Saving Missy by Beth Morrey

c0b3950e-2f39-47f2-bec9-39a7f3c2ea00

Saving Missy by Beth Morrey

Published By Harper Collins

Available from all good Bookshops and Online from 6th February

What They Say.

Missy Carmichael’s life has become small.

Grieving for a family she has lost or lost touch with, she’s haunted by the echoes of her footsteps in her empty home; the sound of the radio in the dark; the tick-tick-tick of the watching clock.

Spiky and defensive, Missy knows that her loneliness is all her own fault. She deserves no more than this; not after what she’s done. But a chance encounter in the park with two very different women opens the door to something new.

Another life beckons for Missy, if only she can be brave enough to grasp the opportunity. But seventy-nine is too late for a second chance. Isn’t it?

What I Say.

“But I still felt it somewhere – that spark. The beginning of something. Or the end. Who knows?”

There is as always, a bit of a back story to my choosing Saving Missy to review (not a long one I promise!). Some of you will see me frequently talk about LoveReading on my Twitter and Instagram feeds, and wonder what they are. In the simplest terms, if you sign up to them, you get the chance to read and review the latest releases in return for posting a review. I should also say that this is not an ad for them, and that all they have done so far is to supply me with fabulous books! Anyway, the always fabulous Liz Robinson of LoveReading sent me a copy of Saving Missy last year, and of course I am not going to spoil the ending, but let me tell you, there were quite a few DMs exchanged between us as to how wonderful Saving Missy is.

Why? I am going to go out on a limb here, and tell you that Saving Missy is already going to be on My Most Selfish Reads of 2020 – because it’s that brilliant.

How to tell you about Saving Missy without saying too much is difficult, but this is what you need to know about the story. Missy Carmichael is a 79 year old woman, her husband Leo is no longer at home, and her children Alistair and Mel have grown up and moved out.

The thing is, Missy now rattles around a large house in Stoke Newington, and just exists in a constant state of following the same routines she always has, often not speaking to anyone from day to day. One day, on a trip to the park, she encounters Angela and Otis, a Mum and son who have come to watch the fish being moved out of the park’s pond. After Missy has a fall, and people rush around her to help, she fades into the background once again. Except she keeps meeting Angela and this time, Angela needs her help to look after a dog called Bobby that she has inherited.

Little by little, Missy finds herself in a situation where she has to start to let people in to her life, to understand that by making connections with the outside world she will start to live the life she really deserves. That may sound melodramatic, but to simply say that Saving Missy is a light hearted feel good novel does no service to the novel or to Beth Morrey.

Saving Missy is a novel that totally resonated with me on so many levels. The notion of Missy always as Leo’s wife, Ali and Mel’s Mum, means that her identity has been shaped by the needs and demands of those around her. Little by little, she has lost herself along the way, and all her hopes and dreams had to be put to one side as she focussed on helping her family thrive. I thought it was interesting to see how in her marriage, her intelligence and passion for learning had to be quashed in order to ensure that her husband is the head of the household. I know so many women who have done the same thing, and the level of frustration and invisibility they feel is more and more evident.

As Beth Morrey goes backwards and forwards in time so you can unravel Missy’s story, it helps to underline how frustrating and unheard so many women were. They had to make a choice, family or career, and those who chose the latter were seen as having made an unnatural choice. This device added an extra layer to the novel, as you were really able to see Missy completely, and how the choices she made and those she was pressured to make, made her the woman she is now.

I thought it was also really interesting to see how Missy’s house is always the ever present place at the heart of everything. First a place to be with her husband, then as a family home, and finally as almost a place where she can escape to when the world gets too much, but it’s also a claustrophobic and lonely place too sometimes. It is only by having the courage to step outside it, and to let people in that she can really start to live again.

In lesser hands, the character of Missy could have been a stereotypical lonely old lady, which would have grated and meant that I didn’t engage with the story at all. Beth Morrey is so adept at making Missy a real, relatable and interesting woman, that you can’t help but absolutely feel you need to see what happens. I loved Angela too, she is such a fabulously unapologetic character, who is doing the best she can, and I wish that authors would do this more often – we need to see people who are not Instaperfect mothers, and who are simply happy that their kids make it through each day!

As Missy gets more and more involved with the world around her, she starts to finally open up to them, and as a result, Missy becomes part of their world as much as they become part of hers. The story moves at a perfect pace, and to say too much would give it a way, but Beth writes so perfectly that the plot is seamless, and it’s simply one of those novels that you lose yourself in.

Saving Missy is quite simply a novel you need to read – especially in a world where at times everything at the moment seems so bleak. It is a perfectly pitched and executed novel about a woman who has almost given up on the world around her, but the kindness of the people who live so close by bring her back to life. It is a book that tackles huge issues such as illness, grief, loneliness, love and sexuality, but not for one moment do you feel like you are being preached to.

It is a glorious, kind, loving and special novel that will resonate with so many readers, and makes us think how the smallest actions we take, can have the biggest impact on those who feel they are invisible and unloved in the world around us.

I absolutely loved it – and I hope you do too.

Thank you as always to Liz Robinson and Charlotte Walker at LoveReadingUK for my gifted copy.

I’m Just Going to Leave This Here..

woman-computer-vintage.jpg (431×323)

I don’t know what it is about January – maybe it’s the fact that it seems to go on for 456 days, that Christmas seems a distant memory, or perhaps it’s because it’s a New Year, you think it’s time to just get everything out so you can start the year with a clean slate.

I hope you know me well enough by now to understand that part of my whole ethos is to be upfront with you all, and talk about things I think we are all experiencing or not understanding as part of the Blogging world – be it on Twitter or Instagram.

Over the past few weeks, well, actually, for quite a while now, there have been lots of conversations going on  – and I have taken part in them too, about how this whole book blogging world works.

Years of Reading has been running since 2017 (I know!), and I love every thing about it. I cannot tell you the joy it brings me to talk to all of you about books and reading, to discover books and authors that I would never have dreamed of picking up in a bookshop, and to share my love of books with you all every single day.

However, there are still a number of things I get asked about, and I don’t know the answer.  So, if you are feeling like this whole blogging malarkey is confusing, I am going to tell you a few things, hopefully so you can see that you are not on your own.

Some days, I have had enough of Book Blogging and I have to step away because it drives me mad.

Truly, there are days when I don’t want to read, I feel like a book reading machine, and I don’t get replies from people I have contacted. I have to put my phone down, and do something else because I need to remind myself that this is not a paid job.  I am doing it because I want to.

The best thing for me is to talk to someone who has no involvement with the Book Blogging world, and for them to tell me it doesn’t matter and they don’t get why you need to read a certain book.

I need to want to pick up a book, and sometimes I lose that and have to step away.

I get frustrated when I see people getting books I would have loved to review.

I think we can all admit this has happened to us.  It drives me crazy, and honestly, I used to try and comment on the tweet in the vain hope that someone would take pity on me and send it.  I mean, when you step back and look at that statement – that’s not healthy is it?

It’s really hard, but at the end of the day, how many books do we have sitting on our bookshelves, that we could pick up and review?

It’s so easy to get caught up in the hype of needing to have the latest books, and I am guilty of that, and I need to get better at accepting that I am not entitled to them, and new releases are not everything.

I can’t find the words to write my reviews and I think they all sound the same.

How many times can you say ‘I love this book and you need to read it’!  Now I have written quite a lot of blog posts, although I am happier with the format they are going to take, I still worry that they all sound the same and they are not doing the books the justice they deserve.

My Blog Posts do not get lots of views.

For a book review, if I get 50 views, I have done really well.  Posts about Bookish Things like this, tend to do a lot better.  Funnily enough, since I started doing video reviews on Twitter and Instagram, they do a lot better and I get many more views of those.  Why do I do them? Honestly, because I like communicating in different ways, and sometimes a video review is like chatting to you all, and I think it’s much more natural.

I have less than 250 followers on my Blog.

When I see people celebrating that they now have 1000 followers on their blog, I am mystified! How do they do this? Is there some site I should be posting my blog on to get more followers – why does it matter how many followers I have? What does it mean to have so many followers? Does it mean that my blog isn’t as good as theirs?

This used to really bother me, now it doesn’t, because I am amazed I’ve stuck at blogging for this long!  I went through phases of different hobbies for years, and this is the one I have stuck at!

I do not know how to make people visit my Blog.

I mean, I post everything on Twitter and Instagram, and Instagram stories, and retweet during the day, but I can’t MAKE people read my posts!

I know realise that as long I have done everything I have promised, and tagged everyone I said I would -it’s kind of out of my hands!

Why aren’t people retweeting my Blog Post tweets?

Is it because they follow too many people? Is the book I am talking about not one they are interested in? Do they not enjoy my Blog Posts?

This one really used to drive me mad. Especially when you have poured your heart and soul into it, tagged the author, publisher and publicist – and nothing. Not even a like, let alone a retweet. I now post at 10 am, retweet at 2pm and 6pm, and leave it at that. I know that I have written the best I can, so you have to learn to accept it and let it be!

It takes a HUGE amount of time to keep everything going across all your social media.

You honestly could spend all day, tweeting, retweeting, taking pictures of books, posting on Instagram, Instagram stories, Instagram TV, posting on your blog and don’t forget Facebook, Amazon and goodreads.

So pick what works for you and do what you can when you want. I don’t have Facebook or use goodreads, and I also have a husband, two boys, a dog and a whole lot of things I have to do during the day.

Just remember, that Bookish People are genuinely so grateful and appreciative for whatever you do, and that sharing your love of books is the most important thing always.

Also, I don’t know about you, but I’m doing all this because I absolutely love it, and am not getting paid any money. For that reason,  I do what I can, when I can. If it’s too much, stop, and do what you want – your blog and social media, your rules.

I still do not understand how proof mailings work.

Sometimes publicists (who by the way are genuinely, the kindest, and most supportive people you can ever encounter) ask if Bloggers would like a proof.  You ask, and you might get one, or you might be too late. That’s fine, and we all absolutely understand that.

What is a million times more difficult to understand is when you see a Blogger/Bookstagrammer with a proof that you would have sold your children for to read.  How is that mailing list created? Is it that the publicists look at follower numbers or engagement levels? Do they have a list of trusted bloggers that they use? How do I get on that list? Who do I ask to get on the list?

Why can’t I just relax and realise it doesn’t matter?

Honestly, because it is a HUGE fear of missing out. You know that you would have done everything you should have – taken a picture, thanked and tagged the appropriate people, featured it across all your social media, and reviewed it, again making sure your review is posted everywhere too.

Thanks to the alway fabulous Bookish Chat, she gave me the perspective I needed. We talked about it and realised it does really get under our skin, but also, it takes the pressure off, because we can get our own copy, and review it IF WE WANT TO!

Imagine if you pleaded for a proof, were lucky enough to get one, and then didn’t like it. How do you deal with that when faced with writing a review?

That’s one thing I would absolutely say. Before you request a proof – bearing in mind especially for the small presses that budget is a huge issue, do your research to decide whether you really want it.

If I read the blurb and it’s not for me, I don’t ask for it, or I politely decline it. My reasoning is that it’s not fair to take a copy if it’s going to sit on my shelf and I am not going to review it.  There is always someone who would love that book and give it the attention it deserves, and so for that reason, have the courage to say no thank you.

Learning to do that is one of the best things ever, and also stops you asking for everything, and means that you are being true to yourself as a blogger.

You can’t read and review all the books, life is too short to read books you don’t love, and I promise you, making that decision is one of the best things ever! I now go by the rule that if I wouldn’t pick it up in a bookshop, I don’t ask for it. Trust me, it really does work!

No one asked me to write this Blog Post, and I don’t know if anyone will read it. I just think that being honest about the realities of Book Blogging and this fabulous world we all choose to be part of is very important to me. You might not agree with what I say, or that you have twenty more things you think too. All I know is that I love books and reading with all my heart, that starting Years of Reading was the best decision I ever made, and part of that is being honest about all of it with all of you – always.

Love,

Clare xxx

Isabelle in the Afternoon by Douglas Kennedy

img_7877

Douglas Kennedy – Isabelle in the Afternoon

Published by Hutchinson Books on 9th January

Available from All Good Bookshops and Online

What They Say:

Before Isabelle I knew nothing of sex.
Before Isabelle I knew nothing of freedom.
Before Isabelle I knew nothing of life.

Paris in the early Seventies. Sam, an American student, meets a woman in a bookshop. Isabelle is enigmatic, beautiful, older and, unlike Sam, experienced in love’s many contradictions. Sam is instantly smitten – but wary of the wedding ring on her finger.

What begins as a regular arrangement in Isabelle’s tiny Parisian apartment transforms into a true affair of the heart, and one which lasts for decades to come.

Isabelle in the Afternoon is a novel that questions what we seek, what we find, what we settle for – and shows how love, when not lived day in, day out, can become the passion of a lifetime.

What I Say:

“Love when declared after a desperate misstep – it’s the hardest love to embrace”.

I think it is always important to be honest about the books I choose to review on Years of Reading. First of all, this is the first Douglas Kennedy novel I have read (don’t @ me!), and I wanted to read it because I thought the cover looked beautiful. I mean, that is not really the way a book blogger should choose their next novel is it?

Anyway, Isabelle at ed.pr contacted me to ask if I would like a copy, and I can tell you what is inside the novel is just as wonderful as the outside.

Isabelle in the Afternoon is a novel about love, expectation and societal expectations, and I could not put it down.

Sam is an American student who finds himself in Paris before he starts the next chapter of his life at Harvard University.  His mother has passed away, and his father is emotionally distant, who seems almost relieved at the fact that he won’t have to deal with his son over the summer. As Sam navigates Paris alone, he starts to tire of the endless days he has to fill, and finds himself at a Bookshop where he meets Isabelle.

The attraction is instant, and Sam seems slightly overwhelmed at the thought that this elegant woman could possibly find him of any interest.  What is so refreshing about this novel is that right from the start, it is Isabelle that sets the parameters of the relationship.

Isabelle tells Sam that they will only meet at her apartment in Paris between the hours of five and seven in the afternoon.  They will never be seen out in public, and this is all that Isabelle will give to Sam. If he cannot comply with the rules of their relationship, it is over.  The arrangement is complicated by the fact that Isabelle is married, and she will not leave her husband Charles. She is absolutely aware of what is expected of her in Parisian society, and that to veer from that in any way would be catastrophic to the reputation of her husband and herself.

Sam at first accepts this arrangement, and is in the thrall of his older and more experienced lover.  As he settles into the affair, and is seemingly happy with their relationship, he also realises he is falling in love with her, and naively cannot understand why she cannot be with him and leave her husband.  It is interesting to see how Isabelle is unwavering in the rules she has created for their affair, in spite of her passionate relationship with Sam, she refuses to give in to his increasingly desperate demands.

To say that Isabelle is an unfeeling and stoic character, incapable of compassion, would be misleading.  She is in a claustrophobic and cloying marriage, where she has to appear to be the collected and contented wife, in order to comply with what is expected of her in the world she inhabits. Isabelle is very aware that her husband is also far from faithful, and it emerges that both partners seem to be resigned to keeping the marriage intact. It  is only when she is with Sam, that she can be free to express her feelings, desire and sexuality.

Unfortunately, the summer has to come to an end, and Sam has to return to the United States, and Isabelle has to seamlessly move back into her role of wife.  What I loved about this novel, is the way in which the two central characters have to continue the route their lives are expected to follow, whilst at the same time they are suppressing what they really want and feel.

For Sam, he studies, becomes a successful laywer, and meets Rebecca, a woman who in love with him, but you always get the sense that Sam is not absolutely in love with her.  Rebecca, to everyone else is perfect for him, but as the reader you see that she will never emotionally fulfill him.  In Paris, Isabelle is a devoted wife and mother, but similarly, you feel that her heart is always with Sam in America. Both Sam and Isabelle attempt to forget about each other, by conforming to what they are supposed to do, but you know that their lives are only being half lived, and this is what makes their stories so absorbing.

They cannot break the bond, and as their lives go on, the connection between them is constantly tested but never fades.  Sam and Isabelle are characters you feel empathic towards, because they have faults and foibles.  They are not always likeable, in fact at times you feel increasingly frustrated with both of them. However, the skill that Douglas Kennedy has as a writer means that you really do engage with them and want to find out what happens.

The plot moves along at the perfect pace, I always felt that the story was natural and spent enough time engaging with both characters.  The whole premise of the novel, that these two people who are meant to be together, but can’t be, is absorbing and believable.  The novel also addresses many different themes sensitively and effectively, I found the portrayal of Sam’s son’s issues were realistic and affecting, and Rebecca’s mental health  was handled by Douglas in such a way that you really felt for what Rebecca was going through, and the effect that this has on her relationship with Sam and everyone around her.

The twist and turns of Sam and Isabelle’s relationship is played across the decades, and the notion that these two people so obviously in love with each other but cannot completely be together is a delicious one for me.  They spend time together in Paris and America over the years, but the reality is that they are always playing at being a couple, they cannot absolutely commit to each other. The lives of Isabelle and Sam play out, and neither of them can let go of the other, however hard they try.  Do they finally reconcile? You are just going to have to read it to find out.

Isabelle in the Afternoon is a thoughtful and passionate novel, epic in its scope and ambition, and it is a bold move to ask readers to engage with two characters for such a long period of time – especially when they are seemingly thwarted at every turn.  The reason it works so well for me, is that Douglas Kennedy has created a novel where you are absorbed by the characters, their world, and the choices they make.  They matter to you, and as you see how passionate and complete their relationship is, I really wanted Sam and Isabelle to have the life they both desperately wanted. That for me is the sign of an amazing novel, and the mark of a novelist who understands the importance of the reader connecting with their characters.

I loved it.

Thank you so much to Isabelle at ed.pr for my gifted copy, and I decided to write a review simply because I loved it so much! 

 

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

 

img_7916

Steph Cha – Your House Will Pay 

Published By Faber and Faber on 16th January

Available from all good Bookshops and Online

What They Say:

Grace Park and Shawn Mathews share a city – Los Angeles – but seemingly little else. Coming from different generations and very different communities, their paths wouldn’t normally cross at all. As Grace battles confusion over her elder sister’s estrangement from their Korean-immigrant parents, Shawn tries to help his cousin Ray readjust to city life after years spent in prison.

But something in their past links these two families. As the city around them threatens to erupt into violence, echoing the worst days of the early 1990s, the lives of Grace and Shawn are set to collide in ways which will change them all forever.

Beautifully written, and marked by its aching humanity as much as its growing sense of dread, Your House Will Pay is a powerful and urgent novel for today.

What I Say:

“Yet it came with a heightened awareness of all that had brought them here, the past clinging to them in thin, sticky layers”.

To try and review Your House Will Pay is a difficult task, not because of the novel itself, which is filled with the tension and pain that permeated 1990’s Los Angeles and its aftermath, but because it is impossible to adequately convey the passion and emotion that Steph Cha has poured into her work.  It examines hugely emotive issues such as race, violence, family and retribution, but does so in a way that never feels didactic.

On the surface, this story of two families in Los Angeles seems at the start to be disconnected.  Why are we learning about what Shawn Matthews and Grace Park are going through, what could possibly link these two seemingly incredibly disparate families? What happened in the 1990’s that could possibly bring them together? The timeline runs between 2019 and the 1990’s and by moving back and forth, we start to understand the realities for Korean and black families living in Los Angeles at that time. It was also an education for me, and I spent some time reading about what happened to try and appreciate more what life at that time was like.

Grace’s Korean family now run a pharmacy, and are apparently settled in their ways and lifestyle, while Shawn who comes from a black family have a chaotic and chequered past which has resulted in him and his cousin Ray spending a lot of time in prison, and his sister has passed away.

Although these two families seemingly have nothing in common, as a reader, you initially feel that slightly disorientated by the switch in focus and storyline.  The absolute skill that Steph has, is that she takes away any pre-conceptions or stereotypes you may expect, and brings the families down to the most basic level. They are simply people who are there for us to see with all their flaws and faults. The issues that the families are going through are set against the backdrop of a world where there are constant tensions between different cultures, and the Korean and black communities are at odds with each other.

In both worlds there is prejudice and inequality – there is a sense that the tensions that are always present in the everyday world are ready to explode at any moment, and you feel it in every page you read. You know that events of the 1990’s Los Angeles has had wide ranging and life changing effects for these families, but you don’t know what they were.  The ever present and all consuming city of Los Angeles is the one constant in this mesmerising and absorbing novel. As the narrative switches between Shawn and Grace, you not only feel that you are slowly starting to understand the very different families, but that there is a constant sense of something seismic about to happen.

Grace is an educated and intelligent woman, who lives at home with her parents, seemingly stuck between trying to please them and be a good daughter, whilst at the same time being aware that there is so much more to the world if she would only have the courage to embrace it.  Her sister Mariam, has been estranged from her parents for a while and lives with her elder boyfriend free from their expectations.

Shawn on the other hand, has become almost a surrogate father to his cousin’s children, and looks after Ray’s family as almost a penance for the life he lived before.  He had a troubled childhood as he attempted to fit in with a world of gangs and crime, and his loyalty to his friends and their beliefs meant that he ended up in prison.  Since his release, he has been determined to ensure he doesn’t make the same mistakes, and is trying to educate Ray’s children so they too can make the correct choices.

For me, what I really enjoyed about Your House Will Pay was the immersive way you are drawn into Grace and Shawn’s world. It addresses the realities of being a young person in a world where you don’t quite fit, and that others expectations mean the choices you make can have a huge impact on not only your world, but those who live in it with you too.  They are people you really believe in, and the way in which we follow their lives serves to underline not only the huge differences between them, but also how similar their beliefs and concerns are.

To try and review this novel is a complicated task, because it is so many things in one book.  When the devastating connection between the family is revealed, trust me, it is one of those jaw-dropping chapters you dream of as a reader! It is thrilling, unexpected and almost like a crime novel as you try and work out who could have done what and when.  However, for me, always at the heart of this book is the notion of family, of belonging.  The secrets they hide in order to protect others, the unspoken bonds that mean it comes before everything, and how your world can be turned upside down by the people you thought you knew the best.

From the moment where we find out how the two families are known to each other, it is a compelling novel that has you turning the pages trying to decide what possible resolution there could be.  I loved the balance between the 1990’s and the modern day, the fact that as a reader you are looking for clues, any little thing you can ascertain that will bring you closer to understanding what has happened and why.

The characterisations are always well rounded and serve to bring you closer to the novel because you really feel invested in what happens to all of them, irrespective of what they have done. There are so many touching familial scenes, acutely and perfectly observed, cut through with reality and humour, with nuances and in jokes that every family has.  This is also what helps to drive the story forward, as you really care what has happened and will happen to the Matthews and Parks.

Your House Will Pay is a timely and devastating novel, that works so well because Steph Cha has created a world where your connection to the characters and the plot mean you only want the best outcome for the Parks and Matthews family.  Who are we to judge the mistakes made by those closest to us when we are far from innocent ourselves? Surely, in times of crisis, the true notion of family and belonging is knowing that by forgiving and protecting those closest to us, we can truly be free. Your House Will Pay makes you stop and think, and want to understand why and what happened to these families. For me, that is truly a sign of a novel that has made a profound impact and changes and educates you as to your view of a world you naively thought you understood.

 

Many Thanks to Lauren Nicoll from Faber and Faber for a gifted copy of this book and for inviting me to take part in this Blog Tour in exchange for an honest review.

Have a look at what my fellow bloggers below are saying about Your House Will Pay..

your-house-blog-tour

Mr Nobody by Catherine Steadman

img_7830

 

Catherine Steadman: Mr Nobody

Published By: Simon and Schuster UK

Available online and from all good bookshops

What They Say:

When a man is found on a Norfolk beach, drifting in and out of consciousness, with no identification and unable to speak, interest in him is sparked immediately. From the hospital staff who find themselves inexplicably drawn to him; to international medical experts who are baffled by him; to the national press who call him Mr Nobody; everyone wants answers. Who is this man? And what happened to him?

Neuropsychiatrist Dr Emma Lewis is asked to assess the patient. This is her field of expertise, this is the chance she’s been waiting for and this case could make her name known across the world. But therein lies the danger. Emma left this same small town in Norfolk fourteen years ago and has taken great pains to cover all traces of her past since then.

But now something – or someone – is calling her back. And the more time she spends with her patient, the more alarmed she becomes.

Has she walked into danger?

What I Say:

When I read and reviewed Catherine’s previous novel, Something In the Water , I realised I had found that rare thing, an author who had written a novel where I could not guess one of the twists!

I love the fact that sometimes as a reader, you are as much in the dark as the protagonist, and that the discoveries they make along the way are just as fresh for you as for them. When I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Catherine’s latest novel Mr.Nobody from the wonderful LoveReading I have to admit I was a little concerned that it wouldn’t be able to live up to the brilliance of her first novel.

I think it’s even better.

A man, bruised, battered and absolutely bewildered is found wandering on a beach in Norfolk. He is unable to speak, has no memory of who he is or how he got there.  Added to this, he has no identification on him and no one has reported him missing. He is taken to a local hospital where no one is able to reach him, until the renowned Dr Emma Lewis is hand picked to work on his case.  Her curiosity is piqued as she has to go through various faceless bureaucratic hoops to gain access to Mr. Nobody, and none of her contacts will truly tell her what is happening, or why they are so evasive.

So far so straightforward. However, Emma was not always called Emma Lewis.  It transpires she has a very chequered past with the same small town in Norfolk, after a family tragedy (of course I am not going to tell you what that is – you need to read it!) which meant that she and her family had to move far away and assume new identities.

You can imagine the jaw dropping moment for Emma – and for us as a reader, When she meets Mr Nobody, he calls her by her previous name as soon as he sets eyes on her! He also knew very private information about the Nurse called Rhonda who he has formed a bond with, which he could not have possibly known. Already there is a huge sense of unease in the novel, a delicious sense of anticipation as to what is come, and for me, that is what elevates a story from readable to unmissable, and Mr. Nobody has that in spades.

As this case is so high profile, and potentially dangerous for Emma, she is given police protection.  One of the police officers assigned to the case is her old friend Chris who knew her when she lived here before, and recognises her immediately – he is now married to a story hungry and not particularly likeable journalist called Zara who will stop at nothing to get to the heart of Mr. Nobody, and will use anyone, even her husband to get to the story before everyone else.  As appalling as Zara’s ethics were, it was interesting to see how someone so driven was so willing to put the story above everything else.

Told in alternating viewpoints from The Man and Emma – this device works well and switches easily and also keeps us on our toes.  Mr. Nobody starts to remember things and flashes of memory come back, and we follow him as he attempts to try and piece together what is happening to him now, and what has brought him to this specific beach in Norfolk.

The brilliance of the novel is compounded by the fact that the style is pacy, the narrative believable, and it also brings up many issues of how we as a society cope with people who do not function in the way we do. We get a real sense of the frustration Mr Nobody feels and his bewilderment as to his mental state. Also the book is very frank in its treatment of people who are guilty by association and when Emma’s identity is revealed, we see the way in which the press move and how ruthless Zara is to be the first person with the story.

I also thought that it was interesting to see how both Emma and Mr. Nobody have to deal with the themes of identity and belonging.  Even though Emma grew up there, she no longer really belongs, and has had to create a whole new identity to survive.  Similarly, Mr. Nobody has no idea where he is from or where he has been, and he survives by trying to remember anything to give him that sense of place or time.  The brief flashes of recollection are peppered with a sense of fear and pain, as he cannot put them into any tangible order and this adds to his sense of dislocation even further.

As the novel hurtles towards its conclusion, Emma unravels Mr.Nobody’s true identity and reason for appearing on that particular beach at that particular time. It is an intricate and detailed plot, which means that you are fully engaged with it, but also that you turn the pages faster as you want to see who Mr. Nobody truly is! It was for me, one of those novels where it is so tightly plotted and executed that you absolutely understand every character’s motivation and actions – although you might not always like them, they are real and fallible, and that is what makes the story work so well.

In the hands of a lesser writer, Mr. Nobody could have been a novel that seemed too bizarre and ambitious to work effectively.  However, Catherine Steadman not only engaged me from the outset of the novel, but her clever and intelligent story had me absolutely hooked and the fact that I could not guess where the narrative was going next, only added to my enjoyment of it.

I loved it.

Thank you as always to LoveReadingUK and SimonSchusterUK for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

that Emma and Matthew are both having to deal with the notion of identity and belonging, of celebrity and loss.

I loved it.

Thank you as always to LoveReadingUK for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Post I Didn’t Want To Write – But Needed To.

I really struggled with this post.  Half of me was saying delete it, the other half was telling me to press the publish button, so as you can probably gather by the fact you are reading this, the publish desire was stronger than saying nothing.

This is not the year I should be writing this post, I never wanted to write this, but I guess that at least when I am gone too, there will be a tiny part of the internet that has my memories stamped on it.

Normally end of year posts like this are brilliant to write, if only for the fact that you can look back at your year, and think – I can’t believe I did that!

In terms of book blogging, I have to say that 2019 was undoubtedly the most amazing, fulfilling and fantastic year I could have wished for.  I met Antonia, who is the host of Booktime Brunch on Chiltern Voice and she very kindly asked me to be a guest on her programme. I have been on Booktime Brunch three times now, and honestly, being with Antonia is just like sitting with a good friend talking about books! She is one of the most kindest and genuine people I know, and am so pleased I plucked up the courage to reply to her tweet!

Antonia and I at Chiltern Voice Radio Station!

img_6357

 

Henley Literary Festival – plus a tote – what more could a Bookworm want?!

After plucking up the courage to approach them, I was lucky enough to live tweet at the Henley Literary Festival, which was a mixture of nerve wracking and brilliant.  Sara, Tom, Martha and Sam could not have been kinder, and really helped me all through an absolutely unforgettable day.

I met not only the authors (and could only mumble and blush “I loved your books so much” to them, who were all so lovely!), but also finally got a chance to meet Alison Barrow, Louise Swannell and Becca Mundy, who have been brilliantly supportive to me ever since I started Years of Reading!

It was a hectic, fantastic, memorable day and I loved every single minute.

img_6593

 

Tring Book Festival

img_6969

 

Fired up by my braveness – or the fact I thought why not, I also approached Alison and Ben at the Tring Book Festival to ask if I could live tweet for them too!  They were so kind and welcoming, and it was a book bloggers dream event!  I was gutted I couldn’t go to more, and I loved it. From the moment I got there, I felt part of the team and it was a fabulous day.

Ben went one stage further and let me help with the social media for the Festival which was a dream come true! Plus it gave me a real insight into how a Book Festival really works, and it was fantastic to be involved with the inaugural festival – I can’t wait to see what happens next year… watch this space… !

Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award Shadow Judge

shadow-judge-wob-2019

I have to admit that when I first got the email from Maddy asking if I would like to be a Shadow Panel Judge on the Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award, I thought it was an elaborate phishing email!

Fortunately it wasn’t, and I cannot tell you how amazing it was to be part of such a prestigious and fabulous prize.  Not only did I discover books that were unlike anything I had ever read, I also finally met some of my Bookish Friends in real life that I had only talked to online.  As well as Anne, David, Linda and Phoebe who were my fellow Shadow Judges, I also met Patrick, Clair, Eric, and Ova. We’ll skip over the part where I went up and hugged a woman before realising it wasn’t Phoebe – but to be fair they did look identical!

I needed to get all of that out of the way, not to brag or show off, but to kind of explain why I did these things.  Why 2019 was the year all these things happened.

Honestly, I could give you all some flannel about being nearly 50 and ‘finding myself’ and ‘making time for me’ but it is far simpler than that.

My Mum passed away in March, and I just thought, what is stopping me? What is the worse that could happen?

The last conversation we had before she passed away, she told me that she was proud of me and was glad I had found what made me happy. She said that her illness had made her realise that there were times she had wondered what if, and she didn’t ever want me to look back and think the same.

I realised I didn’t either.  I was always someone’s Mum, someone’s wife, someone’s daughter and I am not saying I don’t love that, but it is not enough.  I know some people love being at home and get great joy from what they do, and I absolutely admire and get it, but God, I was bored.

It was suddenly like a switch had been flipped, and I realised that first of all, people can only say no – which is why I never tweeted publicly, or wrote some teasing ‘You will never guess what I’m doing’ tweet, because quite frankly, I would have looked a right banana if it never came off!

As I thought about it, I reckoned that most of the people I would approach to ask were technically young enough to be my children, and I always treat people with respect at all times, suddenly, asking someone didn’t seem scary any more! Little by little, with each small success, be it a publicist very kindly agreeing to send me a proof, or someone sending me a thank you tweet for recommending a book, I realised I knew this was something I could do. Long conversations with my bookish best friend Amanda (Bookish Chat) who has been the best cheerleader a woman could wish for, were just what I needed to keep going.

Does this mean that my grieving has stopped and now all I care about is books? Absolutely not – Christmas has been an emotional, heartbreaking mixture of seeing the joy and happiness my kids have (when not trying to wind each other up), and filled with the searing pain of not being able to ring the one person I could share my Christmas with. I forgot to cancel a book I ordered for Mum and I cannot tell you how much it hurt when I held that book in my hands, but that I can’t bear to return it.

Grief is not something you deal with and put away, ready to move on after a length of time. It is an ever present sadness and catches you the most when you least expect it. The most pain can come from the most random thing – from seeing an advert for a telly programme I know Mum would love, to having to explain it all to people you haven’t seen for a long time, when they ask you how your parents are.

This was not what was supposed to happen to my Mum yet, I was not ready for this, I want her here with me and it hurts like hell.

I guess what I am trying to say to you all is this.  All I have ever done since starting Years Of Reading Selfishly is talk about books I love.  Along the way, I have not only realised that I am actually quite good at it, and I do know my bookish onions (thank you fabulous and wonderful Siobhain), but that Years Of Reading Selfishly is mine, and I can do whatever I want with it!

As we go into 2020, all I know for sure is that I will never stop talking about books, that I am grateful for every book I am sent, and I love what I am doing.  I am not going to worry what other people think, or not ask for something because I feel I haven’t earned the right. You know what, I have.

Thank you to every single fellow blogger, author, publicist, and bookish person who has helped make 2019 for Year of Reading so unforgettable – I can’t ever thank you all enough, and have finally found my perfect tribe!

This time next year, who knows? I could have had another wonderful Book Blogging year, or I might have decided that I am done and have stopped doing it all together.

At least I will be able to look back and say I loved every single crazy, full on minute of it, and that’s all that matters right now.  It’s just not fair my Mum isn’t here to see it too.

Lots of love,

Clare

xxx

Bone China by Laura Purcell

Laura Purcell: Bone China

Published By: Bloomsbury Raven

Available online and from all good bookshops

What They Say:

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.

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.

What I Say:

‘Can a woman control a house, a family, through something as brittle as porcelain?’

If you have learned anything about me in our time together, you will know that The Silent Companions is quite possibly my favourite novel. If you need to know why, you can read my review here. I also adored Laura’s next novel, The Corset – and of course I reviewed it!

What you also need to know about me, is that if everyone is raving about a novel at a particular time, I tend to put it to one side to read later. If there is a lot of hype, I need to step away and read the novel when I’m ready without everyone else’s opinions! With Bone China, I wanted to appreciate it when I was ready to read it without everyone else telling me what I should think because I wanted to make my own judgements.

I decided that I wanted to read Bone China before Christmas, and I’ll explain why on Twitter and Instagram very soon.

Well, what can I tell you?

Laura Purcell has written another novel that is so perfectly pitched, which draws you in from the first page and holds you in its thrall to the last. I loved the fact that her writing of landscapes, of lives, of a world which is so close to our own, yet so far from our understanding is one which you cannot help but sink in to from the first chapter.

This is the story of the Pinecroft family, who live in the family home called Morvoren in Cornwall. When Hester Why arrives to take up a post there, she is assigned to look after Miss Pinecroft, who is vulnerable and unable to speak, and sits in her room surrounded by piles and piles of blue and white bone china.

Hester is not an innocent woman who happens to find herself here, she has a past and former identity as Esther Stevens, and as a maid to Lady Rose. She has left behind her a trail of destruction and damage, and has picked up an addiction to gin and laudanum which makes her far from a paragon of virtue – but endeared her even more to me!

For me, the notion of a woman who is slightly disclocated from the world is a delicious and absorbing one. Hester finds herself in this world that is so far removed from the society she has come from, but at the same time, she brings with her the understanding and acceptance of how servants should behave. Her departure from Lady Rose’s employment was far from auspicious, but at the same time, she knows in order to survive, she has to fit in with what is expected of her.

Morvoren is a house creaking with secrets and unspoken understanding. We learn that Miss Pinecroft has a young charge called Rosewyn who is hidden away from the world, and although in her early twenties, is like a child and is fiercely protected by the ferocious Creeda. A woman who has been with the Pinecroft family for a very long time, and rules the house with a devotion that is bordering on the obsessive.

Added to this domineering woman at the head of the household, there are unexplained noises and lights when the household tries to go to sleep, and Miss Pinecroft’s refusal to communicate or move from the room filled with china. This is why Laura Purcell is such a brilliant writer, her talent is the teasing of the unknown, the suggestion of something that we want to discover, but at the same time unsettling us so we are reluctant to confront it.

The narrative switches between the time of Hester Why, and Miss Pinecroft’s story as an assistant to her Father, who is a Doctor on a mission. He has decided that he wants to find the cure for consumption, a disease that left him widowed and without two of his children. Louise is enlisted to help him tend to a group of convicts who are suffering from consumption, and her father has decided to bring them to the caves that are under Morvoren in an attempt to cure them.

In my opinion, this is where Bone China elevates itself above a traditional gothic novel. Louise has not been allowed to ever express herself, she has always had to follow her father’s wishes and help him in his quest to find a cure for consumption. What we see in these pages is an intelligent and inquisitive young woman who has no choice in her destiny other than to appease her father. Her sense of duty means that she has pushed all her feelings and emotions away functions only as a living reminder to her father of the wife he has lost.

As preparations are made for the arrival of the prisoners, a young woman called Creeda is sent to Morvoren to serve the family in exchange for medical help from Dr Pinecroft. As the reader, we soon realise that this mysterious woman who is so entrenched in the traditions and folklore of the Cornish people is the catalyst for a chain of events that will permeate the whole of the Pinecroft family and Morvoren forever.

The prisoners are treated by Dr Pinecroft and Louise, and as the days pass, unexplained things start to happen. Cupping glasses find their way from the treatment table back into boxes, marks appear on the men, and they are convinced that there are fairies trying to drag them away.

Could this be true? After all these men are seriously ill and could be hallucinating, but also they are criminals who could be lying as a means to escape. Added to this sense of confusion and tension, Louise finds herself attracted to one of the prisoners called Harry, and in this underground world unlike any other, she starts to discover who she really is as a woman with devastating consequences. The caves are filled with the sensation that the Pinecrofts and the prisoners have disturbed something no one can explain, and that all of them will have to pay the price.

In the present time, Hester is aware that even though she cannot be certain as a woman reliant on drugs and alcohol, something is very wrong in Morvoren. The way that Creeda exerts control over the household, fixated in her belief that the fairies are intent on their desire to take back with them any woman of child bearing age, disorientates Hester even further, as we are never quite sure what is real and what is the product of Hester’s drink and drug induced reality.

Laura Purcell’s measured and controlled writing means that Bone China is a novel that never falls into the unbelievable. It is not a tick the box clichéd gothic novel, but a sublimely disturbing piece of fiction that disorientates and delights with each chapter. Every character is flawed, hiding from a world they don’t fully understand, but that only serves to make them believable and relatable.

Bone China is an exquisite exploration of a world we cannot explain and do not want to face. As you race to the conclusion, you understand just like Hester, that sometimes the only way to confront your demons is to face them head on whatever the cost.

I loved it.

The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award – The Shadow Panel Winner.

shadow-judge-wob-2019-1

For the past three weeks, I have been reading and reviewing The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award Shortlist.  It’s been an incredible experience – to read books that have challenged me, frustrated me, and made me sometimes stop in my tracks and love the words inside them.

As you may or may not know, on Thursday 21st November, I met with Anne , David, Linda and Phoebe at a meeting chaired by Houman Barekat to discuss who we wanted to be the Shadow Panel Winner.  It was a lively discussion, and it was fantastic to finally meet the very people who I knew so well on Twitter and Instagram! I really found it intriguing to see what we all thought of the Shortlist, and at times how similar our views were, but believe me, there were a few instances where we were poles apart in our opinions!

Before I reveal who we chose as our winner, here is a recap of each of the shortlist for you.

kim-sherwood-twitter

Kim Sherwood was born in Camden in 1989 and lives in Bath. She studied Creative Writing at UEA and is now Senior Lecturer at the University of the West of England. Her pieces have appeared in MslexiaLighthouse, and Going Down Swinging. Kim began researching and writing Testament, her first novel, after her grandfather, the actor George Baker, passed away and her grandmother began to talk about her experiences as a Holocaust Survivor for the first time. It won the 2016 Bath Novel Award, was longlisted for the 2019 Desmond Elliot Prize and shortlisted for the 2019 Author’s Club Best First Novel Award.

Testament by Kim from riverrun which is an imprint of Quercus Books, was actually the first book from the Shortlist that I decided to read.

You can read my review here,

If you would like to buy a copy, you can of course buy one from all good bookshops, or online or from the riverrun website here.

 

yara-rodrigues-fowler-twitter

Yara Rodrigues Fowler is a British Brazilian novelist from South London. Her first novel, Stubborn Archivist, was published in 2019 in the UK and USA. It was called ’stunning’ by Olivia Laing, ‘visceral and elegant’ by Claire-Louise Bennett and ‘breathtakingly written’ by Nikesh Shukla. Yara was named one of The Observer’s nine ‘hottest-tipped’ debut novelists of 2019 and longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize. Yara is also a trustee of Latin American Women’s Aid, an organisation that runs the only two refuges in Europe for and by Latin American women. She’s writing her second novel now, for which she received the John C Lawrence Award from the Society of Authors towards research in Brazil.

Yara’s book, is published by fleet, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group. It was my next choice to read and review for the Shortlist, and here’s my review of Stubborn Archivist.

If you would like to buy a copy, you can do from all good bookshops, online, or from fleet directly here

julia-armfield-twitter

Julia Armfield lives and works in London. She is a fiction writer and occasional playwright with a Masters in Victorian Art and Literature from Royal Holloway University. Her work has been published in LighthouseAnalog MagazineNeon Magazine and The Stockholm Review. She was commended in the Moth Short Story Prize 2017, longlisted for the Deborah Rogers Prize 2018 and is the winner of The White Review Short Story Prize 2018.

Julia’s book of short stories Salt Slow, published by Picador was my third read for the Shortlist, and you can read my review here.

It is available to buy from all good bookshops, online, or from Picador directly here

raymond antrobus twitter816698769..jpg

Raymond Antrobus was born in Hackney to an English mother and Jamaican father. He is the recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, Complete Works III and Jerwood Compton Poetry. He is one of the world’s first recipients of an MA in Spoken Word Education from Goldsmiths, University of London. Raymond is a founding member of Chill Pill and Keats House Poets Forum. He has had multiple residencies in deaf and hearing schools around London, as we as Pupil Referral Units. In 2018 he was awarded the Geoffrey Dearmer Award by the Poetry Society (judged by Ocean Vuong). The Perseverance (Penned In The Margins, 2018), was a Poetry Book Society Choice, the winner of the Rathbones Folio Prize and the Ted Hughes Award, and was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize and Forward Prize for Best First Collection.

Raymond’s book of poetry, The Perseverance, is published  by Penned In The Margins and was my final read for the Shortlist.  You can read my review here.

It is available to buy from all good bookshops, online, or you can buy it directly from Penned In The Margins here.

There you have it, the four finalists and the four works we as Shadow Panel Judges had to read and review.

shortlist-2019-instagram

 

I am very proud and honoured to reveal, that The Sunday Times/University Of Warwick Young Writer Award Shadow Panel Winner Is…

Salt Slow by Julia Armfield from Picador Books!

Many Congratulations to Julia and Picador Books!

I am not ashamed to admit that I am absolutely thrilled with this decision.  I also have to tell you that once I finished this book, as I was writing my review I read some of the stories again, and it just confirmed what I already knew, that they are brilliant.

The panel was unanimous in their praise for Julia’s book, and it was really interesting to see not only how we all loved the same and we all loved different stories, but that we all saw something that spoke to us in them. For me, it was the amazing untapped power that the female protagonists have within them, and that their transformations and experiences show us that we all have the potential within us to achieve what we truly deserve.

I have slowly started to read short story collections recently, and Julia’s book has made me want to read even more.

It is a book I will absolutely recommend endlessly, and is one that undoubtedly can be re-read and treasured.

Trust me when I tell you that this was a really difficult decision, all the works on the shortlist are brilliant, unique works that I would urge you all to read. They are all very different, but the one thing they have in common is that they reveal the wealth of literary talent that is all around us, and that for me, the most important thing I can do as a reader, is challenge myself to read more widely, and take a chance on something completely different.

So, what do you think of the Shadow Panel decision?

The final decision now rests with The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award Judges – Andrew Holgate, Kate Clanchy, Victoria Hislop, Gonzalo C. Garcia and Nick Rennison.

The Winner will be announced on 5th December at the London Library, and I wish the judges and the shortlisted authors lots of luck – trust me, it is not an easy choice to make!

Follow #youngwriterawardshadow and @youngwriteryear on Twitter and Instagram to hear more about The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award Shortlist, and of course, to find out who the Overall Winner will be..

The full article about the Shadow Panel is here

You can also read the blogs of the other Shadow Panel Judges to see what they thought too..

Anne Cater at Random Things Through My Letterbox

David Harris at Blue Book Balloon

Linda Hill at Linda’s Book Bag

Phoebe Williams at The Brixton Bookworm

I will be letting you all know what I think about the Winner too, in my final blog post as part of the Shadow Panel (sob!)!

 

The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award Shortlist – The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus

Raymond Antrobus: The Perseverance

Published By: Penned In The Margins

Available to Buy From All Good Bookshops and Online

What They Say:

An extraordinary debut from a young British-Jamaican poet, The Perseverance is a book of loss, language and praise. One of the most crucial new voices to emerge from Britain, Raymond Antrobus explores the d/Deaf experience, the death of his father and the failure to communicate. Ranging across history, time zones and continents, The Perseverance operates in the in betweens of dual heritages, of form and expression emerging to show us what it means to exist, and to flourish.

What I Say:

I think the idea of reading this collection was something from the start of my experience as a Shadow Judge that I was slightly anxious about. I was aware that Raymond Antrobus had burst onto the British Poetry scene in a blaze of glory, but having to review his collection for the Sunday Times/ University of Warwick Young Writer Award was absolutely out of my comfort zone. The last time I read poetry critically was probably when I was in University over 25 years ago.

Right from the start, and the very first poem, Echo, you are aware as a reader that this is an intensely personal and autobiographical collection from Raymond Antrobus. He is deaf and as if that was not isolating enough, he is also the child of an English mother and a Jamaican father. Raymond Antrobus has always been at the edge of a society that seemingly continues to move all around him, not understanding either his needs or his heritage. How do you attempt to find your place in a world when you are not recognised by it at all?

The Perseverance is an unapologetic debut that not only recounts his own experiences as a deaf British-Jamaican poet, but also makes the reader (as I did) stop and look up the references to other people from history to understand the importance of their inclusion in the work. We learn about his fractured relationship with his father, the life of his family, and there are also poems which feature deaf people who have their own stories to tell. I thought that this was an eclectic mix which worked well – quite simply because it often disrupts the rhythm of the poems, and whereas in one I could understand and appreciate it, others made me stop and read about the subject and then apply that knowledge to my re-reading of them.

What I thought was very clear about the work, is that Raymond Antrobus wants us to listen to him. How can we possibly understand what it means to be deaf, when we are hearing? We cannot possibly know the reality of being deaf – we may be able to make sweeping generalisations, but it is the minutiae, the day to day things that we take for granted that we need someone to articulate for us, to help us truly understand what we need to do to foster inclusion as oppose to exclusion. The addition of sign language symbols, and the redaction of Ted Hughes’ poem ‘Deaf School’ which was filled with misconception and ignorance, immediately addressed by his poem After Reading ‘Deaf School’ by the Mississippi

In the poem Dear Hearing World, I felt it was really Antrobus’ manifesto, a way of detailing exactly what the hearing world need to understand in order for us to make any progress. It is raw, visceral and real, borne of a life lived and ignorances exposed. The writing is sublime, the imagery is authentic, and there is the absolute sense that our inability to fully appreciate what barriers we have created in our society, that there is a whole world of experience which has been denied a history.

He says:

“I mulled over long paragraphs because I didn’t know

what a natural break sounded like, you erased

what could have always been poetry

This for me is a theme that runs all through his collection. That you have standing in front of you a man who wants to be heard – not only for his own story, but for all of those other deaf people who have come before and after him. There is no one better qualified to educate others about the reality of being deaf than those who are.

In the title poem of the collection, The Perseverance is the pub where his father spends a lot of his time, with Raymond stood outside, waiting for him to return. Theirs is a difficult relationship – it seems that this is a pattern of behaviour that is usual in their lives, and interestingly, Antrobus is excluded from that world too. He is neither Jamaican nor British, not allowed inside the pub as he is a child, but cannot hear what is going on anyway. His own perseverance is deeper than simply waiting for his Dad to emerge and take him home. Even knowing that he is beaten by hs father, Antrobus seems to simply want to be acknowledged and loved by him. There is no doubt that Antrobus’ father loves him, and is fiercely defensive of his son, but their relationship is far from a traditional one, with his father open about his sexual conquests and his treatment of him is at times upsetting to read.

We learn that Antrobus’ father has dementia, and I thought it was incredibly poignant that the final poem in the collection Happy Birthday Moon, is about that most intimate and traditional idea, of a Dad reading his son a bedtime story. In that moment, where they are completely alone and just being with one another is the most real and exquisite recollection of what every child wants. To be heard.

“I’d like to be the Moon, the bear, even the rain

Dad makes the Moon say something new every night

and we hear each other, really hear each other,

As Dad reads aloud, I follow his finger across the page.”

Perhaps this is the point of The Perseverance. Antrobus has honestly and unapologetically showed us what his life is like. The passion and determination that permeates the poems in this collection is a way of standing in front of us and asking us to hear each other. Truly hear each other. It is at times, not an easy work to read, and honestly, at times I was frustrated with Antrobus for making me stop to find out what he was talking about. I felt it disrupted my experience as a reader, but it was balanced with moments where I was just blindsided by the most beautiful poetry that just mesemerised me .

The Perseverance is a poetry collection unlike anything I have ever read. In its pages it encompasses so many themes such as love, loss, grief and the unique life that Antrobus has lived. To read it is to be party to his world and his frustations, his realities and his relationships, and his desire to ensure that his history and those of deaf people is no longer sidelined by those who should know better.

Read it and learn from it, let it make you understand the way in which our society has not listened to those who don’t automatically fit in, and then like Antrobus tells us, understand that that we need to really hear each other.

Raymond Antrobus was born in Hackney to an English mother and Jamaican father. He is the recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, Complete Works III and Jerwood Compton Poetry. He is one of the world’s first recipients of an MA in Spoken Word Education from Goldsmiths, University of London. Raymond is a founding member of Chill Pill and Keats House Poets Forum. He has had multiple residencies in deaf and hearing schools around London, as we as Pupil Referral Units. In 2018 he was awarded the Geoffrey Dearmer Award by the Poetry Society (judged by Ocean Vuong). The Perseverance (Penned In The Margins, 2018), was a Poetry Book Society Choice, the winner of the Rathbones Folio Prize and the Ted Hughes Award, and was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize and Forward Prize for Best First Collection.

Follow #youngwriterawardshadow and @youngwriteryear on Twitter and Instagram to hear more about The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award Shortlist, the authors and what the Shadow Panel think too.

The Sunday Times/University Of Warwick Young Writer of The Year Award – 2019 Shortlist Revealed.

young-writer-award-logo-2019

I am hoping that you have all been excited as I have to find out which authors have been shortlisted for this year’s Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of The Year Award 2019!

It is an amazing and intriguing shortlist, featuring authors who will entertain and educate you, challenge your perceptions and preconceptions and draw you completely into their worlds.

Are you ready?

Sure?

Want to go and make a cup of coffee first?

Is the suspense killing you?

 

It is my privilege and honour to reveal the four shortlisted authors:

 

shortlist-2019-instagram

I am incredibly excited to read and review these books, and to discuss them with you and my fellow Shadow Judges.

So, the works are:

Testament by Kim Sherwood – Published By riverrun

The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus – Published By Penned In The Margins

Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues-Fowler – Published By Fleet/Little, Brown

Salt Slow by Julia Armfield – Published By Picador

Here is a little more about each book.

kim-sherwood-twitter

Testament by Kim Sherwood from riverrun tells the story of Eva and her relationship with her Grandfather.

She is making a film about his life, and when he passes away, Eva discovers a letter from The Jewish Museum in Berlin asking if they can use his testament of Holocaust experiences.  Eva realises her Grandfather Silk endured many things during the Holocaust, and in uncovering his unspoken history, she is forced to confront her own. By exploring the past, Eva will change the future of her family forever.

I haven’t read this one, and am so looking forward to losing myself in this novel. It ticks all my historical fiction boxes, and am always interested in learning about the lives of those whose unheard voices form such an important part of the world around us.

I will of course, be blogging about Testament and all the books on the Shortlist, and hope you join in the discussion too.

raymond-antrobus-twitter

The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus from Penned in the Margins, is a book of poetry which is also his debut work.

It is a collection of Raymond’s life experiences about language, history and identity, and also is a profoundly personal work which details the reality of being a deaf person and all the judgement that brings. The Perseverance is about Raymond’s relationship with his family, the importance of communication and the things that are not said as much as those that are.

I have to admit, that I was slightly nervous about the idea of reading and reviewing a collection of poetry, although I love reading it. Suffice to say, that I have started dipping in as I couldn’t wait, and I know it is going to be an awe inspiring book that will create lots of discussion.

I can already see the immense power that Raymond’s words have on the page and am ready to educate myself about a world I currently know nothing of.

 

yara-rodrigues-fowler-twitter

Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler from Fleet/Little, Brown is the only book on the Shortlist that I have prior knowlege of.

I was lucky enough to see Yara in conversation with Zeba Talkhani and Daniel Hahn at the Henley Literary Festival earlier this year.  The passion and emotion with which she spoke about her life experiences and the search for identity when you don’t apparently fit in to the culture you live in was intensely moving.

The Stubborn Archivist is a novel that uses other people’s perceptions and conversations to form a picture of the protagonist. At the same time she is attempting to find her own identity in a world trying to find a way to be seen, and she is also dealing with the knowledge her body has been traumatised. It is told in fragments and challenges the preconceptions we have about a traditional novel.

I know it is going to be a unique and thought provoking insight into the meaning of identity, culture, self and belonging.

julia-armfield-twitter

Salt Slow by Julia Armfield from Picador, is a new title to me.

It is a collection of short stories, which uses the body in all its forms as its inspiration. I am being completely honest when I tell you that short stories are not something that I would usually pick up, however, as part of being on the Shadow Panel, this is as much a chance for me to put aside my own preconceptions, and to challenge myself to read more widely.

I have to say that the whole premise of Julia’s book just make me wants to start reading it now! The notion that the everyday world is mixed with the mystical and gothic one is just the sort of genre I love – the sense of unease and tension is an interesting and unsettling one.

I will be sharing my thoughts with you on my blog and Twitter and Instagram, along with the rest of the Shadow Panel Judges.

Well, there we are! What do you think? Have you read any? Are you like me when I see a Shortlist and want to get hold of copies of them right away and follow it (I do it all the time!)

I am really excited to start reading all these titles – they may be outside my comfort zone, but that makes it even more interesting as a reader and Shadow Judge as I will be learning about myself and challenging my ideas about fiction and form. I have to say when I found out which books were on the Shortlist, it made me want to stop and read them all at once!

Over the coming weeks, I will be posting my reviews on my blog, and keeping you all updated as to how I am getting on. I would love to hear what you think, and don’t forget to see what Anne, David, Linda and Phoebe are saying too.

If you want to get involved, please do use #youngwriterawardshadow to chat to us, if there is anything you want to know, or even so you can read along with us all too!

You can also read more about the Award and the Shortlist in more detail here

I will be posting my very first review soon – now my only problem is deciding which one to start first..!

Lots of love,

Clare

xxxshadow-judge-wob-2019