Today we’re running with a theme, for which we have one full book review and two mini ‘if you like the sound of that, then check out these’ numbers, and although the theme in question is not a cheery one, these books are great at helping explore something we often don’t have words for.
Grief is something we are all likely to encounter at some point, and navigating what it means and how to deal with it is a task that I think no person can, or ever will, be fully able to conquer. Comfort can be provided though, and we can make that path somewhat easier to walk along.
I hold huge belief in the power of stories, they provide a quiet space where you can enter another persons world and often find similar thoughts and feelings reflected back at you, letting you know you’re not alone. As my hero Alan Bennett said
The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.
Because grief can often make us feel cut off from the world around us and leave a person posing some of life’s greatest questions, it makes sense to me that when writers explore this topic they too will not necessarily stick to our everyday scenery to explain what feels unexplainable.
Fairytale and myth have been used as long as humans have existed to pass down tales, but also to find a way to make grand ideas more palatable, to explain the complicated in entertaining and manageable ways, and to hide a great lesson behind a canny bit of metaphor. The books I’ve chosen all do the above, using magical realism as their way of telling an all too human story.
So, let’s have a look at them…
I do love when a book takes me North, when the characters are making their way around the streets I can imagine it that much clearer. Even though I’m a Geordie I’ve spent plenty of time in Edinburgh, and I was delighted to find that ‘Out of the Blue’, by Sophie Cameron, found it’s stomping ground there.
This novel cleverly uses magical realism to explore grief, the effect it can have on the individual and those surrounding them. Jaya finds herself supplanted from her home to a rented flat in Edinburgh with her father and her younger sister. Their father has made plans to stay there for around a month, and with two young girls grieving for their recently deceased mother, you long for him to turn his attention to his daughters. There is little chance of this as he, Joya’s sister and the majority of the world population, have become captivated by a recent phenomenon. Initially passed off as some kind of elaborate PR stunt, an intensity is building as people start to accept this is real – angels are falling from the sky. None of these other worldly beings have survived the fall and over 80 incidents have occurred across the globe, with all hosts of different reasons being offered up in explanation.
Joya is not swept up by this buzz, seeing the angels being hideously treat like animals to be tested on, no care given to where they have came from or why they are falling. To add to her irritation her father is determined he has worked out where the next angel will fall and how he will bag himself the find, as well as dragging her away from her home life, where she longs to sort out the sudden lack of communication from her sort of girlfriend (Joya is happily out as gay but her partner very much less so, causing periods of being on and off).
To escape the city, over whelmed with Fringe festival tourists and disturbing demonstrations by what seems cult like followers of the angels, Joya heads off to walk the quiet pathways of Arthur’s Seat one evening, and is it wrong place, wrong time or vice versa, when she encounters another fallen angel – alive.
This novel poses great challenges for its protagonist, whether to follow her moral beliefs or succumb to her families wishes, how to deal with the ever present guilt and grief weighing on her shoulders, her first encounter with a person with a disability as she learns about cystic fibrosis, and when is it ok to let go of one relationship and give in to the sparks of a new one. It is a pleasure to join Joya on her journey and see her spread her own wings.
Out of the Blue by Sophie Cameron £7.99 (Macmillan)
This next book has been out for some time now but I would hate to think it had passed people by as it is a true gem. ‘The Book of Lost Things’ by John Connolly introduces us to a 12 year old boy called David. He has been struggling since his mothers death and is feeling more isolated since his father has remarried. With World War Two raging around him the world is overwhelming, and before he knows it David finds himself falling into his books, quite literally. He is tasked with rescuing a King and as he does so, we the reader are left watching as a childhood is left behind.
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly £8.99 (Hodder)
And last, but very much not least, is another new arrival on bookshop shelves. ‘The Astonishing Colour of After’ by Emily X R Pan looks at the months after 16 year old Leigh’s mother has died by suicide, but returns to her in the most unlikely way – she visits as a bird.
Having never met her maternal grandparents, Leigh soon finds herself heading to Taiwan, part of her quest ‘to remember’, the last thing her mother requested of her. Her story is interwoven with her love of art and beautiful descriptions of emotions as colours that vividly encapsulate what Leigh is feeling. A debut novel that is truly imaginative, fresh but also tender.
The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily X R Pan £7.99 (Orion)
Ok, after all that bookery you deserve a cuppa, thank you if you made it to the end of the blog! Do you have any other recommendations that fit in with this theme? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!
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…but until next time,