Review | The Rain Watcher, Tatiana de Rosnay | Book of the Week

The flooding was not going to subside. Linden had turned off the TV. He had felt slightly nauseous. The Seine’s upwelling had upset him, but his parents’ state worried him all the more. The bad timing of their visit to Paris stupefied him. How could their family weekend have turned into such an ordeal?

After a prolonged separation, the Malegarde family is set to celebrate the fortieth wedding anniversary of Paul and his wife Lauren, as well as his seventieth birthday. It is a shock for the elderly couple used to secluded rural life in the Drôme valley to arrive in a capital saturated by monsoon-like rain. Linden and Tilia, based in San Francisco and London respectively, join their parents in Chatterton Hotel in the 14th arrondissement. The family has not been reunited in such a way since they were teenagers.
Continue reading Review | The Rain Watcher, Tatiana de Rosnay | Book of the Week

Review | The Horseman’s Song, Ben Pastor | Book of the Week

The Horseman’s Song is the sixth in the Martin Bora series and follows on from the success of Road to Ithaca, Tin Sky, A Dark Song of Blood, Lumen and Liar Moon, also published by Bitter Lemon Press.

Bora felt kinship for the dead. The ancient and the new, the long buried and the exposed, those over whom people wept, and the dead whose name or gravesite no one knew. All of them claimed brotherhood with him tonight. It might be the balmy scent of the evergreens brushing against his boots, or the day closing like an eye, or knowing that Lorca was dead, as was Colonel Serrano’s son. The man from Mockau, too, was as dead “as all the dead of the earth”, in Lorca’s own words. It might be any of those things, but his narrow escape only made him kin to the bones of Spain.”

A whole generation was passionately entangled in the Spanish Civil War – politically, militarily and ideologically – preceding World War Two. Foreign volunteers actively participated, siding with different factions. Several countries defied the Non-Intervention Agreement, and also took sides, contributing arms, funds or fighters. Picasso’s Guernica is the most famous image of the 1936-1939 clash of bourgeois democracy vs. Fascist aggression. Continue reading Review | The Horseman’s Song, Ben Pastor | Book of the Week

Review | Unspoken Legacy, Claudia Black | Central Recovery Press

Human beings are violent creatures so exposure to traumatic events which leave an unspoken legacy is nothing new. What is new is 24/7 web browsing, social media, TV and online streaming creating multiple exposure and repetition, and endless cyber avenues of escape from a painful reality.

According to Nicholas Carr in The Shallows, not since Gutenberg invented printing has humanity been exposed to such mind-altering technology.

Different people react in different ways to similar events – not all people who experience the same traumatic event will be severely disrupted. It is estimated that 80% of those in rehab for addiction in the UK and US have been traumatised at some point.

If what happened has been forgotten or silenced, memory and feelings can live on, and be passed on down the generations. These emotional legacies are generally hidden, encoded in myriad ways, from gene expression to everyday language, playing a far greater role in emotional and physical health than has been realised until now, since discoveries have been made thanks to the revolution in neuroscience research. Continue reading Review | Unspoken Legacy, Claudia Black | Central Recovery Press

Review | Three Women, Lucy Tertia George | Book of the Week

Be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” – Nora Ephron

A strong woman is not defined by men, but is in full possession of herself and her life. She balances her masculine and feminine sides; is her own person. She has fought and survived many battles; internal and external. She works hard, gets straight back up when knocked down, speaks for herself.

Such is Grandma: the first in a triptych of very different women whom we meet at the opening of this thought-provoking first novel that is rooted in feminist tropes which the author understands and conveys so well. Continue reading Review | Three Women, Lucy Tertia George | Book of the Week

Book 2 Review | The Governesses, Anne Serre & Now, Now Louison, Jean Frémon | Les Fugitives

The Governesses by Anne Serre | Translated by Mark Hutchinson | Les Fugitives

Published 25 March, 2019 | PB 120 pages ISBN 978-978-0993009396

Experience had shown you, however, that no pact lasts forever. You knew that the members of the household would once again be shuffled together like playing cards, and that when the next hand was dealt the alliances would fall out differently.”

The Governesses is a most unusual erotic fable about sex and power, illusion and eroticism, beautifully translated from the French into supremely elegant, languid prose. Its atmosphere is reminiscent of Alain Fournier and Julien Green.

Inès, Laura and Eléonore are governesses, responsible for four boys. The “mistresses of games and pleasure” they radiate a wild and frisky innocence, and have the run of the upstairs salons in the country house of Monsieur Austeur and his wife, Julie. “The excessive silence of the households they wait upon” may be “conducive to reading thinking and raising little boys who are champion hoop rollers, and to the elderly gentleman’s repose, and the waning love of Monsieur and Madame Auster,” but it is stultifying. Their employers’ home is “a boundless void.” The young women have nowhere to go, and there are no distractions. Continue reading Book 2 Review | The Governesses, Anne Serre & Now, Now Louison, Jean Frémon | Les Fugitives

Review | Bindlestiff, Wayne Holloway | Book of the Week

So, you get the picture. A town with a lot of flashing red lights floating above heads. That’s show business. Dead phone lines and a lot of blow jobs.”

From film classics like Sunset Boulevard  in which an unsuccessful screen writer is sucked into the fantasy world of a faded silent-film star, to Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Ape and Essence, and my all-time favourite, screenwriter George Axelrod‘s mischievous satire, Where am I Now When I Need Me? . . . Los Angeles has played a leading role in too many books and films to mention.  Continue reading Review | Bindlestiff, Wayne Holloway | Book of the Week

Review | Fox, Anthony Gardner | Book of the Week

Frank and Anna’s day was one of mixed fortunes. They chased a great brute of a fox down to Chelsea Harbour, finally cornering it in the underground car park, though not before several of the residents had been reduced to hysterics; then they were called to the other end of the King’s Road, where a vixen had slipped on to a bus, bringing the traffic to a standstill as the passengers poured out on to the road. The vixen had escaped in the confusion; by the time Frank and Anna appeared on the scene, she had vanished with a chicken stolen from the Cadogan Rôtisserie.
‘Call yourself a huntsman?’ the manager shouted at Frank. ‘That’s the third fox I’ve had in here this week.’
‘Give them customer loyalty cards, mate,’ Frank replied cheerfully, ‘and don’t forget to ask for their addresses. We’ll catch them, roast them with some parsnips, and your clientele won’t know the difference.’”

What if . . . the British government struck a deal with the People’s Republic of China? And acquired new and ground-breaking technology enabling them to implant a surveillance microchip in every British citizen under the guise of having a routine injection against fox flu.

Continue reading Review | Fox, Anthony Gardner | Book of the Week

Review | The Book of Birmingham, Kavita Bhanot (ed.) | Book of the Week

The Book of Birmingham is the latest title to be published by Comma Press in their cities in short fiction series which serves as an excellent introduction to some superb contemporary writers. The ultimate in armchair city tours, the series is ideal for discovering other places, other lives.

The Book of Birmingham – focusing on the second largest city in the UK after London which “sits at the central crossroads of England, the industrial heartland of the country” – brings together short stories by some writers known to me, (Kit de Waal, Bobby Nayyar, C.D. Rose, Sharon Duggal, Kavita Bhanot), and some not, (Sibyl Ruth, Malachi McIntosh, Joel Lane, Jendella Benson, Alan Beard, Balvinder Banga). The city’s “working-class foundation is inseparable from the city’s literature, reflected in the voices of its best-known contemporary authors: Jonathan Coe, Catherine O’Flynn, Benjamin Zephaniah, Kit de Waal, Joel Lane . . .

The voices in this eclectic collection are all significant and have a powerful sense of engagement with the city. They convey a thoughtfulness and lyrical elegance imbued by anger as well as a tender melancholy. Continue reading Review | The Book of Birmingham, Kavita Bhanot (ed.) | Book of the Week

Review | The 10 Worst of Everything: The Big Book of Bad, Sam Jordison | Book of the Week

We live in an increasingly polarised mad and maddening world seemingly going from bad to worse. The hunger for “how to be happy” and “how to achieve more success in life” top tips type reading fodder is countered by our apparent preference for bad news over the good, (motivated by schadenfreude, a heightened vigilance for threats thanks to a daily Media diet of disasters, shock value . . . or so the thinking goes).

If it bleeds, it leads

Sam Jordison’s series Crap Towns became a cult hit. Now he has pulled another winner out of his hat – The 10 Worst of Everything: The Big Book of Bad. It is an entertaining and thoroughly-researched book of alternative general knowledge. Factual and informative lists ranging across the natural world, history, popular culture, sports, food, medicine, science, economics, politics, drugs, divorce and crystal-ball gazing balls-ups are seasoned with tongue-in-cheek personal asides. It is a particularly cheering read if your own life is in the doldrums, or for some Christmas fun and games. So quiz each other and laugh when no one knows the answers: there is invariably someone worse off than you! Continue reading Review | The 10 Worst of Everything: The Big Book of Bad, Sam Jordison | Book of the Week

Review | Dedalus, Chris McCabe | Book of the Week

Too poetical that about the sad. Music did that. Music hath charms. Shakespeare said. Quotations every day in the year. To be or not to be. Wisdom while you wait.” – James Joyce

“What is modernism?” was one of the questions addressed during the recent BookBlast 10×10 Tour talk held in Waterstones, Norwich, featuring Galley Beggar Press authors Alex Pheby (hailed as “the new Beckett” by Stephen Bumphrey on BBC Radio Norfolk), Paul Stanbridge and Paul Ewen.

“Modernism consists of fragments put back together to make a whole out of disunity,” was one answer, “Being aware of the text and stepping outside it,” was another . . . along with stream of consciousness, multiple points of view, dense allusions, ambiguity and a phenomenal play of words on the page. Continue reading Review | Dedalus, Chris McCabe | Book of the Week