there are more things by Yara Rodrigues Fowler

there are more things

by Yara Rodrigues Fowler

Published by Fleet

Available at West End Lane and all Good Bookshops

What They Say

there are more things is a novel about two women – Melissa and Catarina.

Born to a well-known political family in Olinda, Brazil, Catarina grows up in the shadow of her dead aunt, Laura. Melissa, a South London native, is brought up by her mum and a crew of rebellious grandmothers.

In January 2016, Melissa and Catarina meet for the first time, and, as political turmoil unfolds across Brazil and the UK, their friendship takes flight. Their story takes us across continents and generations – from the election of Lula to the London riots to the darkest years of Brazil’s military dictatorship.

there are more things builds on the unique voice of Yara’s debut to create a sweeping novel about history, revolution and love. In it we see sisterhood and queerness, and, perhaps, glimpse a better way to live.

What I Say

I read Yara’s brilliant first novel The Stubborn Archivist when I was asked to be a Shadow Judge for the Sunday Times Young Writer Award in 2019. I’m not trying to show off by telling you, but if I hadn’t been part of that, I would never have read it, and would have missed out on discovering an incredible writer whose books are now both firmly on my list of all time favourite novels.

there are more things is the story of Melissa and Catarina, two young women who meet in London in 2016. Catarina has been raised in Brazil and her family are well known for their political views, while Melissa has been born and raised in South London. When they meet, their worlds collide and change in ways they could never have imagined, and it is their friendship and histories that form the basis of this intricately layered and unique novel.

While London has always been home to Melissa, who has had a vibrant and supportive upbringing, populated with aunties and her Mum, Catarina has made the move to London with her boyfriend Pedro, unsure of what the future holds for them and leaving a prominent political family behind.

When Catarina moves into Melissa’s flat, their lives intersect and each becomes undoubtedly a part of the other’s world. Yara uses this as an opportunity to move us backwards and forwards through the narrative, to learn not only about the womens lives and how they got to this point, but also of their histories and heritage. We see where they have come from and how Brazil has been shaped by the political events over the years. There is a whole narrative about the political events in Brazil in the 1970s and 1980s, which for me was initially daunting, but also made me sit and look things up, to read about a world I had no knowledge of, to understand how the events then shaped the world now. This novel is undoubtedly epic in its scale, but Yara’s writing makes the reader feel intimately part of it, that you are not being lectured to, but are instead being asked to read, to understand and to appreciate the experiences of a country that you know little of.

I loved the way that Yara uses the blank page so creatively to tell the story in so many different ways, that this is not line after line of text, but plays with our expectations as to what a novel should look like. Words meander across the pages, there are pages of dense text, of poetry, recipes, texts, pages where the only text is a a sound reported, pages of Portuguese and short sharp vignettes. Our histories and worlds are not neat and linear, they are peppered with half remembrances, solid facts, different stories and explanations and no one will tell the same story twice – and this is why there are more things is so vibrant and authentic.

This novel also perfectly articulates so many things about the realities of flat sharing (especially when the flats aren’t particularly great!), of going out, of needing your phone to be welded to your hand, of living for the weekend, and always having your friends around. I love the depiction that time of immense freedom in your 20s when you are not answerable to anyone, and can live and love as you want, with the energy and stamina I could only read about with envy. Melissa has this incredible vibrancy and drive, her commitment to make this world better for those in it, and when she and Catarina join a grass roots group who are determined to stop deportations, seeing how these women work together is something that was a learning experience for me.

there are more things is a brilliant and unapologetic novel about being who you are and not trying to fit in to the world around you. By having sections of the text in Portuguese, it really makes you stop and think, because we are so used to everything being accessible for us, expecting everyone to use English so we are included always. This device serves to exclude us momentarily from the narrative, as so many people have felt excluded from ours for so long. World and historical events happen around Melissa and Catarina as the story moves on, but they are not the focus of the plot – as for so many of us, they are incidental details, part of the backdrop as we try to carry on with our own lives, and this for me helped the novel feel truly realistic.

If I had to try and describe this novel to you, and tell you why you I think you should read it, I would tell you this. there are more things is a novel that encapsulates so much of the world we have lived in so perfectly, it is a novel that needs the reader to understand that they are not a bystander, but to really appreciate Yara’s writing, you need to be an active participant in the narratives that unfurl in front of you. Most importantly, I think it is a novel that acknowledges we are all searching for the same thing – trying to work out not only where we fit in, but who we are, and how we want to be seen and remembered, whilst ensuring our histories and heritages are acknowledged and not forgotten.

I absolutely loved it.

Thank you so much to Hayley Camis at Fleet for my gifted finished copy.

You can order your copies from West End Lane Books here.

One Day I Shall Astonish The World by Nina Stibbe

Published by Penguin Viking on April 21st 2022

Available from West End Lane Books

and all Good Bookshops

What They Say

Susan and Norma have been best friends for years, at first thrust together by force of circumstance (a job at The Pin Cushion, a haberdashery shop in 1990s Leicestershire) and then by force of character (neither being particularly inclined to make friends with anyone else). But now, thirty years later, faced with a husband seeking immortality and Norma out of reach on a wave of professional glory, Susan begins to wonder whether she has made the right choices about life, love, work, and, most importantly, friendship. 

Nina Stibbe’s new novel is the story of the wonderful and sometimes surprising path of friendship: from its conspiratorial beginnings, along its irritating wrong turns, to its final gratifying destination.

What I Say

Before I tell you about Nina’s novel, and what I think of it, I have a confession to make. I usually write my reviews by referring to the notes I have taken as I write it,

I didn’t write a single note about One Day I Shall Astonish The World because I was too absorbed, and didn’t want to put it down! I was sat outside on my patio on Easter Sunday (possibly with an Easter egg!) reading it, laughing out loud and reading numerous passages to Mr Years of Reading.

It’s a brilliantly funny, incisive and emotional novel that absolutely understands not only the complexities of female friendships, but also the realities of life for so many women that it’s impossible not to be genuinely moved by it.

Susan and Norma are lifelong friends, who first meet when Susan starts working in The Pin Cushion, the haberdashery shop that Norma’s family owns. Norma breezes into Susan’s life and wants to learn about literature from her so that she can apply for courses and leave her life at The Pin Cushion behind.

While Norma forges ahead with an academic career, Susan has stayed in Brankham, married Ray – the marketing manager of the local golf club and and has dropped out of her degree course to be a full time Mum to their daughter, Honey. Norma seems scornful of the life choices that Susan has made, and yet makes her own romantic choices based on the opportunities the men afford her. She marries her first husband, Hugo Pack-Allen, the man who has invested in The Pin Cushion, and Susan cannot understand what the attraction is. Unfortunately, after they Norma and Hugo are married, certain proclivities come to light that reveals Hugo to be someone who is not what Norma thought, and a twist of fate means that she finds herself alone a lot sooner than she thought.

As Norma sets on a path of carving out a career in academia for herself, Susan is feeling increasingly trapped at home. She is knows she is ever more isolated from Ray, and when they discover Ray has a daughter called Grace from a previous relationship, Susan starts to question exactly what she is getting from the life that seems to be whizzing past her without her making any mark in the world.

It’s also important to say that Norma and Susan’s relationship is an interesting one. They are in each other’s lives, but there always seems to be an ebb and flow in the relationship, and they seem to take a delight in the passive aggressive towards each other. Yet that is what made me love them even more. The fact that they quite frankly wind each other up and sometimes seem to take delight in the other woman’s misfortune is what adds another dimension for me. I loved the fact that their friendship wasn’t saccharine sweet and cosy confidences – because friendship isn’t always like that.

The turning point is when Susan decides to apply for a role at the local University – first in the Estates Office and eventually she ends up working for the Vice Chancellor. As someone who worked in a University, I can tell you that Nina has absolutely nailed what it is like to work in a place like that! On the one hand it is steeped in tradition with a dedicated group of people determined to ensure the University never changes, on the other is the outside ever changing world and the voices of those who know that in order to thrive, it has to understand the very students it needs to come through it’s doors.

Susan feels herself increasingly drawn towards the enigmatic VC and finds herself romantically imagining a life with him, Norma is suddenly again putting herself front and centre into Susan’s life. She decides she wants the VC for herself – while also keeping other relationships on the back burner just in case! Norma soon marries the VC and Susan wonders if she ever really had a friend in her at all.

As we follow both women through their lives from 1990 right up to the onset of the Covid-19 Pandemic, we see how their worlds weave in and out of each others, and how whether they like it or not, in the absence of other female friends, they have this really deep, but not always comfortable bond that always brings them back together.

One Day I Shall Astonish The World is an incredibly funny and touching novel about women, friendship and the lives we somehow find ourselves in. For me, one of the many brilliant things about Nina’s writing is that she has that perfect balance of humour and emotion. She intuitively understands her characters and it is testament to her writing that each and every one of them is unforgettable and relatable, and that is why you can’t put this book down.

If I had to tell you just one reason why I loved One Day I Shall Astonish The World, I would say that in a world which at the moment for me seems unsettling and confusing, this book brought me such utter joy, that to be able to lose myself completely in it was just what I needed until I really did have to put it down. That for me is the sign of a brilliant writer, and Nina Stibbe is undoubtedly that.

I absolutely loved it, and this is without doubt one of my favourite books of this year.

Thank you so much to Ella Harold and Penguin Viking for my gifted Proof copy.

You can buy your copy from West End Lane Books here.

Magpie by Elizabeth Day

Magpie by Elizabeth Day

Published by 4th Estate Books

Available from West End Lane Books,

All Good Bookshops and Online

What They Say

In Jake, Marisa has found everything she’s ever wanted. Then their new lodger Kate arrives.

Something about Kate isn’t right. Is it the way she looks at Marisa’s boyfriend? Sits too close on the sofa? Constantly asks about the baby they are trying for? Or is it all just in Marisa’s head?

After all, that’s what her Jake keeps telling her. And she trusts him – doesn’t she?

But Marisa knows something is wrong. That the woman sleeping in their house will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

Marisa just doesn’t know why.

How far will she go to find the answer – and how much is she willing to lose?

What I Say

I am going to start this review by telling you this will be a bit of a different post from me.

This is largely due to the fact that to tell you really anything too much about the plot of #Magpie would be to ruin it completely – I’m not even joking!

What I can tell you is that as a fan of Elizabeth Day’s writing, Magpie is a brilliantly observed and incredibly compelling novel about the way in which a woman’s worth is measured by her ability to have children and be a mother. It is also a sensitive and empathic depiction of a woman who has been raped and has spent her adult life searching for a way to love and feel loved again, as well as dealing with her complex and at times overwhelming mental issues.

When Marisa moves in with Jake, it seems like she has finally found the emotional stability she is looking for. A beautiful house from where she can write and illustrate her children’s books, and an attentive and understanding boyfriend is everything she has ever wanted. When the glamorous and confident Kate enters the mix and lives in the house too, Marisa starts to compare herself to Kate, and begins to suspect that Kate and Jake’s relationship is more involved that she wants to admit.

Little by little the housemates are starting to impact on each other’s lives, and the once peaceful and idyllic house rapidly becomes a place of unease and tension. Jake, Marisa and Kate may live under the same roof, but slowly each of them realises that they don’t really know each other as well as they may think. The sanctuary they believed they had is slowly slipping away from them. Kate and Marisa clash more and more, and each becomes convinced that the other is going out of their way to upset them – until it becomes clear that something catastrophic is going to happen.

This is the perfect thing about Magpie, because the revelation is one simple line, and with that, everything you thought you knew about Jake, Kate and Marisa is turned on its head. I guarantee it will stop you in your tracks, and you then find yourself flipping back in the book looking for clues. They are there – you just didn’t know because you were too busy becoming absorbed in Marisa, Kate and Jake’s lives.

Added to the mix is Jake’s mother Annabelle, a woman who is besotted with Jake, initially hesitant about Marisa and less than enamoured with Kate. Annabelle seems to have an opinion on everything and a disdain for those who do not agree with her. Whilst she lavishes Jake with love and attention, she remains emotionally distant from Marisa and dismissive of Kate with a plethora of passive aggressive put downs that ensure they know exactly who is Queen Bee.

Make no mistake, this is a novel that is absolutely about women and how our lives are scrutinised and categorised according to our maternal instincts and ability to bear children. We see the sheer physical and emotional toll that IVF and pregnancy can have on a woman, and that how being pregnant means that somehow your body and well-being becomes public property and up for discussion and comment. Magpie undoubtedly also shows us that a mother’s love for her child, and what she will do to protect them is one of the most powerful and passionate things can ever be experienced.

The absorbing narrative that moves backwards and forwards slowly pulls you towards the characters and lets you make your own conclusions about them as you start to discover more about their lives and experiences. Elizabeth’s measured prose and immersive descriptions of Marisa, Kate and Annabelle, mean that you cannot help but feel some connection to them because you understand them so completely. They are not perfect, but who is? If they were, they would not resonate with us as deeply as they do.

Magpie is one of those books that you desperately want people to read so that you can talk about what happens! It is so cleverly written, and sensitively handles many different issues which helps us as readers to understand others lived experiences and to only deepen our emotional connections to the characters. The Magpie of the title shifts its form throughout the novel, as you learn how it is always present, ready to pounce as soon as vulnerabilities are exposed, poised to take what it thinks is rightfully theirs – but be warned – it’s not always who you expect, which is exactly why this novel is so chillingly perfect and utterly captivating.

I absolutely and completely loved it.

Thank you so much to Liv Marsden at 4th Estate Books for my gifted proof copy.

You can buy your copy of Magpie from West End Lane Books here.