A Reading Round Up!

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of new publications and keeping bang up to date on what is coming out in the book world, but this last week or so, well, that’s gone out the window. A lot of books on my shelves who have been nestling there quite comfortably and quietly for some time began shouting to me all of a sudden, demanding their time had come to be read. As you may have seen in the previous post, this didn’t necessarily always work out for the best and some of those books should have blummin’ well shut up, but there we go, we live and learn.

So I thought for this weeks instalment we’d have an overview rather than anything to in depth, my spring scattering of reads as it were.

Let’s start with a book I read today in one sitting and that I heard a lot of fanfare about but for some reason didn’t rush to. More fool me. ‘Thornhill’ by Pam Smy is a combination of graphic novel and text chapters, alternating between the two forms, two different time lines and two stories as you go along. This might sound confusing but Smy has made it completely seamless. The illustrations are beautifully creepy, complimenting the dark story line of a young girl being tormented by a fellow resident in a care home.

Smy was inspired by dilapidated, eerie looking buildings, The Secret Garden and Jane Eyre, and the nods to these classics are clever and clearly made by a true book lover. I thoroughly enjoyed this and the last few pages sent tingles through me, but hey, don’t take my word for it, PHILIP PULLMAN has only gone and endorsed it so what more do you need?!

Thornhill by Pam Smy £14.99 (David Fickling Books)

I went quite a few years back with the next story, a retelling of The Turn of the Screw, this gothic horror homage is executed well, enough connections to make the original inspiration clear but enough twists and changes to make it worth the read. Florence is an unreliable narrator at her best, although be warned, as she tells us of her story she uses some of her own ‘language’. Although easy to understand I did find it jarring at first, but after a couple of chapters it became second nature and I was unaware of its effect going forward.

Florence and Giles by John Harding £8.99 (Harper Collins)

Next up is actually a newbie, the latest offering by Amy Sackville, ‘Painter to the King’. Now this ticked many boxes for me, historical fiction, based on a true story and then art thrown in for good measure, but this box ticking all sounds terribly clinical, one thing this novel certainly isn’t. The two words I would use to describe it are rich and fluid. You may ask what I’m on about but bear with me. We chart the career of the great artist Velázquez from the moment he was summoned by King Philip IV of Spain in 1622 and his progression within the court both professionally and personally. His close encounters with the King mean that we also learn about the struggles of the royal family to produce an heir and keep control of a country with problems arising from every possible angle.

As I say I found this book to be rich, in both lavish historical detail but also the masterful way in which Sackville describes the act of painting itself, smells and textures all but have you peering over shoulders looking at the canvas yourself. Fluid may seem an odd description but the prose was just that for me, every now and then our narrator changes and we skip to an unnamed woman looking at these art works in their current settings, but there is no real distinguishing between speakers, just a dash used to indicate a new viewpoint. This often reminded me of the great Hilary Mantel and her style in Wolf Hall, perhaps not for everybody but for me certainly making it an immersive experience.

Painter to the King by Amy Sackville £14.99 (Granta Books)

Last but by no means least a huge shout out to ‘Me Mam. Me Dad. Me.’ Now I promise there was no bias here, I may be a Geordie and this Newcastle based tale is chocker full of lush, local dialect, but I did not allow this to sway my opinion, this is just a bloody excellent book. It’s a slim little read and I don’t want to give away too much, but we have a 14 year old called Danny who quickly had me as a fan with his heart of gold. His mam has just recently got herself a new boyfriend and before he can blink they’re being moved in to his much bigger, much fancier house. It quickly transpires that this new addition to their family isn’t the blessing he first appeared however, and as Danny begins to learn about just how dangerous this could be to his beloved mam, he decides to take action. This is one of those books where the author hasn’t put a word out of place, a total gem.

Me Mam. Me Dad. ME. By Malcolm Duffy £10.99 (Head of Zeus)

So there we go, a summing up of a handful of my recent reads, I hope they intrigued and tempted you to go look them up! Let me know if any particularly takes your fancy and what you have been reading lately in the comments below!

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and until next time all..

Happy Reading!

A Reading Round Up!

Murakami, Misogyny and Me

Please note for this blog there will be huge spoilers littered through out in relation to the novels ‘1Q84’ and ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage’.

A trigger warning also needs to be issued due to discussion of rape and sexual assault.

Thirdly – usually on this blog we like colour, pictures etc. As you will read, the topics below don’t really lend themselves to fun related images, so please excuse the dense text.

As an avid reader who likes to immerse myself every which way possible in the world of books, I have for some time known of the often revered Haruki Murakami. With his books selling in the millions all over the world, adaptations not just on the big screen but on stage, turned into song and even inspiring video games, his reach is certainly wide. It was around four years ago I decided to make my first literary encounter with him and I chose quite the challenge, for reasons that will make you judge me as either a person with long pockets or very shrewd.

Having been given a token for a free audiobook I began having a look at my options. There were many that took my fancy, usually around the eight to nine hour mark and, if I’d been paying, costing around £10. I then happened upon 1Q84, released that week in its epic proportions, three books making the whole. I’d heard so much buzz around this book I flagged it as a potential option, then, working out with this choice my 1 token would get me around £35 of reading, I jumped straight in. See, tight purse strings, don’t judge me.

Not surprisingly this book took a hell of a lot of listening too, but luckily I had a decent commute either side of work so I thought it would be some escapism from the office (this was before my time as a bookseller). The first two books were read by a single man and woman, then the third section had another man join in to voice a recently introduced character. I hated the way he played him, making him rasp and wheeze his way through every sentence, I found myself wincing every time he spoke. By the time I finished listening to 1Q84 my opinion was, to say the least, not good. I’ll go into my many qualms with it in more detail soon, but I did also acknowledge that maybe the style of reading had effected me and I may have enjoyed it more if I’d read the text instead of listening to it. Wary, I stepped away from his fiction for some time.

Skip to this present week and I was deciding what I wanted to pick off my shelves. My eyes landed upon ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage ‘. Again I remembered this coming out to great fanfare and when a damaged copy had came up for grabs at work I’d taken it, thinking maybe this would be the novel that made me see the Murakami light. It came home with me and then sat there for an age, I never really wanted to open that first page until this week when it somehow ‘clicked’. I often feel like I can’t force reading a book, they seem to have their own magic to me that makes them suddenly want to be read, it’s not me choosing but in their instructing me that now is the time.

Now I wonder if you’ve seen the film Silver Linings Playbook? There is a standout moment in the film where, in total frustration with an author, Bradley Coopers character smashes a window as he hurls a book through it. Good god was I close to doing that as I finished this novel. It now appears apparent I didn’t have simply a 1Q84 problem, I very much have a Murakami problem.

To summarise the plot of 1Q84 is an incredibly difficult task, but this strand of the story is central to the whole and where I had the most problems. We are introduced to a woman, Aomame, who is basically an assassin, working for an older lady who has hired her to kill men who are harming women. She is incredibly skilled at carrying out these murders undetected and using a unique tool that kills quickly and efficiently. So far I could get with this story, we have an interesting antihero to follow here. She is asked to take on a case where her target will be an older man, known as ‘The Leader’, who is running some kind of cult. This cult is basically made up of very young girls (we first find out about its existence from a 10 year old escapee) who are raped and assaulted regularly by The Leader.

When Aomame is about to carry out the killing of the Leader, she ends up in a discussion with him where he explains how he regularly goes into some kind of trance and basically cannot move/control what his body does when these rapes occur e.g. it is not his fault and is (according to him) not really rape. Aomame accepts this and the story goes on from there with this really not being explored or criticised further, we move on from here being expected to accept that other worldly forces make a man rape children and that he really didn’t mean to, so there we go, poor, helpless man.

In ‘Colourless Tsukuru…’ the concept of the novel again begins intriguingly. A man in his mid 30’s, Tsukuru, had been in a tight knit friendship group with four others for many years of his youth. The five had a closeness few ever experience, believing that each part of them provided an essential part to the whole. When the time came for university Tsukuru was the only member of the gang to move away from their home town, and on a return trip finds out that his friends have all cut him off, refusing to speak to him or explain why they’ve made this decision. The story begins when, fifteen or so years later, it is suggested to him he should find out what happened. Through questioning three of the four friends we learn that one of the women in the group reported to the others that Tsukuru had raped her. None of them actually believed her but went along with it as they decided she ‘didn’t seem well’, even though they all admitted she had clearly been raped and left pregnant. Tsukuru thinks he didn’t rape her physically, but he also believes he might have done so in a ‘dream state’ of which he had no control of. This young women was later murdered , strangled to death, and he also thinks he may also have done this, again in his ‘don’t blame me I can’t help it dream-state’. He even goes so far as to suggest that she wanted to be strangled and murdered. Again, this is just kind of accepted by everyone in the book, he visits each of his past friends and their reaction can be summed up, to a fault, as, ‘oh yeah, she was definitely raped and said it was you, but we all knew it couldn’t have been, you’re just such a nice guy!’

Now, you’re going to need to tell me Murakami readers – is the rape of women and children a common theme in the rest of his books? Do they all present a story line of ‘poor man, he just couldn’t help doing that bit of rape, there are greater forces he can’t control’? Obviously this is hugely problematic and the light handed way the topic is dealt with, each rapist given an apparently unarguable defence of their attacks therefore whitewashing them of any guilt, is completely sickening. It’s a very small step from those nausearing comments on line of ‘we have to have prostitution to help poor men. They have to deal with urges so uncontrollable if we didn’t have prostitutes of course it’s only natural they’d end up raping women’. When it comes to sex does Murakami similarly believe men have no agency over their actions? Can anything be excused?

It will perhaps come as no surprise that along with such alarming plot lines, the characterisation of women seems to be extremely limited. I became so incredulous reading ‘Colorless Tsukuru…’ that I actually became slightly hysterical with laughter at one point, as within the space of a page one female characters breasts were described twice. This was not a scene that was in anyway sexual, but it appears to be a woman and appear in a Murakami novel you simply must have your breasts described every time you walk on to the page. I couldn’t tell you a huge amount about this character as she was stocky, not pretty, so didn’t warrant much discussion apart from a brief acknowledgment of being ‘quirky, funny in a dry way’. Of course she was, that’s all the comedy fat girl can ever be right?

This is in stark contrast to the character who was raped. Again I’d like to tell you about her personality but I can’t. Her body was described in great detail, especially her breasts (of course), her slender, porcelain white legs and her long black hair. The repetition of these descriptions clearly signified that body parts equal the whole of a woman, there is no need to describe their character as your body is a signifier that explains the type of person you are anyway. Women, we’re as flat as the conversations to be found on the pages of this book.

Let me not mislead you into thinking that this is an author who cannot write a well rounded, layered protagonist, hell no. Nuanced characters do walk these pages, but to be worthy of writing so they must have a penis. And heavens above does Murakami like to talk about this appendage, they may as well publish the book with a pop up Gherkin tower it is so unsubtle. Take this moment:

And right then…he had an erection. A heroic, perfect, rock hard erection. So massively hard he could barely believe it.

Give. Me. Strength.

I do not believe, as some do, that male authors cannot write authentic female voices, Colm Toibin being a writer who in my option does so beautifully. What I do believe is that Murakami does not think women have a role that warrant a voice or an agenda of their own, they simply exist on the side lines of the main story, a vehicle for a man to use to move through his life when needed. Sexual objectification, belittlement and repeated, sanctioned violence against women is not fiction I want to be reading, and hold my hands up as to being totally lost as to why so many seem so eager to?

In his back catalogue there can be found a book called ‘Men Without Women’, I have a horrible compulsion to discover what he has to say on this one, but in an act of self preservation Murakami has been removed from my shelves as I remind my self of the rule ‘fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me’.

Let me know in the comments below if you’ve read any Murakami and if you’re a fan or not. Are any of his books less morally dubious?! I’m intrigued to hear your thoughts!

It will be back to normal service on the book reviewing front next week I’m sure you’ll be relieved to hear, and thank you for bearing with me through my rant!

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Murakami, Misogyny and Me

Is it Written in the Stars?

I was first introduced to Nikesh Shukla through his fantastic work with ‘The Good Immigrant’, a collection of essays from fifteen British black, Asian or minority ethnic writers. Shukla brought this work together after a crowd funding campaign that quickly gathered momentum. It is a truly impressive book that I believe is essential reading for all.

Now writing weekly columns for The Guardian that are thoroughly enjoyable, he is a writer who’s work I will now always investigate, and he didn’t leave me hanging long as just this week there has been the publication of his new novel ‘The One Who Wrote Destiny’.

This is a novel that features several narrators, jumping from voice to voice just as we jump from one country to another. These stories all link to one central whole, the family of Mukesh. The book opens during his younger years, having just arrived in the UK from Kenya, then moving forward 30 or so years in the future as we hear from each of his children and others who are encountered along the way.

The story of this family is an interesting one, where there is an emotional distance between all – caused by events in the past not easily healed, yet there still seemed to me to be love there too. Complex family relations reflect complex identity problems. Shukla again touches on the notion of being a ‘good immigrant’. When Mukesh arrives in England he quickly learns not all want to offer a hospitable welcome, the best way to get by is to be quiet, live life as the ‘good immigrant’, following the narrow idea of a what makes an acceptable resident of the UK if they were not born here. He finds himself confused and shocked by his children who often go against this, his daughter, Neha, being loud in a pub, not even considering implications this will have, his comedian son, Raks, standing on stage examining and laughing at what it is to be ‘other’.

These now grown children have worries of their own however, with health problems that dog the family appearing with what seems alarming predictability, and a whole new set of questions to be looked at on discussing race and identity in the public sphere. The very visible, violent racism their father experienced now changed to daily ”micro-aggressions’ they endure. As you read their story you wonder if they will find the answers and acceptance they are looking for, and if old ghosts can be laid to rest.

Other than the authors work I don’t know a huge amount about him, but moments of this story felt very autobiographical to me, even if it wasn’t the narrative arc that matches his own experiences it felt like the emotion and questioning over issues like identity were such an authentic voice, issues that have been thought over for days, months and years. Do we have to tap into the past to find our future or do we forge ahead and determine our own path?

As a reader I loved this book for absorbing me into a story and introducing me to multifaceted characters who challenge me, as a person with no experience of immigration and the way this presents a whole new layer of life to navigate I am grateful to Shukla for helping to push my understanding a little further, knowing no two peoples experience is the same but that the journey is never an easy one.

No matter what you think of destiny make sure it’s in your future to get a copy of this book!

The One Who Wrote Destiny by Nikesh Shukla £14.99 (Atlantic Books)

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and until next time all..

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Is it Written in the Stars?

“No one puts their child on a boat unless the water is safer than the land” Warsan Shire

We’ve featured a lot of stories about brave and inspiring women and girls lately, but today we are shining the spot light on a boy who encourages us all to appreciate what we have and to always hang on to hope.

Boy 87 by Ele Fountain is an eye opening read, showing readers how perilous life can be for those born without some of the freedoms we are blessed to have. In the last few years we have seen more refugees moving around the globe at any time since World War Two, and although at first the news and our papers seemed to be filled with images of people desperately trying to make their way across oceans to safety, it seems as if we have somehow become desensitised to the situation and it has been pushed to the back of the agenda. Boy 87 focuses on a young boy, Shif, who plans to make such a journey, but the book clearly shows that the horror doesn’t simply begin and end with a boat journey, but what a person has to do to try and grab at this chance of freedom.

We are never told exactly where Shif is from, although it has been suggested with Fountain having lived herself in Addis Ababa while she wrote this book, it appears to be somewhere of East African origin.

Ele Fountain

Shif lives with his mum and younger sister, and goes to school each day with his best friend, and neighbour, Bini. The two are sharp as they come, and their hard work and talents have paid off at school, seeing them moved up a couple of years to study. It’s not just their academic abilities that link them together though, as both boys no longer have their fathers around, although due to very different circumstances.

Life begins to change when one day armed soldiers start hanging around their school making everybody uneasy. When Shif leaves his home one evening to pick up some injera, he is spotted by the police, and although they call after him something within tells him to run and hide back at home. From that instance wheels are set in motion to change this young boys life forever, as his mother reveals a family past kept hidden from him and the consequences this could now create for them all.


My heart was in my mouth throughout this book. Shif is a loyal, kind and dedicated boy who I took to immediately and as I became caught up in his story something kept tugging at me to remember this is the story of so many out there. I think this is a great read for young readers as it explains the human side of a story that can seem so complex and unknowable. Fiction allows us to travel alongside somebody and empathise in a way that facts and figures printed in a newspaper column will never do.

Shif, and all those he represents, is going to play on in my mind for a long time, and I think this is only right. We need to never forget those who are clinging on for survival and put their faith and hope in vessels not worthy to carry them.

Boy 87 by Ele Fountain £7.99 (Pushkin Press)

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and until next time all..

Happy Reading!

“No one puts their child on a boat unless the water is safer than the land” Warsan Shire

A Gentle Wave, A Roaring Ocean

Despite my love of writers from the Emerald Isle, I’d never actually read Donal Ryan, but due to him being held in such high regard by fellow readers he was always on my radar to pick up. The time arrived this week with a copy of his latest novel, ‘From a Low and Quiet Sea’, kindly given to me by his publishers at Penguin.

Donal Ryan

I read this book in one sitting (I may seem to be saying this a lot but note that I am an insomniac and have also had a run of brilliant reads lately). The opening few pages had me lulled into a gentle, reading bliss as the magical nature of trees is discussed. I did not know that if one tree is sick, starving for food, then a healthy tree will share its food/nutrients with it regardless of whether they are the same breed. Oh this is beautiful, such a glorious look at nature, I thought I was going to be marvelling at such natural wonders, softly pondering throughout.

Reader, have I even been more wrong. The rest of the book swirled me up, spun me round and wrung my emotions out. I am sat here with that nervous energy you get in your stomach after everything you thought has been flipped on it’s head. It was MARVELLOUS.

The novel is roughly split into three, with each telling the story of a different man. I confess I got roughly 80 percent of the way through this book and then thought, hang on, are these almost like short stories, not ever to come together? But oh that last section when everything begins to interweave – it is stunning. Technically it is perfection, how he gets those threads all pulled together, Ryan makes it seem effortless but you can tell a master is at work.

We begin with Farouk, a Doctor living in Syria with his wife and child, none of who are living up to the expectations of the new forces taking over their country. Knowing that their Western ways will quickly make them a target, they set about planning their escape from the country.

The second of our trio, Lampy, is also the youngest. Living with his mother and grandfather in Ireland, he is a young man full of pent up frustrations. He takes these out on his grandfather, a man who tries to show his love in his own, slightly confused way. Working in a job he has no real passion for, he saves his money so he can take his current girlfriend out in his car of an evening to see how far he can get, the major problem is he can’t get his much loved ex out of his head, occasionally calling out the wrong name at a crucial moment.

Last but not least we meet John, we find him in the confessional finally voicing his real sins, not the made up ones he has presented in Church in the past. We hear about a pain filled youth trying to fill the shoes of a much loved brother, how impossible this seemed and the lengths he then went to trying to take control of his life. John confides about his work history as a ‘lobbyist’, not exactly the cleanest of sheets here, and also the path that his marriage has taken. He lays it all out for his judgement to be passed, although it seems he does not really need to hear this, he already knows where he is going to go.

Each individual could happily occupy an entire novel of their own, but as I mentioned earlier, it is when these stories weave together that true magic happens.

I don’t reread that often but this is one I’ll definitely be coming back to, I feel like I’ll get even more from it the second time round, the characters are so rich there is plenty to work with and think over. For now I need to put it to one side and get over this book hangover, I don’t think I’ll be able to start a new read straighten away as the ending will be ringing in my head for days.

From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan £12.99 (Penguin)

Have you read Donal Ryan before? If so what title/titles? I have another of his on the shelf and know it will be getting read pretty soon now! I love when you fall for a new author in this way! Have any authors stole your heart like this recently? Let us know in the comments below!

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Happy Reading!

A Gentle Wave, A Roaring Ocean

Stop the Clocks

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.

Sophie Cameron

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.

Arthur’s Seat

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!

And usual admin…

  • To subscribe to the blog, just send an email to dogearedreads1@gmail.com with ‘Subscribe’ in the subject line & we’ll sort that out for you!
  • If you’d like to support the blog we have a ko-fi page, read all about it by clicking here

…but until next time,

Happy Reading!

Stop the Clocks

Love Hurts

Ouch. I’ve finished my latest read and it has left me sore, the story within like an open wound, making me wince whenever I recognised a bit too much of myself in its pages. Louise O’Neill, author of ‘Almost Love’, is one of my favourite voices around because she writes with such unflinching honesty no matter what the topic. She is prepared to face down taboos and lesser said thoughts and feelings, dragging them on to the page and into the light to be examined. Although reading her books may leave you with more than a tear or two rolling down your cheek, they are cathartic and honest, reflecting how life is and not how we want it to be. Another author I wish had been around when I was younger to reassure me.

Louise O’Neill

One of the things I love most about O’Neill’s work is that she doesn’t strive to make her characters likeable, what is important is that they are depicted so truthfully you feel they could walk off the page. It seems to me she wants to press the importance of how necessary it is for us to still be able to stand side by side with a woman/girl who has been through hell and back, no matter what character assessment we make of her. The truth is still the truth, experiences just as affecting, and as a society we have to be there for all, not just those who seem the ‘perfect victim’. Life, and people, aren’t perfect, and that’s ok.

Almost Love is a novel that flits back and forwards over the period of 4 years or so of our protagonist Sarah’s life, each chapter alternating ‘Now’ and ‘Then’ so we know where in her timeline we find ourselves.

Sarah moved to Dublin, away from her small town life and father, after finishing art college. Moving in with a group of friends she watched as their careers took off, while hers seemed to…stall. With no faith in her art work she soon stops trying entirely, taking a teaching position in which she certainly isn’t the most reliable faculty member.

Life is further tilted on its axis when she meets a much older, much wealthier man who quickly has her under his spell. Sarah is infatuated, and despite warnings from those around her not to get in to deep, she pays little attention and before she knows it finds herself adrift from all her previous ties. As we jump back and forward in her narrative her story unravels and we watch as the effects of this blinkered love become clearer to us. Is love meant to hurt this much and will she find her way home again? I so often wanted to scream at her but then immediately wrap her up in a hug as well.

I loved how O’Neill brings in discussion of feminism in her work, with this story raising some great points. A lot of the feminism in play with these characters comes from quite an academic back ground, and I wanted to applaud when Sarah poses questions about how applicable this ‘brand’ of feminism was that she found in the books/academia around her to women like her mother, who worked full time in a more traditional working class role.

There are also interesting looks at the nature of imbalance in relationships caused by money, misogyny running amok and complex family relationships.

Whether you’ve lived experience of what Sarah goes through or you know somebody else who has, I can’t imagine this book not reaching out to each reader and relating to them in its own specific way, and what more can you want from a story?

Almost Love by Louise O’Neill £14.99 (Riverun – Quercus)

Are there any books you wish you’d read as a teenager? Do you think they would have altered your path or would you have charged on anyway? I like to think that even if I’d carried on making all my mistakes they would have planted a voice in my head to help me manage the bumps in the road.

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and until next time all,

Happy Reading!

Love Hurts