firmly rooted outdoors, they discover that anything is possible.

Now, life beyond The Salt Path awaits and they come back to four walls, but the sense of home is illusive and returning to normality is proving difficult – until an incredible gesture by someone who reads their story changes everything.

A chance to breathe life back into a beautiful farmhouse nestled deep in the Cornish hills; rewilding the land and returning nature to its hedgerows becomes their saving grace and their new path to follow.

The Wild Silence is a story of hope triumphing over despair, of lifelong love prevailing over everything. It is a luminous account of the human spirit’s instinctive connection to nature, and how vital it is for us all.”

NO SPOILERS

I have read Raynor Wynn’s The Salt Path and really enjoyed it so I was looking forward to reading her subsequent book.

The Salt Path is very much a journal, a style which I always like and The Wild Silence is more of a memoir, giving the story before the Salt Path walk, the reason for writing it down (which is so moving)  and continuing after it; so although there is another epic walk towards the end of the book, it is not the focus.

Wynn’s writing style is fast to read and flows with ease. She writes with enthusiasm, passion, conviction and total honesty; and boy does she know her stuff! Some of the writing is so descriptive that I was there, in a field, on a cliff, in a river, beside a glacier. I could smell the rain and feel the grass.

Theirs is an interesting tale. Ray and Moth have led a far from ordinary life but the main theme of this book is the importance of a connection with nature and the effect this has on all aspects of our lives, in this case, particularly on Moth’s physical health, leading to him “sidestepping” the degenerative disease from which he suffers.

I suspect writing at this level can be a beneficial connection itself, yet I have to confess, there is so much detail that I speed read some of it.

The relationship between Ray and Moth is beautiful and being allowed to know their full story is something of a privilege. But for me, the relentless repetition of the importance of connection became tedious. Over and over again, even within the same paragraph, Wynn repeats it. I was beginning to say, sometimes out loud, “OK…I get it!”

All that said, this is a tale of faith, trust and love, written with pathos and, in places, sheer brilliance.

Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin/Michael Joseph UK for the Advanced Reader Copy of the book, which I have voluntarily reviewed.

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Summer – Ali Smith

Summer
TITLE: SUMMER

AUTHOR: ALI SMITH

PUBLISHER: PENGUIN UK

ISBN-10: 0241207061

ISBN-13: 978-0241207062

PUBLICATION DATE: 6.08.20

PUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION:

In the present, Sacha knows the world’s in trouble. Her brother Robert just is trouble. Their mother and father are having trouble. Meanwhile the world’s in meltdown – and the real meltdown hasn’t even started yet. In the past, a lovely summer. A different brother and sister know they’re living on borrowed time.

This is a story about people on the brink of change. They’re family, but they think they’re strangers. So: where does family begin? And what do people who think they’ve got nothing in common have in common?”

NO SPOILERS

I have read the previous three books so was eager to read this final part of Ali Smith’s quartet and oh my, what a finale!

Summer is the most “in the moment” of the four, although, this is true for each in its turn; but Summer feels more so. Smith brings together all the characters amid Brexit, refugees, Trump, Covid-19, lockdown, Black Lives Matter and Boris. By writing of past, shameful atrocities, childhoods past and lost, Smith highlights history repeating itself but this time, with less compassion. The parallels should, frankly, shame us all.

It is skilfully written and as ever, the dialogue is sharp, snappy and flows naturally. Smith is certainly a superb author; everything about Summer is perfect.

However, more than this I am finding difficult to write, perhaps because of the message of the book. I think this quote sums it up for me:

“…human beings will always have to decide whether to be poisonous to others or not…”

When, as people, did we lose our collective humanity?

Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin UK for the complimentary copy of the book, which I have voluntarily reviewed.

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Spring – Ali Smith

sPRING3dTITLE: SPRING

AUTHOR: ALI SMITH

PUBLISHER: PENGUIN UK

ISBN-10: 024197335X

ISBN-13: 978-0241973356

PUBLICATION DATE: 12.03.20

PUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION:

“From the bestselling author of Autumn and Winter, as well as the Baileys Prize-winning How to be both, comes the next instalment in the remarkable, once-in-a-generation masterpiece, the Seasonal Quartet What unites Katherine Mansfield, Charlie Chaplin, Shakes

peare, Rilke, Beethoven, Brexit, the present, the past, the north, the south, the east, the west, a man mourning lost times, a woman trapped in modern times? Spring. The great connective. With an eye to the migrancy of story over time, and riffing on Pericles, one of Shakespeare’s most resistant and rollicking works, Ali Smith tells the impossible tale of an impossible time. In a time of walls and lockdown Smith opens the door. The time we’re living in is changing nature. Will it change the nature of story? Hope springs eternal.”

 

NO SPOILERS

The publisher’s description does little to sell this amazing book from Ali Smith. Frankly, based on it, I would put it back on the shelf. But I recently read Autumn and Winter, the first two in this “seasonal quartet” so I knew Spring would be special…and it is very special. (Incidentally, the books do stand alone but are better if all read.)

There is much contemporary fiction set in the present day but this actually acknowledges the current events, indeed they are the whole essence of this series.

In Spring, Smith focuses mainly on the situation for refugees. Discreetly, with empathy, sympathy, pathos (I could list them all!) even visually, she gives an insight into a life most of us will never know. It’s not preachy, it’s not righteous; it’s so very clever.

Smith’s style is easy to read with a fluency of prose which is rare, and dialogue which is snappy and fast. I love it. Her writing is intelligent, considered, subtly witty and without the reader realising, it makes you take a good look at yourself. There but for the grace of your god…

I don’t want to write more until I have read the final part, Summer, which I am about to do. (The kettle is already on!)

Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin UK for the complimentary copy of the book, which I have voluntarily reviewed.

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Autumn – Ali Smith

1599563904TITLE: AUTUMN

AUTHOR: ALI SMITH

PUBLISHER: PENGUIN UK

ISBN-13: 978-0241073318

PUBLICATION DATE: 13.08.17

PUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION:

“Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017.

Autumn. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. That’s what it felt like for Keats in 1819.

How about Autumn 2016?

Daniel is a century old. Elisabeth, born in 1984, has her eye on the future. The United Kingdom is in pieces, divided by a historic once-in-a-generation summer.

Love is won, love is lost. Hope is hand in hand with hopelessness. The seasons roll round, as ever.

Ali Smith’s new novel is a meditation on a world growing ever more bordered and exclu

sive, on what richness and worth are, on what harvest means. This first in a seasonal quartet casts an eye over our own time. Who are we? What are we made of? Shakespearian jeu d’esprit, Keatsian melancholy, the sheer bright energy of 1960s Pop art: the centuries cast their eyes over our own history-making.

Here’s where we’re living. Here’s time at its most contemporaneous and its most cyclic.

From the imagination of the peerless Ali Smith comes a shape-shifting series, wide-ranging in timescale and light-footed through histories, and a story about ageing and time and love and stories themselves.

Here comes Autumn” 
NO SPOILERS

Seeing promotions for Summer, the final book in Ali Smith’s quartet, reminded me that I had always meant to read Autumn because I had heard so much about it. I was not disappointed and understand why it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2016 (Paul Beatty’s The Sellout was the winner.)

Smith’s prose is easy, flowing and unpretentious.  It is written in the third person yet is still very intimate and this, I think is down to the dialogue…I especially love the dialogue. It is snappy, witty and unbelievably natural, even though most of us do not talk this way. (Although I do, in my head, afterwards, when “I wish I’d said that!”).

The book is beautifully observed and I felt I was there, in the Post Office, at the bedside, on the riverside bench, watching the development of Elisabeth and Daniel’s relationship. He seems a wonderful, compassionate man, full of wisdom and humour. She is a curious, intelligent young girl. Their friendship is full of love and respect. I feel rather honoured to have been allowed to stand and stare.

There are many mirrored themes in the book. Truth and lies. Seen and not seen. Spoken and unspoken. What Smith leaves unsaid is as compelling as what is written. I suppose the subject matter could be thought dull or mundane but is so well woven together that I was enthralled. It may help that I agree with all the sentiments but I hope that it would go a long way to changing the views of those who do not.

Autumn is an easy, intelligent, perfectly crafted novel and I am going to put the kettle on and begin Winter.

Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin UK for the complimentary copy of the book, which I have voluntarily reviewed.

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