I’ve been getting through books at a rate of knots recently, and pretty much every one (with the exception of one poetry collection) has been top notch. I find it really hard to decide which to write about when I’m enjoying so many titles, so today we’re going to sneak two in. Both are new publications coming out within the next week or so, but one is fiction and the other memoir-ish (I’ll explain the ‘ish’ later). Also, I’ve added a new little function to my blog but I’ll save that until the end admin type business!
Let’s have a gander at the fiction first, a novel called ‘Fire Sermon’ by author Jamie Quatro. I have never read Quatro before, who has so far published short stories, but this first novel of hers hooked me in with the blurb.
Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro is a daring debut novel of obsession, desire and salvation that shows the radical light and dark of love itself. This is a visceral, rich and devastating portrait of life and loves lived and lost that cannot fail to echo in your own experience
We meet Maggie as a young woman not long out of education, getting married to her first love. It seems a blissful day with the coming together of families to celebrate the union of this perfectly presented pair. Thomas, her new husband, is good looking and devoted to his partner, and as as we jump forward in time we see he is equally committed to the two young children they have.
Maggie is not finding life quite so comfortable. She struggles as Thomas constantly pushes for sex each night, her mind battling over what she wants to do, or very much doesn’t want to do, compared to what she thinks a wife should be doing. I found Thomas suffocating in his demands and often wanted to haul Maggie away.
Maggie soon finds her own escape however, after writing to the author of a book she much admires, she soon becomes dedicated pen pals with James. The pair are both Christians and find they can talk about this and other life experiences easily with one another after finding an alarming number of similarities between their lives. Crucially, these are things they find they can’t talk to their partners about and soon make an agreement that the one topic they won’t broach is their respective spouses.
The novel jumps back and forwards in time, we read about Maggie and James three years into their liaison, long before we read about their actual first letters and meeting. We are absorbed in Maggie’s world, the turmoil in her thoughts racing off the page, watching as she picks over her every thought and feeling. Her relationship with God is central and she constantly questions how he will judge the path she has chosen. It often feels like she is self flagellating but as she cannot see or hear God right now (at one point physically being locked out of church) she does so in front of her therapist.
I enjoyed this exploration of a marriage, the meeting of two minds and the entanglement of guilt and belief. The book never presented me with answers, just as it doesn’t with Maggie, and as life can’t for all situations, but it did display how claustrophobic guilt can be. I will definitely keep an eye out for Quatro’s short story collection now as I’m intrigued to see if and how she explores such big themes in a more constrained framework. If you enjoy character driven novels that don’t follow a conventional, linear narrative and want to dig deep into the moral quandaries a person can live through, this is definitely a book for you.
Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro £14.99 (Picador)
The second book I’ve been reading is ‘The Wife’s Tale’ by Aida Edemariam (only right to sit in Bath and read this, being in the city of Chaucer’s fictional fellow Wife). Although a memoir, it is not actually the immediate story of Edemariam herself, but that of her grandmothers, a woman who at 95 years of age lived a life with plenty to put on the page.
Edemariam’s grandmother lived her whole life in Ethiopia, and what a time she lived through, experiencing war, fascism, being exiled from her home. I confess to knowing next to nothing about Ethiopia and I found this a fascinating account of the changes the country has gone through, the customs held by the people who live there and the way these have changed over the century of this amazing woman’s life.
I may have been absorbed by the account of Ethiopia but what really made me lose my heart to this book is the story of Edemariam’s grandmother herself. I felt like I was sitting at her feet hearing the stories of her marriage at the unbelievably young age of 8, the struggles she went through in this union, and the births, and deaths, of many children. She inspired me with her strength, which despite being sorely tested so many times in so many ways, seemed to me limitless. Not only the strength of will, love and determination but that of her body and all it endures, I often paused my reading to sit and reflect in awe.
When sitting down to write these two reviews I realised these reads are linked by the religion that is so focal in the life of the two woman, and it was interesting to see how they played a part in their lives despite them being a world apart (albeit one being fictional and the other not but I still think an interesting comparison). Aida’s grandmother leads a life that is deeply woven into the church, from the profession her husband chooses to her own pleas to spirits she believes can help when there seems to be little light in her life. Hers is not always an easy relationship with the church itself and she questions those who work within its walls at many points.
Although the trials this Wife’s Tale were many and it certainly is not easy reading about them in the book, this is not a maudlin tale, but one that made me glory at the power of one woman. I believe Edemariam has produced a beautiful monument to her grandmother.
The Wife’s Tale by Aida Edemariam £16.99 (4th Estate)
Last week we had a competition for a copy of the wonderful ‘Goodbye, Perfect’ by Sara Barnard and we’re happy to announce Beth Gunn will have the book winging its way to her after being pulled out in the draw. Sorry if you missed out this time but keep a look out for more great competitions appearing on these pages!
Bear with me, this next bit hurts!
The next thing to mention makes me a tad uncomfortable but after chatting with other reviewers/bloggers who use this system happily I thought I’d give it a go. I’ve decided to set up a ko-fi account for Dog Eared. For those that haven’t heard of ‘ko-fi’ it is a website that aims to help out those who make creative content in their own time for others to enjoy, but basically without a payroll to back them up! The idea is if you read something you like and you’d like to support the creator of the content, you can ‘buy them a ko-fi/coffee’ by clicking on the link and popping £1 or £2 across to them. This is IN NO WAY something I would ever expect readers to do, nor would I ever limit content to those who may choose to donate, it is there as an aside for anybody who wants to support the site and future opticians appointments I need to have from all the reading! I stress again nobody will ever be obliged to do this and it does make me feel a bit icky, but I’ve seen some of our great authors out there using this system and it seems the ‘friendliest’ option possible. I hope you understand and if not feel free to leave a strongly worded post below! If you do enjoy the content and feel you would like to contribute, simply click here.
Thank you so much for your support either way dear reader, it is always lovely to have you visiting our pages, and until next time…