The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zerán, translated by Sophie Hughes

40201224._SY475_The New Year sees me continue to host the Read Around the World Bookclub on Goodreads. We are approaching the completion of our third year of reading one female author from a country around the world. I can’t begin to express how much joy this bookclub brings me. I love everything: Researching the books, creating the polls and of course reading and discussing the books.

Have I loved every book so far? No. Has it been worthwhile reading all of them? Absolutely.

And very often you come across a gem. Like The Remainder. This January we travelled to Chile. In fact, no matter which book would have been chosen, we would have read a book from this country, the situation in Chile is far from good and so it felt important to me to read a book from the country.

I am no stranger to Chilean authors, the first Chilean author I ever read was Isabel Allende back in the 1980ies, my boyfriend’s mother gave me The House of Spirits when I was knocked out with tonsillitis and I gobbled the book up. Sadly not something, I was able to recreate with the rest of her work. But back then, I went on a mission to read a lot of South American literature which included some Chilean authors, known quantities such as Neruda, Mistral and Sepulveda and much later also Bolano. I also delved into non-fiction on the topic back then and have been fascinated by the country ever since.

So it is fair to assume that sooner or later I would have gotten to The Remainder on my own steam, but I am glad that it was sooner because this is an incredible book. Told from the viewpoints of Iquela and Felipe, we explore a complex connection between family friends that spans decades right back to the end of the Pinochet regime to almost the present day. Felipe, obsessed with tallying up the official numbers of deaths caused by the regime with the “inoffical” number, the dead he sees everywhere, he tries to get to zero, but he just cannot make it work. Iquela, his friend, whose family partially raised Felipe seems to live in denial about the past, dreams of escape, yet is completely bound to Santiago. Then Paloma arrives in Santiago to bury her mother who had lived in exile most of her life.

For me as a reader, I have certain hot topic buttons when it comes to fiction: Family, grief, belonging, sense of place… all of these make me engage with a piece of fiction if they are well done, then I am yours and you got me hooked and this novel does this so well. The title could have not been chosen better, a mathematical term for “the amount left over after a computation” or generally: something that is left over after having dealt with everything else. Iquela, Felipe and Paloma are what is left behind from the generation before who tried to bring change, to resist, to overthrow and yet who failed. And what is left is a broken second generation. If you look at Chile now, you realise that nothing has been resolved at all and in this book you can feel the anticipation of the conflict we are seeing right now.

The translation is wonderful and I admire the skill shown by Sophie Hughes navigating the no doubt difficult decisions of how to translate the linguistic play between Chile born and bred Felipe and Iquela and Paloma whose Spanish is a bit more flimsy and stilted. It’s these kinds of details that make the difference between a translation and a great translation, so easily lost between the two worlds.


Paperback, 193 pages
Published October 4th 2018 by And Other Stories (first published January 1st 2015)

Journey Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino, translated by Alexander O. Smith

My year of reading Asian fiction had a really great start so far, with a clear focus on Japan thanks to #japaninjanuary.

In the past few months, I have fallen in love with Japanese mysteries and Keigo Higashino is hailed by many as the master of the genre. If the two books, I have read by him so far are anything to go by, then I can see where his reputation comes from.

Normally, I would stay clear of gritty crime. I prefer my mysteries to be neat and tidy, more in the Golden Age tradition. Yes, I want good characters, but I am mostly there for the puzzle.

It’s fair to say that the fact that I love this book came as a big surprise to me. It’s gritty, there are things in this book that are hard to swallow and tropes I normally stay clear from, the portrayal of women is often flat… yet, I found myself pulled in and flew through these nearly 500 pages in the span of two afternoons (don’t you love the Christmas holiday).

First of all, I liked the puzzle. A murder happens in a construction site ruin, the victim: a pawnbroker. Quickly some suspects emerge but they have to be eliminated due to airtight alibis. It’s fair to say that as the reader you have your suspicion fairly early on, much like the detective, but there is a part of you that thinks: Surely not. In the course of the novel and during the following decades, we follow the lives of some of the involved people and slowly but surely the whole grim tale unfolds.

What impressed me the most was how Higashino placed everything in front of us. All the details were there, but what they meant becomes clearer much later. If you were in my house while I was reading it, you may have heard me utter: “oh, sh*t” a few times in sheer astonishment.

I have another Higashino book waiting for me, but it will be a while before I pick it up. As much as I enjoyed my second book by him, I don’t think they lend themselves to be read one after another. Yet, I love that it sits there on my shelf. It may well come on holiday with me, I can see myself curled up somewhere in Scotland (hopefully) at Easter and the open fire going and reading another Higashino. Bliss.19256975

Paperback, 539 pages
Published October 8th 2015 by Little, Brown (first published August 1999)

 

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto, translated by Megan Backus

As mentioned in a previous post, January is Japan In January month, an instagram readathon hosted by Lauran aka End.Notes. With my ambition to read my way all through Asia this year with a strong focus on Korea, China and Japan, I was keen to join in. I created a modest TBR of 4 books, but hope to get to about 8. After all, there is no shortage of Japanese lit on my shelves.

The first book I picked up was Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto. I have been aware of this book since about the mid 1990ies when it came out in Germany. I have seen it on booksellers’ tables for over two decades, yet, for some reason I have never picked it up. And that’s not because I did not read much in terms of translations, I always picked up a fair amount of translated fiction, but for some reason this book always stayed on the bookseller’s table no matter how many times I looked at it.

Last year, with my descent into the rabbit hole (Asian Literature) of epic proportion, I finally picked it up. And what a good decision this was because I absolutely adored it. Kitchen is made up of two stories, one entitled Kitchen, which is a novella and the second is Moonlight Shadow, which is a short story. Both stories have themes of transsexuality, mothering, what makes a family, love and grief. Stories about love and grief in particular always get my attention, I am fascinated by how one cannot exist without the other and I love when literature explores this. In Kitchen, I loved how the love language was food, the preparation of meals, being in the kitchen together, meeting each other in the kitchen as one person passes into the apartment, the other person leaves. In particular, a scene will stay with me where Mikage cleans out the old flat where she had lived with her grandmother and cleans the kitchen and the sadness of a kitchen that is not in use. It is quite the writer that can pack so much meaning in a few short sentences.

There is a notion that a book tends to find you at the right time. I know that if I read this book in 1994 when it was published in Germany, I probably would have not appreciated it that much. Now in 2020, I have loved and lost a lot more, embraced grief and got out the other side, I guess you could say that life experience has made me a better reader of this book.

The only problem is now which book to pick up next by her, she has written so much that I am certainly spoilt for choice.

36053646._SY475_

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto,  Megan Backus (Translator)

Paperback, 160 pages
Published March 1st 2018 by Faber Faber (first published January 30th 1988)

 

Vea Kaiser – Makarionissi oder Die Insel der Seligen

In 2018, I only read 6 books in my native German. This shocked me to the core because it was the lowest number I ever achieved since moving to the UK and mostly reading English books. A lot of it has to do with accessibility, I lack a German library (although the Onleihe by the Goethe Institut is great), I lack German bookshops (yes, one can order through the internet, but browsing in bookshops is what informs you about what is coming out etc.) and I just stopped reading reviews in newspapers and magazines (mostly because I don’t have access to magazines and also because I ended my Spiegel subscription). So I set out into 2019 with the firm conviction to read more German books again. In came a subscription to Skoobe, sort of like scribd but in German, which allowed me to browse, try things out and abandon books if I don’t like them. I also started reading reviews again and watched German-speaking literary TV programs. This resulted in 31 books read last year, which is quite the improvement.

However, I have been around long enough to know that you have to keep the effort up if you want to maintain an achievement. It is too easy to rest on your laurels. So this year, I started with my fellow booktuber and fellow German Britta Boehler a year-long “reading challenge” (I personally prefer the word “project”, but who nitpicks at words… surely not I) to Read More German Books in 2020. We have set up a Goodreads group because public accountability and all that shenanigans but also we felt that people should generally read a few more German books, I always think that German classics and contemporary fiction does not get enough airtime on YouTube, heck, it does not even get enough airtime on German Book TV shows, but that is a rant for another blog post.

My aim for 2020 is to read at least 25 German books, that would account for about 10% of my reading, however, my secret goal is to not just surpass the 31 from last year but to get to 50 and thus making German books account for 20% of my reading. In the lofty realms of future me, I would like to get it to 25%. I also plan to read more books translated into German from languages other than English (because I read them in English naturally), but I won’t count these in the German-language category for obvious reasons.

So what better way to start the year than by reading a German-language book and so I finally picked up my second Vea Kaiser: Makarionissi oder Die Insel der Seligen. Her Blasmusikpop (Oompah Pop – you can read a translated excerpt here) was one of my favourite reads in 2018, so it is fair to say that expectations were high and I am happy to report that my expectations were justified because I loved the book.

In essence, the book is about family bonds and migration and what happens to a family when parts of the family have to leave the home village to make their way in the world. This is a topic that fascinates me seeing that I am someone who does not live in the place where I was born and have not done so for nearly 30 years.

The story starts in a Greek mountain village and takes us to Hildesheim in German, St. Poelten in Austria, Chicago, Switzerland and to a Greek Island. I think the best way to describe this book is that it is a Pop-Melodrama in the Greek Heroic tradition. Yes, that’s definitely it. I also loved Kaiser’s look at migration, she presents us with various forms of migration: Economic, political and personal. Naturally, many Greek left the country in the 1960ies for economic reasons, many came to Germany, but then with the advent of the military Junta, many left-leaning or outright communist Greek had to flee the country to save their lives and became political migrants. Another character much later in the book leaves the country because of a broken heart. She presents us with these migration stories without bashing us with them around our heads, yet, they really left a deep impression on me and will be what I will remember about this book.

I also loved the characters in the book, trapped in a cycle of always never quite making the right choice yet somehow finding a bit of happiness here and there, but life always messes it up just when things are going ok. I think Vea Kaiser wants to say that life is a tragedy with happy moments, which naturally makes those fleeting times all the more precious.

I am pretty sure that 2020 will see me reading Rückwärtswalzer oder Die Manen der Familie Prischinger and that would then mean that I have read all her books, leaving me hoping dearly that she will soon bring out a new novel. 

23883032

Makarionissi oder Die Insel der Seligen by Vea Kaiser

Hardcover, 464 pages

Published May 11th 2015 by Kiepenheuer&Witsch

Yeoyu – New Voices Korea

It’s been roughly 6 months now since I ventured into the giant rabbit hole that is Korean and Asian fiction in general. I happily report that I plan to stay in the said hole for the foreseeable future. This January, I am taking part in “Japan in January” hosted by the lovely Lauren (End.Notes on instagram) and I am rather enjoying myself. Next month, I plan to read a huge amount of Korean books. Life is good, life is good.

Instagram is truly a wonderful social media platform for readers. By using hashtags to label pictures of books you allow other readers with similar interests to find you and thus recommend books to you. I love this aspect of social media so much and thus any thought of going offline and deleting all the apps are usually short-lived.  It was through such a recommendation, that I came across the Yeoyu collection published by Stranger Press and as luck would have it, the Husband asked me the same day if there are any books I specifically want for Christmas. So naturally, this is what I asked for.

This may take the element of surprise out of gifts (although I still had a couple of surprises) but it ensures that I get something I want. Win-win. And yes, I read them all already. What I liked about the stories is that they introduced me not just to Korean authors, but also to translators of Korean. I read work translated by Deborah Smith before and I have already Emily Yae Won’s translation of “I’ll go on” by Hwang Jungeun (who also had a story in this collection) waiting for me.

You could say this type of collection works almost like a business card, a “nice to meet you, now I shall remember you, maybe we can have a coffee some time.”  A few of the authors have no other work translated as of yet (Cheon Heerahn and Kang Hwagil) – or at least as far as I could find out – but all the others are available with other works. Most notable Bae Suah’s new novel “Untold Day and Night” is getting some great advance press and I, for one, cannot wait to get my fingers on a copy.

The set comes with 8 titles, you can buy individually, but who would do such a thing?

These are the titles

EUROPA by Han Kang // translated Deborah Smith

FIVE PRELUDES… by Cheon Heerahn // translated  Emily Yae Won

LEFT’S RIGHT… by Han Yujoo // translated Janet Hong

MILENA, MILENA… by Bae Suah // translated Deborah Smith

OLD WRESTLER by Jeon Sungtae // translated Sora Kim-Russell

KONG’S GARDEN by Hwang Jungeun // translated Jeon Seung-Hee

DEMONS by Kang Hwagil // translated Mattho Mandersloot

DIVORCE by Kim Soom // translated Emily Yae Won

I love the production value of them a lot and I know that is not what counts or should count, but I appreciated that they reminded me of the zines of my teenage years in the 80ies. They are lovely to hold and read which definitely makes me happy. It is the content, however, that matters and here the collection absolutely convinced me: It was just wonderful. There was not a single story that I hated. The Old Wrestler is probably the one I liked the least, but I still liked it a lot. On the other end of the spectrum was Divorce and Five Preludes and a Fugue, which I loved so much that I cannot stop thinking about them. In particular, I admire the ease of the translation in Five Preludes so much, sheer brilliance.

I also think that in general publishers should always provide information about each translator in each translated book, some already do, but often we have no information at all, especially for older works when books are republished. When I like a translator, I want to read more by them, in many ways this is no different than finding an audio narrator you like: Yes, you are here for the novel written by the author, but it is the voice of the narrator that pulls you in just as much and any lover of audiobooks will know how a bad narrator can utterly destroy an otherwise brilliant book. With audiobooks, we have the option to pick up the print version, however, with a translation we are totally at the mercy of the translator: their voice is the one we hear and that either works for us or not.

I have already asked The Husband to get me the Japanese collection for my birthday in May… if I can wait that long. Stay tuned.

Reading Women Challenge 2019 – How did I do?

Like many readers, each year I try to improve on the year before – mostly on the quality of books, i.e. how much do I enjoy the books I read, but also with regards to pushing myself out of my comfort zones. We all have them, so it is good to try and stretch ourselves a little. The Reading Women Challenge is like a good helper along the way, that is, if you are using it that way. Sadly this last year, I did not check in with the challenge, so all the books listed below will have happened accidentally.

I decided to write this post, to check on all these happy little accidents and tick off the challenges, that I did complete. My guess is that I did about 50%, so let’s check if this assumption is right.

All books read for this challenge must be by or about women.

  1. A mystery or thriller written by a woman of colour I did it. In fact many times over. Most notable mentions for this section are:

     

The Good Son by Jeong You-Jeong, translated from the Korean by Kim Chi-Young.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder

The Art of Theft (Book 4 in the Lady Sherlock Series) by Sherry Thomas

I loved all three of them for very different reasons. Jeong’s book is essentially the coming of age tale of a psychopath, absolutely loved this one. The Memory Police is a dystopian novel with a very poetic feel. The Art of Theft is the fourth book in a series exploring: what if Sherlock Holmes was in fact a woman posing as a man.

2. A book about a woman with a mental illness

The Deutsche Buchpreis Longlisted title by Austrian author Angela Lehner was just perfect for this prompt, but it was a total accidental pick. I adored this book and it was my favourite from the Deutsche Buchpreis Longlist this year.

43205085._SY475_

3. A book by an author from Nigeria or New Zealand

Big Fail on this one, despite having read three African women this year…

4. A book about or set in Appalachia

Also a big no.

5. A children’s book

785453

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. I read this prize winner by fluke, my obsession with Korea led me down a rabbit hole where I came across this book. I thought it was ok, a tiny bit patronizing with regards to its message.

6. A multigenerational family saga

34051011

I wonder just how many Korean/Asian authors will make this list. Erm, this obsession of mine is real and all engrossing. I finally read Pachinko by Min Jin Lee this year, I liked it but I think my expectations were way too high.

7. A book featuring a woman in science

334176

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell is such a beloved book by many, but for me, it was just a bit meh. Still, I think it can count for this prompt. Just. Well, maybe a bit of a stretch. Oh well, life is hardly ever perfect

8. A play

Nothing. I really don’t like reading them that much, so this was never going to happen.

9. A novella

23674576._SY475_.jpg

I am not much of a romance reader, but dipped my toe in with this novella by Alyssa Cole “Agnes Moor’s Wild Knight”. Was a fun, quick read.

10. A book about a woman athlete

Nope, nothing.

11. A book featuring a religion other than your own

36660586._SY475_.jpg

This Green and Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik was a great book for me about a Muslim family who moved to rural England and the possible building of a Mosque. I definitely will read more by Ayisha Malik.

12. A Lambda Literary Award winner

also a no.

13. A myth retelling

Nope, starting to worry I may not make 50%.

14. A translated book published before 1945

62779._SY475_

Read this for the Read Around the World Bookclub, Carmen Laforet’s Nada was published in 1944 in Spain. One of the most haunting books I read this year.

15. A book written by a South Asian author

91LOZaW9pQL

Oh, I do feel like I am a tad cheating with this one. The Widows of Malabar is a mystery set in 1920ies India written by Sujata Massay who has Indian heritage. Does that count? I shall count it because I have read nothing else by a female South Asian author… which is amazing really considering that there is usually at least one, after all, it’s one of the biggest publishing markets in the world.

16. A book by an Indigenous woman

292706 (1)

The Read Around the World Bookclub is saving my bacon or rather tofu rasher… I enjoyed Monkey Beach a lot, our Canadian pick written by Eden Robinson. Eden Robinson is a member of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations.

17. A book from the 2018 Reading Women Award shortlist

Looks blankly into space…

18. A romance or love story

40554709._SY475_.jpg

Strictly speaking, A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn is a mystery, but let me tell you, I am here for the slow-burn romance between two characters in the book. I cannot wait for the next book in the series. If I feel sad, stressed, worried about the state of the world, nothing, absolutely NOTHING can pick me up and entertain me like Raybourn’s books.

19. A book about nature

There have been many, but the most notable for me has been probably Jessica J. Lee’s Two Trees make a Forest. Lee tracks her family’s heritage and connection with Taiwan and has written almost a love story with the place whilst at the same time pondering about belonging, language, family relationships. Definitely, would make my personal Top 10 if I did such a thing.

47112443._SY475_

20. A historical fiction book

Now, I read a lot of historical fiction, but of all the ones I read, really only these two stood out for me for different reasons.

Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton was an absolutely brilliant novel and in my humble opinion should have won the Women’s or at least be shortlisted. Set in 1910 in Philadelphia, it follows the events after a Black man drove a streetcar into a shop front. The story unravels both in the present and the past. Haunting and absolutely beautifully written.

Wolf by Marie Brunnthaler is only available in German at present (if you know any English publishers, tell them to pick it up). Set in the 1820ies in the Black Forest, it’s a dark grim tale of passion and revenge. Loved it.

21. A book you bought or borrowed in 2019

18465509

Euny Hong’s Korean Cool was the first of a long series of books about Korea, by Korean authors etc, I bought this autumn. Obsession is my middle name.

22. A book you picked up because of the cover

46208291

I requested this book from Netgalley and 100% it was because of the title and the cover. Warriors, Witches, Women by Kate Hodges is not coming out until February 2020 but I loved it. Not least because unlike so many books like this, she does not just focus on the Celtic and Greek Goddesses.

23. Any book from a series

Anna Lee Huber is another one of those authors for me, that I turn to when I just want a bit of a comfort read, something that lets me forget whatever is irking me in my real life. I adore both her Verity Kent series as well as her Lady Darby mysteries. They are more serious in tone than the Speedwell series mentioned further up, but that does take nothing away from their entertainment value.

24. A young adult book by a woman of colour

Sadly none. Tempted to use one of the many books my daughter read, but that really would be cheating.

BONUS:

  • A book by Jesmyn Ward – no

  • A book by Jhumpa Lahiri – no

So, how did I do? Actually, not that bad at all if you consider that I did this without a plan and without tracking my progress: 16 out of 24 books, that is 66% or 2/3 of the challenge.

Check in to my YouTube channel later this week, where I will be posting a recommendations video for the 2020 challenge.

Recursion by Blake Crouch

42046112Time travel techno thriller. An alliteration that promises entertainment. Well, it does when the author is Blake Crouch.

I read Dark Matter last year and it was thoroughly enjoyable, so I was excited when Recursion arrived in the post by the publisher.

Barry, an NYC cop, starts investigating a suicide caused by FMS, False Memory Syndrome. More and more people seem to get this disease, suddenly they find themselves with memories of another life and this memories are so real that they find it hard to distinguish between their lived reality and the memory reality.

The other story line follows, Helena, a scientist who wants to build a memory chair, to help with Alzheimer’s to hold on to their memories. A rich investor offers to assist her and she finds herself on a mysterious oil rig, with all the funds she could ever dream of, but also an inkling that things may be more sinister than she thought.

I actually read this on my birthday. We too the train to Liverpool for a day in galleries and eat food and drink coffee and the train journey is 90 minutes each way. And it was the perfect book for it. It really messes with your mind and the implications of time travel technology in the wrong hands: Let’s face it, we can never have such technology, even if it is possible, because humans would abuse it.

Like Dark Matter, it has the “must turn every page” effect that is essential for a book of this type. I mean, who wants to read a slow moving thriller. Ok, some people may be into that, but I for sure want to be at the edge of my seat, gripped and unable to put it down. And this book delivered just that.

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver

40725252It was not me who discovered Michelle Paver about five years ago, but my daughter when she pulled “The Wolf Brothers” off the shelf at our local library and then read all six books of the “Chronicles of Ancient Darkness” in short succession. So you may forgive me, that I had Michelle Paver down as a middle grade author until I saw Wakenhyrst on the shelf at the same library but this time in the adult section of “new and notable releases”. The magpie on the cover sealed the deal, because I adore the birds for their chatter and cheekiness.

The story starts in the 1960ies, when a journalist tries to uncover more details of the events in 1913 that lead an eminent historian Edward Stearne to be sent to Broadmoor, a high-security psychiatric hospital after committing a brutal and random murder. The journalist in the 1960, intrigued to find out more about Stearne after a historian finds some paintings by Stearne done during his time in Broadmoor. He comes to a different conclusion as to who committed the murder and thus we are thrown back to 1906. We meet Maud, the eldest daughter of Edward Stearne, who at the time is 9 years old. The whole family is under the thumb of Stearne who has imposed so many rules about what the family is allowed and not allowed to do. Maud tries to make sense of the goings on in the house and we work our way towards that fateful day in 1913 with utter relentlessness.

Paver demonstrates, that you can have unlikeable characters that are engaging. So often when a story features loathsome protagonists, authors forget that the reader still wants to find out why they do what the do, how they became the way they are and how they feel about the consequences of their actions. Naturally, Stearne is utterly unlikeable, a tyrant, he clearly has been mentally unstable all his life, but because he is financially independent, a landowner, a scholar, he can do pretty much whatever pleases him. As for Maude, I was never quite sure, how much I could trust her, but I certainly felt for her. Whatever she did, I could understand her reasoning, her motives.

Maud is caught up in the rules of the society of her time. Her father knows that she is intelligent, at the same time dismisses her as a stupid girl. She is self-educated because nobody cares to educate her, so she often comes to wrong conclusions. Utterly alone, she has no confidante, no support and when she turns to the stalwarts in her society for help, she is dismissed and threatened. It makes for a claustrophobic, dark experience, when you put yourself in Maud’s shoes.

I adored how Paver made the natural surroundings in the book of central importance to the characters: Stearne who fears the marsh and the fenland and Maud who feels truly herself when she is in the wildnerness of the fens, a forbidding place, but the only place she can truly be herself. Religion is an important aspect of the book, but nature is the true spirit in this book, where absolution and judgement takes place. Nature wins.

lakenheath-fen-1009495

Paver is a truly gifted storyteller, it is rare for me to read a book that I cannot put down and essentially, I read this in one sitting. So you may imagine my pleasure to realise that she has written more books for adults. And thus, the TBR has grown and I am delighted.

Fled by Meg Keneally

43252694

It is a rare thing to read a historical fiction novel with a female main character that is truly a main character in her story (well, unless she is a Queen). And more often than not, when we have such a story, it comes entirely from an author’s imagination. I guess that is because so little is often known about women’s lives in the past, but I think it’s also a sign of publishing trends that there is simply not much published along these lines. A few each year, but more likely then not, women are portrayed in their relationship to the men in their lives, but I am glad to report, that Meg Keneally’s book could have never been called the Fisherman’s Daughter.

Jenny’s father was a fisherman and after his death, his daughters and wife are left to struggle on. The 18th century was brutal to women in general, but especially when left behind without “male” protection and income, society was simply designed for women to be dependent on men, so without that, Jenny’s life soon spirals into financial misery. Somehow she falls into becoming a robber on the highways, which inevitably ends her in court and then on a transportation ship.

Jenny has not been given many choices in life, but her will to survive and struggle for liberty is second to none. Even as a prisoner, Jenny rarely wavers in her sense of self and keeps a level of agency many female characters in novels lack: She is the engine that drives this story and this is what made it such a fantastic read. The book is harsh, unjust and brutal in places, but also just so full of hope.

The story is based on the life of Mary Bryant and the author outlines in the afterword the similarities and inspirations for the story and the reason why she decided to base a character on Mary rather than trying to tell Mary’s story. And I appreciated that a lot. I always prefer if a story is told in that way, as I find myself otherwise unpicking fact from fiction. But a word of warning: Try not read anything about Mary Bryant’s life as this will spoil some of the major plot points in the novel. And you would want to enjoy them without expecting them to happen.

Meg Keneally is an Australian author who has co-authored books with her father Tom Keneally, these books are highly rated and I shall get my hands on them soon. Fled is her solo debut.

Certainly a book, you should pack into your suitcase and take with you on your summer travels, or read it at home with a cup of tea and be grateful that you don’t live in the 18th century.

Published April 15th 2019 by Bonier Zaffre
Paperback, 400 pages

 

Underland by Robert Macfarlane

41817481

I was wary of Underland at the beginning, as I normally reach for Macfarlane’s books when I cannot go exploring myself. Sort of a stand in adventure while bound to my desk for work or asthma keeping my indoors in winter. How would it work reading about him exploring terrain that I have absolutely no interest in exploring myself? Would I love it or would I be detached and disinterested?

Right from the beginning, I was greeted by the high level of writing. It is a bit like meeting up with an old friend, you sit down and pick up where you left off, even when it has been years. The writing is sublime. And the introduction to the Underlands is gentle, sharing his fascination, his motives for writing, he slowly guides us into the book. I loved visiting underground spaces in this way without the need for myself to get uncomfortable, wet or in a dangerous situation. Armchair travelling at its best.

Not all journeys take you literally underground, some are just left you wondering what’s underfoot and I certainly took that with me on my walks last week on holiday in Scotland. Oddly, I thought most about his words after climbing the hill to an old Iron Age Hillfort, pondering what lay beneath me and what memories the stones held that I was standing on. I don’t think, I ever really gave that much thought to what is under my feet than that what lies before my eyes when out walking. And quite frankly that change in perspective was refreshing.

It also got me thinking about my own place in the world, what legacy I will leave behind. What impact I can have to safeguard, to protect and to pass on. And this is where the real strength of any good book comes from: The moment you put it down, it still occupies your thoughts, you carry its wisdom with you and phrases pop into your head when you are doing other things.

Certainly a book for me that I will revisit over and over again, preferably reading out passages to my husband, because the writing is just so wonderful. And we shall keep going out and find beauty and be still.

Underland by Robert Macfarlane
Hardcover, 280 pages
Expected publication: May 2nd 2019 by Hamish Hamilton