The Year without Summer by Guinevere Glasfurd
Henry Hogg is the doctor on a ship well equipped to fend off attacks from pirates but inadequate to the needs of islanders suffering third-degree burns. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin is a young mother off to spend the summer in Switzerland with her partner, Percy Shelley, and stepsister Claire, who lives in the shadow of Lord Byron, eventually finding inspiration for her story despite the incessant rain. In England, another creative, John Constable, paints between the cloudbursts, hoping to marry when he finally earns enough from his art.
Further down the social scale, Sarah Hobbs, a farm labourer who finds her pay reduced as prices soar, joins the protests. Hope Peter returns from the Napoleonic wars to find his mother dead, their home demolished and a fence erected to replace it. Over in Vermont, preacher Charles Whitlock promises his congregation their faith will save them, with disastrous results.
It’s a testament to the author’s skill that she maintains our interest across a cast of characters whose fates are connected but never meet. I’m very happy to have this sit on my bookshelves alongside the short-story collection Protest and the novel The Song of Peterloo. Thanks to publishers Two Roads for my proof copy.
Snow, Dog, Foot by Claudio Morandini
translated by J Ockenden
Adelmo doesn’t much like people. He isn’t particularly fond of the old dog that attaches itself to him on the wearying walk back up to his isolated cabin. He certainly isn’t keen to converse with the young ranger who tries to befriend him. In the summer, when tourists come knocking, looking to buy honey or cheese, he chases them away with stones.
Winter brings snow, walling him into the cabin and blocking the light. It brings hunger, confused memories, discussions with the dog. But Adelmo’s more resilient than most, having battled hunger and freezing temperatures in caves and tunnels as a fugitive in the war. If he’s mad, it must be from the incessant noise of the overhead cables in the village where he lived as a child. Yet even he’s nonplussed at the sight of a human foot uncovered by the melting snow.
Claudio Morandini’s sixth novel, first published in Italian in 2015, is a beautifully compassionate story of an old man estranged from society gradually becoming estranged from himself. Whether due to dementia, psychosis or social isolation, the author perfectly encapsulates how his attempts to safeguard his shreds of sanity pitch him deeper into the muddled maelstrom of his mind. Thanks to Peirene Press for my review copy. A rare five stars from me.
With such a strongly portrayed canine character, it’s a pity I hadn’t read this before wrangling my 99-word story for last week’s flash fiction challenge.
If the drama of unravelling in a confined space appeals to you, you might enjoy my second novel, Underneath, about a man whose life changes direction when he buys a house with a cellar. If you subscribe to my email newsletter, you’re in with the chance of winning a signed copy of my next novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, about a woman locked up in a psychiatric hospital for fifty years.