The Stone Circle. Dr Ruth Galloway Series: Elly Griffiths

The Stone Circle is number 11 in the Dr Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths and was the first book I managed to read when I was recently recovering from flu. Not being able to focus on words and concentrate enough to read is horrible enough but when you’re desperate to get stuck into the latest book of a favourite series upon release it is beyond frustrating! Still, being at the stay-in-bed stage was perfect when I did feel up to reading – no one to interrupt me as I just sat and read for hours (with nurse Poppy Cat making sure I was alright😉).

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Synopsis: Forensic archaeologist Ruth becomes involved in the archaeological discovery of a second stone circle on the North Norfolk Coast (the first circle being a central theme in the first book). The unearthing of a young Iron Age girl’s body sets off a chain of events to reveal a second body buried only thirty years previously. Mysterious, sinister letters are delivered to DCI Nelson and the appearance of a familiar looking face brings past events firmly into the present. Family secrets are revealed and not only for those, who are part of the murder narrative. A spark amongst tangled feelings remains, ready to catch fire.

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What I thought…

Old friends: I am so invested in these characters that it really does feel like spending time with old friends and catching up with their news. A lot of reviewers, who love the series, write along similar lines – I love it when books give you that sense of belonging, when stories and characters become a part of  life.

Ruth: Ruth Galloway continues to be one of my absolute favourite female leads for so many reasons. She is incredibly strong, fiercely intelligent plus she has such a perceptive sense of humour. She struggles to fit into the world around her and I relate to this being on the outside of things in a major way. She makes sure her daughter Kate gets to listen Harry Potter audio books at night and reads her His Dark Materials. She loves the beauty and solitude of the Saltmarsh where her cottage lies. She has a very forthright cat called Flint, who makes wonderful cameos in the story and always steals the show. She feels very real, very human  and I especially like how Griffiths has chosen a character facing middle age, who has so much to offer the world.

Engaging writing: As a rule, I don’t really do contemporary crime fiction but there is something so engaging about Griffith’s writing, the mixture of science and ‘the other’ (superstitions, myths, the unexplained) works incredibly well and although there is a murder to be solved in each book, it is the character development which drives the narrative.

A stunning sense of place: The stark contrast of the Norfolk marshland is so well written –  you really get that sense of vast, exceptional beauty as well as an underlying potential of darkness and danger. For those who know me, it comes as no surprise to  say I’d rather like a cottage like Ruth’s please.

Continuing chemistry: Oh, Ruth and Nelson (she types, sighing)! It is such a delicious mess of a relationship; the intensity, the stubborn sparks, the multitude of repressed feelings and insecurities.

Moments of humour: There are some really subtle, wry moments of humour amongst the darker moments. Griffiths has a knack of maintaining a well-crafted balance that enables the good to prevail in the bleakest of times and I love her for it.

The Stone Circle stormed into the HB Fiction Top Ten as no.7 after only three days on sale and this makes me beyond happy as I feel Elly is finally getting more of the recognition she deserves. Apart from her books being such great reads, she as an author who goes above and beyond to connect with her readers. On the 2nd of May she is releasing her first children’s book, A Girl Called Justice, and I CANNOT WAIT! Here is the blurb from the Hachette Children’s Group website:

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“Missing maids, suspicious teachers and a snow storm to die for… For a fearless girl called Justice Jones, super-smart super-sleuth, it’s just the start of a spine-tingling first term at Highbury House Boarding School for the Daughters of Gentlefolk. For fans of Robin Stevens, Katherine Woodfine and Enid Blyton.”

…just my bookish cup of tea 😊

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

I honestly don’t know how I feel about Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss; I’m finding it difficult to organise my thoughts and feelings but try I shall! This is the first book I have read by Sarah Moss, I’ve heard so many people talk about how much they love her work and thought it was high time that I formed my own opinion.

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Synopsis: Set during an unusually hot week in summer in rural Northumberland, this is the story of 17-year-old Silvie, whose father has decided his family will take part in a university research project to recreate and experience Ancient Briton life – an exploration of rituals, foraging and very stripped back living conditions. Silvie’s working-class father, an amateur historian when not driving buses, has approached this experiment in all seriousness, passionate about the past and intent on making it an authentic experience at all costs. His intensity causes increasing friction between the participants and a dark sense of unease develops – his opinions and actions have far reaching consequences. It is also the story of a nameless Iron Age girl, who is sacrificed as a part of an ancient ritual in the opening scenes and how her death weaves into the characters’ contemporary narrative.

What I loved/ found intriguing…

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The portrayal of the natural world: Moss creates an in-depth sense of place so that I felt I was walking the paths of the present-day characters as well as their ancestors over two thousand years ago. Nature is that close, that powerful, that rich and that crucial to survival. I also really liked that Moss sets this story just before the explosion in technology that took over towards the end of the 90s. Mobiles, laptops and tablets are missing and this is such a clever way of allowing the plot to feel contemporary in so many other ways whilst also creating a sense of intense nature-focused isolation.

The complex, deep and often twisted daughter father relationship: This was so interesting to explore and figure out. There is pride and connection and even fondness as well as manipulation, coercion and violence. It makes for uncomfortable reading and challenges readers to examine our own perceptions.

Silvie as a character: I loved Silvie as she comes of age, how her strong passion for nature and curiosity about the world beyond her experiences develops and how she finds her sexual identity too. I think Moss portrays Silvie’s position so well as a young woman still dependent on her parents in terms of everyday life and still with a need for approval yet also longing for independence and the opportunities to challenge others and express the person she is becoming.

The northerness of Silvie’s family: I could literally hear the voice of Silvie and her father as they spoke and really connected with the snippets of their life back home. In connection with their background, I also really liked the questions Moss explores regarding class and education- gritty, relevant stuff indeed.

The intertwining of past and present until they merge: This was so well written; the haunting, eerie connection between Silvie and the Iron Age girl gives me the shivers just thinking about it and it is so subtly crafted that it never tips into a fictional time travel type plot device. The exploration of what being British actually means in terms of the present interpreting the past is also so poignant when viewed from our  Brexit-filled days. Silvie’s father is intent on finding his ideal “Britishness” away from any outside influences – he is desperate for a sense of place and power and channels all of this into a project, which ironically cannot be as pure as he desperately wants it to be because of the very present-day rooted students involved and the fact that the Britons were made up anyone present at that point in time – mostly immigrants in fact.

The suspense: I really enjoyed the way Moss makes us constantly question what is in fact going on, only giving a tiny bit away at a time and leaving so much to our interpretation. The dynamics between the characters in general also adds brilliantly to this suspense, the friction and intensity becomes increasingly tangible as the story progresses.

The elements I personally struggled with…

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The mother: The portrayal of Silvie’s mother left me angry and so frustrated as she felt stereotypical and I couldn’t get near her as a character because of this. This was such an opportunity to go deeper than the trope of the abused wife, who stands by as her child is abused, who often tries to lessen the impact yet so frequently makes excuses for her husband’s behaviour.

The violence and coercion displayed by the father: This is very much a personal perspective as I try to stay away from this kind of violence in my reading due to my own experiences. And because of this, Ghost Wall often felt too personal and hard to digest. From an objective perspective,  I know there is a point to the violence being there, it certainly adds to the narrative’s power and produces a very visceral reading response.

It. Was. Too. Short: Yes, I know it is a novella and a tight narrative structure has been crafted on purpose– it grips and takes you along on a tense ride, leaving you feeling almost breathless at the end. I read it in an afternoon.  but there was so much more I was desperate to find out more about. Whilst some themes and events are wonderfully rich and detailed like the landscape, others are only briefly mentioned, meaning that sometimes I was absolutely gripped and other times I was left feeling detached from the narrative.

The dialogue doesn’t have speech punctuation: Although this is a minor stylistic point, it never the less affected my experience as I was unsure who was speaking at times and, as a result, had to reread certain sections, losing the flow of the text in the process.

So, what do I think about Ghost Wall overall?  It was haunting, deeply disturbing, mesmerizing and thought provoking. But at the same time there just wasn’t enough depth for me, I wanted so much more, and the abuse was hard to read on a personal level. One thing I can say with certainty is that Ghost Wall has stayed with me since I finished reading it; I’m still thinking about it, digesting, questioning – and that in my opinion is a sign of a strong piece of writing! I first marked it as a 3-star read on Goodreads but have since changed it to a 4 for this reason and  I will definitely pick up another Sarah Moss book to see where it takes me.

P.S. I read a really interesting interview with Sarah Moss about her motivation behind Ghost Wall over on the Waterstones blog. Here is the link, it is well worth a read.

My Poirot project and other plans

This year feels like a year for reading projects!

I’ve had the first one in mind for ages: The Poirot Project: I absolutely love the 1920s and 30s and am also rather fond of Agatha Christie! Though I have always been rather obsessed with the Poirot tv adaptations starring David Suchet, I’ve only ever read a couple of the actual books – the shame! So, I’ve decided to read at least one Poirot mystery a month; here is my plan for the next few months:

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I’m also intrigued by Christie as a person and fancy reading some non-fiction about her. Any recommendations are appreciated😉. And look at the covers for January and February – I’m in love with these vintage looking, naked hardback editions!

Project 2: World War II fiction and nonfiction: As I have German roots and have lived here in the UK for most of my life, I have a very personal interest in this time period and therefore like to read as much as I can  from both sides of the channel. I’ve built up quite a themed collection of books on my tbr shelves and would like to dedicate significant time to immerse myself properly. Here’s a list of my books so far- some I’ve already read and will review in the near future:

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Orphan Monster Spy: Matt Killen. This was on the Costa children’s category shortlist this year and is the story of a Jewish teenager, who loses everything but survives because of her Arian appearance. By chance she meets an English spy and a bond develops, leading her to enter a Nazi elite boarding school to fulfil a crucial mission.

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Heimat: Nora Krug ( Belonging is the translated title). This is Nora Krug’s memoir of her journey to discover the stories of her family’s wartime past in Nazi Germany and to understand how her life as a German woman living in America today has been shaped by her personal past and that of the German people. It is absolutely stunning in its layout – mixed media, graphic novel storytelling, significant artefacts from the past, reflection on what it is to be German…

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Dear Mrs Bird: A J Pearce. Emmy wants to become a war correspondent, to make a real difference during difficult times. But instead, by mistake,  she manages to land herself a job as a typist assistant for Mrs Bird, the agony aunt of a failing women’s magazine. She secretly begins to answer the letters deemed unsuitable by the imposing, extremely conservative Mrs Bird.

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Salt to the Sea: Ruta Sepetys. Told from multiple perspectives, this tracks the journey of several refugees desperately seeking freedom in East Prussia towards the end of World War II. A ship, the Wilhelm Gustav promises them survival…Salt to the Sea is based on a real event that I haven’t come across before.

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Ich war dabei. Geschichten gegen das Vergessen: Gudrun Pausewang. (sadly not translated into English as far as I know. A collection of short stories about childhood in the Third Reich.)

Project 3: Read some classics from on my shelves that I haven’t read before: I’ve read a fair number of classics and definitely have my favourites but I also love collecting classics (only the ones that speak to me though, you won’t find any Dickens) and so there are a fair few waiting to be read! In 2019 I want to read:

*Something by Nancy Mitford (I have Love in a Cold Climate, Don’t ask Alfred and The Pursuit of Love)

*Something by Virginia Woolf (Orlando, To the Lighthouse, The Years)

*Something by Elizabeth von Arnim (Vera, Elizabeth and her German Garden, Fräulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther, The Enchanted April)

*Stella Gibbons: Westwood

*Barbara Pym: Excellent Women

Have you got any projects planned for this year? If so, tell me about them – I am loving all the booktube videos featuring reading plans for 2019 😊

P.S. I nearly forgot: Project 4: Read some German books!!! Looking through  my goodreads from last year I realised how few German books I actually read. I am a translator by profession and spend a significant amount of my days reading German as part of that. Yet somehow, I’ve near enough stopped reading in German for pleasure. This must change! So, I’ve invested in a couple of books to get me back on track:

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Die Fotografin: Petra Durst-Benning. This is the first in a new series following the adventures of Mimi Reventlow, who becomes a photographer in 1911 despite the odds being stacked against her.

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Deutsches Haus: Annette Hess. In 1963, a young translator called Eva  is asked to translate during the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trails, giving a voice to victims and learning about a time in her country’s past that she has until this point known little about. For any German TV series lovers, Hess wrote Weisensee and Ku’Damm 56/59 – so I know this is going to be brilliant.

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Nesthäkchen und der Weltkrieg: Elsy Ury. I have very fond childhood memories of my Omi reading me the Nesthäkechen series of children’s books at bedtime during my summer holidays in Bayern. It follows the life of Annemarie Braun, from being a little girl in Berlin during Kaiser times, all the way to old age. This one concerns the First World War and is the only one I don’t know – it wasn’t reprinted after World War 2 due to its nationalist content being seen as inappropriate. This version has a preface by Marianne Brentzel, who has researched the life and work of Ury in great detail.

A Cloak and Dagger Christmas

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So, here’s the second catch-up post for the end of last year – I’m on a roll! Though 2019 is in full swing, I really want to mention what a lovely time I had reading murder mysteries back in December. I was more than ready for some murder mystery goodness last month, so the Cloak and Dagger Christmas Challenge 2018 was absolutely perfect timing. Hosted by the lovely booktubers Kate (Kate Howe) Mel (Mel’s Bookland Adventures) and Kate (The Novel Nomad), this was such a fun way to connect with other readers, find new books and discuss old favourites. Because of course, nothing quite says Christmas like a good murder!

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The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie. This is a short story collection with 4 short Poirot cases and a Miss Marple at the end. Of course, I read it for the Christmas pudding story, and it was glorious.

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I have it as a BBC audio drama and usually listen to it throughout December each year, but I thought it was about time to actually read the words! I bought myself a Christmas pudding scented candle from Good Book Hunting to enjoy whilst reading – what a treat 😊

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A Christmas Case: A Posie Parker Novella by L B Hathaway. This is such an underrated series in my humble opinion. I’d read the first two books, Murder Offstage and Tomb of the Honey Bee, and thoroughly enjoyed them both. They are well written, witty and imaginative. Plus they are set in the 1920s and feature an independent and spirited female private detective – just my cup of tea. This novella was absolutely brilliant, my favourite Posie Parker mystery yet and, because I gobbled it up in one sitting, I had to read the next book in the series, Murder at Maypole Manor straight after!

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Another Little Christmas Murder by Lorna Nicholl Morgan. A classic crime novel written in the 1940s. Lots of snow, strangers snowed in at an old country house, a suspicious death… what’s not to love I thought. And enjoy it I did, although it just wasn’t all I hoped it to be…the characters fell a bit flat, I didn’t engage with any of them especially and there were parts of the plot that were so far flung that it took away some of my reading pleasure as it all felt rather disjointed. Nevertheless, the setting was fabulous and as we had a lukewarm Christmas here in the Midlands without a snowflake in sight, it gave me that winter feeling I craved.

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The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle by Arthur Conan Doyle. I listened to this on Audible with Alan Cumming as a brilliant narrator. Sherlock Holmes stories are a bit hit and miss for me and I often find myself liking the idea of them more than actually reading them. I also find that audio versions suit me far better – yes, I’ve got the collection read by Stephen Fry (that man could read me the shipping forecast and I would be happy). Anyway, this was a short, quirky and entertaining story, perfect for a cosy listen on Boxing Day with a glass of port and a rather too much cheese 😉

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Last but definitely not least, I enjoyed my yearly re-listen to the audio book version of Mistletoe and Murder, one of the Murder Most Unladylike books by the very talented Robin Stevens. It is one of my favourites from the series so far and the descriptions of Oxford and Christmas time make my heart sing each time I listen. This is middle grade fiction at its finest, set in my favourite period of history, the 1930s, and with two sparky, incredibly intelligent and unique girl detectives – plus I love how relevant the themes are throughout the series and how great the representation is. Check out Robin Stevens’ booktube channel by the way – she has so many great recommendations and is just a joy to watch.

 

Victober (and yes, I know it’s January!)

To say I’m behind with this whole book blogging thing is somewhat of an understatement! The last months have been utterly bonkers work wise and, combined with a bit of a mental health wobble and seasonal ailments, the reviewing just hasn’t happened. Fortunately, the reading part did though! I am determined to start this new year with a couple of bookish catch-ups and a regular (ish) posting schedule. Because I love books and would rather like to be a part of the book blogging community.

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So, first of all: Victober! I absolutely LOVED Victober this year and totally immersed myself in the literature and writers of the Victorian period. I don’t think I’ve ever read so many classics in one month – go me! Here’s a quick summary of what I read:

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The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde: This was a buddy read with the lovely Oly Bliss (find his booktube channel here) and I’m so glad that this was the case as I really needed someone to bounce my thoughts and opinions off – I found this book baffling at times to say the least! I knew the premise of course and shan’t bore you with it here but I struggled with establishing what I thought Wilde was trying to say with this story. I constantly found myself asking, “Is this social criticism? Does Wilde really believe this? Where on earth does his empathy lie? Is that Wilde’s voice shining through or is he just playing with the reader? What is it he wants us to know?” I realised that although I know a fair amount about the times Wilde lived in, I actually know very little about the man himself apart from the very obvious. Though he has always fascinated me, and I feel I have a better grasp of his plays, I feel I need to know more to fully form an opinion of this narrative. Did I enjoy Dorian Gray? I enjoyed analysing the story, I appreciated all the commentary and questions it put out there, I loved the exploration of the relationship between life and art and the idea of a painting showing a soul’s decline is fascinating. But in terms of writing style, structure and characters, I felt let down. And I know so many readers love The Picture of Dorian Gray, I know I am in somewhat of a minority but my opinions on this blog are always honest. This book kept me at a distance.

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North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell: In contrast, this book was an absolute joy; I totally lost myself in the characters, the class politics, the industrial setting, the role of women, the value of education…and I could go on for quite some time!  This was also a buddy read with Oly and it was a pleasure to share this reading experience with someone who loved the story and the characters as much as I did #TeamMargaret 😉 The thing that struck me most about North and South was how relevant the themes it addresses still are today; there was so much in there to identify with.  This book really deserves a review of its own so that I can do it justice, so watch this space…

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{Isn’t this cover amazing? I now have three versions but who’s counting!}

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë: I read this as a teenager and quite honestly, I didn’t get why it was presented as such an amazing classic piece of literature. The characters were dark and twisted and I didn’t identify with any of them, I couldn’t see any romance whatsoever and parts of it seemed to go on for what seemed like eternity. This time round my experience was totally different: I loved the complexity of the characters and how Emily really explores their psychology in great depth; though the majority of the relationships presented are truly toxic, I really felt the passion, confusion, frustration and power present. I absolutely adored Nelly Dean as a narrator and think she very much deserves her own backstory – time to investigate if such a book exists. I listened to Wuthering Heights as an Audible book with Joanne Frogatt as the narrator; she was absolutely incredible and very much added to my connection with Nelly Dean. When a narrator gets a book so spot on and offers such a genuine, engaging performance, it’s like the story in question is given a whole other layer of meaning. And of course, the whole Yorkshire setting spoke to my heart too; I love the Yorkshire Moors in all their beauty and their stark bleakness and yes, Haworth, where the Brontë sisters lived, is one of my favourite places on earth.

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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë:  I read this in my later teens as well and again I can’t say that it had a lasting impression on me. To be honest, I found it slow going, Jane was far to meek and passive for my liking and I thought Rochester used Jane for his own needs despicably. The nearly 40-year-old me read very differently. I loved the detail, the interludes, the variation of pace (although I do still think that Charlotte could have done with an editor!). Jane was so much more complex than I remembered her to be and her resilience, strong will and people watching skills were just fabulous. What a journey she goes on. The situation with the first Mrs Rochester locked away due to her mental illness was fascinating and frustrating and difficult– Charlotte left me wanting to know so much more and I felt so sad that the first Mrs Rochester didn’t have a voice of her own apart from her aggression. I thought Rochester was  a desperately lost soul and I liked him! Manipulative. Yes. Rather short sighted in his actions and without the best grasp of how to treat women. Yes. But also a very lonely human being looking for connection. And at this point I have to mention my  favourite adaptation of this by the BBC, starring the awesome Ruth Wilson as Jane – if you haven’t seen it, you MUST!

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë: I watched the brilliant BBC adaption of this a few years back with the incredible Tara Fitzgerald as Helen and I remember being stunned by how contemporary the themes of domestic abuse and alcoholism were and how Anne presented such a modern woman in Helen. So, again I’ll be honest: the book wasn’t all I wanted it to be and it made me realise again how adaptations very much depend on the influences of the times they are created. Just like reading really. Although the above mentioned themes still had a lasting impression and their darkness was explored brilliantly, I was left wanting more when it came to Helen. I saw her strength and sheer resilience in the protection of her boy, her intense struggle in her marriage and her attempt to finally break free. But then she returns to him at one point in the story and I almost felt like she was a different person from this point on. The moral aspect of forgiveness and human kindness prevailing above all else just didn’t sit right with me. It was a let down after Anne had put so much energy into Helen and it felt like she changed her mind about a woman being so daring in her behaviour or felt that she had to conform to a more more subtle ending for the readership of her time. Perhaps I feel this way because I am a modern reader with an experience of abuse in my past. Perhaps I don’t like my endings too sweet with all ends tied up nicely. Perhaps I just fell in love with Tara Fitzgerald’s interpretation a little too much.

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To end on a positive note: I still have the Lucy Worsley biography of Queen Victoria on my tbr and I know this will be a such a treat – a unique insight into Victoria’s life and the period she gave her name to. I was lucky enough to spend an evening listening to Lucy talking all things Victorian when her book was launched and, as always, I was in awe of the sheer amount of interesting information she knows and her wonderful quirky humour. For me, history needs to be accessible, engaging and written with energy and I know that this is exactly what I shall find.

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

The first time I came across Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, was as a teenager in the early 90s. I stumbled upon the channel 4 tv adaptation, which Winterson also wrote the screen play for. It was totally out of my comfort zone, totally beyond anything I had ever experienced, and I was absolutely fascinated by it.

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It was also certainly the first time I had come across a tv series with a lesbian relationship – this was back when same sex relationships were just beginning to enter mainstream entertainment. Fast forward a good 26 years and I’ve finally gotten around to reading the book itself, thanks to it being the July/August read for the Feminist Orchestra book club that I am part of on Goodreads (I can’t believe how long it has actually taken me to write a review and I’m really not sure how we’ve got to October already!)

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Winterson used her own life as a base for this novel, later returning to this time in her life to write her memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? In the introduction of my copy (the one pictured) Winterson writes,

“The trick is to turn your own life into something that has meaning for people whose experience is nothing like your own.”

The story is of Jeanette, as a child and then as a young woman, who is adopted by a zealous Pentacostal, deeply complex mother and a father, who pretty much fades into the background and is most noticeable for his absence. Against a Northern, working class setting, a bright and incredibly resilient Jeanette finds her way through her childhood and is relatively happy to settle into the role her controlling mother has shaped for her with the end goal of becoming a missionary. Then everything changes as she falls in love with a girl and in doing so she fundamentally challenges her relationship with her mother and the church.

I absolutely LOVED this book in so many ways…

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The northern setting and memories of my own childhood: I grew up in The Midlands of the 80s and so Jeanette’s world felt like home to me; be it a description of her street or a reference to this larger than life period of time. Having grown up in what was a very poor part of Nottingham,  I also really appreciated Winterson’s very genuine, honest and identifiable portrayal of the working class.clipart47719038

Jeanette’s observations of the world around her: Winterson’s writing style is an absorbing combination of humour, a really dry matter of factness  and really dark moments, all intertwined with such skill. It felt like Jeanette of the book was talking to me, that the book was a conversation taking place and I really like this informal connection with the reader.clipart47719038

The incredibly complex character of her adopted mother and the often very difficult relationship she has with Jeanette. Love is probably not the right term to use for this but I certainly thought it was extremely well portrayed. Though some of the mother’s actions are described in a very matter of fact way, there is no doubt to the sadness and sheer neglect going on. Not only does her mother have no idea how to raise a child or how to connect with Jeannette, her own needs are always put first. This was difficult to read and also made me really appreciate Winterson’s honesty. Towards the end she describes her mother as enlightened and reactionary at the same time and this is it in a nutshell. On the one hand, she is very much in charge of her own life, following what she believes in, making the things she wants to happen a reality. On the other hand, she is incredibly prejudiced, sticks to the rules of the church without question and has an intense adverse reaction to Jeanette’s  same sex relationship. There is so much more I could write about this relationship – I would love to have had this as a set text for A-Level English literature!clipart47719038

I love how little Jeanette is so fierce in what she believes and what she feels. She only goes to school once the education department forces her mother to send her, by which time she has experienced a very alternative, certainly not age appropriate version of homeschooling and is consequently incredibly isolated in the school environment, which is such a stark contrast.  She seems alien to the children and the teachers don’t know how to handle this unique girl. Yet she put her point of view regardless: when she submits her needlework for a prize and is frowned upon by her teacher, Jeannette fiercely says, “Just because you can’t tell what it is , doesn’t mean it’s not what it is.”  Her imagination is equally awesome; her re-imagination of  Noah and the Whale at Sunday School is hilarious.clipart47719038

The running theme of what makes a relationship and what is expected of a girl in society. There is much talk of settling and making do. Whilst there are certain opportunities as a woman in the community, as I will mention later, everything is strictly confined, anything out of the “normal” faces a harsh backlash. There is also very little genuine love of any kind in the world Jeanette grows up in. When Jeannette fall in love with Melanie, the treatment of this relationship is horrendous and utterly heart-breaking. Having confided in her mother, she is physically locked up in the house so that the pastor can drive the demon out and her unnoticed glandular fever means much of that time is spent hallucinating.  Her mother also arranges for Jeannette to be ‘held to account’ (read publicly shamed) for her sexual orientation at their church, where she is forced to stand up and repent or face being ostracised. A further attempt to destroy Jeanette’s identity is when her mother  burns all her letters, cards and jottings, taking away any form of expression.clipart47719038

This is a book of fierce, resilient females. They are not always likeable, a lot of what they do is hard to get behind, but it is a book of women, who run their local church, run their families, their shops, their social circles. Men are few and far between, either absent in character or portrayed almost comically even when they try and assert their dominance (though often, their actions are not in themselves comical). There is such strength there to create a world they can navigate in challenging economic and political circumstances. Life was hard, their resilience strong.clipart47719038

Stories to make sense of the world: Jeanette tells fictional tales within the main narrative and these stories are a way to make sense of her world; it is a way for her to find her voice and the only way for her to break free of the many constraints she faces.  These stories take a lot of thinking about and I still need to return and analyse a bit deeper – that is how rich they are. Some readers have questioned the need for these stories in the narrative, I think they add a whole other layer.clipart47719038

In one of the last stories, the protagonist Winnet  knows she must find a boat to navigate a river, much like Jeanette needs to find her way out in the world regardless of the many challenges she faces. Winterson writes,

“No guarantee of a shore. Only a conviction that what she wanted could exist, if she dared to find it.”

I think this is what I will take away from Oranges more than anything else; that energy and need to write your own story, even if you are frightened and alone, even when the path is not linear and there is still darkness ahead, even if you have absolutely no idea what will happen next.

 

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

Tin Man by Sarah Winman was all over booktube last year and was loved by so many of the wonderful people that I subscribe to. Of course, I bought it there and then and couldn’t wait to immerse myself in a book promising stunning writing, deeply engaging characters and emotions that left some reviewers with a tear in their eye.  However, when it came to opening the book, I felt an odd sense of resistance – it somehow didn’t feel right. This may sound strange, but I felt like I had heard too much about it; I needed to almost forget some of what I had heard in order to have my own reading experience.  So, a year on, I finally read Tin Man and oh my goodness, it lived up to my expectations and went far beyond; what an intensely emotional, personal read!

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Tin Man is the story of two friends, Ellis and Michael. It is the story of their intense friendship and their first emotional and sexual feelings for each other. It is also the story of how complicated things become when we become adults. How loss, insecurities and how we deal with society’s expectations can consume us. How vital it is to truly know ourselves, and how true human connection is what matters most in the end.

Tin Man is just under 200 pages and I really don’t want to give any of the storyline away, so I’ll try and talk as generally as I can!

I loved…

Van Gough’s Sunflowers: I’ve always loved Van Gough for his story as well as his work and his sunflowers are a beautiful leitmotif throughout this book, weaving in and out of the narratives and bringing them all together. I now understand why the book is yellow too😉It all begins when Ellis’ mum Dora falls in love with a print of the sunflowers, having won it in a raffle. I love it when she tells a young Ellis and Michael,

“I like to imagine how it would have been for him, stepping out of the train station at Arles into such an intense yellow light. It changed him. How could it not? How could it not change anyone?!”

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Ellis and Michael: The vulnerability and tenderness of these characters, the contrast of their personalities, who, in the end, just want to belong. How I loved their quirks, their inner worlds, their passions and their dreams but also their darker edges and their failures.

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The beauty and tenderness of Winman’s writing style: I loved how Winman catches moods and scenes in so few words. Here is just one example where I was instantly drawn in:

“We mapped out a future away from everything we knew. When the walls of the map were breached, we gave one another courage to build them again. And we imagined our home an old stone barn filled with junk and wine and paintings, surrounded by fields of wildflowers and bees.”

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The sensitive, spot on portrayal of grief, lost opportunities and loneliness.

That sense of holding on to the past, of living there because it means so much that you can’t live in the present, whilst everyone else seems to be moving on. This spoke directly to my heart.

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Dead Poets Society references: It is my favourite film of all time and the fact that there are references to it in Tin Man is the icing on the cake for me. If you haven’t seen it – YOU NEED THIS FILM IN YOUR LIFE. O captain my captain. Sigh.

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The impact that small acts of kindness have: I am becoming more and more partial to books that are life affirming in their own way. Why? I need to believe in human connection, to believe that good is out there in everyday life – this world we live in often overwhelms me.

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The ending: get the tissues ready for the beauty, hope, sadness and truth (just thinking about this has me on the verge of tears- all the feels. In the margins ( I love to annotate the books I read) I wrote:

This is love.

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