It’s Here..! My Booktime Brunch with Antonia Honeywell on Chiltern Voice

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Thank you so much to Antonia for sending me a copy of the Booktime Brunch Show!

Feel free to have a listen, hear how much #Booklove (I know!), there was in this show, and let me know what you think!

To all the people I tagged in my previous post, have a listen to see what we said about you … (all lovely I promise..!).

Thank you for all the wonderful feedback already, and now you can hear the whole thing..

 

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did doing it, and let me know if you have any suggestions of books we should be talking about for our Autumn and Christmas Special.

Lots of love,

Clare

xxx

Booktime Brunch and sharing the Book Love..

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Yesterday, I was lucky enough to be a guest on Antonia Honeywell’s show #BooktimeBrunch on the Chiltern Voice Radio Station – we spent two fantastic hours chatting about all things blogger, bookish and Summer Reads.

I promised Antonia that I would write a blog post about my experience, but when I thought about telling you all about appearing on a radio station – let’s be honest- it ain’t going to go viral!

One thing that struck me, was that in just that two hours, what came to the fore in our discussions was the love we have for books and reading, and in turn, we talked about a LOT of people from all areas of the book world.

Antonia and I talked about bloggers, authors, publicists and people from the publishing world, all of whom share the same goal.  To make us talk about reading and books.

In the past few months, as a blogger probably right in the middle of things, I have been saddened by the negativity I have seen on social media.  There have been debates about how to write a blog, should you post negative reviews (Personally I don’t, thank u next!), tagging authors in negative reviews (Really?!), and whether bloggers are influenced by the pull of free books.

We are all united in the fact we love reading, and that we love books.  I am tired of negativity, and I don’t want to be part of it. We need to remember why we started doing what we do, and to have confidence in our opinions and also to treat people like we want to be treated. I read somewhere that you should only write a tweet with things you would be prepared to say to that person’s face, and I think that’s a fantastic attitude to have.

So, this post is a great big thank you to all these people who are fantastic at shouting about books, and supporting those of us who are trying to shout about them too!

Look them up, read what they do, follow them, read their blogs, and here’s to us all of us for sharing the book love!

The Books We Talked About

Something To Live for by @richardroper from @orionbooks – published 27 June

You Will Be Safe Here by @Damian_Barr from @BloomsburyBooks – out now

Leonard and Hungry Paul by @MumblinDeafRo from @Ofmooseandmen – out now

City of Girls by @GilbertLiz from @BloomsburyBooks

Confession with Blue Horses by @Sophiehardach from @HoZ_Books

This Brutal House by @niven_govinden from @dialoguebooks

The Heavens by @sannewman from @GrantaBooks

The Rapture by @ClaireMcGlasson from @FaberBooks

The First Time Lauren Pailing Died by @allyrudd_times from @HQstories

Riverflow by @AlisonLayland from @honno

In Her Wake by @MandaJJennings from @OrendaBooks

A Perfect Explanation by @ellieanstruther  from @salt

Dignity by @alysconran from @wnbooks

Worst Case Scenario by @FitzHelen from @OrendaBooks

 

Also, in case you didn’t know – and you really should, because she is far too modest to tell you,  Antonia has written The Ship which is published by @wnbooks  and she is on twitter as @antonia_writes

 

The Fabulous Book Loving Bloggers We Talked About

@BookishChat

Amanda is a truly brilliant blogger, who puts into words the posts I wish I could. She is  also so supportive of everyone around her, and posts the BEST Instagram stories which genuinely make me laugh out loud.

@thelitaddict_

Siobhain writes fantastic and thoughtful reviews, and if she is talking about a book, I know I am going to want to read it!

@corkyorky

Emma is one of those bloggers who writes effortlessly, and her posts always mean I end up adding more books to my Reading Pile..

@bookbound2019

Rachel writes blogs so well, and I often read them and wish I could have found those words! She is always spot on with her reviews and is pitch perfect in her blog posts.

@ShortBookScribe

Nicola has been such a kind and supportive blogger since the day I started. She is also a prolific blogger, whose love and passion for reading is plain for everyone to see.

@Sophie_Jo_Books

Sophie writes so eloquently and with such emotion and passion, her love of reading is infectious and she is always such a cheerleader for books and bloggers.

@SezzThomas

Sarah is not only a fabulous blogger, but she is also so kind and ready to help everyone else find their next read, that she is a pleasure to follow!

@annecater

Anne, and her Random Things Through My Letterbox Blog is an absolute gold standard for other Book Bloggers.

She is endlessly supportive of other Bloggers and it is wonderful to have her in our corner! Ann also writes Book Reviews for the Daily Express and is a powerhouse Blog Tour Organiser for authors & publishers.

@Frizbot

Naomi is a writer and interviewer, and her blog is a testament to the immense canon of writing by women.  A must read.

@EleanorFranzen

Eleanor not only works as a bookseller, but her lit crit blog is also a fantastic read and Antonia loves it and constantly recommends it, so you need to check it out!

@lonesomereader

Eric is a thoughtful and passionate blogger, who is so well known and respected in the blogging community. His reading always inspires me to try something different and step out of my comfort zone!

@Nicki_Mags

Nicki is a prolific reader who has been suggested by a number of people as one to follow, she loves to read a whole range of genres, and is an amazing advocate of reading and books!

The Amazingly Supportively Publishing People

Karen Sullivan is the founder of  @OrendaBooks  who is so supportive of her authors, but is also an amazing advocate of the blogging world. Her passion and enthusiasm shines through everything she does, and she was one of the first people in publishing who engaged with me and retweeted my review of @sarahstovell  and her novel Exqusite. Karen gave me the confidence to keep going.

Sam Missingham  – @samatlounge who is not only a major player in the Publishing Industry, but is also responsible for founding @lounge_books and constantly talking about books and authors.  Sam is an immense power in the publishing world who is tireless in her efforts to get people talking about books and publishing.

Virginia Woolstencroft  – @gigicroft  superstar, superhelpful publicist for W&N, Orion Spring, Seven Dials, Orion Fiction and Trapeze. Gigi’s love of books is evident in how approachable and supportive she is to bookbloggers, and she is a pleasure to talk to.

Janet Emson  – who has introduced me to Leonard And Hungry Paul, sent me a copy of Case Histories when I had lost mine, and is so kind and helpful in my search for new books – @JanetEmson

Rachel Wilkie  – @RLWilkie  from Bloomsbury Books has always been so friendly and approachable, and took a chance on me and my reviewing by sending me a copy of Damian’s book – I am really grateful to her for helping me out and supporting my blogging!

Thank you so much to Antonia for having me as a guest on her show #BooktimeBrunch on @ChilternVoice it was an absolute joy to be honest!  I am going to be going back in the Autumn and Christmas too, so if anyone wants to suggest some books Antonia and I should be talking about, please let me know!

This post is just the start of my mission to keep talking positively about books, reading and blogging and the people who love them too.

So, the only thing you need to answer is – are you ready to share the #Booklove too?

 

Over Forty Shouldn’t Mean Overlooked.

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My name is Clare, I am 48 years old, happily married, two kids, one bonkers Springer Spaniel, and I love to read.  I love reading literary fiction, novels written by women, about women, and have always gravitated towards female authors.

What does this have to do with anything?  Quite simply because sometimes, I would like to read a novel that has an older woman at the centre of it, who is someone I can read about and think – finally, a character who is not an amalgam of all the cliches of every seventies sitcom ever.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about my reading and blogging, and especially how women of my age are represented in fiction.

Here are some depictions of women my age that really get on my nerves.

I am going through the menopause, and although I have hot flushes and occasionally forget things, it also means that I am incapable of functioning and that I am reliant on my 13 year old to show me how to use technology.

I dress how I want, if it’s what I feel comfortable in then I don’t really give a monkeys what anyone else thinks – but apparently my wardrobe should only consist of beige, elasticated waists and comfy shoes.

I am extremely capable of many things, am not meek or mild, but apparently I should be dependent on my husband to mow the lawn or fix the leaky tap while I do the ironing and get flustered about cooking a roast dinner.

Wife, Mum, Daughter, Sister are titles for these women, but they don’t define me.  How I think and behave makes me who I am.

This morning I saw that @MsLisaMilton who is an executive publisher at @HQStories  along with @gransnet  are running a competition for all female writers over forty, where they are asking entrants to write a story which features a leading character over the age of forty.  If you fancy having a go, you can find the link here to enter.

Lisa then tweeted a link to this Guardian article, which talks about the realistic depiction of women over forty in fiction.  In it, Alison Flood talks about the research from HQ Stories and Gransnet which was compiled from a survey of women over forty (I completed it too).  The Survey looks at how women feel they are portrayed, and what their reality is.  Alison notes in her article how it is an important initiative and that there are already some older women characters out there.

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There are of course such characters, but do you know what, we need to start talking about this topic so much more widely now.

As an over 40’s blogger – and bloody proud of it since you ask, I know there are lots of women who really want to see those characters in fiction that we can relate to.

Don’t assume that because we are over 40 we are dead from the waist down, don’t assume that we are always caught in a never ending cycle of housework and shouting at teenagers, resentfully sorting out the laundry while everyone else around us is having lots of sex and are happy in their marriages. Don’t assume we all have a family around us to help with the logistics of childcare, or that we are spending our evenings sorting out our tupperware cupboards while our partners snooze on the sofa.

Over 40 does not mean the end of our lives, in my experience it has been the start of a whole new one.

I want to see older women in my fiction who are made stronger by their experience, who revel in their knowledge of the world and are happy and balanced, who don’t have to be validated by the labels that everyone around them has created.  I want to read about women who have the self-belief to do what they want simply because they can.  I want to read about women like me, and every other woman over 40 I know.

I believe that Book Bloggers are a really important part of any discussion like this.

We love to talk about books, and I know I am always looking for novels I want to read that have a main character that makes me want to turn the pages.  Along with publishers like HQ Stories, there are so many opportunities for this idea to become a reality. There is a huge resource sat only a keyboard away, a whole group of dedicated and enthusiastic Bloggers who would love to help shape the way that fiction is created and consumed, who will happily shout about these books and authors as widely as possible.

The discussion about how women over 40 are depicted in fiction has already started, I for one am going to seek out more novels that already do this, and try to redress this in my own small way. If you are reading this post, and you know of any novels I should be shouting about, tell me.

Together, publishers, readers and bloggers have an amazing opportunity, not only to change the way women are portrayed but to also talk about women over forty who are writing too.  There is an incredible group of women on all sides just waiting for this opportunity, and when we work together we can really make a difference in the world of fiction.

My name is Clare, I am a 48 year old reader and blogger, and I’m from this point on, I’m absolutely #ForTheWomenFromTheWomen

 

Something To Live For by Richard Roper

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Richard Roper: Something To Live For

Published By: Orion Books

Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says: 

All Andrew wants is to be normal.

He has the perfect wife and 2.4 children waiting at home for him after a long day. At least, that’s what he’s told people. The truth is, his life isn’t exactly as people think and his little white lie is about to catch up with him. Because in all Andrew’s efforts to fit in, he’s forgotten one important thing: how to really live.

And maybe, it’s about time for him to start…

 

What I Say:

You can see from the photo that is at the top of the blog post, that this is a proof that was carried everywhere with me.  I first started reading it at 9.32 on Saturday 25 May in the quiet carriage on the train (spookily very apt as you will discover!) to London Marylebone.  I am telling you this seemingly irrelevant fact as a way to apologise to anyone in that Quiet Carriage, because it made me laugh – loudly, and I didn’t even care I got tutted at – twice!

The thing is, Something To Live For is one of those books.  You know when you have read something so perfect, that when you meet someone else who has read it too, all you need to do is look at each other and say ‘I know’, with an acknowledgement that you are both now part of that club.  It is the book I needed to read at this point in my year, because it is a fabulous, life affirming novel that made me stop and think about how I interact with everyone and the world around me.

The hero of this story is Andrew.  He works for the Local Council and is tasked with finding if people who pass away alone have any relatives or friends who can be informed.  This means that Andrew has to go into houses that are left in the state when the person passed away.  Some are pristine, and some are not, but all of them contain the life and story of the person, and Andrew has to try and find any connections to others that they may have.

In cases where they don’t, Andrew takes it upon himself to attend their Council provided funerals to make sure that someone is there for them.  As far as his colleagues are concerned, every night Andrew goes home to his wife Diane, and his two children, and falls into the usual mundane domestic routines we all know and recognise. 

The thing is, there is no Diane and no children.

Andrew has invented them, using a complex set of spreadsheets and fabricated memories and anecdotes to make sure that he blends in seamlessly with everyone else around him.

Andrew’s actual home life is that of a man without a Mum and Dad, an estranged and erratic sister called Sally, a dismal flat where his only solace is his model trains (told you it was spooky!), and the online friends he has made in his model train forum.

One day, a new employee called Peggy starts working with Andrew, and a whole new world that Andrew could never have envisaged, opens out before him.  Peggy bursts into his world and Andrew starts to realise he is drawn to her and that maybe he is entitled to be happy. Except Peggy who is unhappily married, believes that Andrew is a happily married father of two. 

In an excruciating turn of events, Andrew’s boss Cameron decides the team building exercise should be a Come Dine With Me experience, with each employee hosting a dinner party at their house. How can Andrew possibly take part and risk his carefully constructed reality come crashing down around him. Should he risk telling his colleagues and more importantly Peggy the truth, and lose everything including her friendship, or say nothing?

This dilemma is intertwined with Peggy and Andrew on their own mission to find a lady simply known as ‘B’ who is in a picture found at the house of one of their clients called Alan Carter. They head off to Northumberland to attempt to trace her, and it is there that away from other people that their relationship changes for ever.

Richard’s writing is pitch perfect the whole way through. His innate skill in making Andrew a character you root for from the very first time you meet him, and the fact you feel every pain, disappointment and glimmer of joy that Andrew does, is testament to his talent as a novelist. It is also witty, clever and filled with passages of such poignant writing on love and loss that it made me stop and re-read them.

I am not ashamed to say that this novel made me cry several times, as Andrew relived his estrangement from his sister and mother, and the awful heartbreaking incident that stopped him living his life. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is simply a light hearted, fluffy novel, because it isn’t. It is a beautifully written story of one man slowly finding his way back to the world he has shut out, and a novel of love, hope and connection.

Something To Live For is a very special novel, that I will insist everyone makes time to read., It has a wonderful, likeable protagonist at the centre, and in a world where we are so reliant on connecting with people via screens, we learn that Andrew and people like him, simply need us to put down our phones and take a minute to look up and speak with the people we might otherwise never see.

I loved it.

Thank you so much to Gigi from Orion for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

Grief is the Thing With Reading

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At the start of 2019, after having a bit of a confidence knock and a reality check about being a blogger, I wrote a post all about how sometimes as a blogger you can lose your way a little bit, and that I was going to step back and think about what I was doing  – you can read that post here if you are interested.

The Bookish people on Twitter and Instagram could not have been kinder, or more supportive, and it was down to my Mum to eventually tell me to ‘For God’s Sake Clare,  just bloody pick up a book’!

At the same time, my Mum was fighting lung cancer, and as I have told you all before, our love of books was the very much needed attention diverting tactic from the realities of what was about to happen to our world.

When Mum passed away in March, yet again, the people I have met purely since I started shouting about books were the ones who surrounded me and kept me going.  Tweets were sent, DMs from people checking in on me (having your Mum pass away eleven days before Mother’s Day really sucks big time let me tell you), and stepping away from books and blogging seemed to be the right thing to do, to be respectful.

The thing is, when your Mum dies, no one really tells you what it’s really like.  The news spreads, sympathies are sent, and the funeral is planned, almost on a socially expected auto pilot.  My family came together and said goodbye to Mum,  but the next day, life started all over again, meals were made, Bertie was walked and housework needed doing.  You see everyone doing what they have always done, carrying on as usual, and you want to stop and say, but how can you do this? Don’t you know my Mum isn’t here any more.

Yet, this blog post is not me asking for your sympathy or your pity, it is a post that wants to tell you that in the midst of all this pain, there was one thing that genuinely saved me, and it was reading.

Simply the act of picking up a book and for an hour, half an hour, or even a snatched ten minutes while I was waiting for the oven to warm up was the very medicine I needed to stop me being consumed by grief.  Going to my parent’s house and bringing home the books I knew my Mum loved, to add them to my bookshelves somehow brought her closer. Nestling her books about forenscic science and pathology next to mine meant that she was always there  – they are not my choice of subject, but it was always a standing joke at the library we went to that while other Mums were scouring the fiction shelves, mine was ordering all the forensic science and memoirs of social workers and healthcare professionals she could get her hands on!

The books I read drew me in and helped me put one foot in front of the other – they were a way for me to connect with the world again.  If you know me at all, you know that the one thing that keeps me going is being able to talk about books and reading to all of you, and in the months afterwards, I slowly started to find the joy in reading again.

I read Dignity by Alys Conran, You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr, The Language of Birds by Jill Dawson, The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary, Saltwater by Jessica Andrews, Tiger by Polly Clark, The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal, The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins, The Rapture by Claire McGlasson, Crushed by Kate Hamer, My House is Falling Down by Mary Loudon, Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott, Something to Live For by Richard Roper, Lowborn by Kerry Hudson, The Heart Beats in Secret by Katie Munnik, Looker by Laura Sims and After The End by Clare Mackintosh.

Looking at that list now, I have amazed myself, that in the three months since Mum passed away I have managed to read this much. Each book has brought me something different, has pushed me out of my comfort zone or soothed me when I was stressed. The books I have chosen educated and fascinated me, absorbed me completely and above all, however fleetingly, slowly helped me carry on, putting one foot in front of the other, and brought me back to the wonderful world of reading and blogging, and the fantastic people who have been there for me every step of the way.

Grief is the thing with Reading, and as I approach the Summer without the other member of my Exclusive Book Club, I am more ready than ever to ‘just pick up a bloody book’.  Never lose the joy in simply picking up a book, remind yourself that books were here long before social media, and for me, the greatest tribute to my Mum is for me to just keep reading selfishly, because life really is too short to read books you don’t love.

 

After The End by Clare Mackintosh

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Clare Mackintosh: After The End

Published By: Sphere

Buy It: here

What The Blurb Says:

Max and Pip are the strongest couple you know. Only now they’re facing the most important decision of their lives – and they don’t agree.

As the consequences of an impossible choice threaten to devastate them both, nothing will ever be the same again.

What I Say:

As I sit writing my review, my husband is in the dining room as our dog sleeps in the hallway, and my thirteen year old is resentfully buried under a pile of biology homework in his bedroom. My seventeen year old son, is lost in a world of Thomas the Tank Engine and Paw Patrol on his laptop, happy to be home, anxious that tomorrow he has to help serve teas to the parents at his Sixth Form College.  He has a chromosome disorder, global development delay and moderate learning difficulties.  Our world has always been one of appointments and hospitals, battles and exhaustion, understanding that our life is not like everyone else’s, and that the things everyone else takes for granted are giant steps forward for us.

I am not telling you this for attention or pity, for you to tilt your head as if you understand, because unless you have lived it you really don’t.  This is why After The End, Clare’s most intensely personal and emotional novel is just so pitch perfect in every way.  Clare has lived it, breathed it and her family’s real life experience of life with a child with a critical illness is absolutely entrenched in every page of this novel, which makes it even more heartbreaking.

Pip and Max, are parents to Dylan, who is critically ill with a brain tumour. When they are asked to make a choice about what happens next by Leila, Dylan’s doctor, they both want what’s best for him, but unfortunately they have completely opposing views as to what that should be.

This novel is not only about what happens next and why, it is a story about what it means to be a parent, and how the love we have for our children can make us realise that the most heartbreaking decision is the most selfless one we can make. Pip and Max are bound together by their love for Dylan, but it is also the very thing that seeps into the cracks that are starting to form in their marriage, and takes them on a journey neither could have envisioned.  Pip is the parent who stays with Dylan while Max commutes between here and America, and what is pertinent about this is that she absolutely understands every single thing that she has to do for herself and Dylan.  While there is absolutely no doubt of the love Max has for his son, he does not understand the immense emotional and physical demands devoting yourself to your child brings.  This is something that also frustrates Pip as she attempts to simply get through each day with her own needs and desires pushed to the bottom of the list.

Pip and Max have to decide what to do next for Dylan, and from that point on, we see the outcome of the two decisions.  The novel moves between Pip and Max, and the realities of ‘After’ their choices.  This is where After The End becomes so much more than a simple linear narrative, with a neat conclusion.  As it weaves through the aftermath of their choices, we see how relationships break down and realign, it shows us the positivity and harm that social media can do, as assumptions are made, hashtags are created, and parents are vilified whatever they choose to do.  Clare has also astutely highlighted how the press represents men and women, mothers and fathers, with different ways of writing headlines according to whether the subject is male or female, and what cultural background they are from.  Lives are reduced to a quick soundbite and a fleeting appearance in an ever changing timeline of headlines, with the people behind the stories left to deal with the aftermath of press intrusion.

This is not however only Pip and Max’s story.  We also learn about Leila, the Doctor who has told them the choices they must make.  Far from being a peripheral figure who is nothing more than a plot device, Leila is a living and breathing part of the story.  Her relationship with the parents does not end the minute she walks out of the consulting room, she is constantly haunted by the realities of what she has confronted them with, and is unwittingly drawn into their battle by simply talking to someone who is not what they seem.  Clare shows us that in a situation like this, the ramifications of caring for and knowing a critically ill child impact far more people than just the parents.

When you write a novel that comes out of such a devastating and intense personal experience, it adds a new level of intensity and connection to the plot and the characters.  From this standpoint, you are able to inform and educate and tell people what life for parents of a seriously ill child is really like.  For me, some of the most powerful parts were not the major story points, it was the minutae of Pip and Max’s everyday life which were the most poignant- the worries about the best way to pay for the parking, the smells and sounds of the wards, and the endless hours when nothing changes but you can’t possibly be anywhere else apart from next to your child.

This novel is a very difficult one to review, firstly because I don’t want to give anything away, and I want you to read it, but secondly, because to try and tell you all about everything that is contained within its three hundred and seventy pages would never do it justice.  It is a novel of life, of loss, of grief and pain, but also at its heart is two people, two parents, Max and Pippa, who are living a life they never could have imagined and for which there is no convenient ‘How To’ manual. Like all of us, they simply try to do the best they can and love their son.

Clare Mackintosh has written an intensely personal and truly remarkable novel, which not only deals with the day to day realities of being parents to a very sick child, but also unflinchingly holds up a mirror to us all and asks – when you are faced with the most heartbreaking decision, what would you do for your child?

After The End is a novel which I will never forget and will recommend endlessly. It is a devastating and yet life affirming story of love and hope, of two people who are united in their wish to only do the best for their son, whatever it means for their future and marriage.

I loved it.

Thank you so much to LoveReadingUK for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

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.