There were stories in Leslie Jamison’s first essay collection, The Empathy Exams, that I still think about more than five years after reading them. And it’s remarkable how regularly I refer others to particular essays written by Jamison. I suspect it will be the same with her latest collection, Make it Scream, Make it Burn.
Afraid I need to retract what I said very recently about being okay with Sofie Laguna telling the same story over and over.
Laguna’s latest novel, Infinite Splendours, sticks to her formula of following the life of a traumatised child. In this case, it is a boy named Lawrence who is groomed and raped by his uncle. The story jumps forward decades, and we revisit Lawrence at different points in his life – at each he is disconnected, struggling to form relationships, and severely damaged. Continue reading →
You might be surprised to know that I rarely get so engrossed in a book that I’m reading for hours – I think there’s an assumption that people who ‘read lots of books’ devote great rafts of time to the pursuit. I wish that were the case! In reality, my reading is done in short bursts – ten minutes at breakfast and lunch, a couple of five minute ‘power-reads’ during the day, and then half an hour before I sleep. But occasionally, I have to put everything on hold because I’ve become absolutely engrossed in a book. Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason was such a book.
It’s the story of Martha. Martha knows there is something wrong with her but she doesn’t know what it is. Her husband, Patrick, thinks she is fine, and that the important thing is that life carries on –
‘Martha… everything is broken and messed up, and completely fine. That is what life is. It’s only the ratios that change. Usually on their own. As soon as you think that’s it, it’s going to be like this forever, they change again.’
Patrick’s response to Martha’s struggle is borne from his love for her, rather than pig-headed denial, and much of the emotional energy in the story is directed toward the particular issue of wanting to be ‘well’ for the people we love; and the feelings of guilt and anxiety that go along with that.
I was desperate to cancel. But he bought a Lonely Planet. He had been reading it in bed every night and as ill and scared as I was, I couldn’t bear to disappoint someone whose desires were so modest they could be circled in pencil.Continue reading →
And when she started thinking about where Olive’s story would pick up, was it easy to know what she wanted for Olive?
No doubt I could find an interview with Strout about Olive, Again, and these questions would be answered. Instead, I’ve chosen to ponder over Olive – because she is far from an easy character. She’s cantankerous. She’s prickly. And yet we love her. Olive is judgemental. She’s tone deaf. She lacks the emotional insight needed to guide her through tricky times. And yet, her obliviousness to discomfort is precisely what allows her to be a comforting presence at the most unexpected times. Continue reading →
In choosing fiction, my preference is for narratives driven by emotion rather than action – I want to be in a character’s head and to know what they are feeling, as opposed to being a bystander, ‘watching’ what happens to them.
Long Bright River by Liz Moore is very much an action-driven story. It tells of two sisters, Mickey and Kacey, whose lives begin in the same troubled home but then take very different paths . Kacey lives on the streets of Kensington, Philadelphia, addicted to heroin, and doing what she has to do to feed her habit. Mickey also knows the streets of Kensington but that’s because she joined the police force. Although the sisters are estranged, Mickey keeps an eye out for Kacey. When a string of unsolved murders occur – the victims all young women with drug habits – Mickey fears for her sister. Continue reading →
Trigger warning: miscarriage and death of a child.
One thing that I have observed in my counselling work is that the grief associated with the death of a child is unfathomable, and that it changes families (for generations) in a way that is also unfathomable.
Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ is a deeply tragic story, which examines the yearning and grief experienced by Yejide and her husband, Akin.
I was not strong enough to love when I could lose again, so I held her loosely, with little hope, sure that somehow she too would manage to slip from my grasp.Continue reading →