Hello bookish friends!
Back to full reading strength during May with a selection of five reads. Some beautiful magical realism in Monique Roffey’s The Mermaid of Black Conch; historical fiction set in Poland from Kelly Rimmer, with more historical fiction, this time set in New York, from Francis Spufford; and some heart-breaking contemporary fiction from Giselle Green. Also, I highly recommend the moving memoir written by Josiah Hartley and his mum, author Amanda Prowse, as they candidly share Josiah’s journey out of depression.
Finally, please pop back soon, when I’ll be chatting all things books and writing with Leah Mercer.
In the meantime, stay safe and happy reading!
THE MERMAID OF BLACK CONCH by MONIQUE ROFFEY
Every now and then I seek out magical realism and if there’s a mermaid involved so much the better. So, when I discovered Monique Roffey’s The Mermaid of Black Conch had won a clutch of awards, including the Costa Book Award, I knew it was one I would enjoy.
Set in the fictional village of St. Constance on the Caribbean island of Black Conch, a local fisherman, David becomes bewitched by Aycayia, a woman banished to the sea centuries before, doomed to live as a mermaid. Woven around both historical fact and mythical fantasy, Roffey’s lyrical prose carries the reader to a place of storms and stunning sunsets, where nature blossoms and fish are trapped.
But what makes this book so special? I enjoyed The Mermaid of Black Conch on audiobook, where the narrator’s voice matched the tale perfectly. The rumours spun by the tight-knit community, their ancient folklore, the way their lives intertwined with nature, made the existence of a mermaid feel possible. But ultimately this is a beautiful love story about loneliness, loss, colonialism and sacrifice. A tiny warning – this is romantic fiction with a fair amount of ‘sexing’ involved, but it’s all tastefully described. If you are a fan of magical realism then The Mermaid of Black Conch is a treat to enjoy, and if you are curious about the genre then this novel is a brilliant place to start.
THE THINGS WE CANNOT SAY by KELLY RIMMER
Anyone who has read my reviews for a wee while will know I love Kelly Rimmer’s contemporary family dramas, so I was interested when she shifted genre with The Things We Cannot Say, historical fiction inspired by true events. Set during World War Two, in Nazi occupied Poland, Alina Dziak is a teenager working hard on her parents’ farm, desperate for news of her sweetheart, Tomasz. As the weeks and months pass, and the Nazis’ grip tightens, rumours of camps grow, until one terrifying evening when Alina is forced to make a heart-breaking decision.
This is a dual timeline story where in the present day we meet Alice; a busy mum of two, juggling visits to her gravely ill grandmother, whilst sticking to the rigid routine required by her beloved, autistic son, Eddie. Alice makes little time for herself, and her relationship with her husband, Wade is suffering. But by helping her grandmother piece together her history, can Alice find herself again?
Whether writing contemporary fiction or dual timeline, Kelly Rimmer is brilliant at writing real characters whose relationships are messy and difficult and awkward, but always founded in love. At times, I felt teary when considering the devastating grief and hardship ordinary folks endured. Much of The Things We Cannot Say is connected to voice, those who have it removed through terror; those who lose it through illness; those, like Eddie, who find it impossible to find the words needed to navigate the world.
It is not only Alice who learned from Alina’s story. I learned lots too. The Things We Cannot Say is a heart-breaking novel about secrets, sacrifice, courage and family.
THE GIRL YOU FORGOT by GISELLE GREEN
The Girl You Forgot by Giselle Green is a love story with a heart-breaking, thought-provoking twist. When Will is diagnosed with a brain tumour, he opts to have life-saving surgery that means his recent memory will be lost. Seven years’ worth to be exact. His partner Ava carries secrets, but are they too heavy for her to bear alone?
Every now and again a novel, or more specifically the premise of a novel, makes me stop and think. And such was the case with The Girl You Forgot. Will is in his late twenties when he requires surgery. To wipe seven years of memories during such a critical time in someone’s life, when they are finding themselves in terms of career, relationships, ideas and principles, would have a massive impact on that person’s sense of self. I couldn’t help but reflect on where I was at, and what I was doing, at a similar age, and the impact such a decision may have had.
One for lovers of dilemma-driven, emotional fiction by the likes of Diane Chamberlain and Jodi Picoult.
It’s a while since I’ve read non-fiction but when I heard author, Amanda Prowse and her son, Josiah Hartley, speak so movingly and honestly about Josiah’s struggle with depression, I knew I would share The Boy Between.
This is not a self-help book, or a how-to-beat depression manual, instead it is simply Josiah’s story about what it felt like to be consumed by depression and his journey to managing his mental health. In Josiah’s words ‘Depression came along like a wall of water that knocked me off my feet… Each time a wave hit, I scrabbled to my feet, only for another wave, larger than the first, to smack me back down to the ground.’ (TRIGGER WARNING: Josiah hit rock bottom and was desperate for escape) But it’s also his mum’s story, about how lonely and isolating it can feel when trying to support someone battling mental health issues. Not knowing what to say or do, not knowing where to turn for help.
A part of me hopes that no one reading needs this book, but I’m not that naïve. The past year has been a hard one, and if Josiah, and his mum, sharing their stories helps just one person, then Josiah’s bravery in opening up will have been worth it. The Boy Between may bring comfort and hope to anyone struggling with mental health, or to someone offering support.
GOLDEN HILL by FRANCIS SPUFFORD
Golden Hill by Francis Spufford was my book group’s choice for May. Set in 18th century colonial New York, it’s written in speech appropriate for the time, mostly in lengthy sentences, which I initially found tricky to get to grips with. However, I was so intrigued by the plot that I switched to audiobook and suddenly the story raced along.
Richard Smith, a young stranger, fresh off the boat from England, presents a bill for payment at a counting house on Golden Hill. But what is his purpose? Is he friend or villain? – Gossip amongst respectable society grows.
If I had to pigeon-hole Golden Hill, then I would say it’s a mystery with witty humour, filled with dramatic twists. It has a cast of slightly larger-than-life characters that adds to the period feel. But it was the setting, along with the Dutch references, that I found so fascinating. New York in the early days, when it was little more than a large town. A Costa Book Award Winner in 2016, Golden Hill isn’t a quick read, rather one to be savoured.