In the Media, January 2017

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

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Image by Abigail Grey Swartz

Where is there to start other than with articles about the new American regime?

On the Women’s March:

On Melania:

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On American society under Trump:

On Trump:

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The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

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Personal essays/memoir:

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Feminism:

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Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music, Art, Fashion and Sport:

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The interviews/profiles:

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The regular columnists:

Book Lists for All Humans #3

BookListsforAllHumans

Today’s list comes in reaction to this list on Publishers Weekly: The 10 Funniest Books, only two of which are written but women and none by writers of colour. Note to us all: only  white men are funny.

Or not. I’m struggling a little with this one as funny isn’t my go-to so please add your suggestions, especially books by women of colour from beyond the UK and USA.

Animals – Emma Jane Unsworth
friends, booze, debauchery

What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day – Pearl Cleage
HIV, religion, love

Love, Nina – Nina Stibbe
nannying, working class nanny meets the literati

Is Everyone Hanging Out with Me? – Mindy Kaling
memoir

Crooked Heart – Lissa Evans
war, evacuees, survival

Mr Loverman – Bernadine Evaristo
homosexuality, London, family, Caribbean

The Table of Less Valued Knights – Marie Phillips
quests, feminism, sexuality

Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu – Yi Shun Lai
dating, mothers, following your dreams

Yes, Please – Amy Poehler
memoir, feminism

Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged – Ayisha Malik
hijabs, dating, writing

Links are to my reviews

Book Lists for All Humans #2

BookListsforAllHumans

I didn’t expect it to be so soon but here we are, courtesy of this list of Top 10 Books to Make You a Better Person in The Guardian. Four white men (sounding good so far, right?), three men of colour, three white women. Verdict = could do better (the pun wasn’t intended but I’ll take it).

There’s a problem with this list because I don’t know what making someone a ‘better’ person means. Who decides the criteria?

I’ve gone for books that made me think about the world differently (and avoided any I included in list #1 although they’re all relevant too); feel free to interpret it in your own way and leave your suggestions in the comments.

An Untamed State – Roxane Gay
Haiti, kidnapping, rape, privilege, poverty

The Country of Ice Cream Star – Sandra Newman
Dystopia, AAVE, disease, love, war, religion

Under the Udala Trees – Chinelo Okparanta
Love, religion, ‘cures’ for homosexuality, Nigeria, women

Just Call Me Superhero – Alina Bronsky (translated by Tim Mohr)
Disability, friendship, love, sexuality

Blonde Roots – Bernadine Evaristo
Counterfactual slave narrative, race reversal

The Repercussions – Catherine Hall
War photography, Afghanistan, love, women, history

Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged – Ayisha Malik
Hijab, dating, religion, family, writing

Tell No Tales – Eva Dolan
Far right, immigration, politics, crime, corruption

The Book of Memory – Petina Gappah
Race, class, albino, women in prison, perspective

The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney
Working class, feminism, religion, crime, coming of age

(Links to my reviews.)

 

Books of the Year, Part One: Pre-2015 Publications

Like last year, I’ve read a lot of books so I’ve decided to split my books of the year post into two – those published pre-2015 and those published in 2015 (UK dates where applicable). The latter will appear tomorrow, in the meantime, here’s my pick of the former. Clicking on the book cover will take you to my review.

The Country of Ice Cream Star – Sandra Newman

Not just a book of the year, this is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Set in the Nighted States sometime in the future and narrated by fifteen-year-old Ice Cream Star. White people are dead of a disease called WAKS. Black people die of something called Posies at eighteen/nineteen. Ice Cream Star’s brother, Driver, is dying and she sets out to find a cure. Written in a futuristic version of AAVE, the novel considers race, religion, politics, class, war and love and has one of the best heroines ever. Newman also gives good interview, you can read my interview with her here.


Prayers for the Stolen
– Jennifer
Clement

Ladydi Garcia Martínez was dressed as a boy until she was eleven, as were all the girls in her village. This was to prevent drug traffickers kidnapping them. But Ladydi’s friend, Paula, was taken and – astonishingly – returned. Clement illustrates the way poor, brown skinned women in an exposed state in Mexico are treated by men. Fathers are feckless; brothers are dangerous. An unknown man entering the area is to be feared. Houses are peppered with bullet holes. Ladydi’s narration lifts this from being utterly bleak and Clement’s plot twists, often buried in a mid-paragraph sentence, are brilliant.

 

The Gypsy Goddess – Meena Kandesamy

The story of the Kilvanmani massacre and events leading up to it in 1968. A small village in Tamil Nadu, where the farm labourers haven’t had a pay rise for ten years and any insubordination against the landlords results in beatings. When Communism arrives, the local workers stand strong but their strength results in a massacre in which 42 villagers, mostly women and children, are killed. This is also a book about how you might tell the story of a massacre and the problems you might incur. Intelligent, layered, funny metafiction blending facts and storytelling.

 

how to be both – Ali Smith 

how to be both either begins with George in the car with her recently deceased mother discussing a moral conundrum or it begins with a 550 year old painter returning (sort of) to see his painting in an art gallery and to tell us about his life. George’s section is about life after the death of her mother; Francescho’s is about his youth and becoming an artist. Smith considers what art is and what’s its value, as well as how to be two things at once – alive and dead, watched and watcher, male and female. One of the joys of reading the novel is spotting the connections between the two sections.

 

Every Kiss a War – Leesa Cross-Smith

A collection about our battle with love: to find it, to keep it, to get over it once it’s gone. Teenagers deal with abortions, parental arguments and first loves:your heart beating like two quick tick-tocking clocks, like two fists with their muffled punching. Adults negotiate beginnings, endings and whether to stay or go: And staying in love is like trying to catch a light. To hold it in my hand. Even when it looks like I have it, I don’t. Ranging from flash fiction to interlinked stories, this is a confident, beautifully written collection.

 

 

Geek Love – Katherine Dunn 

The story of the Binewski family. Crystal Lil and Aloysius Binewski created their own freaks, experimenting with ‘illicit and prescription drugs, insecticides, and eventually radioisotopes’.Five children survived: Arturo, known as Aqua Boy; Electra and Iphigenia, conjoined twins; Olympia, a hunchback, albino dwarf, and Fortunato, known as Chick, who appears to be ‘normal’ but is revealed to have telekinetic powers. Competition is fierce between them. The sub-plot, set in the future tells of Olympia and her daughter, Miranda, pursued by heiress, Mary Lick, who pays for women to be operated on so they’re less attractive/less likely to be exploited by men. A cult classic.

I Love Dick – Chris Kraus

My review of this was bumped to January 2016 due to #diversedecember but I love this book. Chris Kraus and her husband, Sylvère Lottringer, have dinner with Dick, a cultural critic and acquaintance of Sylvère’s.  Chris falls for Dick and begins writing letters to him. The love is largely unrequited but she explores her feelings for him through the letters. The second half of the book, in particular, becomes much more than that, it’s filled with critical essays on art and theorists and explores the role of women in culture and life. A book you need to read with a pencil in hand. Should be described as ‘a classic’, rather than ‘a feminist classic’.

Quicksand and Passing – Nella Larsen 

Two novellas packaged together. In Quicksand Helga Crane searches for happiness. It’s always fleeting and she moves on until she finds herself trapped. Passing, the stronger of the two stories, focuses on a rekindled friendship between Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry. Clare is passing as white to the extent that not even her racist husband knows she’s black. The tension comes from knowing she’s bound to be exposed but also the devastating consequences her reappearance has on Irene’s life too.

 

Blonde Roots – Bernadine Evaristo

A counterfactual slave narrative in which black people rule the world and whites are slaves. Divided into three sections, the first and third focus on Omorenomwara/Doris Scagglethorpe and her attempt to escape Chief Kaga Konata Katamba (KKK) and return to her family. The middle of the novel is the chief’s story of his involvement in the slave trade. His pronouncements about the inferiority of the Caucasoinid are supported by anthropology, ideas of savagery and a mission to save souls. Very funny in a horrifying sense. The reversal highlights the ludicrousness of the slide trade as well as reminding us of the barbarity of it.

How to Be a Heroine – Samantha
Ellis 

On a visit to Top Withins, the house that inspired Wuthering Heights, Ellis has a revelation: My whole life, I’d been trying to be Cathy, when I should have been trying to be Jane. It leads her to revisit heroines from her formative years and consider others she didn’t read at the time. Part-memoir, part-literary criticism, fearlessly feminist, this will add to your TBR books you want to read and books you want to revisit. Part of the joy of this book is the space Ellis leaves for you to discuss and argue with her. I didn’t always agree with her points (#TeamCathy) but I was always engaged.

 

 

Mân – Kim Thúy (translated by Sheila Fischman)

Mãn is raised by her third mother after the first dies and the second retreats from the world. Maman takes her to a big city and passes on the things her mother has taught her. Maman finds Mãn a husband and moves to Montreal to live with him, helping to run his restaurant. As it becomes more and more successful, Mãn travels to Paris where the cookbook she’s co-written has also been a success. There she meets another restaurant owner and falls in love. Told in first person narrated vignettes, this is a beautifully written and emotionally engaging book.

Blonde Roots – Bernadine Evaristo

Omorenomwara, or Doris Scagglethorpe to her family, is the first person narrator of Blonde Roots and a domestic slave of Chief Kaga Konata Katamba.

He made his fortune in the import-export game, the notorious transatlantic slave run, before settling down to life in polite society as an absentee sugar baron, part-time husband, freelance father, retired decent human being and, it goes without saying, sacked soul.

My boss is also a full-time anti-abolitionist, publishing his pro-slavery rants in his mouthpiece The Flame – a pamphlet distributed far and wide – as a freebie.

Doris was taken from the fields owned by Lord Percival Montague, which her family farmed. The rumours were that the slave raiders and the aristocrats were in league with each other, trading slaves for guns. Once captured, slaves were transported to the United Kingdom of Great Ambossa, part of the continent of Aphrika.

Doris/Omorenomwara is tattooed with the initials of her first mistress – Panyin Ige Ghika (P.I.G.) and her current master (K.K.K.), under whom she’s risen to the heady heights of his personal secretary. She has a job for life, working 24 hours a day for no money and beatings for ‘insolence tardiness or absences’.

It was pretty standard for a domestic slave, and I have to say Bwana had no cause for complaint with me.

I was the perfect house wigger.

When we meet Doris/Omorenomwara, news reaches her that the Underground Railroad is operating again and she’s top of the list for escape. As we follow her journey to Paddinto Station and on the railroad to the boat that will take her away from the United Kingdom of Great Ambossa, she tells us about her family, about the lover she had and the children that were taken away from her. She tells us about the Ambossan cultural norms and how the whytes fail to live up to these norms.

Our guys would call women who looked like me Barbee, named after the popular rag dolls of the Motherland, those floppy little female figures with one-inch waists, blue-button eyes and four-inch blonde tresses which every little girl loved over there.

Not here, though. Find a little slave girl on this continent and you’ll discover she’s hankering after one of the Aphrikan Queens, a rag doll with a big butt, big lips, lots of bangles and woolly hair.

It was so bad for our self-esteem.

As Doris boards the boat, her narrative is interrupted by Chief Kaga Konata Katamba who tells the story of how he became involved in the slave trade and why. His pronouncements about the inferiority of the Caucasoinid are supported by anthropology, ideas of savagery and a mission to save souls. There’s a brilliant moment when he describes being taken deep into the natives’ settlement and witnessing the burning of a witch on a stake:

What can I say, Dear Reader, but the horror, the horror

It was worth multiple readings of Heart of Darkness just to register the perfect execution of that reference.

The final section of the novel takes us back to Doris/Onomorenomwara to see what becomes of her.

Blonde Roots is a brilliant counterfactual narrative. By reversing the slave trade, making Africans the masters and Europeans the slaves, Evaristo forces us to imagine how different life could have been. There’s a comedic element to this – hair falling out as women try to fashion their fine hair into afros; Ambossans performing The Whyte and Blak Minstrel Show in which they whyte up and Morris dance – but Evaristo’s utterly serious about whites recognising the horrors of the slave trade in a way I haven’t seen done before. She achieves this in two ways: firstly, by making Doris a first-person narrator. She could be one of us, taken from the fields, branded and stripped of her identity. Secondly, by using the language our ancestors used to justify their actions and turning them back on us – ‘whyte women were labelled sexually insatiable’, ‘the Caucasoinid breed is not of our kind’.

I haven’t a single criticism of this novel; the world Evaristo creates is fully-realised and consistently highlights the hypocrisy of imperialism through the imposition of one race’s cultural norms onto a race to which they are unsuitable at best and by showing the barbaric practices within white culture, leaving us wondering how that could lead whites to believe they were culturally superior to blacks.

Blonde Roots is a fascinating, pitch perfect counterfactual novel. Highly recommended.

Unsung Female Writers (Part Two)

Thank you for the great response to our Unsung Female Writers (Part One) post. Today, we’ve got the rest of the list for you consisting of mine and Antonia’s choices. Let us know what you think of our picks and whether there’s anyone whose writing you love who isn’t on either of our lists.

Antonia Honeywell is a writer whose debut novel The Ship will be published in February 2015. She blogs each month about the journey towards publication and is a keen reader of literary prize lists – you can read her thoughts on the Bailey’s Prize and the Man Booker Prize on her website.

Maggie Gee

Gee’s thirteen novels span a vast range of subjects and settings; her work defies categorization by genre or concern. What her novels have in common, though, is a clear-sighted, unsentimental generosity about humanity and its place in the natural world. Her characters’ opinions of themselves are dissected with honesty and compassion, and this ability to create empathy where there is not necessarily sympathy is one that deserves wider recognition. Gee has a comic touch too – in her latest novel, she brings Virginia Woolf to modern-day Manhattan. Her memoir, My Animal Life, is a must-read; in novels, begin with The White Family (contemporary) or The Ice People (speculative future) and take it from there.

Stella Duffy

Stella Duffy is a powerhouse of energy. She’s published fourteen novels, several plays, she acts, she is a vocal champion of equal marriage and is the drive behind the Fun Palaces project (inspired by Joan Littlewood); she’s had cancer and written eloquently of her distaste for the language of battle that’s often used in relation to it. This concern for honest language permeates her novels – The Room of Lost Things, my suggested starting point, is London. Not the monuments and icons we’d all recognize, but the vibrancy and squalor of a life lived rather than a life created.

Marika Cobbold

If I ever have reservations about Twitter, I only have to think of the book chat it’s introduced me to and the writers I’d never heard of before I joined. I wonder how I’d have found Marika Cobbold’s writing if I’d never * butted in * on an exchange that started with Disney princes and carried on with the toads in my cellar lightwell, culminating in a photo of Rufus Sewell. Such frivolous humour led me to Tea With Guppies, a beautifully-observed exploration of aging, of dignity, of relationships between old and young. Cobbold’s latest novel is Drowning Rose. Witty, sharp and rewarding.

Edna O’Brien

Now in her 80s, Edna O’Brien has published twenty one works of fiction since The Country Girls (1960) was denounced and burned in her native Ireland for its open discussion of matters moral and sexual. She had already made her home in London, but remains an honest and precise dissector of the consequences of a repressive society on the life of its citizens. Down by the River (1996), for example, takes as its subject a teenage rape victim seeking an abortion. The Country Girls remains a relevant and fresh read and a fine starting place to explore the work of this prolific, fierce and assured novelist.

Dorothy L. Sayers

Dorothy L. Sayers wrote detective fiction. Detective fiction is genre fiction, and genre fiction rarely makes it onto the literary prize lists. But by dismissing genre fiction, readers dismiss some truly excellent writing. This is as true now as it’s ever been (see also Kate Atkinson). Sayers’ stories are masterclasses in creating character with a few deft strokes; in conveying emotion through a simple action; in using dialogue; in effective use of description. Sceptics should start with the short stories (Lord Peter Views the Body). Murder Must Advertise or Strong Poison would be a good place to start the novels.

And my choices are:

Janice Galloway

Galloway might seem like an odd choice for a list of unsung writers to some – she’s won a number of awards and her debut The Trick Is to Keep Breathing is considered a Scottish contemporary classic. However, the big prizes and sales seem to have alluded her whilst her contemporary Irvine Welsh has gone on to worldwide fame and acclaim. Galloway has written three novels, two short story collections and two memoirs. She observes ordinary life, describing it through vivid and often disturbing imagery. Where to start with her work would depend on your preference: for novels, The Trick Is to Keep Breathing; for stories, Blood, for memoir, This Is Not About Me.

Jackie Kay

Another Scottish writer who’s won a number of awards but not the popular recognition she deserves. A poet, novelist, short story writer, memoirist and playwright. She’s also a wonderful performer of her own work. Adopted by a Scottish couple as a baby, her memoir Red Dust Road is the story of her search for her birth parents – a Scottish mother and a Nigerian father. It’s a great introduction to her work. Alternatively, you could start with her novel Trumpet, inspired by the life of American jazz musician Billy Tipton who was born Dorothy and lived as a man for fifty years. The book begins as Joss Moody (the Tipton inspired character) dies and his adopted son discovers the truth about his father’s identity.

Salley Vickers

In contrast to the previous two writers, Vickers has never won an award for her books – something I’ve checked several times via a variety of sources, so astonished was I to discover this. She’s the author of seven novels and a short story collection. Her work is often inspired by art – her debut Miss Garnet’s Angel features the Guardi panels in the Chiesa dell’ Angelo Raffaele in Venice – and includes a magical element. However, it is her work as a psychoanalyst that allows her to create characters with such considered inner lives whilst maintaining a seemingly effortless style of writing. Her aforementioned debut is a good place to begin, or with my personal favourite Mr Golightly’s Holiday.

Bernadine Evaristo

Evaristo is the author of seven novels, several of which blend prose and poetry. Her writing is musical and rhythmic. She explores a variety of experiences through her work, including her own family’s mixed heritage in the verse novel Lara and the black experience in Europe through the ghosts of Pushkin’s great-grandfather and Mary Seacole, amongst others, in Soul Tourists. She was a recent winner of the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize for her wonderful novel, Mr Loverman, about a 74-year-old African Caribbean man who comes out after decades of hiding his relationship with his lover. Barrington Jedidiah Walker’s story is my suggested starting point.

Rebecca Solnit

Writer, historian and activist, Solnit is an essayist and long form non-fiction writer. She’s covered topics as diverse as nuclear testing, Eadweard Muybridge and high-speed motion photography, activism, prison, altruism from disaster, the creation of stories and walking. Her essay ‘Men Explain Things to Me’, which led to the coining of the term ‘mansplaining’ will be published in a book later this year alongside essays on marriage equality and violence against women. That essay or her book A Field Guide to Getting Lost, which explores how we can steep outside of our comfort zones – both physically and mentally – would be good introductions to her work.

Huge thanks to Ali, Susan and Antonia for their contributions.

The Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize 2014

 

I love Fiction Uncovered, I think they do a brilliant job of highlighting British writers who, for whatever reason, don’t seem to have garnered the attention they deserve.

This year’s list, in my opinion, is their best yet. Eight titles, an equal gender split, and two of the best books I’ve read in the last nine months. The winners are:

Mr Loverman – Bernadine Evaristo
Little Egypt – Leslie Glaister
Mrs Hemingway – Naomi Woods
All the Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld
Lolito – Ben Brooks
The Dig – Cynan Jones
Whatever Happened to Billy Parks? – Gareth R. Roberts
Vanishing – Gerard Woodward

I’ve listed the women first (of course) and if you click on Mr Loverman and All the Birds, Singing you can read my reviews. I already have copies of Little Egypt and Mrs Hemingway and I’ll be reading and reviewing those over the summer.

Have you read any of these titles? What do you think of the list?

Books of the Year 2013

Choosing the books that I’ve loved, recommended and bought the most copies of for friends wasn’t difficult, whittling them down was. Because of that, I’ve gone for fifteen books that I enjoyed the most this year. If you click on the title of the book, it will take you to my original review.

Questions of Travel – Michelle de Kretser

Questions of Travel follows Laura and Ravi. Laura chooses to travel, using her inheritance from her aunt to do so; Ravi is forced to travel when the civil war in Sri Lanka visits his doorstep. de Kretser considers the myriad of ways in which we travel in modern society in a novel that’s sublimely written with a perfect ending. Winner of three awards in Australia, I’m astonished it hasn’t had a bigger fanfare in the UK.

 

Love, Nina – Nina Stibbe

Love, Nina contains a series of letters from Nina Stibbe to her sister Vic, written in the 1980s. At the time, Stibbe was a nanny to the sons of Mary Kay Wilmers, editor of the LRB. Alan Bennet frequently pops round for dinner, while the street contains a number of the UK literati. Stibbe’s letters are full of keen observations delivered in the same tone, regardless of the participants, and this makes the book both warm and humorous. It’s one of those books that’s larger than the sum of its parts. A joy.

Apple Tree Yard – Louise Doughty

Apple Tree Yard tells the story of Yvonne Carmichael, a 52-year-old geneticist, who embarks on an affair with a stranger. An affair that will threaten her family, her career and ultimately, her freedom. Told in retrospect beginning with Yvonne standing in the dock at the Old Bailey, Apple Tree Yard had me up late at night, frantically turning pages. It’s a tightly plotted tale with an ending that will leave you gasping.

 

A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki

A Tale for the Time Being is the dual narrative of Ruth, an American novelist living on a Canadian island, and Nao, a Japanese school girl. Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox, washed up on shore, containing Nao’s diary, some letters and a watch. She assumes it is debris from the 2011 tsunami. As Ruth reads Nao’s diary and the store of her family unfolds, we read Ruth’s story and are manipulated by it. A wonderful story of time and quantum physics.

 

 

A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing – Eimear McBride

After almost a decade of rejections, the small, independent Galley Beggar Press published this gem which went on to win The Goldsmith’s Prize. A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is the story of an unnamed female narrator as told to (for?) her brother who is dying of a brain tumour. It is brutal both in its short, staccato prose and in content. (I don’t recommend reading it in the depths of January, it’ll send you over the edge.) This really is ‘a new voice in fiction’.

 

The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton

Winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize, The Luminaries is a yarn of a tale set amongst gold diggers during the gold rush in New Zealand. It is a story of murder, theft and love with a with a structure that builds throughout the first half and explodes with revelations in the second. One to indulge in.

 

 

Mr Loverman – Bernadine Evaristo

Barrington Jedidiah Walker, 74, born in the Caribbean but resident in London has kept a secret for fifty years from his wife and two grown-up daughters: the love of his life, his best friend Morris. Barry decides it’s time to come-out but obviously, it’s not going to be that easy. Evaristo has a wonderful ear for dialogue and the rhythms of Barry and Carmel’s speech are a joy.

 

Jacob’s Folly – Rebecca Miller

A story told from the point of view of a fly shouldn’t work but it does and it does so brilliantly. The fly is the reincarnation of Jacob Cerf, an ex-peddler from 18th century France. When Jacob the fly becomes aware that he can influence others, he decides to meddle with the life of Masha Edelman, a 21-year-old Torah Jew and Leslie Senzatimore, a man who lives his life in order to help others. Miller uses their stories to consider whether we really have free will or whether our lives are constrained by other forces.

The Interestings – Meg Wolitzer

Six friends meet at summer camp in the 1970s and their lives become entwined forever despite the huge differences in their statuses. Wolitzer follows them through adult life looking at the choices they make and how these affect the whole group dynamic. It’s a dense novel but one that is driven forward by a non-linear narrative and a thread that you know is going to explode spectacularly.

 

The Engagements – J.Courtney Sullivan

The Engagements opens in 1947 with copywriter, Frances Gerety, creating the line ‘A diamond is forever’. The novel then goes on to intertwine her story – one of a woman who definitely doesn’t want an engagement ring – with those of four others: Evelyn Pearsall, whose son Teddy has just left his wife and children; James McKeen, a medical responder whose wife was recently mugged; Delphine Moreau, whose young lover has betrayed her, and a human rights officer whose helping with the preparations for her cousin Jeff’s wedding to his boyfriend, Toby. An unashamedly feminist look at our society’s values.

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

Life After Life is the story of Ursula Todd, bound to relive her life until the changes are made that prevent her previous death. The concept sounds bizarre, the execution is brilliant. Atkinson takes us through the war, affairs and a meeting with Hitler. The section of the novel during The Blitz is particularly well drawn, so much so, you’ll want to hide behind your hands during some passages. This one will leave you wanting to find someone else who’s read it to discuss in detail.

 

The Colour of Milk – Nell Leyshon

The only book on the list not published this year, however it is one of this year’s Fiction Uncovered titles. Set in 1830, 14-year-old Mary tells us about life on her father’s farm with her four sisters and her elderly grandfather. Offered work at the vicarage, Mary is forced to go and tend for the vicar’s ill wife. When the vicar’s wife dies, she is kept on and the course of her life takes a turn for the worst. A novel about the control of men over women told with a voice that will have you rooting for this young girl.

 

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

The story of Theodore Decker, who’s caught in a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, in which his mother dies. The attack leaves him with the painting ‘The Goldfinch’ in his possession and a ring that he’s to return to James Hobart. These two things will set his life on a dangerous course. Told in immersive detail, this is a wonderful novel which will have you living Theo’s eventful life alongside him.

 

The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes

The Shining Girls is the book that reignited my love of thrillers. It’s the story of Harper Curtis, time-travelling serial killer (stick with it, it works) and Kirby Mazrachi, who should have been one of his victims but who survives his attack and sets out to track him down. But The Shining Girls is more than that, it’s also the story of all Harper’s victims and those victims tell the story of women through the twentieth century. Shining, indeed.

 

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie – Ayana Mathis

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie was the first book I read to make the list. It’s the story of Hattie, who leaves the segregated south for Philadelphia and a better life. Hattie is already pregnant with twins and with her womanising, gambling, alcoholic husband whom she can’t stay away from, Hattie will have another eight children. These, along with her first grandchild, form the twelve tribes of the title. Each chapter tells one of their stories, stories of homophobia, abuse and mental illness. A beautifully written story of a family and one woman’s quest for survival.

Thanks to all the publishers who’ve sent books for review this year.

Mr Loverman – Bernadine Evaristo

The loverman referred to in the title of Bernadine Evaristo’s latest novel is 74-year-old Barrington Jedidiah Walker. Barry loves himself:

Folk used to tell me I looked like a young Sidney Poitier. Now they say I resemble a (slightly) older Denzel Washington.

and he won’t have anyone talk down to him:

Oh, boy, I catch so much fire when people talk down to me like I’m some back-a-bush dumb arse who don’t understand the ins and outs of the Queen’s English…the only reason I didn’t go to no university was because I didn’t score highly enough to get the single government scholarship to a university in England. I been taking evening classes since 1971 to make up for it.

Sociology, psychology, Archeology, Oloyology – you name it. English literature, French language, naturellement. Don’t even get me started on Mr Shakespeare, Esq., with whom I have been having the most satisfying cerebral relationship, sirrah. I know my Artology too: Miro, Morandi, Munch, Moore and Mondrian, not to mention the rest of the alphabet.

Barry’s also built himself a nice property portfolio while working as an engine fitter at Ford’s. Despite all this, probably the most interesting thing about Barry is the other person he loves: his long-term, also 74-year-old, gay lover, Morris. And why should that be so interesting in this day and age? Barry’s been married to Carmel for fifty years and they have two grown-up daughters.

At the beginning of the novel, Barry arrives home in the early hours, creeping into the bedroom he shares with Carmel.

Far as she’s concerned, her husband is a womanizer. Out sewing his seed with all those imaginary Hyacinths, Merediths and Daffodils. On what evidence? Alien perfume? Lipstick on my collar? Ladies panties in mi jacket pocket?

I can honestly say to my wife, ‘Dear I ain’t never slept with another woman.’

She chooses not to believe me.

By the middle of chapter three, Barry’s decided he’s taking Morris up on an offer he made over twenty years ago – he’s leaving Carmel to see out his final years with Morris.

God a-damn me the day I chose to enter the hellish so-called marriage instead of following my Morris-loving, sweet-loving, full-blooded, hot-blooded, pumping-rumping, throbbing organ of an uncontainable, unrestrainable, undetainable man-loving heart.

There’s lots to love about this novel. I’ve quoted from it quite substantially in the hope that the rhythmic nature of the prose is evident. It really is a joy to read. Barry’s story and the way Evaristo looks at some important cultural issues – the view of homosexuality in the Caribbean culture when Barry and Morris were younger and how events/parental behaviour can manifest themselves in grown-up children’s behaviour, in particular – is very well done. And finally, Carmel. Carmel narrates several chapters and her story is very interesting indeed. Perhaps Barry isn’t the only one keeping secrets.

I absolutely loved this novel. I highly recommend it and I’ve already sought out more of Evaristo’s novels to devour soon.