Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich
My first read of 2018 was a bleak and disturbing novel by multi award winning author Louise Erdrich. Future Home of the living God is not an easy read and is a post-apocalyptic novel. A dystopian story set as the World as we know is coming to an end. Everything has changed and all living creatures will be affected by what is a massive biological shift.
Set in a future America were biological chaos reigns. Something has gone shocking wrong as the world in which we know is going backwards and women are giving birth to babies that are not of this time but a more primitive species of belonging to a time long ago and we are talking primitive here and that is not all that is going on. Strange animal that are prehistoric suddenly appear. I have to admit to really struggle at times while I was going through the opening chapters. This is a brave novel by one of America’s great writers.
I had the feeling of walking into an alternate universe but in the end I was really pleased I stuck with this powerful story. The main character is Cedar, a young native American woman, she is pregnant and looking forward to motherhood. But things are not going to go as Cedar hopes in a story of running and hiding and also a fight for freedom. Cedar are narrator takes us from her home in the secluded woods to various locations including an underground railroad that helps pregnant women escape the government that wants them confined to a tribe reservation.
Through our narrator we get a real sense of what is happening on the outside. If only we knew just how we got here in the first place may have helped the story at the very beginning. A missing piece of the novel that the reader will have to decide. One thing is happening more than 70% of pregnant women are dying during childbirth. No explanation is given as to why?
This is a story of loss and also grief. Future Home of the Living God was written by Louise Erdrich back in 2002 and as much as I am pleased that I stuck with this I think it could have helped by adding more detail as to why? I just kept asking myself this question. There are many characters that through Cedar we meet and through her we take this journey in a world that has changed forever.
There are times in our lives we have to make decisions no matter how difficult and the ending might not what we hope for. Not a happy tale and in any shape or form but that is exactly how Louise Erdrich designed this novel to be.
In a world were woman are fighting for their basic rights and a society that has changed and regressed this is more than just a novel but in our current times a significant novel.
Thank you Ella Bowman for the advanced review copy of Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich.
Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich is published by Corsair and was published on 4th January 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Just recently I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer Egan at BBC Radio 4 as part of Bookclub. The programme was about her Pulitzer Prize winning novel A Visit from the Goon Squad. Now Jennifer Egan returns with her first historical novel Manhattan Beach (Corsair) a beautifully written and constructed novel set with a backdrop of the Great Depression and then World War Two.
The story starts at around the time of the Great Depression and an Irish family and Anna Kerrigan is very close to her father Eddie, times are hard and now Anna accompanies her father and visits the local mobster Dexter. Fast forward and it is now the time of the Second World War and Anna is now 19-years-old and working as the only woman diver at the Brooklyn Naval Yard where she is assisting in the building of the Battleship Missouri. But there is more to this powerful novel than you think. Her father disappeared six years earlier and now Anna is just discovering what really lay behind her father’s sudden and unexplained disappearance all she recalls is her father leaving the apartment as he usually did that day but never to return. You can clearly see that is haunting Anna and she wants to know what happened to her beloved father.
For Anna realisation is that she now has to support her mother and her disabled sister Lydia, now her life is not as she planned or hoped for. Rarely visiting anyone or even venturing too far. She just wants to know what happened to her father. To get to the truth sometimes you have to carry out an act of desperation and later revulsion at what you have done in the hope of getting to the truth. She meets Dexter at a night club. He has no idea who she is. Anna will do anything for the truth.
Egan clearly has put in an enormous amount of time in research of this period of the 19th Century and it shows in what is an absorbing and compelling read and a handsomely constructed A novel that is not to be taken lightly, Egan has taken her time in writing Manhattan Beach and the quality of her writing is flawless. An outstanding read. Different it may be from A Visit from the Goon Squad but a success it is. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Thank you Corsair for the review copy of Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan.
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan is published by Corsair and was published on 3rd October 2017 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
Johannesburg by Fiona Melrose
The debut novel Midwinter by Fiona Melrose was so well received it was longlisted for the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for 2017 and was one of my books for 2016. It’s voice still to this day resonates with as it was so beautifully written. Fiona Melrose returns with her second novel Johannesburg and the cover alone (Neil Gower) is just breath-taking.
The premise for Johannesburg is that it is set just over one day, and that day being 6th December 2013 the story follows Gin Brandt who grew up in South Africa and became an artist and moved to New York. But this is a time for celebration as it is her mother’s 80th birthday and Gin returns home to the place of her birth to be with her family.
But also there is great sadness, the world will at the same time hear of the passing of Nelson Mandela at the age of 95. The world is about to mourn the loss of this great man. There is so much within this book to absorb and not just the storyline. The characters that make up this astonishing novel really make the story come alive. Whether it is the mother and daughter coming together and trying to understand the past as well as the present to the housekeeper and domestic servant a past love and there is also a homeless man who was badly injured while protesting on worker’s rights. It is all here. With each character they each in turn bring something to the story which brings it to life.
The more you read through this novel the more your mind may start to play a little trick with you. Many will have read Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Wolf. In Johannesburg, Fiona Melrose has paid the ultimate tribute to Mrs Dalloway. This is true homage to a classic story and Melrose throws her heart and soul into her second novel. Ambitious? Yes, without any doubt. The next question is does she pull it off? In my view this is an extraordinary novel that at times is just runs with emotion just like the city itself on that very day when hearts and minds all met a day of history. Fiona Melrose tells it straight as she tells us of a troubled and divided city, with all its inequalities and prejudices and the violence that haunts this city. There is so much to take in through the pages of Johannesburg and I am not giving any clues as to how the story proceeds. This is a book that will linger with you for some time after you have finishes reading. I am delighted to HIGHLY RECOMMEND Johannesburg and a book for your Summer reading.
Thank you to Helen Upton for the advanced review copy of Johannesburg
Johannesburg by Fiona Melrose was published by Corsair on 3rd August and is available through through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Alex Preston & Neil Gower
The year was 1972 and my love affair with birds and the natural world was born. I was only ten years-old but I was hooked. All these years later I still stand and watch as Goldfinches move from one thistle seed head to another. Like many others my first bird book the wonderful Observers Book of Birds which still to this day takes pride of place among the many natural history books. There is one more book to add to bookcase and that is As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Alex Preston and Neil Gower.
Alex Preston (Writer & Author)
Words are provided by the writer and author Alex Preston and the truly wonderful plates are from the internationally acclaimed graphic artist Neil Gower and are just wonderful. The whole ethos of this book is to celebrate birds and how authors down the years have used birds to grace the pages of their own books, interspersed with this what you could say is part memoir as Alex Preston recounts his love of birds and birdwatching. Each chapter celebrates one unique bird and with a plate by Neil Gower. We have authors, writers and poets that fill this wondrous book with writings and memories, when you read each chapter and the notes provided I can only imagine the research that must have gone into this book.
Neil Gower (Graphic Artist)
Poetry and birds seem to have gone hand in hand through since we started writing poetry may be that is why since my childhood days I have loved both birds and poetry writers down the years have written about birds and incorporated them. Birds have played a part in all our lives and each of us has our own memories. Then there are the great nature writers those that fill my bookcase and from time to time I sit and lose myself in some of the most outstanding writings. For Alex Preston his love of birdwatching had to be hidden away when he was fifteen due to his peers and he spent his time reading books on birds that kept his love of birdwatching alive so that all these years later he pours his heart out through his writing and those writers and authors and poets that brings our love of birds to pages. As Kingfishers Catch Fire is a book that celebrates birds in writing and poetry and personal memories. A book to love now and in the years to come. A celebration of our feathered friends whether that is the gardeners friend the Robin or the haunting sight ghostly sight of a Barn Owl hunting at dusk. This is a book to be loved and cherished and so beautifully illustrated. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Thank you to Grace Vincent for the advanced review copy of As Kingfishers Catch Fire.
As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Alex Preston and Neil Gower is published on 13th July by Corsair and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
Midwinter by Fiona Melrose
The Last Word Review
At this time of year, I am extremely fortunate to see a beautiful fox most mornings on the field close to my home sometimes at close quarters and in the astonishing debut novel Midwinter by Fiona Melrose there is a fox on the stunning cover and also plays a part within the storyline itself.
This is a story of a father and son both living in Suffolk and the land is the work for they are farmers. A story of Landyn Midwinter and his son Vale. At the very core of this novel is Cecilia wife and mother. Some years before she died in horrifically while they were all living in Zambia and both father and son have to come to terms with their loss and it has been simmering beneath the surface now for too long.
To say that times are hard is an understatement, this is their home, their livelihood even their very existence. The competition is from bigger ventures trying to squeeze them off the land. This is their birthright, their heritage. For Landryn and Vale they are struggling not just in keeping the farm going in difficult economic times but trying to keep their emotions under control sometimes bubbles to the surface and the pair clash harshly and often. For Landryn the land is his solace where he can retreat to and on the farm there is fox and this fox plays a key role as the father finds he is drawn to the vixen and there is a bond between the two.
Midwinter is an incredibly beautiful book and for me it was hypnotic as I was drawn to the poetic prose of Fiona Melrose. It is a story of a tragic loss in horrific circumstances and what follows when communication breaks down as can happen. At times this story may seem brutal as we feel helpless to act for father and son and also as Landryn faces economic ruin as bankruptcy stalks the farm as he tries desperately to save their heritage.
The way in which Melrose tells the story of both Landryn and Vale from both their perspectives and how they both deal with grief and pain as well as how they deal with each other is portrayed brilliantly you can almost smell the earth at the turn of every page and this is also the case with her descriptions of the land of Suffolk and Zambia, it is a story to hold onto in its refreshing honesty of life that is the human despair as we witness Vale resorting to finding the answers in drink. Of course the answers never are here they just manifest and get out of control.
Midwinter is a book I am delighted to recommend it is a book for dark winters evenings. It is a book to treasure and would be ideal one day to see this on the small screen. It really is that good. An incredible debut novel.
Fiona Melrose is already hard at work on her second novel and I for one look forward to seeing how she follows this.
Thank you to Corsair Books and Jo Unwin for the advanced review copy.
Midwinter by Fiona Melrose is published by Corsair and is now available in Hardback through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
Diary of an Oxygen Thief – Anonymous
The Last Word Review
Some may say that is it a good job that Diary of an Oxygen Thief was written by an Anonymous writer because who would dare put their name to this book. Personally I think this is a brutal but a frank and honest account. This is the book the world seems to have been talking about for some time and the views differ from one extreme to another. It was originally a self-published novel that sold over 14,000 copies in three weeks. It clearly found a niche.
This is a book that exudes raw open honesty which comes from a history of abuse in its purest form, mix this with neglect. People who are damaged in this way can and more often than not damage others. The opening line in this book “I liked hurting girls” that is one hell of a hook to catch the reader’s attention. This is not a book that many will enjoy, some will find this difficult to read and I can understand that.
The story is of Holden Caulfield Irishman travelling parts of America from London, and this is his story. He is an alcoholic and what’s more he is deeply prejudiced against women. He is in a relationship with Lolita but clearly he has had enough of Lolita now and it is time to move on to the next girl. This is openly raw at times but laced with incredible humour and wit. When we are hurt sometimes we hurt the nearest person to us and for Caulfield he finds the women in his life face the brunt of his hurt. ‘First he steals the oxygen from you, then spits it right back in your face’
We have all been hurt at some point in our lives and this story sometimes is a bit too close to the truth at times that for some will be difficult reading. “Hurt people hurt people” there is not getting away from it. At 151 pages this will be consumed in one sitting and this really is a deeply emotional read at times.
The books raw open honesty is like riding a roller-coaster with not seat belts to hold you in at times you will want to throw yourself out of the book and get angry with the writer. Its honesty cause many to question the book. I don’t think I have ever read a book like this before and may never again read another. Many will love the book and some will never want to see its cover again. Love it or hate it Diary of an Oxygen Thief is here and it will divide opinion and it is controversial of that there is no doubt. Read it for yourself and judge for yourself.
Thank you to Poppy Stimpson for the advanced review copy.
Diary of an Oxygen Thief by Anonymous is published by Corsair and is available through Waterstones and all good bookshops.