Books of the Year 2016, Part Two

Yesterday I revealed my pre-2016 published fiction and 2016 non-fiction books of the year. Today it’s turn the of the 2016 fiction list and what an absolute corker of a year it’s been. (It needed to be to make up for the dire straits that is real life.) I’ve read and reviewed lots of good books so I’ve been very strict for this list and only included books I thought were superb and would happily re-read again and again. Click on the book covers to take you to my full reviews.

4627425830The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

If you’ve read my review or follow me on Twitter, it’ll be no surprise that this is my Book of the Year. Set over the course of a year, newly widowed Cora Seabourne decamps from London to Essex with her companion, Martha, and her withdrawn, unusual son, Francis. There she encounters two things which will change her life: the legend of the Essex Serpent, apparently returned and killing man and beast, and local reverend Will Ransome, who’s more modern in his thinking than Cora expects and is quite a match for her intellectually. With themes of science and religion, love and friendship this book is as smart as it is engaging. I didn’t read this book, I lived inside it. Pure joy.

 

41no-ogymgl-_sy344_bo1204203200_The Lesser Bohemians – Eimear McBride

Eily leaves Ireland for London and drama school, determined to lose her virginity. When she does, it’s with Stephen, a relatively famous actor, who she assumes she’ll never see again. Of course it’s only a matter of weeks before she does and, despite the twenty-year age gap – she’s eighteen and he thirty-eight, a relationship, of sorts, begins. Over the course of a year in the 1980s, Eily and Stephen fall in and out of love and Stephen reveals his dark past. Written in a similar staccato, interior style to her debut, McBride places the reader in Eily’s head and we live out the year with her. Superb.

 
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Martin John – Anakana Schofield

Martin John is an ‘inadequate molester’. Exiled to London from Ireland by his mother, following an incident in a dentist’s waiting room, Martin John follows his rituals and circuits to ensure he stays on the right side of the law. But he’s already made a mistake and now Baldy Conscience has stayed too long in John’s house they’ll be consequences. John’s mother’s story is also very interesting, equal parts heartbreaking and disturbing. An unusual subject told in an experimental, circular style, this really does linger long after you’ve finished reading it.

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Under the Visible Life – Kim Echlin

The story of two women, Mahsa Weaver and Katherine Goodnow, who have two things in common: 1) jazz 2) their mixed heritage and the issues which have come with it. Two women who want independence but are prevented from having it in different ways due to their different cultural backgrounds – although all of their issues fall under the banner of patriarchy. Piercingly astute on women’s lives, loves and friendships.

 

 

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Human Acts – Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith)

The story of the aftermath of the student uprising in Gwangju, South Korea in 1980. Beginning with ‘The Boy’, Dong-Ho outside the municipal gymnasium, listening to the memorial service for the bodies being brought to the gym for families to identify and moving through a number of narrative voices, including the body of Dong-Ho’s friend, Jeong-dae. Shocking, violent and eyeopening.

 

 

coverMy Name Is Leon – Kit de Waal

Carol is struggling following the birth of her second son, Jake. Tony, Jake’s father has no intention of leaving his long-term partner and family and Byron, nine-year-old Leon’s father, did a runner when he was due to go to court. She has no financial support and is suffering from postnatal depression. When Tina, the neighbour, calls social services, Jake and Leon are taken into care, going together to a foster carer’s house. Leon spends his time looking out for Jake, thinking about the things that happened when he lived with his mum and hoping that his mum will get better and come back for them. Instead, Carol disappears and white baby Jake is adopted. Leon, nine-years-old with light brown skin, is left behind with Maureen, the foster carer, with little hope of anyone offering him a permanent home. Heart breaking and precise, de Waal nails a child’s perspective, writing convincingly about a situation not often covered in literature.

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Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew – Susan Fletcher

1889. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. There we find Jeanne Trabuc, wife of Charles – ‘The Major’ – the warden of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, hospital for the mentally ill. A new patient arrives, an artist by the name of Vincent Van Gogh. Jeanne strikes up a friendship with the artist which becomes a catalyst for her long hidden feelings about her life. A wonderful novel about marriage – how it changes over time, how you can never really know someone even after thirty years – and the power of art to change the way you view the world.

 

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Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun – Sarah Ladipo Manyika

Doctor Morayo Da Silva is approaching her 75th birthday. Former academic, ex-wife of an ambassador, she’s seen the world and lived it all. Now settled in San Francisco living a steady, reliable life…or so she tells us. The multiple narrators of this fascinating tale might not agree. Dr Morayo Da Silva is a wonderful character: a woman in her 70s who’s lived a varied life, unafraid to dress as she pleases, contemplate tattoos, read voraciously and discuss sexuality and how she’s found life as a woman and as a person of colour. A gem.

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The Power – Naomi Alderman

A male academic, living in a matriarchy, writes a book about how women gained power – personally, through an electric current which becomes live in their bodies, and politically. The story follows three women: Roxy, a gangster’s daughter; Margot, a mayor, and Allie, an abused foster daughter, as they overturn their situations and begin to run the world. All of this is documented by a male journalist, Tunde, the first to capture the power on camera. Violence, corruption, sexual and domestic abuse, this is indeed a powerful read.

 

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Eileen – Ottessa Moshfegh

24-year-old Eileen lives at home with her cruel, ex-cop father. She works at the juvenile detention centre where she fancies one of the prison guards who never acknowledges her existence. The week before Christmas, 1964, Rebecca Saint John arrives at the institution to be the first ever director of education. She takes a shine to Eileen and Eileen’s life takes a very dark turn indeed.

 

510ryhmdeel-_sy344_bo1204203200_If You Look for Me, I Am Not Here – Sarayu Srivatsa 

Mallika, Siva’s Amma, becomes pregnant with twins: a boy and a girl. The girl, Tara, arrives with the umbilical cord still around her neck and dies moments later. The boy, Siva, survives. But Mallika wanted a girl and her grief for Tara leads her to reject Siva and accuse her husband of killing Tara. Brought up as a boy by his father and grandmother and a girl by his mother, Siva spends his childhood and adolescence questioning whether he is a boy or a girl. His story is interwoven with that of George Gibbs, an Englishman who used to live in their house. Dealing with pertinent issues of gender through interwoven stories of two cultures, the tales are completely engrossing and the writing’s both inventive and precise.

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Dodge and Burn – Seraphina Madsen

An exercise in imagination that takes the reader on a road trip across the west of the USA and the possibilities of experimental fiction. Framed by news reports of a missing American heiress, Eugenie Lund, the story of her childhood and subsequent trip is told mostly through her notebooks. Virtually imprisoned as part of a social experiment by Dr Vargas, Lund’s childhood was an unusual one which ended when her sister disappeared. This is the story of her search for Camille. A welcome addition to the cult fiction genre, reclaiming something from generations of male writers. Hurrah!

In the Media: November 2016, Part One

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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What else can begin this fortnight’s coverage?

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Photograph by Nye’Lyn Tho

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

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Personal essays/memoir:

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Feminism:

Society and Politics:

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

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The interviews/profiles:

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The regular columnists:

Interview with Sarah Ladipo Manyika

When the Goldsmiths Prize shortlist was announced, there were two books I was thrilled to see on the list. One was Martin John by Anakana Schofield and the other was Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika. Both books made a huge impression on me when I read them earlier in the year. I’ve re-read them both since and I stand by my initial thoughts, they’re both brilliant. I’m absolutely delighted then to have had the opportunity to interview Sarah Ladipo Manyika, who, I hope you’ll agree, gives good interview.

Your protagonist, Dr. Morayo de Silva, is glorious: turning 75, well-travelled, well-educated, lives alone, aware of her sexuality, drives a sports car, dresses in colourful clothes and planning her first tattoo. Where did she come from?

Toni Morrison is quoted as saying that if there’s a book you want to read that hasn’t yet been written, than you must write it yourself. This was what drove me to write Morayo’s story. I was finding plenty of books about older men but few about older women and even fewer about the lives of black women. Yet, all around me I kept meeting older women who’d led colourful lives. There was my neighbour, an opera singer in her eighties, who upon seeing my handsome, septuagenarian father inquired as to whether he was single. He wasn’t, but that didn’t stop her fancying him. And then there is my 95-year-old Zimbabwean relative who recently acquired her first cell phone and keeps it hidden in a bright blue purse tucked into her bra. When the phone rings, she announces to the world, “phone ringing,” but doesn’t bother to answer. She simply enjoys the sound of it ringing. Another woman that inspired my writing was a single, elderly Jewish woman, whom I met when I first moved to San Francisco. She was not as flamboyant as many others that I’d met, but she was just as fiercely independent. The last few years of her life were difficult ones and so I wrote this story – a more upbeat story, one that I would perhaps have wished for her.

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Sarah with her 95-year-old relative

I love the way you use books in the story, particularly when Morayo’s torn ones are thrown away and how Morayo writes her own version of Auster’s Winter Journal at the back of her copy of the book. How do you see books and the idea of writing our own narratives as part of Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun?

I believe that all books are in conversation with books that came before. And because Morayo’s books are in a very real sense her friends, her conversation with them is an embodiment of such conversations. Morayo, like me, is particularly attuned to some of the gaps in literature – to those voices and characters, that don’t often appear. Morayo, as an elderly black woman in San Francisco, is one such person. I find myself drawn to characters that are invisible due to socioeconomic status, age, gender and ethnicity. I’m particularly interested in how the so-called “outsiders” think of themselves in contrast to how others see them.

The story’s told from multiple viewpoints, which is some feat for a novella. How did you manage this so the reader wasn’t jolted from the story by a shifting perspective?

When I first started writing this story, I wrote it in the third person, but after some time, my characters grew tired of being represented by the omniscient third person and walked off the page in protest.

“Enough with the ‘he said’ and ‘she said’,” they announced in a cacophony of multiple firsts.

“Absolutely not!” I said. “This isn’t The Sound and the Fury! You’re just a short novel, so how can I possibly have you all talking in the first person. Readers will just get confused.”

“Says who?” asked my main character.

“Convention!”

“Convention?” she scoffed, “But aren’t you the one that keeps saying that people like us hardly appear in literature? Why keep restraining us then?”

“We’re just trying to be helpful,” replied Morayo’s best friend.

“Yeah,” added another of Morayo’s friends, “and personally, I’m tired of people looking at me like I need pity ‘n shit. So if you don’t wanna hear our voices, count me out.”

The novella’s dense with themes – age, the lack of understanding people have of other people’s cultures, homelessness, women’s roles – how did you ensure the story didn’t collapse under them? 

I wrote the book, leading with character rather than theme. In this way, I let the themes emerge organically. There were times, however, when some of my personal concerns threatened to sink parts of the narrative. I was writing this book at a time when videotapes of police brutality against black men and women filled the news. I was, and still am, angry and horrified by the persistence of racism and police brutality in America and elsewhere. I quickly realized, however, that Morayo’s story was not the place to vent my personal frustrations. While racism inevitably features in the novel, I chose the vehicle of nonfiction to address racism more fully.

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You published your first novel In Dependence with UK publisher, Legend Press, but Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun is published by Cassava Republic, an African Press. Was it a conscious decision to go with an African publisher?

Yes, it was a conscious decision to choose Cassava Republic Press, a publishing company based out of Nigeria and now the U.K. I realized that by granting world rights to an African publisher I could, in a small way, attempt to address the imbalance of power in a world where the gatekeepers of literature, even for so-called African stories, remain firmly rooted in the west. Also, when I presented Cassava Republic Press with my manuscript, a novella, they didn’t shy away from a genre that is currently perceived by its European and American competitors as an “awkward sales and marketing proposition”.  Being shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize is an honour that I share with my publishers.

How do you feel about the novella being shortlisted for The Goldsmiths Prize?

I’m delighted, thrilled, happy as lark, and also still stunned … a bit like a mule that’s over the moon and on cloud nine, surprised to find her load of ice cream, still intact. And what an honour to be shortlisted with such an incredible group of writers! The beauty of prizes is that it expands a writer’s readership. All of a sudden I have readers that I wouldn’t otherwise have heard of my work. It’s particularly exciting to be shortlisted for a prize that rewards the unconventional. Many people told me that a short novel wasn’t a good idea, that it wasn’t advisable to frequently switch viewpoints, not to mention writing a story about an older black woman. Who would read it?

What’s next? Are you working on anything you can tell us about?

I’m currently working on some nonfiction. San Francisco has a large homeless population and this is one of the things I’m writing about.

My blog focuses on female writers; who are your favourite female writers?

Several years ago, when I realized how few women writers I’d read, I decided to rectify that. I started with Marilynne Robinson’s Home, and what a treat that book was – so deceptively quiet, so deeply profound. I then eagerly raced through books by Toni Morrison and Virginia Woolf and revelled in these authors’ ability to write so confidently while experimenting with form and style. I also enjoyed the way these authors depicted the so-called “ordinary” and domestic spheres of life in a way that I found fresh and exciting. Since then I’ve been racing to catch up on what I’d been missing. I’m grateful for blogs such as The Writes of Woman that feature and highlight women’s voices. I don’t have favourite writers but I do have favourite books. Here are some current favourites:

Longthroat Memoirs: Soup, Sex, and Nigerian Taste Buds – Yemisi Aribisala

We Need New Names – NoViolet Bulawayo

Mr. Loverman – Bernardine Evaristo

Things I Don’t Want to Know – Deborah Levy

Home – Toni Morrison

Happiness Like Water – Chinelo Okparanta

The Face – Ruth Ozeki

Citizen – Claudia Rankine

Lila – Marilynne Robinson

The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty – Vendela Vida

The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters

 

Huge thanks to Sarah Ladipo Manyika for the interview.

Flying Under the Radar…but well worth your time

2016 is shaping up to be such a corking year in books (thank goodness, eh, considering the state of everything else…) that I was going to do a books of the mid-year point list. However, when I drew up my longlist I noticed that it split neatly into two categories: those books you already know about because everyone is talking about them and those that I wish everyone was talking about because they’re brilliant and haven’t had the recognition they deserve. So here’s twelve books I’ve read so far this year that I think are worthy of your time and attention. Clicking on the covers will take you to my full review.

Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew – Susan Fletcher

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A new patient arrives at Saint-Paul-De-Mausole, an artist called Vincent van Gogh. The story of the novel, however, belongs to Jeanne Trabuc, the warder’s wife. van Gogh serves as a catalyst for a change in her steady, claustrophobic life. A fantastic portrait of a marriage and the power of art to change how you see the world.

Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun – Sarah Ladipo Manyika

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Doctor Morayo Da Silva is approaching her 75th birthday. Former academic, ex-wife of an ambassador, she’s seen the world and lived it all. Now settled in San Francisco living a steady, reliable life…or so she tells us. The multiple narrators of this fascinating tale might not agree. (This also gives me an opportunity to point you in the direction of this excellent piece recommending more women novelists you might enjoy by Sarah Ladipo Manyika on Vela: Seven Bold and New International Voices.)

Martin John – Anakana Schofield

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You know that reviewers’ cliche about books staying with you long after you’ve turned the final page? Well I read this in December and I still shudder every time I think about it. Martin John is an ‘inadequate molester’. Exiled to London from Ireland, by his mother, following an incident in a dentist’s waiting room, Martin John follows his rituals and circuits to ensure he stays on the right side of the law. But he’s already made a mistake and now Baldy Conscience has stayed too long in Martin’s house they’ll be consequences. John’s mother’s story is also very interesting, equal parts heartbreaking and disturbing.

Under the Udala Trees – Chinelo Okparanta

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A coming-of-age novel in 1970’s Nigeria. Ijeoma discovers her sexuality when she meets Amina. Her mother attempts to ‘correct’ her homosexuality through schooling her in The Bible and manoeuvring her into marriage. Gripping, heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful.

Sitting Ducks – Lisa Blower

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The perfect post-Brexit novel if you’re one of those people wondering who was ‘stupid’ enough to vote Leave in those run-down post-industrial towns destroyed by Thatcher and neglected by subsequent administrations. ‘Totty’ Minton’s fed up of being skint, unemployed and living in a house marked for demolition by his former school mate and private property entrepreneur, Malcolm Gandy. Corruption and despair are rife in the lead-up to the 2010 general election and there seems to be no end in sight.

The Living – Anjali Joseph

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Joseph also looks at working class lives. 35-year-old, single mother, Claire, works in one of the UK’s remaining shoe factories and struggles with her teenage son, Jason, while her feud with her mother rumbles on. Arun, a shoe maker and grandfather in Kolhapur, struggles with his health and looks back on his life and marriage. An excellent character study.

Under the Visible Life – Kim Echlin

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The story of two women, Mahsa Weaver and Katherine Goodnow, who have two things in common: 1) jazz 2) their mixed heritage and the issues which have come with it. Two women who want independence but are prevented from having it in different ways although all under the banner of the patriarchy. Piercingly astute on women’s lives.

If You Look for Me, I Am Not Here – Sarayu Srivatsa

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Mallika, Siva’s Amma, becomes pregnant with twins: a boy and a girl. The girl, Tara, arrives with the umbilical cord still around her neck and dies moments later. The boy, Siva, survives. But Mallika wanted a girl and her grief for Tara leads her to reject Siva and accuse her husband of killing Tara. Brought up as a boy by his father and grandmother and a girl by his mother, Siva spends his childhood and adolescence questioning whether he is a boy or a girl. His story is interwoven with that of George Gibbs, an Englishman who used to live in their house. You can read my interview with Sarayu Srivatsa here.

Mend the Living – Maylis de Kerangal (translated by Jessica Moore)

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Simon Limbeau is fatally wounded in a road traffic accident. Pulled from the wreckage and transported to an Intensive Care Unit, the novel charts the progress to the point when Simon’s heart becomes that of Claire Méjan. As the heart’s journey progresses, we meet all of the people involved in transporting it from one body to another. Gripping and fascinating.

Masked Dolls – Shih Chiung-Yu (translated by Wang Xinlin and Poppy Toland)

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Twenty-three chapters, each one titled ‘Conflict’ and the number of the chapter. Initially these conflicts seem to be individual tales: Judy and her Chinese lover; Jiaying and Lawrence, her Western boyfriend; Jiaying’s father’s stories of World War Two; the person who steals underwear from the flat Jiaying and her friends live in when they’re students; Jiaying’s friend Fat Luo’s increasing hatred of her. But as the book progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that these ideas are thematically linked. Greater than the sum of its parts.

Ghostbird – Carol Lovekin

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In a Welsh village where it rains every day in August, fourteen-year-old Cadi Hopkins begins to ask questions about her dead father and sister and why she’s not allowed to go to the lake. Cadi lives with her mother, Violet, with whom she’s locked in an intensified teenage daughter/mother battle. Cadi’s aunt/Violet’s sister-in-law, Lili, lives next door and acts as a surrogate mother to Cadi. Lili also has a contentious relationship with Violet. Nature, magic realism, secrets and family relationships. Atmospheric.

Eileen – Ottessa Moshfegh

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Eileen tells the story of ‘back then’ when she lived with her alcoholic, ex-cop, father, was a secretary in a boys’ juvenile correction facility and met Rebecca Saint John, the beautiful, intelligent, fashionable director of education who befriends Eileen and leads her down a very dark, twisty path.

This Must Be the Place – Maggie O’Farrell

This Must Be the Place is Maggie O’Farrell’s most ambitious novel to date, moving around the world and through a cast of characters. At its centre though is the marriage of Claudette and Daniel.

The novel begins in 2010 with a man standing at the perimeter of the garden. As Daniel spots him and considers how quickly he can get to Claudette and their children, if necessary, Claudette comes around the side of the house, baby on her back, brandishing a shotgun. She fires two shots and the man leaves. It’s revealed in the first section of the novel that this isn’t as crazy as it seems: Claudette was a famous film star who faked her death and the death of her son and bought a house in rural Donegal which isn’t on the map, can’t be seen from the road and requires you to pass through twelve gates to get to it. In the circumstances, the idea that someone might have found her when she doesn’t want them to seems fairly plausible.

To apply the word ‘famous’ to her wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Fame is what she’d had before she’d done what she did; what came afterwards went beyond into a kind of gilded, deified sphere of notoriety. These days, she was known less for her films than for having vanished right at the height of her career. Poof. Ta-da. Just like that. Thereby making herself into one of the most speculated-about enigmas of our time.

Daniel is a linguist, currently teaching at the university in Belfast. He’s about to go to work to deliver a lecture and then travel on a flight to New York City, to his father’s 90th birthday party in Brooklyn. In the car on the way through the gates from the house to the road, Daniel hears a section of a BBC radio programme on gender and the workplace. An interview plays and he recognises the voice: Nicola Janks, a woman he knew back in the 1980s. When the clip ends, the presenter ‘intones’ that Janks died not long after the interview, a piece of news that is new to Daniel. The significance of this and the impact it will have on his marriage to Claudette is slowly revealed throughout the novel. It also leads Daniel to this revelation before he leaves Belfast:

…my life has been a series of elisions, cover-ups, dropped stitches in knitting. To all appearances, I am a husband, a father, a teacher, a citizen, but when tilted towards the light I become a deserter, a sham, a killer, a thief. On the surface I am one thing but underneath I am riddled with holes and caverns, like a limestone landscape.


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The novel contains themes that will be familiar to O’Farrell’s regular readers – loss; the big secret that returns to haunt; relationships, both romantic and familial – but what is different is the way the novel is structured.

This Must Be the Place moves through time, place and character in a non-liner structure. This means we get a chapter told from Daniel’s first person point-of-view in Donegal in 2010, followed by one from Claudette’s point-of-view told in first person plural and second person in London in 1989, followed by third person subjective with Niall, Daniel’s son from his first marriage, in San Francisco in 1999 and so on. Most of the characters get a chapter, only a few have their perspective returned to. This type of structure can be done well, Trumpet by Jackie Kay or Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika, for instance. However, the problem with structuring a novel in this way is that you risk alienating the reader. There was a point when I grew weary of being jolted to yet another alien point-of-view, disorientated and trying to grasp on to something that would tell me who this person was (I read it in under 24 hours and I still couldn’t keep the cast of characters in my head). Having said that, some unexpectedly beautiful pieces come out of this structure: the chapter from Teresa, Daniel’s mother’s perspective is heart-breaking but done with subtlety and quiet restraint; Rosalind, a stranger Daniel meets on safari, has an interesting story with parallels to Daniel’s own, and there’s a sharp and funny encounter between Claudette’s son, Ari, and a school counsellor.

What makes the novel work is the various aspects of Claudette and Daniel we become privy to, whether through their own actions or the perspectives of others. Both have fascinating back-stories which offer a complex picture of who they are and who they might be together.

This Must Be the Place is an interesting novel. There are moments where it sings and moments of disorientation. I admire O’Farrell’s ambition and her characterisation is superb. I suspect whether you love the book or not will depend on your reaction to its structure.

 

Thanks to Tinder Press for the review copy.

In the Media, May 2016, Part One

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.

Jenny Diski at the LRB bookshop in London.

The last fortnight’s been dominated by death. On Thursday, Jenny Diski died less than two years after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Literary Hub ran ‘Remembering Jenny Diski‘ including pieces from Hayley Mlotek, Michelle Dean, Joanna Walsh, Bridget Read, Laura Marsh, Marta Bausells and Charlotte Shane. The Guardian ran an extract from her cancer diary. Joanne Harris wrote a found poem ‘Opium Ice Cream‘ from Diski’s tweets, and The London Review of Books opened Jenny Diski’s entire archive to non-subscribers.

The previous week comedian Victoria Wood died. A.L. Kennedy declared her, ‘My Hero‘ in The Guardian; Helen Walmsley Johnson wrote, ‘Victoria Wood gave us the gift of being able to laugh at ourselves‘ in The New Statesman

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Although he’s not a female writer, Prince also died just over a week ago and so much brilliant writing by women has come from that: Porochista Khakpour, ‘Prince’s Woman and Me: The Collaborators Who Inspired a Generation‘ in the Village Voice; Maya West, ‘A Hierarchy of Love and Loss and Prince‘ on Jezebel; Bim Adewunmi, ‘Celebrating Prince For 48 Hours In Minneapolis‘ on Buzzed; Heather Haverilsky, ‘Prince Showed Me a Whole New Way of Existing‘ on The Cut; Amanda Marcotte, ‘Sexy MFers, unite: The feminist power of Prince’s sex-positive songs‘ on Salon; K.T. Billey, ‘Prince and the queer body: Our dirty patron saint of pop gave me permission to think outside the gender binary‘ on Salon; Kaitlyn Greenidge, ‘Surviving a Long Alaskan Winter with Prince‘ on Literary Hub; Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, ‘Prince Spent His Life Elevating and Mentoring Women‘ on Jezebel; Lily Burano, ‘Why Prince Was a Hero to Strippers‘ on The Cut; Ashley Weatherford, ‘Understanding the Politics of Prince’s Hair‘ on The Cut; Mona Hayder, ‘Prince Was a Demigod Who Uplifted the Masses Through Music‘ on Literary Hub; Naomi Jackson, ‘Prince: Finding Joy Outside Conformity‘ on Literary Hub; Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, ‘Prince conjured the kind of sex you’d want to have – filthy and fun, and sometimes offensive‘ in The Independent; Tracy King, ‘We should celebrate Prince for championing female musicians‘ in The New Statesman; Laura Craik, ‘“I loved him because of how his music made me feel”‘ on The Pool; Michelle Garcia, ‘Prince gave black kids permission to be weirdos‘ on Vox; Ijeoma Oluo, ‘Prince Was The Patron Saint Of Black Weirdos‘ on The Establishment.

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Other brilliant writing about music came from the launch of Beyoncé’s new album Lemonade. Brittany Spanos, ‘How Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’ Reclaims Rock’s Black Female Legacy‘ in Rolling Stone; Mandy Stadtmiller, ‘How Lemonade Helped Me Talk to My Husband About Cheating‘ on The Cut; Treva Lindsey, ‘Beyoncé’s Lemonade Isn’t Just About Cheating, It’s About Black Sisterhood‘ in Cosmopolitan; Caroline O’Donoghue, ‘Monica, Becky With The Good Hair, and the power of the Other Woman‘ in The Pool; Diamond Sharp, ‘Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’ Is an Anthem for the Retribution of Black Women‘ on Vice; Morgan Jerkins, ‘‘Lemonade’ Is About Black Women Healing Themselves and Each Other‘ in Elle; Daisy Buchanan, ‘What can Beyoncé’s Lemonade teach us about love?‘ on The Pool; Vanessa Kisuule, ‘Why Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ Shows a Refinement of her Artistry‘ on Gal-Dem; Carrie Battan, ‘Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” Is a Revelation of Spirit‘ in The New Yorker; Priscilla Ward, ‘Beyoncé’s radical invitation: In “Lemonade,” a blueprint for black women working through pain‘ on Salon; Ezinne Ukoha, ‘I Will Do Better By My Sisters‘ on Medium; June Eric-Udorie, ‘Beyoncé’s Lemonade, and the power it bestows young black women‘ on The Pool; Rafia Zakaria, ‘Warsan Shire: the Somali-British poet quoted by Beyoncé in Lemonade‘ in The Guardian; Juliane Okot Bitek wrote, ‘On the Poet Warsaw Shire, Nobody’s Little Sister‘ on Literary Hub. While Jamila addressed Piers Morgan’s criticisms of the album with ‘Dear Piers…‘ on her blog.

And I wanted to include this story because it’s just lovey: Jessie Burton’s new novel The Muse includes a setting named after Waterstones’ bookseller Leila Skelton. Skelton does the most incredible window displays at the Doncaster shop which are often shared on Twitter.

The best of the rest:

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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:

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

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The interviews/profiles:

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The regular columnists:

Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun – Sarah Ladipo Manyika

Doctor Morayo Da Silva has led quite a life. Married at twenty-two to thirty-seven year old ambassador, Caesar, she’s seen the world. Discovering Caesar had another wife and finding it difficult to conjure up any enthusiasm for menu planning and protocol, Moraya undertook a Masters degree and became an academic. Eventually she left Caesar. By the time we meet her, she’s been living in an apartment in San Francisco for twenty years with a ‘magnifique’ view and hundreds of books, having ‘outfoxed the [Nigerian] life expectancy by nearly two decades’.

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Morayo tells us that her having lived in the same building in a rent controlled city for so long, must be annoying for the landlady but

the landlady must know what she loses in rent, she gains by having someone reliable like me keeping a watchful eye on the property.

However, Morayo’s reliability is soon brought into question, firstly by her attitude towards bills:

They don’t give you much time to pay these days, but I don’t let this trouble me. Once upon a time I was diligent, extraordinarily diligent, but life’s too short to fuss over such small things. That at least is what I tell myself until the diligence, never truly lost, reappears, and I return to the post.

Secondly, what Morayo discovers in that post is a letter from the Department of Motor Vehicles, the deadline for a response to which was the previous week. When she contacts them, it’s to be told she’s been reported for careless or reckless driving.

Thirdly, as Morayo’s tale unfolds, Manyika moves the narration between a number of characters: Dawud who owns a shop on Morayo’s street; Sunshine, Morayo’s former neighbour; a homeless woman Morayo passes on the street; Reggie Bailey; Caesar, and a chef. This patchwork of narrators shouldn’t work but it does. It works partly because Manyika interweaves her themes about belonging, immigration, race, privilege, age and being a woman throughout and also because she uses it as a device to highlight the disparity between Morayo’s view of herself and other people’s view of her. For example, at the beginning of the novel, Morayo reveals that she’s been thinking about returning to Lagos. The comment is provoked by the smell in the folds of the cloth she considers wearing that day.

I sigh, putting the original fabric aside and opting for another – this one gold and green, wafting eco-friendly, lavender-scented detergent. I wrap the material around my waist keeping my legs spread hip distance so as not to pull too tightly, then I wrap it again and finish with a secure tuck at the side. I choose a contrasting yellow material to wind around my hair and then check in the bathroom mirror, patting down the top of my afro.

This is contrasted with Dawud’s view of her in the following chapter:

He chuckles, thinking that once upon a time she must have been stunning – such a tall woman with a fine ass, even now. She was probably even stylish, although now, at her age, all these bright colours with the pencil and flowers sticking out of her hair only made her look odd.

Not only does this particular example show the gap between Marayo’s view of herself and Dawud’s view, but his comments also highlight the way society not only expects women to look and dress but how society expects older women to look and dress – ‘at her age’.

As Morayo prepares for her seventy-fifth birthday, she tries on the new red suede wedge heeled shoes she’s bought – new shoes being her first birthday tradition – whilst contemplating the tattoo she’s getting to fulfil her second birthday tradition – ‘to do something new and daring with each passing year’ – and balances on the edge of the bath to get a better view in the mirror. She twists, slips, and breaks her hip. The rest of the novel merges Morayo’s recovery, people’s treatment of her and further revelations about her life.

Sarah Ladipo Manyika packs an incredible amount into the 128 pages of Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun. She covers a number of big themes without the book ever feeling less than a cracking story; she blends a number of narrative voices in a way which works brilliantly even though in theory it really shouldn’t; she makes every single word in the book earn its place. Dr Morayo Da Silva is a wonderful character: a woman in her 70s who’s lived a varied life, unafraid to dress as she pleases, contemplate tattoos, read voraciously and discuss sexuality and how she’s found life as a woman and as a person of colour.

If I still haven’t convinced you that you really should read this book, I’ll leave you with my favourite quotation, one which I’m sure all book lovers will sympathise with. While Morayo’s recuperating from the hip operation, Sunshine has her flat cleaned and a number of Morayo’s books are thrown out.

‘You’ve just got so many books. You’ve even got more than one copy of some of them.’

‘Well of course I do! Just like you have dozens of pairs of yoga pants and lipsticks and shoes, don’t you? How would you feel if someone went through all your “stuff” and got rid of what they thought were just duplicates or extras? Just because you would never buy more than one fucking book doesn’t mean others wouldn’t. Doesn’t mean there isn’t a very good reason why I do!’

 

Thanks to Cassava Republic for the review copy