As I speed walk along the path, the low sun flickers on and off through the trees. Dark light, dark light, it dizzies my brain as if I’m in a zoetrope, making me pause and clasp a column of rough bark for balance. Usually, I welcome the winter sun on my face, but now I turn from the light that mocks me. Usually, I’m good at seeing in the dark but, even after Brexit, I did not foresee the triumph of Trump and I’m distraught.
These two novels explore the impact of two of America’s controversial wars (Vietnam and Iraq) on combatants, observers and their nearest and dearest.
Since childhood, Thelonius Liddell has striven for excellence in an attempt to forget the trauma of seeing his father murder his mother. At a university careers day, he’s recruited into the US intelligence agency by Becky Firestone, the somewhat disturbed daughter of the director whom Thelonius eventually marries. When we first meet Liddell he’s already a dead man, writing his memoir in the ten metre square cell in the clandestine containment unit he calls The Beige Motel. Now preferring the name Ali, he was converted to Islam by his wizened cellmate in a squalid (presumably Iraqi) prison, where he is accused of the murder of a man and his young daughter and of desecrating the Koran. His conversion was part of a deal brokered by a young woman, Fatima, but, like almost everything else in this multi-layered thriller about the war on terror, we have to keep on turning the pages to uncover the truth. While I’m inclined to agree that, as Fatima says, Stupidity has taken over the process of government in both countries, there’s nothing stupid in this complex tale of compromised morality and the fragility of the human mind.
I recently shared an extract from my next novel, Underneath, in which a little boy is dancing with his mother to Cliff Richard’s Living Doll. The words are taken all too literally by the child who becomes the man who keeps a woman imprisoned in a cellar but I knew, from the very first draft of this novel, to be wary of quoting song lyrics. Yet, in the version I sent my publisher, I’d retained six words that furnished a neat link between past and present, while demonstrating the narrator’s disturbed and disturbing state of mind. But as publishing becomes a (still fairly distant) reality, I thought I’d better get some advice from the Society of Authors on copyright law. Based on what I was told – and this is only my interpretation – I’ve decided to paraphrase instead of quoting: I don’t want to risk having lawyers on my back; nor do I want to renege on my own personal vow never to pay to be published (it’s the author’s, not the publisher’s, responsibility to seek out and pay for permissions).
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.
Fiona Palmer is delighted when she bumps into her former English teacher, Henry Morgan, in the supermarket. Although she’s been happily married to Dave for the last two years, she readily embarks on an affair. This is her opportunity, she thinks, to cement the bond they’d developed when she was a precocious fifteen-year-old, to bring that special relationship onto an adult level. But can an out-of-school friendship between pupil and teacher ever be innocent? What’s wrong with Fiona that she’s ready to give up on her marriage so soon? And what has become of her teenage promise as a talented writer? Why, if she was supposedly so intelligent, has she settled for a humdrum job in telesales?
Fleeing from Leeds to Brighton after breaking up with his over-possessive lover, Jem, Luke rents a tiny house caught in a time warp from the 60s. His landlord is the elderly philanthropist Joss Grand who, despite ill-health, hasn’t totally shed the legacy of his years lording over the Brighton underworld, with his sadistic sidekick, Jacky Nye. Luke is a former journalist with an agent waiting for him to pitch the true-crime story that will make his name. When Luke learns that Jacky Nye was strangled and thrown into the sea back in the late 60s, his murderer never found, he is convinced Joss Grand, despite a strong alibi, must have been involved. Convinced the opportunity outweighs the risk, both to him and his friends, Luke can’t let go of what appears to be the perfect scoop, and arranges to interview the prickly Mr Grand. Already under threat from his unstable ex-partner, as Luke is drawn deeper into the murder mystery, we wonder if he might have been wiser to leave the past alone.
I’m not exactly sure why moving house is such a stressful life event, up there with death of a spouse and divorce. It might have something to do with the fact that, like a marriage, we invest a lot of ourselves in our homes. When we leave, we take with us what we can, but some of the essence of what we had and what it meant to us is fixed in that place, embedded in the floorboards, the bricks and mortar, the grouting between the tiles.
My last house move, nearly 15 years ago, was pretty stressful but I remember how reassured I felt when friends from where we’d previously lived came to visit and could see the fit between the new place and me. Although the houses were radically different in style and layout, both were mirroring some of my character. When Hildy Good, the estate-agent narrator of The Good House by Ann Leary, says that she only has to walk through a house once to understand the psyche of its occupants, she may be exaggerating, but not very much.
Moving house can have different meanings at different points of the lifespan: a young adult might need to flee the parental home to unleash their creativity; for an older person, moving might present risks to their health. In my short story, Spring Cleaning, a daughter and granddaughter’s attempts to give an older woman’s home makeover while she’s in hospital proves to be disturbing enough. In Emma Healey’s debut novel, Elizabeth Is Missing, Maud is confused and disorientated when she gives up her home, despite her daughter’s attempts to smooth the way.
finding truth through fiction
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 three fiction books.
LATEST POSTS HERE
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.
Your comments are welcome any time any where.
Get new posts direct to your inbox ...
or click here …
Subscribe to my newsletter for updates 3-4 times a year.
Anne Goodwin's books on Goodreads
Sugar and Snails
ratings: 52 (avg rating 4.21)
ratings: 60 (avg rating 3.17)
ratings: 9 (avg rating 4.56)
GUD: Greatest Uncommon Denominator, Issue 4
ratings: 9 (avg rating 4.44)
The Best of Fiction on the Web
ratings: 3 (avg rating 4.67)
Read Shall I show you what it’s like out there? my latest short story hot off the press.
Looking for something in particular? Sorry the blog has no search facility, but typing Annecdotal plus the keyword into Google usually works.
Or try one of these:
I'm honoured to receive these blog awards:
but no more, thanks, your comments are awesome enough