Susan Brown is trapped. She lives in nurses’ accommodation she hates, on the run from a past she detests, desperate for a future she can’t afford. Yet.
Calton Jonas is lost. He travels across the country, from beach to city, settling in a small town with a job at the morgue.
Jeffrey Jeffreys is happy as long as life provides him with enough whiskey and beer.
Their lives cross. Old wounds open. Susan takes control but not all of them can survive…
First things first, Orla Owen is one of the nicest people on Book Twitter – endlessly supportive, a real champion of other authors and of bookbloggers. While I was obviously delighted to be offered a copy of Pah in exchange for an honest review (many thanks to Orla), there was, therefore, a small moment of trepidation before I started reading – what if I didn’t like it?! She’s so nice!
Fortunately, and I say this with complete honesty, I loved Orla’s book. Also, unlike her, it is NOT NICE. I mean that as a compliment! Ooh, it is gloriously dark, folks, and the characters, especially Susan, are deeply unsettling and complex. Susan is an utterly fascinating protagonist – her coldness and her calculating nature make it hard to find any redeeming features, but every time we get a glimpse of her past, it becomes more and more obvious why she is the way she is. The small slivers of her childhood that Owen offers up are just enough to keep the reader from detesting her – how could anyone emerge from that upbringing unscathed? And there is also, again, let’s be honest here, a kind of peverse pleasure to be had in watching a character who so deliberately and cruelly subverts the norm, who takes self-preservation to a whole new level, so much so that at times I almost had a grudging respect for her. Susan really is one of the most interesting characters I’ve come across, and in herself is a strong argument against the whole ‘protagonists should be likeable’ thing. No, they should be interesting, and Susan is certainly that.
Jeffrey is also pretty awful, but he provides much of the novel’s dark humour. Calton, though, is different – he isn’t exactly a saint, but there’s a sense in which you’re rooting for him more whole-heartedly than Susan, and the delay in their paths crossing makes for a delicious sense of anticipation (even if it made me want to shout “Run, Cal!”). There’s something quite timeless and eerie about the prose in Pah – it’s hard to know exactly when or where this taking place, and it adds a real flavour of mystery and originality. I certainly can’t think of anything I’ve read that I could easily compare to this book.
I really enjoyed the immersive experience of being dipped in Susan’s chilly bitterness, and I also think the book is really bold on the theme of unwanted motherhood. This is something that is being explored more frequently in fiction, and it’s so important – not everyone ‘finds their purpose’ when they become a mother, and although Susan is an extreme example, it is still refreshing to see. I am really excited to note that Orla Owen’s previous novel, The Lost Thumb, has some of the same characters – I will definitely be reading it, and anything else this talented author writes in the future.
PAH by Orla Owen is out now and is available to purchase here.
When he hears a story about a huge dinosaur fossil locked deep inside an Alpine glacier, university professor Stan finds a childhood dream reignited. Whatever it takes, he is determined to find the buried treasure.
But Stan is no mountaineer and must rely on the help of old friend Umberto, who brings his eccentric young assistant, Peter, and cautious mountain guide Gio. Time is short: they must complete their expedition before winter sets in. As bonds are forged and tested on the mountainside, and the lines between determination and folly are blurred, the hazardous quest for the Earth’s lost creatures becomes a journey into Stan’s own past.
This breathless, heartbreaking epic-in-miniature speaks to the adventurer within us all.
Many thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
This novel combines two things that I have very little knowledge or experience of, but am oddly fascinated by: palaeontology and mountaineering. There are elements that reminded me of the documentary Touching The Void (which I was also weirdly obsessed with!) as we see the men facing life-threatening conditions on the mountain. The descriptions in the novel are so vivid and cinematic: I think this might be the only book I’ve read that has actually given me vertigo.
The writing is exquisite. So many times, I went back to reread a sentence in order to fully appreciate its beauty. For a book that spans a mere 170 pages, it feels much fuller than some longer novels, and the brevity of both the text as a whole and the sentences creates a sense of impact and motion. The book works on many levels – as a straight-up adventure story it is exciting and tense, but beneath the thrills there are some beautifully profound observations on life and meaning and even the very nature of reality.
There is drama here, but also humour, the eccentricities of individuals heightened by the extreme circumstances and close quarters. The narrative ebbs and flows between the mountain-top adventure and scenes from the past, and it is never less than compelling. The figure of Stan’s father, the Commander, looms large and terrifying, and some of the most powerful scenes in the novel are between the tyrannical father and his son. The contrast between the domestic setting and life on the glacier is yet another aspect that gives this book so much depth and resonance. For both backstory and main narrative to be so nuanced and complex is an astounding feat for such a short novel. And yet the length feels just right – a suspension of breath for the space of its crisp, perfect pages, and an exhalation on finishing that feels cathartic, cleansing as cold mountain air.
There’s a special feeling on finishing a book that you KNOW you’re going to reread – it becomes a kind of treasure, a reassurance just to know you have it and can return to it again and again. This is a book to become obsessed with – I certainly am.
A Hundred Million Years and a Day by Jean-Baptiste Andrea translated by Sam Taylor is published by Gallic Books, and this gorgeous new paperback edition is available to purchase here.
As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur – Minos’s greatest shame and Ariadne’s brother – demands blood every year.
When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods – drawing their attention can cost you everything.
In a world where women are nothing more than the pawns of powerful men, will Ariadne’s decision to betray Crete for Theseus ensure her happy ending? Or will she find herself sacrificed for her lover’s ambition?
ARIADNE gives a voice to the forgotten women of one of the most famous Greek myths, and speaks to their strength in the face of angry, petulant Gods. Beautifully written and completely immersive, this is an exceptional debut novel.
I got a copy of this beautiful book from my wonderful Squadpod friends as part of my birthday present, and I’ve been reluctantly saving it for a gap between ARCs. In the end, I couldn’t resist, and although my TBR pile is teetering, I treated myself to what I knew would be a guaranteed top read. I am a total Greek geek – I studied Ancient Greek at A-level and did a module at university (I’m not a true classicist as I gave up Latin much earlier – for me the stories weren’t as good!) and I once attended a two-week Ancient Greek summer camp, for which I endured much cruel mockery from my dear siblings. Anyway, what I am trying to say is that I LOVE the Greek myths, and Ancient Greek literature is my spiritual home, so I knew I was going to love Ariadne.
The style of this novel was absolutely bang on for me. It felt, at times, like reading a really beautifully rendered translation of an ancient text, complete with epithets and similes I recognised and delighted in. Rosy dawn makes a few appearances, and although the wine-dark sea mentioned here is more literal than metaphorical, it still felt like a nod to the classics. I loved the language, the way it approaches poetry at times, and then brings you back down to earth with a bump. It falls somewhere between a stylised and a naturalistic mode, and I really think Saint has found the sweet spot that allows her text to feel authentic while also exploring the voices of those who are usually forgotten in the myths.
Ariadne and Phaedra are presented both as products of their culture and as much more than society regards them as – the insights we get through their first person narratives reveal complex, rounded, imperfect individuals who are subject to the same weaknesses as any human, and yet, as the gods really do exist in this world, they each contain a spark of something more – the inheritance they have received from the sun-god who sired their mother. I am always curious how the divine is going to be handled in classical retellings, and I have to say, I absolutely love it when it is just an accepted, literal fact that the Olympians exist. AND my favourite god of all, Dionysus, has a really important role in this book, so that for me was the icing on my geeky Greek cake!
I love how heavily the book leans into the myths and stories, how it doesn’t seek to explain them from a modern perspective, but instead utterly immerses the reader in that ancient, mythical world. And yet we do get a peek behind the curtain – we see the way in which Theseus constructs the legend of his own heroism, how a seemingly all-powerful ruler like Minos is in fact clinging on by (excuse the pun) a thread. We see gods shaken and disturbed by the acts of men, we see queens struggling with motherhood, we see monsters nursed and pitied. The disruption of the traditional mythic mode is subtle, but it is there, and it’s so clever.
Safe to say, I absolutely adored this book, and I am beyond excited that in her next novel, Jennifer Saint will be focusing on Elektra, one of my all-time favourite characters. Enough geeking out from me – read Ariadne, it is wonderful.
Ariadne by Jennifer Saint is published by WIldfire Books and is available to purchase here.
Colouring In is the story of James Clifton, a chronic underachiever who has failed to fulfil his potential and exists too easily in a world where he shouldn’t belong.
As the 1980s draw to a close, James is lurching from drama to crisis to impasse. His present and future are inhibited by his reliance on a rose-tinted vision of his past. His talents as an Artist are submerged in a morass of indecision and poor self-esteem. He is holding too many last straws.
But when it seems James has reached the very bottom of all that is wrong, a letter arrives that changes his life forever. An admirer, who James cannot place in his previous history, becomes the catalyst for transformation and evolution. He learns that not everything he holds dear is quite as he wants to remember it.
He finds himself on a path that reveals a new future, based on a different past.
Colouring In explores the ways in which inadequacy, perceived or real, can become a block to creativity and ambition. It is also a love story.
Many thanks to the author for reaching out and for sending me a copy of Colouring In in exchange for an honest review. Apologies that it has taken me a long time to get around to reading – no reflection on the book, just my own teetering TBR pile!
Colouring In is a close study of a character whose flaws and weaknesses emerge through a pattern of repeated behaviour. We see James Clifton attending parties, drifting through work social events, hanging out with old friends, harking back to his Hereford adolescence with a kind of Peter Pan syndrome, refusing to let go of the past. At first, I found the cyclical nature of James’ habits a bit repetitive, but I gradually realised that the author is setting up the trap that the protagonist has found himself in so that he can be sprung from it, with the help of Laura.
Just as I was getting to the point where I really wanted something to HAPPEN, it DOES, and in the most dramatic fashion. At this stage the book really picked up for me, and the ways in which James breaks free of his imagined restraints and starts to forge a new path is psychologically complex and fascinating. This is a very philosophical book, both in its tight focus on one character’s emotional journey, and in the way the characters relate to each other. No conversation seems entirely casual – there is always an attempt to read each other, to analyse, to delve beneath the surface. This makes for a surprisingly intense read, even when the plot itself is backgrounded. The emphasis on James’ psyche occasionally felt claustrophobic, especially as I didn’t find him particularly sympathetic as a character, but again, I think this effect is necessary so that we can follow him on his transformation. The female characters really come into their own in the second half of the book, and I enjoyed the latter part of the novel a lot.
If you like intelligent, detailed character portraits with a psychological focus, you will find much to enjoy in Stewart’s novel. This ‘portrait of the artist as not such a young man’ is intriguing and thoughtful, and although it was a slow burner for me, I very much liked where it ended up.
Colouring In by Nigel Stewart is published by Purple Parrot Publishing, and is available to purchase here.
Just for fun, here is the full list of everything I read in the first half of 2021, with links to my reviews where relevant! Reading-wise it has been a great year so far – a massive thank you to all the authors, publishers and publicists who have sent me books to review! I’ll never get over how lucky I am to have access to so many amazing reads!
EVERYONE IN THE WORLD KNOWS HIS NAME . . .BUT IT’S YOU HE WANTS.
To the media, Hayes Campbell is the enigmatic front-man of a record-breaking boyband.
To his fans, he’s the man of their dreams.
To Solène Marchand, he’s just the pretty face that’s plastered over her teenage daughter’s bedroom wall. Until a chance meeting throws them together . . .
The attraction is instant. The chemistry is electric. The affair is Solène’s secret.
But how long can it stay that way?
Huge thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The tagline on the proof I received read ‘Warning: This Will Keep You Up All Night” – and it wasn’t lying.
I stayed up till 2am reading The Idea of You in one sitting. It is totally compulsive reading, and it threw me back to the joyous days of devouring Jilly Cooper novels and not even entertaining the idea (oops, little pun) of there being a world outside of the book until I was done. I also have to admit that being exactly the same age as the protagonist created the perfect opportunity for a bit of fantasising that I was in her shoes (although I can’t walk in heels, and Sol is a million times more glamorous and poised than I am!). I’m not going to lie, reading about a 39 year old woman having hot sex with a gorgeous 20 year old was a very pleasant way to spend an evening. I also managed to paraphrase a line from Friends and tell my husband, “Don’t worry, with you it’s like I’ve got two 20 year olds.” Great fun all round.
However, as well as being undeniably HOT, this book is also a really clever examination of the reality behind the fantasy. We’ve all imagined what it would be like to hook up with someone famous, but here the rose-tinted glasses are ripped away, and the actual consequences of being in a relationship with someone with such a high profile are explored in detail. The opposing forces of Sol’s attraction to Hayes and her responsibilities are powerful enough to create explosive conflict in the plot, and you may well be surprised by how much sympathy you feel for both Sol and Hayes.
This is the PERFECT book for summer escapism, for a whirlwind trip around some of the most glamorous locations on the globe, for a story that will utterly immerse you for the hours it takes to devour it. And god knows we need to be taken away from our own reality at the moment! And the ending – well. Read it and find out.
The Idea of You by Robinne Lee is published by Penguin and is currently only 99p on Kindle here.
That’s the problem thinks Willard. In the Line the dead still have a say, and their say counts for double. It’s a necrocracy and so everyone left alive walks into tomorrow facing backwards.
Willard, his mother, and his girlfriend Nyla have spent their entire lives in an endless procession, where daily survival is dictated by the ultimate imperative: obey the rules, or lose your place in the Line.
Everything changes the day Willard’s mother dies and he finds a book hidden among her few belongings.
Line is speculative fiction at its most ambitious, leading the reader on a journey to make sense of a world that is ultimately not so different from our own.
A stunning debut from a major new voice in Irish literature.
A big thank you to the author for sending me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review – and apologies that it took me a while to get to it!
I thought this book was utterly brilliant. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no idea how to write a review of it, because the danger of spoilers is ever-present. I am going to have to keep this much briefer than I would like, and implore you to trust me, read it, and then find someone who has read it to talk to about it. I’ve already pressed it on my husband and said he’s got a week before Line: The Book Club.
Here is the little that I can say: as I stated on Twitter, this book is like steampunk Cormac McCarthy. It has echoes of The Road, and the same McCarthy-esque blend of beauty and violence. From the start, it grabs you and throws you into the dystopian world of the novel, a future which gradually becomes more terrifyingly plausible as the driving forces are revealed.
I read Line in one sitting, completely captivated by Bourke’s vision. There were three or four points where I had to close the book and take deep breaths, so shocking and emotional were the revelations laid out on the page. But as well as being an incredibly powerful, intelligent novel, it is also sharp-witted, full of a dark humour and a sense of knowingness that adds a real frisson to the unfolding narrative. It isn’t exactly parody – it’s something more complex – a sly, wry turning inside-out of our own stark reality, and yet there is love at its centre, there are characters to root for, and the experience of reading is not entirely bleak.
I wish I could say more, I really do, but I can feel myself teetering close to spoilers as it is, so I will stop there. If you enjoy speculative fiction, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of the genre. And when you’ve finished, you’ll understand exactly why I am I so desperate to talk about this sharp, clever, original, terrifying novel.
Line by Niall Bourke is published by Tramp Press and is available to purchase here.
For a short book, Assembly packs one hell of a punch. Formally inventive, hugely topical, and pulsing with energy and anger, this book is not to be missed. You can read my full review here.
The Mesmerist’s Daughter by Heidi James (2015)
Another short, powerful work, and the first of four books by Heidi James that I read in June. I’ve done a full post all about my Heidi James Month, so do check it out for more info on the works I read in June by this brilliant writer. The Mesmerist’s Daughter is a great place to start – a dark, unsettling novella that showcases her razor-sharp prose.
Wounding by Heidi James (2014)
My second Heidi James of the month. Wounding is, I think, a really important novel, which shows us a woman struggling to get to the heart of who she is, trapped by society’s expectations and her own life choices. It is subtly shocking, bold, and well worth reading.
The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper (2021)
This was our first pick for the Squadpod Book Club, and I loved reading it and chatting about it with my fellow bloggers. A vibrant, brilliant novel – I can’t wait for the next in the series. You can read my full review of The Wolf Den here.
So The Doves by Heidi James (2017)
My third Heidi James! I can see a lot of you really enjoying this one – it’s more plot-driven than her other works, but still written in prose that is both fierce and delicate at the same time. The cold case element will appeal to many, as will the complex, brilliantly drawn characters. Do check it out on my full post!
Grown Ups by Marie Aubert translated by Rosie Hedger (2021)
This month has been a great reminder that a book doesn’t need to be lengthy to have a massive impact. Grown Ups is a great read, spotlighting the sibling relationship in a way that I haven’t really seen done before. You can read my full review here.
Black Water Sister by Zen Cho (2021)
This is a really original and fun novel with YA vibes. It took me a little while to get into it, but once I had, I really enjoyed it. Ghosts, gods, and fast-paced adventure – this book is jam-packed with entertainment. You can read my full review here.
Fallen by Mel O’Doherty (2021)
Fallen takes a shocking slice of Irish history and weaves a deeply moving, beautifully told story. Another gem from Bluemoose Books. My full review of this powerful novel is here.
My Broken Language by Quiara Alegría Hudes (2021)
This memoir is going to be one of my top reads of 2021. I absolutely loved it – Hudes writes with fizzing energy, honesty and intellect, and the result is a captivating chronicle of the search for a voice of her own. You can read my full review of My Broken Languagehere.
The Sound Mirror by Heidi James (2020)
One of my top reads of last year, this was the final Heidi James I (re)read in June, and I think it probably remains my favourite book of hers. Definitely rewards multiple reads. You can read my original review from last year here.
I feel like I am reading a little bit slower at the moment, but I am still really pleased by what I have read in June. There are plenty I didn’t manage to get to, as always, and I still have loads of highly anticipated reads staring at me from the TBR bookcases. Yes, cases, plural. I know, I know. But I am gradually learning to be at peace with the fact that I just can’t read ALL the books, and the most important thing is to enjoy what I do manage to read – and on that score, mission accomplished!
I am thrilled to be involved with the cover reveal for Beverley Adams’ forthcoming nonfiction book The Rebel Suffragette, which will be published on 30th September 2021 by Pen & Sword Books. The book is available to preorder here. Have a look at the blurb below – I am sure you’ll agree Edith’s story sounds fascinating!
The suffragette movement swept the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Led by the Pankhursts, the focus of the movement was in London with demonstrations and rallies taking place across the capital. But this was a nationwide movement with a strong northern influence with Edith Rigby being an ardent supporter. Edith was a controversial figure, not only was she was the first woman to own and ride a bicycle in her home town but she was founder of a school for girls and young women. Edith followed the example of Emmeline Pankhurst and her supporters and founded the Preston branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union. She was found guilty of arson and an attempted bomb attack in Liverpool following which she was incarcerated and endured hunger strike forming part of the ‘Cat and Mouse’ system with the government. During a political rally with Winston Churchill Edith threw a black pudding at a MP.
There are many tales to tell in the life of Edith Rigby, she was charismatic, passionate, ruthless and thoroughly unpredictable. She was someone who rejected the accepted notion of what a woman of her class should be the way she dressed and the way she ran her household but she was independent in mind and spirit and always had courage in her own convictions. As a suffragette, she was just as effective and brave as the Pankhurst women. This is the story of a life of a lesser known suffragette. This is Edith’s story.
Among one of the first books I was sent to review on this blog when I ‘went public’ with it last year was The Sound Mirror by Heidi James. I was only just getting my head around the idea that publishers and authors were starting to send me copies of books that WEREN’T EVEN OUT YET, when this beautiful package arrived on my doorstep:
Not only did I love the book (one of my Top Reads of last year), I knew it was one that I wanted to read again, and that Heidi James was an author I wanted to read more of. So, since I first read her work in June last year, I decided that June 2021 would be the perfect time for Heidi James Month, in which I would read/reread the four works I own by Heidi. What struck me most, apart from the beautiful writing, was the incredible range these books show. I honestly think EVERYONE will find a book they’d love among these treasures.
The Mesmerist’s Daughter
This novella won the Saboteur Award in 2015, and it is easy to see why. Here is the blurb:
“Heidi James’s novella The Mesmerist’s Daughter is the hypnotic tale of a child with a wolf for a mother. The narrative of this haunting story hovers somewhere between memory and delusion, as a woman closeted in a psychiatric facility recounts the tale of a particularly difficult time in her childhood. James’s writing is highly-detailed and immediate, each page bursting with details so fresh that they’re almost tangible. From the opening sentence The Mesmerist’s Daughter is as unsettling as it is magical, as arresting as it is darkly evocative.”
This short work, which comes as a lovely chapbook from Neon Books, is, I think, a great introduction to Heidi James’ writing. Her crisp, taut descriptions crackle with energy, the sacred and the profane nuzzle up against each other – it is a grim fairy tale, a horror story, but also a deeply moving portrait of a traumatic childhood.
It reminded me a little ofAbsorbed by Kylie Whitehead, in the way that the horror is subsumed by the everyday – the acceptance of the very real (to her) fact that the narrator’s mother is a wolf adds a deeply unsettling resonance to even the most mundane exchanges. There is an eerie sense of the boundaries between reality and nightmare dissolving, of a mind unravelling and letting the subconscious find its own truth. Visceral, intense, sharp as a knife-edge, this novella is well worth reading if you like to wander into the dark.
The Mesmerist’s Daughter is available to purchase here.
“Cora has everything a woman is supposed to want – a career, a caring husband, children, and a stylish home. Desperate for release and burdened with guilt she falls into a pattern of ever increasing violence and sexual degradation till a one night stand tips her over the edge and she finds herself in a Dominatrix’s dungeon. Wounding explores a woman’s search for redemption, identity and truth.”
I’m probably starting to be a bore about the beauty of James’ prose, but I am not going to apologise! Wounding is such a complex, detailed, finely-drawn depiction of what it means to fall into society’s expectations, to find yourself living a life that bears no relation to your inner truth. The structure, alternating between Cora’s third person point of view and the increasingly frustrated and desperate first person addresses of her husband, shows the widening gap between them and emphasises just how alone Cora is in her feelings.
I found Cora’s journey subtler than the blurb suggests – rather than a dramatic fall into a life of degradation, what Wounding represented to me was a bold exploration of a woman trying to find the core (oh, is there a pun there?! Sorry!) of herself in a world which probably doesn’t want her find it. It is thought-provoking and occasionally piercingly close to the bone (I have to state for the record that I love being a mother, but when I read works like this, or Sheila Heti’s Motherhood, for example, I feel a drop in my stomach at how unexamined my decision to have children was, how the assumption of it took precedence over any real soul-searching about whether it was right for me. It is, by the way, but that shouldn’t be a given). This topic is so important, and I think Wounding adds a really brave voice to the conversation.
“When award-winning journalist Marcus Murray’s latest story involves a corrupt alliance between a UK bank, the arms trade and the government, it seems he has triumphed again in his quest for the truth. But he is accused of fabrication and nothing in his life makes sense any more, including the disappearance twenty years ago of his best friend, Melanie. Why did she vanish, and who is the body recently discovered in a Kent orchard? A timeless story of how love and enduring friendship shape who we are, the novel exposes the fault lines in our own reality and who and what we believe to be true, including ourselves.”
There is a shift in tone here from Wounding, a move towards a more plot-driven story, with a mysterious disappearance at its centre. Fans of cold case thrillers will find much to enjoy in this book. For me, once more, it was the beauty of the prose that had me hooked, and the brilliant way that James shows the divide between Marcus as he is now and Marcus as a teen. Shifting between the first and third person for the same character is not as easy as it sounds, and I was in awe of how effectively James uses the technique here. As someone who has a terrible long-term memory, my past often feels like someone else’s story, and I guess for this reason, it resonated extra strongly with me!
Melanie is a fascinating character, not someone I can compare to other characters off the top of my head – she is resolutely her own person, and her friendship with Marcus is so carefully and beautifully explored. As the pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place, and the drama ramps up, it becomes harder and harder to tear yourself away from the page. The ending feels exactly right, extremely satisfying but with enough of an ‘opening out’ to move the story beyond these characters.
I’ve been wanting to do more rereading this year, but it hasn’t really happened, mostly because there are TOO MANY BOOKS! I’m really pleased that I managed to reread The Sound Mirror, confirming my suspicions that this marvel of a book would only improve on repeated readings, yielding up more of its secrets each time. My original review, written last year, is here. If you want to stay firmly in the present, here’s the blurb:
“Tamara is going to kill her mother, but she isn’t the villain. Tamara just has to finish what began at her birth and put an end to the damage encoded in her blood. Leaving her job in Communications, Tamara dresses carefully and hires a car, making the trip from London to her hometown in Kent, to visit her mother for the last time. Accompanied by a chorus of ancestors, Tamara is harried by voices from the past and the future that reveal the struggles, joys and secrets of these women’s lives that continue to echo through and impact her own.
The Sound Mirror spans three familial generations from British Occupied India to Southern England, through intimately rendered characters, Heidi James has crafted a haunting and moving examination of class, war, violence, family and shame from the rich details of ordinary lives.”
I loved rereading this book – cracking open the first pages, I was reminded of how beautiful and gripping it is, right from the very start. This time around, what struck me was the almost dizzying sense of time looping, of history repeating itself, of the echoes of trauma moving forwards and backwards and reverberating through these women’s lives like a hum of tinnitus, constantly there.
Some traumas are explored in more detail, some are mentioned almost in passing, a shocking blow struck, in a couple of cases, very near then end of the book. This creates such a powerful sense of the cyclical nature of trauma, and, reading The Sound Mirror straight after her other works, I could feel characters and themes rising up again from her previous books – Cora finds her echo in Ada, for example – and this strengthens the vertiginous feeling of everything being connected, of the collective ‘we’ voice that is found in Tamara’s sections opening out beyond the novel, spilling into other works and into real life in a way that I found intensely emotional.
Reading The Sound Mirror again has confirmed my opinion that this book is something very special indeed, and I would urge you to check it out for yourselves if you haven’t already.
It was such a good decision to read all of these works close together (if I do say so myself!) – I’ve enjoyed it so much, and it’s been really interesting to note both the variety and the common threads that run through James’ work.
If this post has whetted your appetite and you want to read a far more eloquent and detailed examination of Heidi James’ work, check out this brilliant lithub article by Dr Heather Martin, in which she compares James to Lee Child. It is a fascinating read, and gives a wonderful insight into this exceptional writer. I think the fact that Heidi James evokes such powerful responses to her work from her readers speaks volumes.