Thirty-year-old Edie works for the Elysian Society, serving as a conduit between the bereaved and their late loved ones. It’s not a job for those with big egos; after tuning in to the deceased via eliciting a memory and perusing some of their belongings, she takes a tablet which kills her consciousness while the client communes with the departed in privacy. Overseen by the imposing Mrs Renard who, despite her neat office, functions like the madam in a brothel, her colleagues provide a similar service in other rooms in the building, but none of them have stuck at it as long as Edie’s five years.
When I was growing up, it was said that every fourth child was Chinese. As the fourth child of a white working-class Catholic family, I saw no contradiction in applying that logic to myself. I don’t remember how and when I was disabused of this notion, but I imagine being disappointed. Although probably too young to have a concept of Chinese identity (I think it was prior to my family frequenting Chinese restaurants), the idea of being different made perfect sense. Perhaps that’s what attracts me to reading and writing about diversity, but the Chinese are still relatively unrepresented in my fictional world (Everything I Never Told You an exceptional exception). So, having enjoyed his debut, The Welsh Girl, I looked forward to having my horizons widened by Peter Ho Davies’ new novel about Chinese-American identity, courtesy of Sceptre Books.
I’m delighted to introduce you to two quirky short novels about finding and creating a place of one’s own, the first from Sweden and second South Africa. Both novels have pared down characters and plot and are nevertheless highly compelling in their eccentricity.
My first review post of 2016 brings two very different perspectives on the clandestine world of spies. Set in 1981, The Long Room shows what can happen when those undertaking the tedious tasks of monitoring intercepted messages decide to create their own excitement. Like I Can’t Begin to Tell You, Tightrope features a brave heroine of the Second World War, now confronting the “normality” of dull and drab post-war England. My experience of the genre is rather limited – and one might argue that both of these novels would be classified as literary rather than thriller – but my reading suggests that, like acting and adultery, espionage is about creating and maintaining fictions, something close to the writer’s heart.
A severe cold has meant very little writing in the last few days, but a copious amount of reading (completing my reading “challenge” of 100 books in the year), albeit with not a great amount of depth. These three short reviews of novels about three very different women’s quests for a life, and a mind, of their own is part of the result.
Sarah is seventeen in 1255 when she chooses to be enclosed in a cell, seven paces by nine, at the side of the village church. Fleeing the grief of losing her mother and her younger sister in childbirth, and the unwelcome attentions of the lord of the manor, she renounces the world and all its dangers and disappointments to a living death dedicated to God. With guidance from The Rule, a book copied without flourishes by her reluctant confessor, Father Ranaulf, she’s also responsible for the moral welfare of her two servant women and, indirectly through her prayers, the well-being of the village, proud to have an anchoress in their midst, even if they cannot see her.
It takes great skill to compose an engaging narrative about a woman who never leaves her room, but Sarah is an intriguing character. We wonder about her motivation for being there, the impact of her incarceration on her body and mind and, when we discover along with her that one of the previous inhabitants of her cell left in disgrace, whether she will stay. And, much as Sarah would prefer to renounce the world, she cannot be completely isolated, as she hears the church services through a slit in the adjoining wall and the rhythms of village life on the other side, and as women from the village come to solicit her prayers.
It’s publication week for Sugar and Snails and I’m breathless with excitement. The buzz is building with two reviews already (from Victoria Best and from Stephanie Burton) and some lovely tweets from early readers at #SugarandSnails. Now, thanks mainly to the generous response to my request for hosts, I’ve made two excursions to other blogs (firstly, to Shiny New Books to share my thoughts on writing about secrets, the false self and insecure identities; secondly to Isabel Costello’s literary sofa to discuss the pleasures of small-press publication), and my case is packed ready to depart on the blog tour proper.
Annecdotal is where real life brushes up against the fictional with mutterings about reading and writing seasoned with psychology.
Annecdotist is the persona through whom I navigate that in-between space. When not roaming the blogosphere, I'm reading or writing, tramping the moors, battling the slugs in my vegetable plot or struggling to sing.
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I don't post to a schedule, but average around ten reviews a month (see here for an alphabetical list),
some linked to a weekly flash fiction, plus posts on writing and my journey to publication and beyond.
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Sugar and Snails on 2016 shortlist
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