Normal People by Sally Rooney

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Normal People by Sally Rooney

I am delighted as part of the University of Swansea International Dylan Thomas Prize longlist 2019 to share my thoughts on Normal People (Faber & Faber) by Sally Rooney.

A little about Normal People by Sally Rooney:

Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. When they both earn places at Trinity College in Dublin, a connection that has grown between them lasts long into the following years.

This is an exquisite love story about how a person can change another person’s life – a simple yet profound realisation that unfolds beautifully over the course of the novel. It tells us how difficult it is to talk about how we feel and it tells us – blazingly – about cycles of domination, legitimacy and privilege. Alternating menace with overwhelming tenderness, Sally Rooney’s second novel breathes fiction with new life.

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My Review:

Normal People was THE most talked about novel of 2018 and is Sally Rooney’s second novel following Conversations with Friends which was showered with praise. This time around Sally Rooney has managed to surpass her debut novel. I cannot believe that I have managed to go this far without reading Normal People despite the many people urging me to read it. Once I started I really could not put this down. There is something rather special about Rooney’s writing and there is energy and something more the ease at how she writes. It is therefore no surprise when you consider the list of literary prize nominations that she has received for Normal People.

Some say beware of books that are lauded with praise and prizes but not in this case. For Sally Rooney has raised the bar to such a height that I am already excited to see how she manages to surpass her second brilliant novel.

Normal People by Sally Rooney book cover

Normal People is a compelling read. Set in a small town in Ireland and the two main characters in Marianne and Connell. Both are very different in personalities and background but they not only share the same school but also the same class.

Marianne is seen as a quiet loner somewhat different than the rest with her wealthy family she is somewhat left alone. Connell on the other hand is really popular among his peers his background could not be different as his mother is a single parent. It just took one moment and the spark was ignited and then we follow two different young people on their journey through the later school years and through their twenties.

There is at time passion and there is at times sheer intensity between the two young people as they go from school to University and then their first steps into the world of work.

When you read Rooney’s writing there is something so different yet sublime but there is something so unique that really attract the reader into the story. We find the two star-crossed young lovers bouncing from between the sheets to being friends and then back between the sheets again. Would this be because of their backgrounds and personalities? Is there a force that means that they were destined for each other as both Marianne and Connell seem to be inseparable?

So the couple mature from their school days to adulthood and the complexities of modern life and how they really begin to understand each other. A modern day love story and a testament of today. Brilliant and Outstanding and a book not to be missed.

The Shortlist will be announced on Tuesday 2nd April and I will be announcing this via my Twitter and Instagram feed during the morning.

#IDTP19 @dylanthomprize





288 Pages.

Thank you to Agnes Rowe for the review copy of Normal People by Sally Rooney

Normal People by Sally Rooney was published by Faber & Faber and was published on 30th August 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

Follow the 2019 Longlist for the Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize.


Rain: Four Walks in English Weather – Melissa Harrison


Rain: Four Walks in English Weather by Melissa Harrison


The Last Word Review


Melissa Harrison uses the quote from fell-walker Alfred Wainwright in the introduction “There is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing” which sets the tone for her latest book Rain: Four Walks in English Weather as she sets about in a refreshing and in a very British was describing our obsession with our favourite topic, the weather and especially Rain and the its vital role in our lives.

We live on an island and therefore we are dominated by the weather and everything it throws at us and through the opening pages of the book Harrison looks at devastation and deaths caused by the floods in the recent winter. We all know the power of rain fall even the author who lives in South London suffers when the rain falls thanks to a blocked guttering that dampens the walls of her home. The power of rain must never be underestimated. But there is more to rain and Harrison leaves her home and seeks out rain through four seasons in Wicken Fen (Winter), Shropshire (Spring), Darent Valley (Summer) and Dartmoor (Autumn).


Each chapter is a walk that is written so eloquently that it reads like a wonderful novel that is over all too quickly and at around 128 pages it really does end too soon as you read you it feels as though you are walking with Harrison so you may need to pack some wet weather clothing as there is rain. The historical notes that she brings into her writing are a joy to read as are the folklore that the seasons and time has forgot.

If the Oak’s before the ash

Then you’ll get only a splash.

If the ash is before the oak

Then you may expect a soak

There is a sense of poetry in the authors writing and that is a sign of a nature writer in tune of her surroundings and the way she talks about the birds the wild flowers and even Ants. There are childhood memories that intersperse within the writing that play with anyone who has childhood memories our family days walking in the English countryside and getting wet something we tend to expect with the vagaries of the English weather.

The whole ethos of this book is to help the reader look at rain more than just a talking point and helps us explore its life giving and the role is having on our countryside and farming practices.

As you reach the end of the book Harrison has added a 100 words as an appendix describing rain that many readers will enjoy as an example Dimpsey: Low cloud producing very fine rain (Devon). Plash: A downpour; plashy: wet, watery. As for Pissing down I think I will leave that one for the reader.

As a reviewer writing a book review about rain, what could be better as I write and look out of my study window, there has been thunder lightening, snow and now a thick blanket of hail has covered the ground. And this is the last few days of April. Springtime in England.

Rain: Four Walks in English Weather written by Melissa Harrison and published by Faber & Faber and is available through Waterstones and all good bookshops.

But You Did Not Come Back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens


But You Did Not Come Back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens


The Last Word Review

Critically acclaimed memoir of a Holocaust survivor. Utterly devastating first-hand account. A book that must be read

 Once in a while a book comes along that leaves you totally speechless and will make you think about your own existence.

But You Did Not Come Back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens is a book that has become an international best-seller and deserves to be read by everyone for here is a devastating first-hand account of surviving the Holocaust.

Marceline Loridan-Ivens was only 15 when she along with her father was arrested in their home in France and sent to Auschwitz. Only Marceline would survive.

Although only 112 pages in length this is an astonishing memoir of such incredible testimony that is so beautifully written yet will touch your inner most soul when you have read it. But You Did Not Come Back is a letter written as a letter from Marceline to her father both were separated within the camp her father was sent to Auschwitz and Marceline to Birkenau they were so very close in proximity yet they might have been separated by hundreds of miles because in the year she spent in the death camp she saw her father only briefly twice.


This is a deeply personal letter of love to the father she adored yet she has a story to tell and wants the world to share in this letter. She loved her father so much that one quote stands out in the book ‘I was happy to be deported with you’ he open letter is beautiful in its own way even poetic.

Her father managed to persuade an electrician to smuggle a short note to Marceline, although the letter was lost she has not forgot this note that at the time brought hope in a time of total despair when you never knew if it was going to survive the day.

But You Did Not Come Back is a letter of survival, even though she survived Birkenau the memories still remain and yet both her brother and sister took their own lives because of the death camps that haunted them affected so much yet they were never in Auschwitz. Marceline survived and was reunited with her mother and remaining family she could not relate her experiences with anyone and this makes for painful reading as she tries to come to terms that her much loved father was never to come home. Her mother unable to grasp her experiences wants Marceline to leave her memories to the past and move on in her life. Marceline is totally alone and has to deal with the memories in her own way her recollections of the year in Birkenau are startling especially when she comes face to face with Josef Mengele himself and the guilt she feels as a survivor.

But You Did Not Come Back is beautifully written and translated and is an important testimony of the horrors of the death camps that was Auschwitz and Birkenau. A story I for one will never forget.

Thank you to Faber & Faber for a review copy.

But You Did Not Come Back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens and is published by Faber and Faber and available from all good bookshops.

Anatomy of a Soldier by Harry Parker

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Anatomy of a Soldier by Harry Parker


The Last Word Review

Brutal yet compassionate book on modern warfare. One that will stay with the reader long after its finish

Writing about the brutality of modern warfare is no easy feat when trying to capture the reader. What Harry Parker has done with his debut novel Anatomy of a Solider is take this to the next level and see the brutality through 45 objects.

Harry Parker a veteran of tours in Iraq and Afghanistan writes about a fictional soldier Captain Tom Barnes serial number BA5799 who we find out very early is going to be seriously injured by an IED.

Writing about these forty-five objects that include the tourniquet, a bag of fertilizer, a beer glass, a drone, dog tags, a mobile phone, a kit bag, the IED itself a helmet, even a snowflake each item will narrate to the reader its part in the human suffering in warfare. Captain Tom Barnes loses both legs to the roadside IED (Improvised Explosive Device). It is a highly charged and brutal account of what takes place. It holds nothing back from the reader from the very start, uncompromising and dramatic in its detail.


With each object talking in the first person it is a brave first novel that only a skilful writer can pull so it is pleasing to see that Harry Parker successfully manages to turn this into a moving and captivating first novel when you realise it is a grim personal reality of a novel after Harry Parker while serving in Afghanistan was badly wounded losing both legs. In a recent interview he said ‘I stepped on a bomb’

From serving soldier to amputee is the true heart of this story and when one part of the story is told by a bed after Tom returns home from hospital and the sudden realisation of the sheer horror of what has happened hits home and Tom breaks down in tears is heart-breaking and is more autobiographical in its telling.

It would have been so easy to write an account of the sheer brutality of war but writing about the items that in essence surround takes on more uniquely if chilling aspect through each of the forty-five objects.

Many historical accounts of warfare are black and white in their approach but Harry Parker after taking a writing course funded by the army does not fall into this in any way and it is both brave and bold in its approach to life in the field and then staring total reality in the face on returning to the family home and facing rehabilitation and then facing the future. Anatomy of a Soldier is one man’s journey of survival and how it affects everyone around him.

My thanks to Kate McQuaid at Faber & Faber for a review copy.

Anatomy of a Soldier written by Harry Parker and publishes by Faber and Faber on 25 February and is available through all good bookshops.