Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Reviews: Four Books: Perceptions of Home

By JJ Marsh

This remarkable novel reminded me of The End of Mr. Y and Our Tragic Universe, by Scarlett Thomas. (Thomas is one of my Top Shelf Authors = I Want To Write Like That When I Grow Up.)
An unusual blend of the esoteric and the practical, the book follows a pianist diagnosed with RSI (Repetitive Stress Injury). Carol's safe place, Carol's home, is in front of her piano. But her curious condition locks her out. An accidental encounter with an old acquaintance peels back various layers of memory, truth and trust, revealing rather more than she expects. Both reader and narrator are left with more questions than answers, but plenty to think about. And Carol discovers the strength to face life away from a keyboard.
As a sufferer of RSI, I sympathised with the narrator and her frustration at being unable to express herself in her own art form. But most of all I was seriously impressed by a writer of such skill and confidence. She dances between plausible reality and the shadowy realm of interpretation, underpinned by evident intelligence. A real corker, in fact.

Mother, Mother – Koren Zailckas

 A psychological thriller, masquerading as a domestic coming of age story.
Josephine Hurst is the eponymous Mother, whose two children relate their experiences from their own points of view. William and Violet are damaged, but neither has any idea how much. Their older sister Rose has run away, so now their mother’s full attention falls on them. It’s something they both crave and fear.
Rightly so.
Josephine is a sinister creation, manipulative and cruel, behind a facade of suburban bliss. The author creates layer upon layer of unreliable narrator, disturbing and unsettling until the fractured jigsaw puzzle of individual stories begin to form an ugly shape.The Hursts' home is nothing to envy.
I wouldn't say it ‘makes your blood run cold’ but it slowly chills you to the bone. Never overt or cheap, Mother, Mother is deeply unsettling. This is We Need To Talk About Kevin in reverse.

Everlasting Lane, by Andrew Lovett
Set in the 1970s, an era which to me seemed so sunny and innocent, this peculiarly difficult-to-define book crystallises something extraordinary about childhood imagination.
There are elements of The Wasp Factory. Our narrator – Peter – knows there’s a secret somewhere. So does the reader and we’re far keener to find it.
There are parallels to The Ocean at the End of the Lane, with the oddly articulate and capable Anna-Marie who is alternately in control and struggling with her environment. 
There’s a whiff of Black Swan Green, in the misfits’ creativity and the discovery that adults can be unreliable and dangerous and worst of all, right.
I loved this book for its period detail, its dextrous unravelling of plot and its precise characterisation. But most of all, I loved the way it shows a child’s mind as a Hall of Mirrors; funny, distorted, scary and surreal. With so many places to hide.

Seeking Sophia – Ariadne Apostolou
Kleio gets an email from an ex-lover, Philippe. It’s been twenty years.
A lot has happened. Kleio’s had cancer, chemo, wigs, worries and lovers, and now she’s come home. And she's planting a tree. The author takes us on a geographical journey to New York, Geneva, and Greece, but the emotional parallel is far less predictable. 
The definition of independence, Kleio seeks a dependant. She wants, she needs, a child.
This book, despite its polish and sophistication, feels raw. Emotions are on the table with the olives, tomatoes and jug of rough wine. 
We, the readers, think we see what's going on and predict the end of the tale. We are very wide of the mark.
This is a writer who can do big picture and microscopic detail, depending on how it serves the story.
I thoroughly enjoyed Kleio’s journey, the vivid characters, the riotous description of scenery and the perfectly structured narrative through which the reader feels both wiser and more naive.

By JJ Marshauthor, reader, Triskelite, journalist, Nuancer, reviewer and blogger. Likes: pugs, Werner Herzog and anchovies. Dislikes: meat, chocolate and institutionalised sexism. Short story collection out now.

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