The Body Lies by Jo Baker

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Jo Baker: The Body Lies

Published By: Doubleday Books

Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says:

When a young writer accepts a job at a university in the remote countryside, it’s meant to be a fresh start, away from the big city and the scene of a violent assault she’s desperate to forget. But when one of her students starts sending in chapters from his novel that blur the lines between fiction and reality, the professor recognises herself as the main character in his book – and he has written her a horrific fate.

Will she be able to stop life imitating art before it’s too late?

At once a breathless battle-of-wits and a disarming exploration of sexual politics, The Body Lies is an essential book for our times.

 

What I Say:

The Body Lies is a novel that presented me with a dilemma.  It is a wonderfully immersive and absorbing novel to read, but it is so difficult to review.  This is nothing to do with the novel itself, but more my response to it, and the fact that it makes you think about the very act of writing.

I am not someone who is talented enough to write a novel, so my blog is my creative outlet, and I happily type away, reviewing a book or musing on bookish things, writing how I want, when I want.  Jo Baker’s timely and crucially important novel in the era of #MeToo has opened up a new literary debate of how we present ourselves and others when we write anything that others may read.

The Body Lies is seemingly a straightforward story of an unnamed Narrator, who after being assaulted one evening, starts to fear being in this place which has brought her so much pain, and eventually makes the decision that she and her family need to move away.  She secures a job teaching a Creative Writing Course at a University in the countryside, and believes that this could be the fresh start they all need.

Unfortunately, Mark, her husband who is a teacher, decides that he cannot make this situation work and has to stay in the city and come up to see his wife and toddler son Sam when he can.

The narrative is interspersed with descriptions of an unnamed female body lying motionless outside, which leads us to wonder who it is, and why they are there.  The fact that it has no name adds not only a layer of mystery, but also almost adds a distance between us.  If we knew the body’s name, we would subconsciously start to make assumptions about her.  We would be able to work out an approximate age, a life story borne from our imagination and our preconceptions – but how can you do that when you don’t know what they are called.  This is why having an unnamed Narrator also works so well – we can’t make any assumptions about them, we as readers can only rely on the written word as it it is presented to us to make our own history for this character.

It is also interesting that the Narrator teaches a Creative Writing Course, where students are encouraged to write what they want, with the only limits being their imaginations.  The students that take part all bring their own ideas and histories to the course, but it is Nicholas who strives to continually disrupt the class.  He aggressively challenges the other students on what they have written and why they have chosen the words they have – especially in their depictions of women and their bodies.

The students bring their work to class, and as Nicholas’ work is read out, it is a very dark and disturbing story, which raises questions about how much is real, and how much is fiction.  Events take an even more unsettling turn, when the Narrator realises she is becoming the focus of his stories, and her private world is seeping into his public fiction.

Nicholas is an intoxicating figure, who charms and beguiles many of the people around him, and the Narrator finds herself drawn to this troubled young man.  As readers we can see that the professional boundaries are starting blur.  The Narrator is lonely, her husband is emotionally and geographically distant, and she is taking the tentative steps to re-integrating herself back into the world after the violent assault she suffered.

When she attends a party with her students at Nicholas’ house, she finally seems to be starting to relax and unwind.  Her rented cottage is nearby, and when Nicholas offers to walk her back, we are witness to a disturbing sexual assault which removes the line between student and lecturer, and puts her into a situation which will have devastating consequences for all involved.  The most unsettling part of it is that the Narrator believes the best way to react is to let it be over with, and tries to get back to her normal routine.

From this point on, the novel moves forward with the Narrator now part of Nicholas’ story.  This is why The Body Lies works so well.  We see different viewpoints of the same events – people have their own narratives, all with distinct voices and preconceptions of all the characters, and as the Reader, we move between them, trying to determine what we believe to be the truth.  When we see work from the other students in the class, the font is different, the styles are distinct, and the words chosen reflect the personality of the writer.

Jo Baker has written a relevant, intelligent and thought provoking novel, that turns the traditional concept of a linear plot and narrative on its head.  It is a perceptive and truthful story, about what it means to be a woman in fiction and in reality.  Irrespective of who you are and what you have achieved, assumptions will be made, and judgements passed.  The Body Lies makes us think about how much we take for granted when we read a work of fiction, and more importantly how we need to challenge the subconscious notions of what being a woman in today’s society means.

I loved it.

 

The Rapture by Claire McGlasson

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Claire McGlasson: The Rapture

Published By: Faber Books

Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says:

Dilys is a devoted member of The Panacea Society, populated almost entirely by virtuous single ladies.

When she strikes up a friendship with Grace, a new recruit, God finally seems to be smiling upon her. The friends become closer as they wait for the Lord to return to their very own Garden of Eden, and Dilys feels she has found the right path at last.

But Dilys is wary of their leader’s zealotry and suspicious of those who would seem to influence her for their own ends. As her feelings for Grace bud and bloom, the Society around her begins to crumble. Faith is supplanted by doubt as both women come to question what is true and fear what is real.

 

What I Say:

When I think of the word ‘cult’, I immediately think of an American organisation, loud, proud and overt in their operation and recruiting.  Not for one minute would I have imagined that there would be a society nestled in Bedford, hidden behind pristine walls with a beautiful garden that would strive in its mission to convince the world that the Daughter of God was residing behind them, ready to eventually take her rightful place.

That is the belief behind the Panacea Society, a group of predominantly women, who are seemingly quiet and unassuming, and are united behind Mabel Barltrop, wife of a Vicar and mother of four. Mabel has decided that she has been chosen by God to be his Daughter, and that she and the Society need to persuade the Bishops to visit their home so they can open together the infamous box which was sealed by the Prophetess Joanna Southcott who has placed items of great religious importance inside. Then they can prepare for the Second Coming where Mabel can finally fulfill her prophecy.

Mabel has now been reborn as Octavia, and with her devoted disciples, she now rules the Panacea Society, dispensing advice and stringent religious fervour as she sees fit. 

Dilys is the eyes and ears for the reader, we see the Panacea Society through her experiences and day to day existence.  It is not a life punctuated by fervour and passion, instead, the members of the Society seem to live an almost genteel life, united in their unquestioning following of Octavia, and their desire to be present when Joanna Southcott’s mysterious box is finally opened.

Dilys is a young and seemingly unquestioning recruit to the Society, but she starts to wonder what they are doing and why.  As well as the members within the walls of the house, they receive communication from believers who live all around the world, all looking for help and cures for ills from Octavia. She has a productive sideline of sending out pieces of linen that have been blessed by her, as well as a newsletter and healing water, all of which Octavia uses to occupy the increasingly questioning Dilys.

When Dilys meets a young woman called Grace, she is immediately drawn to her, and as they start to form a friendship, Grace decides to devote herself to the Panacea Society too. Due to her social position, Grace is unable to afford to contribute any money, so instead she works as a maid for them.

This is the catalyst for a chain of events which slowly pulls at the very seams of the Panacea Society.  We may believe that this group of individuals are leading a religious and innocent life, but Claire has skilfully and gently pulled us in to their world, whilst at the same time showing us that the very concerns and worries they believe they are immune from, are seeping into the cracks that are now starting to form.

As Dilys and Grace become closer, Dilys cannot hide from the fact she is attracted to Grace, and The Rapture of the title for Dilys is not a religious awakening, but a sexual one.  As she falls in love with Grace, she starts to look at her closeted world with new eyes, and realises that this claustrophobic world may not be all there is.

While Dilys is starting to unfurl from her shell, the rest of the Panacea Society is starting to shift and question the teachings and leader that they follow.  Emily, one of Octavia’s trusted followers, now claims she is possessed by a spirit which tells Octavia and the society what she must do next.  However, Dilys knows that Emily’s sudden channelling of spirits may have more to do with her desire to take over the Panacea Society as oppose to any religious fervour.

Little by little, the foundations of the Panacea Society are slowly crumbling, and they are unable to stop the outside world from creeping in. The seemingly omnipotent Octavia and her closest allies are not only hiding from the outside world, but are also keeping secrets from the rest of the Society.  Behind closed doors and in hushed whispers, allegiances are formed, secrets are shared, and a Mother and Daughter are aware of the fact that the origins of the society are borne out of a spell in a psychiatric institution that devastated their childhood and subsequent lives. When Grace becomes all too aware of what is really happening, she is ‘let go’. Dilys’ love for Grace leads her to finally find the strength to try and live her own life – outside of the Panacea Society at a cost she could not possibly have predicted.

Claire’s pitch and pace of the novel are perfect, as it starts seemingly so innocently and in fact, delighting in its mundanity.  However, as the novel progresses, there are little hints, verbal clues and Dilys’ deadpan observations about the Society that starts to add to the tension and sense that something is shifting and starting to unravel.  The Panacea Society is no longer their safe haven, ready for the Bishops to come and see the Daughter of God. It is a place where lies are told, secrets are shared, lives are destroyed, and vulnerable people are the playthings of the leaders.

The characters are all worthy of a novel in their own right, and Claire writes with such clarity and compassion about them all. However awful Emily might be, or when Octavia tries to implement new commandments as Dilys yearns to be her own woman, you understand that all these people want is to be part of something, to belong to a group which will define them and reveal to them their ordained purpose.

Claire McGlasson has written a novel which examines so many ideas and themes.  Obviously the overreaching one is one of religious devotion, of giving oneself without question to someone else whatever the cost, but it would be naive to only see that.  The Rapture is a story of love and power, of what happens when a daughter like Dilys devotes herself completely to assuaging her mother, until someone like Grace comes into her life to show Dilys what real love is.  It is a story of how Dilys strives so desperately to finally be free and live her life as she chooses, but that for a young unmarried woman after the First World War, freedom of life, love and choice is never ever their own.

The Rapture is not simply a novel about the disintegration of a Society, which is forced to confront its limitations and didactic nature of its leaders.  It is a finely tuned and thought provoking contemplation of how a group of people who unite to seek solace in a belief system, find themselves lost when the idyllic religious Paradise they were promised, slips uncontrollably from their grasp.

I loved it.

Thank you very much to Lauren Nicoll and Faber for asking me to be part of this Blog Tour in exchange for an honest review.

You can see what these other brilliant bloggers are saying about The Rapture by following them here.

Author Picture Of Claire McGlasson.

 

Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

 

Kelleigh Greenberg-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…!

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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?

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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)

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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) 

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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

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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

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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

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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.