Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

Things I wonder:

  • When Elizabeth Strout first wrote Olive Kitteridge, did she envisage a sequel?
  • 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

Long Bright River by Liz Moore

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

Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀

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

20 Books of Summer (except that it’s Winter)

Cathy at 746 Books is hosting the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge again this year. As Cathy states, it’s the most relaxed reading challenge you’ll participate in (swap books out, change your target, do whatever). Continue reading

The Yield by Tara June Winch

Where to start with this big story, plump with important themes, lush language, and rich history? No review that I will do of Tara June Winch’s novel, The Yield, will capture all the elements of this book, so instead I will focus on the two parts that drew me in – the experience of grief, and the meaning of words. Continue reading

Heimat – A German Family Album by Nora Krug

In the mid-eighties, I was an exchange student in Germany. I was hosted in a small town in the south, and Heidelberg was the closest large town. My days at school were routinely interrupted by US airforce planes flying overhead and breaking the sound barrier – teachers and students were so used to this happening that conversation paused and resumed automatically. Likewise, no one seemed to notice US tanks rolling through the streets. It was 1987 and there were daily reminders of the Holocaust; what this nation had done wrong; and who was ‘in charge’ now. That’s what it felt like to me, anyway, and I was fascinated by how the past was felt in the present.

My trip in 1987 remains one of the most significant experiences I have had. Seeing the imbedded sense of guilt and shame carried by people born long after the war had an enormous impact. At the time, I couldn’t name what I was seeing, but we now know it as intergenerational trauma (and in no way do I mean to minimise, or compare it to, the trauma experienced by those persecuted during the Holocaust).

In her graphic memoir, Heimat, Nora Krug traces her family history, in an effort to uncover their wartime past in Nazi Germany, and to understand how her German history has shaped her life.

Continue reading

Bookish (and not so bookish) Thoughts

01. It was our annual International Night dinner with friends last week. This year we were Rockin’ the Moroccan. My contribution included cocktails, nibbles, and dessert. Of the things I made, a few recipes will be repeated in the future – Gin and Mint Tea cocktail (the complex sugar syrup is well worth the effort – I doubled the quantity and made a pitcher); Moroccan ‘sausage rolls’; this orange cake and this lemon cake – I’m no baker but these cakes were easy and delicious. Continue reading