Swan Song by Kelleigh Green-Jephcott

 

Kelleigh Green-Jephcott: Swan Song

Published By: Hutchinson Books

 Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says:

They told him everything.

He told everyone else.

Over countless martini-soaked Manhattan lunches, they shared their deepest secrets and greatest fears. On exclusive yachts sailing the Mediterranean, on private jets streaming towards Jamaica, on Yucatán beaches in secluded bays, they gossiped about sex, power, money, love and fame. They never imagined he would betray them so absolutely.

In the autumn of 1975, after two decades of intimate friendships, Truman Capote detonated a literary grenade, forever rupturing the elite circle he’d worked so hard to infiltrate. Why did he do it, knowing what he stood to lose? Was it to punish them? To make them pay for their manners, money and celebrated names? Or did he simply refuse to believe that they could ever stop loving him? Whatever the motive, one thing remains indisputable: nine years after achieving wild success with In Cold Blood, Capote committed an act of professional and social suicide with his most lethal of weapons . . . Words.

A dazzling debut about the line between gossip and slander, self-creation and self-preservation, SWAN SONG is the tragic story of the literary icon of his age and the beautiful, wealthy, vulnerable women he called his Swans.

‘Writers write. And one can’t be surprised if they write what they know.’

 

What I Say:

‘And perhaps it was then that he had his great idea to seek us out.  To befriend us.  To punish us for a crime we hadn’t the faintest idea we’d committed.’

I had a copy of Swan Song on my shelf which I had bought as soon as it was published.  I had also treated myself to the audio book of Swan Song, narrated by Deborah Weston, and it is divine.  Truman Capote and his Swans burst out of the stereo and into my head, but it wasn’t enough.

I pulled my copy off the shelf and started to read, and lost myself completely in the sumptuous world of Truman Capote and his Swans.

Swan Song is the story of the American writer Truman Capote, and the six women in his life, who provide his social calendar, masses of gossip and scandal, and give him the social acceptance he needs to secure his place in the ever changing, vicious and glittering world he longs to be part of.

There are six women he considers closest to him, who earn the title of Swan.  They are Babe Paley, Slim Keith, Lee Radziwill, C. Z. Guest, Gloria Guinness and Marella Agnelli. He is their confessor, their friend and the one person that gives them unequivocal love and support. Each of them give him something different, and he has no qualms about using them to gain what he wants too. He is adept at flattering and cajoling each of them, to make them feel that they are the most important women in the world to him, and to make sure that they grant him access to the most exclusive social circles and help him become a darling of the social scene.

Swan Song takes us all the way back to Truman’s childhood, and his complicated relationship with his Mother.  From an early age, Truman is determined and driven when it comes to his career, and we also see how his physical limitations and childlike voice are the very things he uses to create his larger than life and eccentric persona.

As Truman becomes more and more involved with his Swans, you understand that behind the seemingly glamourous facades of their lives, they face the same issues and insecurities as we all do.  The real lives of the Swans are laid bare to Truman, and he makes sure he becomes indispensible.  He is always there to accompany them to lunches at places like The Plaza and Le Cote Basque, and to be their plus one at parties and on holiday too.  The women need Truman as much as he needs them.

When he decides to hold The Black and White Party, very quickly it becomes THE social event of the decade. People are desperate to be invited, and will do anything to secure one of the crisp hand written invitations.  Truman’s place as a doyen of society, with his jubiliant Swans at his side, finally seems to be within his reach.

Truman has been riding high on a wave of notoriety since the publication of his non-fiction novel In Cold Blood, and is desperate to ensure he stays in the limelight.  His desire to be loved and adored, coupled with his intimate knowledge of the lives and loves of his Swans, culminates in him publishing the most incendiary writing of his career, but for all the wrong reasons.

His work called Answered Prayers is serialised in Esquire Magazine, and is essentially very thinly veiled attacks on the very women who have helped him get where he is today.  The New York Social Scene has no difficulty in identifying the ‘stars’ of this particular story, which pushes the Swans into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

Truman’s decision to effectively commit social suicide leaves him isolated, bereft, and spiralling downwards in an ever increasing haze of drugs and alcohol.  From being a celebrated and admired novelist, he is reduced to making appearances at the notorious Studio 54, where he is more a figure of ridicule than an esteemed writer. For Truman now, the very women who could rescue him, are the ones he can never talk to again.

There were so many things I loved about Swan Song. Truman’s perfectly calculated detonation of his articles, were so vividly brought to life by Kelleigh.  It is impossible not to feel the devastation of the Swans about what has happened.  You feel their betrayal, their disbelief that the man who had been taken so easily into their confidence could hurt them all so knowingly and deeply.

Kelleigh’s own non-fiction fiction novel is one you simply sink into, and lose yourself in completely. It is a world of privilege, of decadence and beautiful people and clothes, where you were judged by what you wore, who you lunched with and who dressed you.

I think this is one of the interesting and relevant issues throughout Swan Song, that although it is very much of its time, many of the themes around the notion of celebrity, the role of women in society, and how important it is to be liked, and have followers who dote on your every word, is still as relevant if not more so today.

Swan Song may have been published last year, but it will be in my Book of The Year list for 2019.  It is a stunning and revelatory exploration of celebrity and how Truman was desperate to stay relevant within a world which is ever changing and looking for the next big thing.  Once you pick up this novel, it is impossible to put down. The way in which Kelleigh weaves not only the main narrative, but also the stories of the Swans too, is a feat of storytelling that will leave you wondering where the time has gone!

It is so difficult to put into words how much I loved this novel.  I sat with a copy of The Party of The Century by Deborah Davis next to me, because this book is such an immersive experience, you don’t just want to read about the women, you want to see them, to determine what attracted them to Truman.

Kelleigh’s exquisite writing and pitch perfect social commentary, helps us to understand why they unquestioningly accepted Truman into their lives, only to be voiceless bystanders as he set alight the very world he was so desperate to be part of.

I loved it.

I Love New Books And I Cannot Lie…!

img_3817

Let’s put this out there.  I just love books. I have since the moment my Mum first pushed one into my hands.  If someone’s reading a book on a bus, or in a coffee shop, I need to know what they are reading.   If I’m at a friend’s house, the first thing I do is look at their bookshelves, and see if they have anything there I haven’t read yet.  I can’t help it.

Show me a bookshop and I’ll show you a happy woman.  There is nothing I love more than spending time browsing, picking them up, putting them down, occasionally sniffing  them (oh come on, we’ve all done it!)!

Anyway, the reason for this post is two things.  After posting this picture of books I had got from the fabulous Rennie Grove Hospice Charity Bookshop in Princes Risborough, someone asked me how can you possibly find time to read them all?

92583188-4f5c-493b-83e6-d70efa144af8

Honestly?  I probably won’t ever read all the books I have on my shelves, and this is even though a couple of weeks ago I had a massive cull and sent over 100 of them to my local charity shop.

Here’s the thing.

When you love reading as much as I do, and I don’t know if this makes sense, it’s the comfort of knowing that you have that book on your shelf.  As I sit here, I can see book after book that I have bought, and I can tell you when and where I got them too.  That’s the thing for me, each book I have holds a memory, and there are some I am reluctantly able to give up – like those ones when I NEEDED to buy a book and I thought it looked interesting, but there are also some I will never ever part with – my collection of Jilly Cooper novels (hardback and paperback thank you), or the first hardback book my Mum gave me (Adventures of the Wishing Chair Again).

The other thing?  I also have a current wishlist of books that haven’t been published yet, that I am already desperate to read.  It seems crazy that I have so many books I haven’t read yet,  and they are sitting looking at me accusingly as I type this, but that’s the joy of being part of this brilliant bookish community.  Just when you think you couldn’t possibly want any more books,  even more come along…

Anyway, for your perusal, and in no particular order, here to hopefully to give you some ideas for your Summer/Autumn/Winter Reading Lists, are the books I am really excited to read this year..

 

Claire Lombardo – The Most Fun We Ever Had

Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson (25 June 2019)

 

The Most Fun We Ever Had by [Lombardo, Claire]

What The Blurb Says:

At a family wedding, the four Sorenson sisters polka-dot the green lawn in their summer pastels, with varying shades of hair and varying degrees of unease. Their long-infatuated parents watch on with a combination of love and concern.

Sixteen years later, the already messy lives of the sisters are thrown into turmoil by the unexpected reappearance of a teenage boy given up for adoption years earlier – and the rich and varied tapestry of the Sorensons’ past is revealed.

Weaving between past and present, The Most Fun We Ever Had portrays the delights and difficulties of family life and the endlessly complex mixture of affection and abhorrence we feel for those closest to us. A dazzlingly accomplished debut and an utterly immersive portrait of one family’s becoming, it marks the arrival of a major new literary voice.

Why Do I Want To Read It?

I absolutely love novels about families, and more importantly about families that have secrets and things to hide. Throw in a shifting timeline and I’m in!

I am looking for a novel to lose myself in this Summer, and this looks just perfect.  I think it’s going to be everywhere this Summer, and I am really excited to read it!

 

Alix Nathan – The Warlow Experiment

Serpent’s Tail (4 July 2019)

 

 

What The Blurb Says:

Herbert Powyss lives on a small estate in the Welsh Marches, with enough time and income to pursue a gentleman’s fashionable cultivation of exotic plants and trees. But he longs to make his mark in the field of science – something consequential enough to present to the Royal Society in London.

He hits on a radical experiment in isolation: for seven years a subject will inhabit three rooms in the cellar of the manor house, fitted out with books, paintings and even a chamber organ. Meals will arrive thrice daily via a dumbwaiter. The solitude will be totally unrelieved by any social contact; the subject will keep a diary of his daily thoughts and actions. The pay? Fifty pounds per annum, for life.

Only one man is desperate enough to apply for the job: John Warlow, a semi-literate labourer with a wife and six children to provide for. The experiment, a classic Enlightenment exercise gone more than a little mad, will have unforeseen consequences for all included.

In this seductive tale of self-delusion and obsession, Alix Nathan has created an utterly transporting historical novel which is both elegant and unforgettably sinister.

Why Do I Want To Read It?

I am currently reading lots of (and loving) historical fiction.

The Warlow Experiment certainly ticks all the boxes, and I think the premise and whole concept of imprisonment and isolation will make for a very interesting read and lots of debate too!

 

Lisa Taddeo – Three Women

Bloomsbury Circus (9 July 2019)

What The Blurb Says:

All Lina wanted was to be desired. How did she end up in a marriage with two children and a husband who wouldn’t touch her?

All Maggie wanted was to be understood. How did she end up in a relationship with her teacher and then in court, a hated pariah in her small town?

All Sloane wanted was to be admired. How did she end up a sexual object of men, including her husband, who liked to watch her have sex with other men and women?

Three Women is a record of unmet needs, unspoken thoughts, disappointments, hopes and unrelenting obsessions.

Why Do I Want To Read It?

This is the first of my non-fiction titles on my Must Read List.  I think it sounds like an interesting and timely examination of women’s sex lives and the reality of relationships behind closed doors.

 

Rachel DeLoache Williams – My Friend Anna

Quercus Books (23 July 2019)

What The Blurb Says:

This is the true story of Anna Delvey, the fake heiress whose dizzying deceit and elaborate con-artistry deceived the Soho hipster scene before her ruse was finally and dramatically exposed.

After meeting through mutual friends, the ‘Russian heiress’ Anna Delvey and Rachel DeLoache Williams soon became inseparable. Theirs was an intoxicating world of endless excess: high dining, personal trainer sessions, a luxury holiday … and Anna footed almost every bill.

But after Anna’s debit card was declined in a Moroccan medina whilst on holiday in a five-star luxury resort, Rachel began to suspect that her increasingly mysterious friend was not all she seemed.

This is the incredible story of how Anna Sorokin conned the high-rollers of the NYC social scene and convinced her close friend of an entirely concocted fantasy, the product of falsified bank documents, bad cheques and carefully edited online photos.

Written by Rachel DeLoache Williams, the Vanity Fair photography editor who believed Anna’s lies before helping the police to track her down (fittingly, deciphering Anna’s location using Instagram), this is Catch Me If You Can with Instagram filters. Between Anna, Fyre Festival’s Billy McFarland (Anna even tried to scam Billy) and Elizabeth Holmes, whose start-up app duped the high and mighty of Silicon Valley, this is the year of the scammer.

Why Do I Want To Read It?

I first heard about Anna Delvey ‘s story on the BBC Website, and instantly went and looked her account up on Instagram (it’s @theannadelvey if you are interested).  I have watched the Netflix Fyre Festival Documentary, and listened to The Dropout Podcast, and have to say that this book sounds amazing! I am fascinated by the psychology behind the people who do things like this, and My Friend Anna is going to be a brilliant addition to the genre.

 

Laura Purcell – Bone China

Raven Books (19 September 2019)

 

What The Blurb Says:

Consumption has ravaged Louise Pinecroft’s family, leaving her and her father alone and heartbroken. But Dr Pinecroft has plans for a revolutionary experiment: convinced that sea air will prove to be the cure his wife and children needed, he arranges to house a group of prisoners suffering from the same disease in the cliffs beneath his new Cornish home. While he devotes himself to his controversial medical trials, Louise finds herself increasingly discomfited by the strange tales her new maid tells of the fairies that hunt the land, searching for those they can steal away to their realm.

Forty years later, Hester Why arrives at Morvoren House to take up a position as nurse to the now partially paralysed and almost entirely mute Miss Pinecroft. Hester has fled to Cornwall to try and escape her past, but surrounded by superstitious staff enacting bizarre rituals, she soon discovers that her new home may be just as dangerous as her last.

Why Do I Want To Read It?

If you know me at all, then you will know I am a HUGE Laura Purcell fan.  I have read, loved and raved about both The Silent Companions and The Corset.

When I heard that Laura had a new novel coming out, and then I read the synopsis, I knew the only place this was going on was my Must Read List.  Laura’s novels are always so brilliantly written, and she can strike fear into my heart with just one well placed line or a single moving wooden object!

Yep, I’m going to need to read this one…!

 

JoJo Moyes – The Giver of Stars

Michael Joseph (3rd October 2019)

 

What The Blurb Says:

Why Do I Want To Read It?
  1. It’s by Jojo Moyes.
  2. It’s about books.
  3. IT’S WOMEN DELIVERING BOOKS ON HORSEBACK FOR GOODNESS SAKE!
  4. See 1, 2 and 3!

Kate Elizabeth Russell – My Dark Vanessa

4th Estate Books (23 January 2020)

41J4WAJ6vHL._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (310×499)

 

What The Blurb Says:

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager–and who professed to worship only her–may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

Why Do I Want To Read It?

I saw Kate reading from her novel on 4th Estate’s Instagram stories, and knew that it was going straight on my wish list! As you may or may not know, there is a HUGE book buzz about this novel already, and I think its going to raise lots of interesting questions about sexuality and women.

Absolutely going on my Reading Wish List..

 

Jane Healey – The Animals At Lockwood Manor

Mantle (Pan Macmillan) 

The-Animals-at-Lockwood-Manor-UK-637x1024.jpg (637×1024)

 

What The Blurb Says:

In August 1939, a lonely thirty-year-old Hetty Cartwright arrives at Lockwood Manor as the director of the evacuated Natural History Museum.

She is unprepared for the scale of protecting her charges from party guests, wild animals, the elements, the tyrannical Major Lockwood and Luftwaffe bombs. Most of all though, she is unprepared for the beautiful and haunted Lucy Lockwood.

For Lucy, who has spent much of her life cloistered at Lockwood suffering from bad nerves, the arrival of the museum brings with it new freedoms. But it also resurfaces memories of her late mother, and nightmares in which Lucy roams Lockwood hunting for something she has lost.

When the animals start to move of their own accord, and exhibits go missing, they begin to wonder what exactly it is that they might need protection from.

As the disasters mount up, it is not only Hetty’s future employment that is in danger, but her sanity too. There’s something, or someone, in the house. Someone stalking her through its darkened corridors…

With its atmospheric setting, beautifully rendered romance and vivid characters, The Animals At Lockwood Manor is perfect for fans of Sarah Waters, Jessie Burton and Alice Hoffman.

Why Do I Want To Read It?

I came across this novel purely by chance (Thank You Bookish Twitter!), and have to say that I absolutely loved the cover.

When I read the synopsis too, it seemed to have that perfect balance of haunted house setting and absorbing characters which make for a perfect read in my eyes!

I think it is going to be one of those novels that everyone will be talking about, and I want to be one of those people!

 

So there you go – the books I really want to read at the moment.  I can tell you now that there will be more that I don’t even know about at this point, but they will pop up on my timeline and there will be another ten I will have to add…

Which books are you looking forward to and why?

Love
Clare xx

 

Crushed By Kate Hamer

img_2823

 

What The Blurb Says:

Phoebe stands on Pulteney Bridge, tights gashed from toe to thigh. The shock of mangled metal and blood-stained walls flashes through her mind as she tries to cover her face so she won’t be recognised. It wouldn’t do to be spotted looking like this. She’s missing a shoe. She feels sick.

Phoebe thought murder and murder happened. Thoughts are just thoughts, they said. Now she knows they were wrong.

At home, Phoebe arranges the scissors and knives so they point toward her mother’s room. She is exhausted, making sure there’s no trace of herself – not a single hair, not even her scent – left anywhere in the house. She must not let her thoughts unravel, because if they do, there’s no telling who might be caught in the crossfire, and Phoebe will have to live with the consequences.

What I Say:

We all remember our teenage years, when it was so important to belong, to feel that we were part of a group. It is that time in our lives when we were not children, not yet adults, but we were stuck, unable to make that leap, at times frustrated by our parents, who continued to impose limits while we were desperate for the first chance of freedom.

Phoebe, Orla and Grace are three friends, trying to navigate their way through the tangled rites of passage that the teenage years bring.  Phoebe is the beautiful and seemingly powerful leader of the group, Orla is overweight and trying to find her self and her sexuality and is also completely in love with Phoebe, while Grace is a full time carer to her mother who has MS.

All three girls have complicated relationships with their mothers. Phoebe is at the mercy of her overwhelming and controlling mother, who wants to make sure Phoebe does nothing without her say so. Orla is frustrated by her seemingly naive and nervous mother, who does not want her to be anything other than the nice heterosexual daughter she can spend time with.  Grace is single handedly doing everything for her mother, and her Mum is totally reliant on Grace, both of them only want to stay together in their flat.

So far, so what? A group of teenage girls with different family situations. Haven’t we read about this a thousand times before?

Maybe you have, but in Crushed, Kate Hamer has taken these three teenage girls, and added a simmering sense of unease right from the very first page.

For me, the title, Crushed, was about how each of the group slowly buckles under the weight of expectation and the claustrophobia that steadily engulfs them. It is about the excruciating tension being a part of such a tight teenage group brings, especially with Phoebe at its core.

When they start to study Macbeth in their English class, it marks the start of a Summer which will change the girls’ lives forever. Phoebe is utterly obssessed with the witches in the play, and believes that she and her friends can hold and harness the same power that they have. The childhood games they played where they plotted and schemed in the safety of the den in the forest, are now replaced with the unwavering teenage belief that they are more powerful than this world, and can make the things they want to happen become reality. 

Phoebe also finds herself attracted to her young (and very married) English Teacher, and after initally rebuffing her advances, he finds himself intoxicated by her, with devastating consequences.

As the novel progresses, and we switch back and forth between Phoebe, Orla and Grace’s lives, we see how each of them, under the oppressive Summer skies, all strive to make their mark on the world.  Each of them has a goal, each of them wants to make sure that they can control their lives and be in ultimate charge of their destiny. They start to wonder whether something beyond their understanding and control is permeating their world and taking their fates out of their hands.

Phoebe is increasingly in the grasp of something unworldly, and is determined to rule her life, to be the Queen Of Her House. She becomes increasingly hedonistic and crosses boundaries and limits relentlessly. Orla always feels like she is the second choice for Phoebe – picked up and dropped on a whim.  Orla seeems to believe the way she needs to connect with the world is to have something to love that will love her back unconditionally – and decides that a baby will solve all her problems. Meanwhile, Grace’s determination to be the only person to care for her Mum, leads to her increasingly isolating them from the world outside. Grace emphatically believes that she alone is able to single handedly take on board the burden of caring for her, and becomes mentally and physically like a soldier, fighting her battles against social services and any do gooders that try to stop her looking after her mum.

Crushed is a difficult novel to review, because to say too much more would give away the plot! Suffice it to say that Kate’s writing is beautifully measured, so evocative of those teenage summers where the languid days stretched ahead of all of us, filled with the promise of what we could do and become, and the time we could spend with our friends, free from the constraints of school and out of sight of our parents.

It is a novel that will take you back to your teenage years, remembering those friendships that meant the world to you, and for which you would have done anything. Crushed is also a deeply unsettling and thought provoking novel about how destructive teenage girls can be at their very worst, and how indestructible they believe they are at their very best.

Crushed is the perfect Summer read, a novel that will both delight and unnerve you at the same time, and take you back to those seemingly endless Summers and memories of the friendships you lived for.

Thank you so much to Sophie Portas at Faber for a copy of Crushed in exchange for an honest review and a chance to be part of this Blog Tour.

Find out what my fellow bloggers have to say about Crushed too…..

 

 

You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr

64b67f9e-ddd4-4da2-a0b1-f9d8642d4c75

Damian Barr: You Will Be Safe Here

Published By: Bloomsbury

Buy It: here

What The Blurb Says:

The book that will change the way you see the world.

2010. Sixteen-year-old outsider Willem just wants to be left alone with his books and his dog. Worried he’s not turning out right, his ma and her boyfriend send him to New Dawn Safari Training Camp. Here they ‘make men out of boys’. Guaranteed.

1901. The height of the second Boer War in South Africa. Sarah van der Watt and her son are taken from their farm by force to Bloemfontein Concentration Camp where, the English promise: they will be safe.

What I Say:

It’s not often that a novel renders me speechless, overawed and ashamed at my lack of knowledge about the world, but You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr is that novel.

It is the story of Sarah van der Watt and her son Fred,  who are sent to the Bloemfontein Refugee Camps during the Boer War.  Sarah’s husband has left their farm to fight the British Troops, and she is left with her son and servants, aware that soon everything they own will be destroyed according to the British Army’s Scorched Earth missive. Sarah’s story is revealed to us through the diaries she keeps to tell her husband what has been happening to them.

As soon as Sarah and Fred are unceremoniously bundled into a train and sent to Bloemfontein, you know that everything they have ever known is to be snatched away from them and their lives will never be the same again.  When they are told ‘You Will Be Safe Here’, you realise that this will never be true.

The camp is dirty, overcrowded and a place where the people are controlled by numerous, unattainable rules and regulations.  Daily life soon becomes little more than a battle to survive, and Sarah’s refusal to sign a card backing what the English troops have done, move her and Fred down the social scale to that of undesirables.  Their rations are cut further, they have no means of keeping clean, and unsurprisingly, illness and death are rife.

Fred falls ill and ends up in the camp hospital, but the ridiculous bureaucracy mean that Sarah is rarely permitted to even speak to her son let alone comfort him. In this awful place, women are pushed to the limit, and have to use their bodies as currency to get the medicine that their children need.

They are cut off from their husbands with rare if any communication, they have no information, no voice, and are reliant only on the news they are told by those who control them. In spite of the Army telling the women that this is a refugee camp, it is blatantly obvious to us as readers that Bloemfontein is a Concentration Camp.

In spite of all this, the one resounding note that permeates all the way through this part of the novel, is Sarah’s love for her son and husband.  No matter how awful her day to day reality is, she knows that she has no choice but to keep strong for her family. All the people in Bloemfontein are there because they are displaced, dislocated from their world because they do not fit in with what is expected and are punished for it.

In modern day South Africa, Willem is not like the other boys. He finds joy in his books, in learning, in simply loving to dance and sing when he is in the safety of his home. Unfortunately, him not being like the other boys in his class means that he becomes a constant target.

There is a really clever and haunting scene where Willem and his class go to the Bloemfontein Museum, and the students are given identity cards of people who were at the camp, and Willem gets Fred’s.  It is the perfect way for Damian to beautifully bring the two storylines together, to show us that everything and nothing has changed. That although it may seem our society is far more civilised, the very fact Training Camps existed in modern South Africa means that nothing had changed at all. Difference and being unique is not celebrated, it is feared, and the notion of masculinity is so fixed that anyone who falls outside it must be brought into line, to fit into the crowd to avoid any negative attention being forced on the family.

The arrival of Willem’s stepfather Jan, a security guard with a whole lot of determination and a bucketload of testosterone, means that Willem is now seen as a problem to be fixed. When Willem injures one of his bullies, Jan has the perfect reason to insist that he be sent to the New Dawn Safari Training Camp.

From the moment Willem arrives, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary Summer Camp.  His hair is shaved off, and the brutal regime instigated by The General and his second in command Volker starts.  The boys are treated like slaves, they have little or inedible food, are made to take part in intensive exercise regimes, and dig holes all over the camp. The reason for this is that the General in convinced there is buried treasure in the land, and he has the perfect supply of cheap labour to find it.

Willem’s only solace is in his friendship with Geldenhuys, a sensitive boy who has been sent to the camp as his parents fear he may be gay.  Their friendship gives them both the connection and strength they need to survive in this hell, and some of the most beautiful parts of the novel are the way in which these two young men see something in each other and know that together their friendship can overcome everything.

The novel moves towards its profound and devastating conclusion, and at the end I was speechless and humbled.  Ashamed that I had no knowledge of the Boer War, or of these awful Camps that existed.  I have a son with special needs, who would by many be classed as an outsider, someone who does not fit in with what is expected, a perfect candidate for these sorts of camps. The horror I felt reading this inhumane treatment of boys by an awful, power crazed excuse of a human being chilled me to the core.  I am not ashamed to say I cried when I finished reading You Will Be Safe Here, and for a book to move me so deeply, and make me so angry means it is a very special novel indeed.

You Will Be Safe Here is without doubt on my Novel Of The Year List.  It is a mesmerising exploration of what it means to belong, and what happens when you don’t.  It is a harrowing study of a world where the most vulnerable among us are left at the mercy of those who want to dominate. It is appalling to be faced with a world where difference is something to be hidden away and eradicated, rather than loved and celebrated.

If you take anything from You Will Be Safe Here, let it be this. That the voices of those who are different should be heard, and that these atrocities can never be allowed to happen again.

I loved it.

The Doll Factory By Elizabeth Macneal

img_3895

 

Elizabeth Macneal: The Doll Factory

Published By: Picador Books

Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says:

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal is the intoxicating story of a young woman who aspires to be an artist, and the man whose obsession may destroy her world for ever.

London. 1850. The greatest spectacle the city has ever seen is being built in Hyde Park, and among the crowd watching two people meet. For Iris, an aspiring artist, it is the encounter of a moment – forgotten seconds later, but for Silas, a collector entranced by the strange and beautiful, that meeting marks a new beginning.

When Iris is asked to model for pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost, she agrees on the condition that he will also teach her to paint. Suddenly her world begins to expand, to become a place of art and love.

But Silas has only thought of one thing since their meeting, and his obsession is darkening . . .

 

What I Say:

This year, for me, I have been determined to read more fiction which comes from those voices which may not previously have been heard.  I knew as soon as I read about The Doll Factory, and its story of a young woman who aspires to be an artist in Victorian London, that I had to read it.

From the first turn of the page, and our introduction to Silas, you are drawn into a darker world where collection and possession is the very lifeblood of the characters who weave their way through this thoroughly engrossing and immersive novel.

Silas spends his days in his curiosity shop perfecting his latest acquistions to be displayed and sold.  A young man at odds with his world and angry for people not understanding his talent, Silas is an unsavoury and menacing man who is desperate for recognition and for a connection with a woman. He is often visited by Albie, a young street urchin, who brings him the corpses of animals he needs, and is a street smart child on the look out for himself and his sister. Albie’s finds prove to be a useful way for Silas to enter the exclusive world of the notorious Pre-Raphaelite Painters, as he is able to procure a variety of props for them to use in their paintings.

The Doll Factory of the title refers to the Emporium where Iris and her sister Rose work for the awful Mrs Salter.  Iris paints the doll’s faces, while Rose sews the dolls clothing.  Both are struggling with their sense of worth and self – Iris has a clavicle which is twisted and Rose has been left with facial deformities after an illness.  Rose silently resents Iris, believing that she is in some way responsible for their current predicament. Trapped together and desperately unhappy, reliant on Mrs Salter for work, Iris yearns to be free to pursue her dreams of becoming a painter.

The ever magnificient, ever imposing London is readying itself for the spectacle of the Great Exhibition, which finally provides a chance for Silas to get the recognition he craves as he is desperate to get his latest taxidermy into the Exhibition – a double headed puppy.

It is there that Silas, thanks to Albie, finally meets Iris.  He believes that this striking woman with the bewitching red hair is is the one with whom he can ultimately connect. It is only a fleeting moment for Iris, but for Silas, it is life changing, and from that point on, Iris seeps into his consciousness and becomes the very thing Silas is desperate to possess.

When Louis, a Pre-Raphaelite Artist is looking for a model for his painting, Silas suggests Iris.  This being Victorian London, the very idea of modelling for an artist for an unmarried young woman has all sorts of ramifications and social implications.  It is simply not the done thing, and the shame that Iris would bring on her family for doing so is overwhelming.  However, Iris also knows that being given the opportunity to escape from the Doll’s Emporium for a chance to be near an artist would be life changing. She agrees to model for Louis on the condition that he teaches her to paint.

As she and Louis become closer, and cross the line from model and artist to lovers, Iris finds happiness in her new life until a revelation from Louis’ past threatens to unravel everything for them. Headstrong and passionate, Iris is unaware of Silas’ increasing obsession.  He finds alarmingly more outlandish and frightening ways of getting closer to her, with the aim of making Iris his ultimate experiment and complete possession. Albie is aware that Silas’ obsession is growing, but is powerless to do anything as Silas seeks to control him too.

The sublime skill of Elizabeth’s writing is that with every character, every plot twist, you become more and more deeply involved with this story.  Her detailed and unflinching descriptions of London and the worlds the characters inhabit, only serves to add to the tension and growing sense of unease that permeates this novel.

It is a story of outsiders, those who do not fit in with the world around them, and are searching for a way to belong.  Silas, Iris, Rose, Louis and Albie are all at odds with the society they live in, and each struggles with knowing that they are on the outside looking in. For Silas, it is finding a companion and feeling seen. For Iris, it is going against what is expected and being true to what she really wants from life.  Rose’s facial deformities and lack of husband leave her facing a life alone, on the perimeters of her world. Louis’ style of painting, as well as his views on marriage means that he is at odds with the society that he inhabits. Albie is surviving on his wits and street knowledge, and is desperate to belong, to feel part of a family.

Although it might seem that Silas is the man who wishes to possess Iris, I thought it went far deeper than that in The Doll Factory.  Iris is Louis’ model, and he in my mind also owned her in a way too. She was totally reliant on him for her new life, and without his favour and dotage, Iris always runs the risk of being the latest in a line of women who are useful until they are no longer needed, and a new muse arrives.

The Doll Factory is a novel which raises many questions about love, obsession, the perception and treatment of women, and the notion of what possession truly means. It is a novel in which you can only lose yourself and be in awe at the evocative descriptions and incredible characters who move in and out of the novel, drawing you in and keeping you there until the very last page.

Elizabeth Macneal has written an absolutely astounding debut novel. I could not turn the pages fast enough, but at the same time wanted to savour every last chapter. The Doll Factory is a novel I will telling everyone they need to read, and I am not going to forget Iris, Louis and even Silas for a very long time.

I loved it.

Thank you so much to Camilla Elworthy for my review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Tiger by Polly Clark

img_3969

Polly Clark: Tiger

Published By: riverrun Books

Buy It: here

What The Blurb Says:

Set across two continents, Tiger is a sweeping story of survival and redeeming love that plunges the reader into one of the world’s last wildernesses with blistering authenticity.

Frieda is a primatologist, sensitive and solitary, until a violent attack shatters her ordered world. In her new role as a zookeeper, she confronts a very different ward: an injured wild tiger.

Deep in the Siberian taiga, Tomas, a Russian conservationist, fears that the natural order has toppled. The king tiger has been killed by poachers and a spectacular tigress now patrols his vast territory as her own.

In a winter of treacherous competition, the path of the tigress and her cub crosses with an Udeghe huntress and her daughter. Vengeance must follow, and the fates of both tigers and people are transformed.

Learning of her tiger’s past offers Frieda the chance of freedom. Faced with the savage forces of nature, she must trust to her instinct and, like the tiger, find a way to live in the world.

What I Say:

For those who know me, and for those who don’t, I absolutely adored Polly Clark’s first novel Larchfield.  To be given the opportunity to read and review her second novel, Tiger, was something I just didn’t want to miss.  I have to admit from the outset, when I heard it was about Tigers and central Siberia, I was sceptical.  I am not a fan of novels about animals, and wasn’t sure how I could relate to Siberian tigers or the terrain they inhabit.

What becomes clear from reading the novel is that although the tigers are absolutely at the heart and permeate every part of this epic and majestic story, it is also about humans, and how we want to feel part of the world around us.  To matter to someone, to have that bond with another human being is everything, and that sometimes we have to go far beyond our limits and experience to do so. It also unashamedly tackles issues of addiction, motherhood, love, loss and unresolved grief and is all the richer for doing so.

Tiger is about Frieda, a primatologist who is sacked from her job at the Institute for being caught using drugs, and is given a final chance as a zookeeper at Torbet Zoo in Cornwall. It is about Tomas, a Russian conservationist working with his father, who has given up everything to protect the tigers of Siberia.  We meet Edit and her daughter Zina, who has left her husband and her life in the Undeghe tribe to survive in a cabin in the wilds of Siberia.

All these people are linked by the tigers of Siberia, and have to reassess everything they know in order to survive. When Frieda is picked to observe the new tiger, Luna, at Torbet Zoo, she believes she is starting to form a bond with her. Frieda also has to deal with a fellow employee Gabriel, the son of the owner who resents Frieda for being asked to look after the new tiger, and is a mixture of bully and protector.  At the heart of it all, Luna is still a wild animal, trapped in a cage, whose instinct to attack when she smells blood means that Frieda ends up being a victim of the very animal she was attempting to help.

For Tomas, his compassion and understanding for the animals that surround his camp, means he is finely tuned to their needs and desires, but he has to face the fact that he is lonely and has rejected his chance of a family and a way to feel loved and needed.  He has prioritised his father and the tigers, and is drifting around the landscape, rootless and unsatisfied by his endless quest to ensure the tigers are safe.

Edit has tried to be the woman that her father and husband expect, she has struggled with her feelings for her husband, and come to realise she actually doesn’t love him and likes him even less.  Frustrated by the constraints others put upon her, and desperate to ensure her daughter doesn’t follow in her footsteps, she decides to leave the safety of her village and put herself at the mercy of the wild to learn to live and find herself again.

Polly has created a barren and starkly uncompromising landscape  – where you are never sure what is going to happen next, and you are absolutely aware the sense of isolation that the characters feel. It doesn’t matter what continent they live in, their loneliness is only magnified by the magical and poetic language that weaves its way through the pages and around them all. I always felt that the humans were at the mercy of the tigers.  The intelligence and survival instincts the humans have, mean that although they know the rules of the wild, and believe that they have the upper hand, in fact, as we discover, the tigers are the true rulers of Siberia, and the humans are subjects in their kingdom.

Tiger is a novel that moves stealthly along, that seamlessly moves between characters and continents, strong and sure like the animal itself.  Polly has achieved many things in this novel.  It is an education for someone like me who knew nothing of tigers and tigresses, or Siberia or even how a zoo works, and it gives the reader much food for thought as to our place and responsibilites to the world around us.  I have to say, that the overriding lesson I took away from my reading of Tiger, is that no matter how much we try to convince ourselves, every single one of us needs to feel a connection to both the natural world around us and to someone else to truly feel alive.

Thank you so much to Katya Ellis, Ana Sampson McLaughlin and Elizabeth Masters for asking me to be part of the Tiger Social Media blast in exchange for an honest review.

Why don’t you see what everyone else is saying about Tiger too…

The Flat Share by Beth O’Leary

img_3812

 

Beth O’Leary:  The Flatshare

Published By: Quercus Books

Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says: 

Tiffy and Leon share a flat

Tiffy and Leon share a bed

Tiffy and Leon have never met…

Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window…

What I Say

Tiffy Moore has just dumped an awful boyfriend called Justin.

Tiffy works at a publishing house and Leon is a Palliative care nurse.

Tiffy has a scatty client called Katherin, who is just about to hit the big time with her book about crocheting, and she needs Tiffy just as much as Tiffy needs her.

Tiffy decides to rent half of Leon Twomey’s bed.

Tiffy is at work when Leon isn’t and vice versa.

Tiffy starts to leave post it notes for Leon, little ones at first, longer ones as they start to communicate.

Leon starts to learn about Tiffy from the notes she leaves him, and Tiffy starts to learn about Leon, and they start to cook and look out for each other.

Leon has a brother called Ritchie who is in prison for an armed robbery he says he didn’t do, and is waiting for his uselesss lawyer to speed up his appeal.

Leon nurses a man called Mr Prior who was in love with a man during World War II and before he passes away, Leon wants him to be reunited with the love of his life.

Leon and Tiffy start to edge closer to each other, realising that they are attracted to each other.

Leon and Tiffy go to Brighton to find Mr Prior’s Mr White, Tiffy hurts her ankle and Leon and Tiffy spend the night together… but nothing happens.

Leon and Tiffy return back to their flat, and suddenly everything has changed between them.

Their Flatshare is no longer as uncomplicated as it should have been, as more things happen and other people get involved.

Leon and Tiffy realise that sometimes, you have to take chances and go beyond what you have accepted for so long, to understand you are worth so much more.

Leon has to try to open his heart and life up to the things he has tried to run away from, to finally find the happiness he deserves.

Tiffy has to realise that the man of her dreams is not the one who controls her every move, and that she has to believe in herself to really find the love she deserves.

Leon and Tiffy are relatable, flawed and fully formed characters who will come into your lives and are impossible to forget.

Leon and Tiffy share the novel with their unique voices and viewpoints, and the story moves along at a perfect pace, filled with normal friends like Mo, Gerty and Rachel.

The Flatshare is the novel we all need to read, especially now. It is a gorgeous, joyous, unapologetic, heartfelt book that is impossible to put down, and even harder to forget.

The Flatshare is a novel that restores your faith in people and in love.

The Flatshare shows that you can read a romantic, comedic novel that will turn all the cliches on its head, but at the same time it is whip-smart, genuinely funny, and made we wish I had a Leon in my life.

Beth O’ Leary has written a novel that I absolutely loved, cannot stop recommending, and was just what I needed to read.

Tiffy and Leon share a flat.

Tiffy and Leon share a bed.

Tiffy and Leon finally meet.

Tiffy and Leon’s story is The Flatshare.

I am so glad that I met them, and I think you will be too.