Walk. Trot. Canter. Gallop. Each of these words conjures up precisely both the speed and style of movement of the horse.
On a writing course once we were tasked with finding as many possible ways of replacing the word entered in the phrase She entered the room. I might never get the chance to use She hopscotched into the room in a piece of fiction, but I learnt something in thinking it up.
I’m discussing two novels in translation about philosophy-obsessed / philosopher-obsessed men who travel from Europe to New York in pursuit of their interests. Yet, as is often the case when I partner one novel with another, they are very different books. Because of the mental-health slant, I also could have paired either with A Cure for Suicide, or, because of the identity issues, with The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty and/or The Life and Death of Sophie Stark.
Let me share with you my reflections on two highly original novels about dissemblance and truth in the process of becoming a person. Although the publishers don’t do so, I’m classing both as slipstream fiction, a place between fantasy, sci-fi and literary fiction I’ve also explored in my own short stories. Read on, and let me know what you think.
I’m delighted to showcase two second novels published this week (although Song of the Sea Maid has been out for a while in hardback) featuring feisty female characters. Both take a sideways look at history, with a focus on scientific thought either side of Darwin, and celebrate love against the odds. Both stories begin in an asylum (the first a psychiatric hospital, the second an orphanage) and take the reader on an engaging journey beyond its walls.
In her declining years, as her memory for the past overtakes her connection to the present, Meggie Tulloch sets out to write her life story. Addressed (in the mid-1970s) to her hippyish granddaughter, and kept secret from her daughter, Kathryn, the girl’s mother (although, as time goes on, Meggie increasingly confuses the two), it’s a story of migration from north-east Scotland and the Shetlands to Fremantle, Australia, a journey through the elements of water, air and earth, and finally (in a contemporary strand picked up by the daughter herself) fire.
Locked in a dark room somewhere in Mogadishu, Peter Maguire has ample time to consider the legacy of his three decades on this earth. A journalist with a CV full of danger zones, he has a girlfriend in Paris who enjoys weekends in the Loire Valley and a five-year-old son in Monrovia she doesn’t know about and he’s never seen. He’s been estranged from his mother, also formerly a journalist in West Africa, since she told him his biological father is not the gentle Irishman he’s called Dad all his life, but an American photographer with whom she had an affair in Liberia. If life weren’t complicated enough, his friend and local driver was shot dead when Peter was kidnapped, and he’s about to be sold on to the brutal Al-Shabaab. He finds a glimmer of hope and humanity in the Somali teenager who brings his food, but can Abdi really rescue him from captivity?
Lately, I’ve been contemplating my identity as a novelist: how, on the one hand, it’s a simple statement of fact while, on the other, it represents an existential anxiety about what I’d be if I couldn’t describe myself in terms of something that sounds like a job. So these two novels exploring identity and make-believe, albeit with reference to film rather than fiction, have come along at exactly the right time.
Annecdotal is where real life brushes up against the fictional.
Annecdotist is the blogging persona of Anne Goodwin:
slug-slayer, tramper of moors,
author of two novels.
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