Book Lists for All Humans #5

BookListsforAllHumans

It’s been a while…not because there haven’t been lists published that weren’t gender balanced, I’m sure there have been, more because while I’m not compiling In the Media, I’m not in my media Twitter feed and so I’m not seeing them. However, I was on the Guardian website this afternoon and they’d published a new ‘Top 10 books’ list. DBC Pierre deserves some sort of award for producing the whitest, most male list I’ve seen so far. Apparently, women/people of colour don’t write books that writers should read. Be told people, only white men know how to write.

Here’s my alternative list, please feel free to suggest your own additions/alternatives in the comments:

To create a setting that feels as though it really exists: The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

To see complex characters, whose behaviour raises questions about morality, in action: Waking Lions – Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (translated by Sondra Silverston)

To write successfully from a child’s point-of-view: My Name Is Leon – Kit de Waal

To manage a complex structure based on a lunar cycle and as good as any box set: The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton

To change point-of-view in every chapter, including that of a dead body, and detail some of the atrocities of which humans are capable: Human Acts – Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith)

To incorporate your own life and letters into fiction/essay/critique: I Love Dick – Chris Kraus

To bring a historical character to life: Bring Up the Bodies – Hilary Mantel

To write a coming-of-age story in fragmented sentences: A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing – Eimear McBride

To write a metafictional account of a massacre: The Gypsy Goddess – Meena Kandasamy

To create an unreliable, first person narrator: The Private Life of Mrs Sharma – Ratika Kapur

 

Links are to my reviews.

In the Media: 25th January & 1st February 2015

In the media is a weekly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week 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. Also, just a note to make it clear that I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely.

Thanks to everyone who said such lovely things last week after I lost the In the Media post and to everyone who offered suggestions to stop it happening again. I think I have a solution and it seems to have worked well this week.

The morning after last week’s last minute loss, I realised that all was not entirely lost; all the articles I’d linked to that hadn’t saved were in my laptop history, so I recovered the remainder of last week’s post (apologies if you received an email with a half-done post in it, it posted when I retrieved it) and relinked all the articles, then added this weeks. The result of that is this bumper issue. Enjoy!

This week saw the death of Colleen McCullough, author of The Thorn Birds, as well as 23 other books, and a neuroscientist. Steve Dow remembers her in The Guardian; Alison Flood gave her tribute with ‘Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds helped me get over heartbreak‘ also in The Guardian, and in response to that obituary (I’m not linking to it) Rebecca Shaw wrote ‘We’ll celebrate a woman for anything, as long as it’s not her talent‘ in The Guardian while Liz Kearney responded with ‘You may be a best-selling writer, but never forget that you’re still fat and ugly‘ in The Irish Independent.

It’s been a fortnight filled with awards. Last week, Claudia Rankine became the first person ever to be nominated for two National Critics Circle Awards in the poetry and criticism categories; her editor tells The Washington post why she’s a ‘genius’ and Jonathon Sturgeon tells us why the double nomination is ‘the correct decision’ on Flavorwire;  While Jhumpa Lahiri won the DSC Prize. Here’s ‘Six things you should know about Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland’ on Scroll.in

This week, it’s been the turn of the Costa Awards. Helen Macdonald won the overall award for the fantastic H is for Hawk. Here’s an interview she gave to The Times last week; you can watch her talking about the book here; you can listen to an audio excerpt and read her piece ‘On Ringing Wild Goshawks’ on Vintage Books, and discover the six books that made her in The Guardian. You can also watch the short films made of the other finalists: Emma Healey; Kate Saunders; Ali Smith. Zoe Gilbert won the Short Story Award with Fishskin, Hareskin. With Joanne Meek, Lucy Ribchester, Jane Healey and Paula Cunningham also shortlisted. You can read all the shortlisted stories here (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Other exciting news for female writers is the launch of #ReviewWomen2015, following the success of the #ReadWomen2014 campaign. Hannah Beckerman explains why she wants more books by female writers, especially commercial fiction, to be reviewed in the broadsheets in the Huffington Post. Anne Enright became the first Laureate for Irish Fiction in a unanimous decision and in China came the discovery of a new poet, ‘dubbed China’s Emily Dickinson‘, Want China Times reports on Yu Xihua.

There’s been a wave of feminist articles this fortnight, partly thanks to The Sun newspaper appearing to stop publishing pictures of topless women on p3 and then declaring it a joke by the middle of the week. Sarah Ditum wrote, ‘The “return” of Page 3: the Sun revels in the chance to make women with opinions look stupid‘ in the New Statesman; Marina Hyde responded with, ‘No more t*ts in the Sun – a campaign we can all get behind‘ in The Guardian. Elsewhere, Sophie Heawood wrote, ‘If Björk can’t stop a man stealing the limelight, what hope is there for the rest of us?‘ in The Guardian; Eleanor Catton wrote a statement on her website following a media furore in New Zealand about comments she made about the government; Louise O’Neill related, ‘My journey to feminism‘ in The Guardian; Elisabeth Camp asked ‘Should I let my daughter wear pink?‘ in Aeon; Jami Attenberg recounted her time passing as a man, ‘Track Changes‘ in The New York Times; Bayan Perazzo wrote ‘The Burden of Being Female in Saudi Arabia‘ on Muftah; Rose George declared, ‘My period may hurt: but not talking about menstruation hurts more‘ in The Guardian; Arabelle Sicadi wrote, ‘A Bridge Between Love And Lipstick: Queering the beauty industry‘ on Buzzfeed; Jeanne de Montbaston responded to an Alison Wolf article (link in the piece) with ‘What the Hell kinds of Feminists are you Reading, Alison Wolf‘ on Reading Medieval Books; Lucy Magan says, ‘Let’s Silence the Voice That Tells Us We Can’t‘ in Stylist; Marina Sofia looked at the new Barbie Princess Power on her blog; Rebecca Carroll wrote, ‘I was six when a man first touched me. I didn’t speak up until I was an adult‘ in The Guardian; Jia Tolentino wrote, ‘Rush After ‘A Rape On Campus’: A UVA Alum Goes Back to Rugby Road‘ on Jezebel; Homa Mojtabai listed ‘Reasons You Were Not Promoted That Are Totally Unrelated to Gender‘ on McSweeney’s; C M Meadows-Haworth, ‘Reading Audre Lorde Is Changing My Life‘ on A Room of Our Own; Chika Unigwe wrote, ‘Why Nigeria is failing its citizens over Boko Haram attacks‘ in Litro; Maddie Crum told us ‘Why Virginia Woolf Should Be Your Feminist Role Model‘ on Huffington Post; Brandi Bailey selected ‘The Best Feminist Picture Books‘ on Book Riot, Monique Wilson said, ‘Critics of the Vagina Monologues must acknowledge its transformative powers‘ in The Guardian, Alison Flood told us ‘Why I hate the Little Miss books‘ in The Guardian, Sarah Ditum also told us, ‘I ain’t afraid of no girls: why the all-female Ghostbusters will be good for Hollywood‘ in the New Statesman; Max Cairnduff wrote, ‘Looking back on #readwomen2014 and my favourite reads of the year‘ on his blog; Hannah Renowden shares, ‘2015 – When I got angered by a reading list so read it. Also, crochet.‘ on her blog, and Isabel Rogers read and took down Mike Buchanan’s Justice for Men and Boys (and the women who love them) Party Election Manifesto on her blog.

And a number about class following James Blunt’s open letter to Chris Bryant. Sarah Perry responded with, ‘James Blunt has misunderstood the relationship between privilege and success‘ in The Independent and Suzanne Moore with, ‘What James Blunt doesn’t understand about the politics of envy‘ in The Guardian. Other issues surrounding class were covered by Lisa McKenzie, ‘The estate we’re in: how working class people became the ‘problem’‘ in The Guardian; Lucy Mangan, ‘If you don’t understand how people fall into poverty, you’re probably a sociopath‘ also in The Guardian; Nicola Morgan asked, ‘Why fund libraries when it’s all online?‘ on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure; Harriet Williamson said, ‘Every time I visit the job centre, the staff treat me like a subhuman‘ in the New Statesman; Grace Dent said, ‘When rents are so high that you have to share a bed with a stranger, surely the revolution can’t be far off‘ in The Independent, and Kathryn Hughes wrote, ‘Yes, Kirstie Allsopp, littering’s bad. But then so is self-righteousness‘ in The Guardian

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

Or some non-fiction:

The lists:

and Diane Watt is spending February recommending LGBT reads on her Twitter account using the hashtag #mylgbtbooks

In the Media: 7th September 2014

In the media is a weekly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week 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. Also, just a note to make it clear that I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely.

One of this week’s highlights made me squeal when I came across it: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has started a blog written by Ifemlu, protagonist of her current multi-award winning novel Americanah. The blog’s called ‘The Small Redemptions of Lagos‘ and is a pre-curser to “Raceteenth or Various Observations about American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negros) by a Non-American Black”, which features in the novel.

Ali Smith and Sarah Waters continue with the promotion of their latest novels how to be both and The Paying Guestsrespectively. Smith is interviewed in The Guardian while Waters is in The Independent.

Also in The Independent, a short piece I missed last Sunday on Angela Thirkell who I’ve never read but now really want to.

I am, however, almost finished reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Believe the hype, it’s good stuff. Before it’s publication on Wednesday, there’s a great piece on the Picador blog about the creation of the book’s cover.

Station Eleven is also highlighted in the first of three lists I want to bring to your attention this week, Sam Baker’s Best Books for Autumn in her Harper’s Bazaar column. The second is Joan Schenkar on Patricia Highsmith’s 10 Best Books in Publisher’s Weekly. And the third is one that was posted last year on the Huffington Post website but only came to my attention this week, Soniah Kamal’s 50 Novels by Women on Conflict, Displacement and Resilience. It is a superb list.

Speaking of superb women, Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton announced this week that she was creating a grant to allow writers time to read.

No one will be reading fellow Booker winner Margaret Atwood’s current work-in-progress for some time though. She announced she’s taking part in The Future Library project which means her contribution won’t be printed until 2014.

I’ll leave you with the best piece I’ve read this week although it’s tinged with great sadness. When Jenny Diski was told she had inoperable cancer, she began a diary which will be published in the London Review of Books. The first instalment is in this week’s edition.

My Bailey's Women's Prize Shortlist

On Monday 7th April, the judges of the 2014 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction will announce their shortlist. Trying to second guest the books those five women will decide to put through to the second round of the prize is not my aim here – I would no doubt be wrong on several counts. However, having read sixteen of the longlisted books and partially read three (at the time of writing), were I to be one of the judges fighting for the books I love to be included, these are the six I’d be fighting for (click on the covers to read my reviews):

I was stunned to discover that the longlist included two of the best books I’ve ever read. Stunned because the older you become and the more you read, the less often a book is the ‘best’ book you’ve ever read. However, Americanah is an incredible book. It has a fresh, direct tone; its subject matter is intelligent and thoughtful but doesn’t detract from the love story at its core; it’s quite an achievement. The Lowland is a masterpiece. Skilfully written with carefully layered sentences and ideas of loss at its centre, it’s deeply affecting.

The Luminaries makes the list because it combines a cracking detective story with a interesting structure. When I reached the second half of the book, the plot and the decreasing length of the chapters meant I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing is another novel with an interesting structure – the present day story is told forward, while the past is presented to us in reverse. This leaves the reading feeling like a detective looking for the protagonist’s motive and being wrong-footed at several points.

Then I have two debuts: A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is an incredible piece of literature. Again, the sentences are layered, although in this case they are staccato and dense – an odd juxtaposition that you have to completely immerse yourself in. This could have been a fairly straight-forward (although very grim) coming-of-age story but the style and structure transcend it. The Undertaking also transcends a genre, in this case, war fiction. Two things make this a good book as opposed to a good debut – the use of dialogue and the point of view. The novel’s mostly dialogue, not an easy thing to write, and it works; it’s snappy and clear, while leaving room for ambiguity of meaning. Point of view wise, this is a story of a family of Nazi sympathisers and a soldier in the battle of Stalingrad. Again, this was a book that felt fresh.

It’s worth pointing out here that of the nineteen longlisted books I’ve read (or partially read at the time of writing) there isn’t a bad one amongst them. I was going to post some ‘near misses’ too but I found myself wanting to post all of them. The full list of my reviews is here (hopefully this will be complete shortly); I’m sure there’s something there you’ll enjoy.

Now for the excitement of waiting for the actual shortlist…

 

(The only book I haven’t read any of is Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam as I want to read the whole trilogy.)

The Bailey's Women's Fiction Prize Longlist 2014

Well it’s after midnight and I’m bleary eyed but here it is, the Bailey’s Women’s Fiction Prize longlist for 2014.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Americanah

Margaret Atwood – MaddAddam

Suzanne Berne –  The Dogs of Littlefield

Fatima Bhutto – The Shadow of the Crescent Moon

Claire Cameron –  The Bear

Lea Carpenter – Eleven Days

M.J. Carter – The Strangler Vine

Eleanor Catton – The Luminaries

Deborah Kay Davies – Reasons She Goes to the Woods

Elizabeth Gilbert – The Signature of All Things

Hannah Kent – Burial Rites

Rachel Kushner – The Flamethrowers

Jhumpa Lahiri – The Lowland

Audrey Magee – The Undertaking

Eimear McBride – A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing

Charlotte Mendelson – Almost English

Anna Quindlen – Still Life with Bread Crumbs

Elizabeth Strout – The Burgess Boys

Donna Tartt – The Goldfinch

Evie Wyld – All The Birds, Singing

First thoughts: I’ve got a lot of reading to do! I’ve read and reviewed seven: The Luminaries, The Flamethrowers, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, Still Life with Breadcrumbs, The Burgess Boys, The Goldfinch and All the Birds, Singing. Am particularly thrilled for Eimear McBride, Anna Quindlen and Evie Wyld. I also think The Burgess Boys has been hugely underrated in the UK, so it will be wonderful to see Elizabeth Strout get the recognition she deserves.

As for the rest, Americanah, Burial Rites, The Lowland and Almost English were already high on my review pile. I have copies of The Signature of All Things and Maddaddam, although Maddaddam’s terrifying me – I love Margaret Atwood’s writing but it’s the third part of a trilogy of which I’ve read nothing and I don’t want to read the end before the beginning. I might have to hide for a long weekend to read that one!

The Dogs of Littlefield, The Bear and Eleven Days were also already on my radar and I’m really looking forward to those.

That leaves four I’ve never heard of, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

As ever, I’ll be linking my reviews on this page as I add to them. I’m excited as to what the next month of reading brings.

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.

The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton

In the midst of all the column inches generated by Eleanor Catton’s Booker Prize win this week, there were two burning questions on my Twitter timeline: one, should I be bothered to read something 832 pages long? Two, is it all structure and no story. In short, the answers are yes and no.

The Luminaries opens with the arrival of Walter Moody in Hokitika, a gold mining town in New Zealand. It is the time of the gold rush when every man arrives believing he will make his fortune. Moody has had a dreadful crossing on a barque named Godspeed:

…Moody had witnessed an event so extraordinary and affecting that it called all other realities into doubt. The scene was still with him – as if a door had chinked open, in the corner of his mind, to show a band of graying light, and he could not know wish the darkness back again. It was costing him a great deal of effort to keep that door from opening further.

Having taken a room at The Crown Hotel, Moody has positioned himself in the smoking room in an attempt to calm himself. However…

Moody’s entrance had been something of a surprise to the twelve assembled men, who had taken considerable precautions to ensure that they would not be disturbed.

The twelve men assembled in that room are residents of Hokitika, there to discuss the apparent attempted suicide of Anna Wetherell, the local prostitute. The men assembled hold prominent positions in the town: banker, newspaperman, hotelier, goldfields magnate, chemist, shipping agent, justice’s clerk, hatter, chaplain, commission merchant, greenstone hunter and goldsmith. Each knows a different piece of information that they hope will help them to piece together the reasons as to what led Anna Wetherell to attempt suicide; where Emery Staines, prospector, has disappeared to; why and how Crosbie Wells, hermit, died, and what part Francis Carver, captain of Godspeed, has played in all of this.

During the first half of the novel, we sit in the smoking room alongside Walter Moody and learn about him as well as the rest of the cast. There is a lot of information to take in and, of course, we cannot expect all these men to be telling the whole truth. When we reach the novel’s midpoint, we are three weeks on; things begin to unravel and mysteries and crimes are solved.

I worried during my reading of the first half of the novel that there was too much information to hold in my head while reading – I found myself wishing I’d made much more detailed notes as to who did and said what. However, in the second half of the book, information came just as quickly but as it was looking at what we already knew and dissecting it, I realised my earlier concerns were unfounded. What also helped enormously was being aware of Catton’s interest in ‘box set TV’ and how she wanted to use the idea of the long character arch. This element worked very well and provided a sense of accomplishment at the end of the novel. I felt bereft knowing I’d no longer be spending time with these characters.

As for the structure in terms of the astrological elements of the book – if no one had mentioned them, I probably would have had very little awareness of them at all. Each section starts with the astrological chart for that period of time and includes the influences on the twelve male characters present in the smoking room in the first half of the novel. Catton says these are accurate for the time and that she used them to determine the character’s behaviour. Does it make the story read as though the author has a firm hand on events? No. It reads like a cracking good crime novel.

What is interesting about the structure though is the way it feeds into a theme of the novel: is our fate predetermined or does coincidence lead us along paths we otherwise would never have taken?

The Luminaries is a bold book. It demands we give it our sustained attention and pays us for it with a narrative drive so compelling I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough in the second half of the novel. I only hope that any requests for film rights are given short shrift and instead I’ll be spending time with the box set, watching the events unfold again.

 

Thanks to Little, Brown and Company US for the review copy.