Translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman, Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba, published in 2017 by Portobello books, is a moving and subtle foray into childhood disturbance. Focusing on a seven-year-old girl’s uprooting to an orphanage, after a car crash that kills her parents, I was mesmerised by the language of this novella, somehow both poetic and matter-of-fact.
Published in 2017 by Sceptre, Jaroslav Kalfar’s debut is a lovely novel that almost defies description. While some novels suffer from the weight of too many stories, Spaceman of Bohemia manages to be much bigger than the sum of its many parts: sci-fi adventure; love story; sociopolitical history of the Czech Republic and homage to Prague; psychodrama of how the actions of one generation shape the next; a meditation on identity, adaption to loss, and what makes us human.
Shona McMonagle, the feisty heroine of Olga Wojitas’ debut, Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar, is invited by the 200-year-old founder of her alma mater to serve as a kind of goodwill ambassador across the centuries. Published by Saraband, the concept is so silly it could have misfired, but the author is perfectly in control of her material, with just the right blend of intelligence, comedy and tension. Unusually for me, I found myself several times laughing out loud.
Every Note Played is the story of a concert pianist whose career is cut short by motor neurone disease. I loved this for the author’s compassion for her flawed characters, and the emotional range and depth. Although often wary of a redemption-through-catastrophe-or-suffering narrative, I really appreciated eavesdropping on this family’s bumpy journey to some kind of resolution. Published by Allen & Unwin, Lisa Genova’s fifth novel is a poignant portrayal of loss; the compromises of marriage; the loving and hating that’s part of any caring/dependency dynamic; and the risks of both following and shying away from your dreams.
Although I haven’t reread Jane Eyre this year, I’ve made her the focus of this week’s 99-word story. The link to Charli’s prompt is tenuous: Cat Harbour brought to mind Cattiside Moor from where I've imagined Jane hearing Rochester’s voice calling her and, on my guided walk, we get our first glimpse of North Lees Hall, the inspiration for the house where Jane goes to work as a governess.
After fleeing Thornfield with only the shabby apparel I arrived in, the coachman set me down at a crossroads in a north-midland shire, dusk with moorland. Skirts snagged by the heather, I sought a place to rest my bones.
By God’s grace, I encountered another lonely female, whose kindness in sharing her meagre repast of bread and cheese brought forth my sorry story.
“Why, pray, did you not go with him?”
“He was married to another – although he came to regret it.”
“Perhaps you did not love him enough.” Cora took my hand. “Have you ever kissed a girl?”