Review: The Mission House By Carys Davies

The Mission House is initially deceptive as you don't realise it is set contemporaneously - the blurb gives nothing away - and the illusion created is that it’s set shortly after the British exodus of India at the end of the Raj in 1947. As it progresses, the novel's sense of timelessness continues, perhaps exacerbated by the fact that to many, India seems so foreign and so far away, strangely modern but also steeped in tradition and culture. The protagonist, Hilary…

'Do Not Believe Too Quickly': A Room Made Of Leaves By Kate Grenville

False narratives seek to re-cast mendacious distortions of the truth as unequivocal statements of objective fact. For as long as humankind has been telling stories, an inveterate desire to invent has inevitably conferred upon any narrative the capacity to either perfidiously distil self-serving, specious interpretations of historical fact, or convey unalloyed truths. The modern parlance for the intentional misreporting of events or their causes is casually coined ‘fake news’. Who and what to believe are dilemmas with pronounced historical concomitants…

Poem Of The Week: 'Inter-city' By Liz Lochhead

Inter-City Hammered like a bolt diagonally through Scotland (my small dark country) this train’s a swaying caveful of half- seas over oil-men (fuck this fuck that fuck everything) bound for Aberdeen and North Sea Crude. Empty beercans of spun aluminium roll like ballbearings underfoot and sloshing amber’s a storm in a whisky glass or two. Outside’s all black absolutely but for fizzing starbursts of weirdblue or orange streetlights and lit-up grids of windows. Only bits of my own blurred back-to-front face and my mind elsewhere. The artsyfartsy magazine I’m not even pretending to read wide open at a photograph called Portrait…

Review: Runaway's River By Kevin Wood

Runaway’s River, the second book in the “Runaway” series by Skipton author, Kevin Wood, is another fast-paced, gripping adventure story for older children and young adults. The first in the series, Runaway’s Railway, introduced us to an alternative world of interlinked transport systems in which the teenage hero, Mark, suddenly finds himself as he flees his home. The books are founded upon an intriguing premise, that parallel transport worlds exist alongside the real world, and people can find themselves drawn into…

Review: Peak Performance: Ingleborough's Sporting Legacy By Victoria Benn

Victoria Benn’s wonderful new account of the history of the annual racing events of the northern Dales is more than a mere study of the facts and figures which would only, in any case, give the past a one-dimensional statistical definition. Avoiding the forensic aridity of number crunching, Ms. Benn does for regional sporting affairs what her previous book, Studs & Crooks, did for the communities who developed and adapted local shows over several generations of tenure. The human stories…

Review: Orlando King By Isabel Colegate

Orlando King, published in June by Bloomsbury, is a new edition of a trilogy originally published between 1968 and 1973. The last outing was in 1996 and on reading, one begins to understand why Isabel Colegate is often cited as “overlooked”, and why it is unfortunate that her work has largely fallen out of print. Orlando King is an exquisitely penned, vivid, immersive and engaging account of the eponymous protagonist, who arrives in London in 1930 destined to “set the world…

‘You Need All The Luck You Can Get’: A North Sea Tale By Chris Speck

I well remember my hometown of Sunderland, the long rows of terraced cottages where the miners and the shipyard workers lived. Although some might have viewed it as nosiness, a sense of community in the streets prevailed as families looked out for each other, the potential for tragedy ever present. Yet, there never was a truer statement than ‘you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors’. Appearances were everything. The opening of Chris Speck’s new novel takes me back to…

Writing Into The Dark: Interview With Caoilinn Hughes

Some of you may have read my recent review of The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes. Believe me when I say that the novel is infinitely better than the review and certainly more likely to garner an absorbing, provocative and scintillating reader response. As luck would have it, in addition to being an acclaimed literary voice widely celebrated as both a poet and an author, Hughes does not hold the likes of me at arms length and kindly consented to…

Poem Of The Week: 'Winging It' By Kerry McMullen

The relentless irritant of a mewling child is the starting point for Skipton poet and musician, Kerry McMullen’s, escape into imaginative abandonment. The ‘Winging it’ of her fine poem’s title describes a means of coping, a kind of default auto-pilot mechanism which is a not infrequent recourse for mothers whose friable sense of self is exposed to an hourly erosion of will. Winging it 'Malkie! Malkie!' she howls, arms raised skyward, her face scorched with tears. 'Pick may yup!' I gaze down at her,

Bidding Chaos Welcome: As Best We Can By Jeffrey Wainwright

In another tonal volte face, Jeffrey Wainwright blindsides his audience with what feels like a valedictory: As Best We Can rediscovers the past through the medium of observation, dream, reflection. Yet we may trace the making of the poet in the interstices - this wonderfully rich journey through autobiographical heart-land is not historiography in the manner of so much of Wainwright’s oeuvre, but it does bear the shadow of his concerns in the gentle ebb of rhythm, of metrical sonority,…

In The Eye Of The Storm: A Cotswold Ordeal By Rebecca Tope

'Knock Knock' 'Who's there?' 'Yetta' 'Yetta who?' Yet another bag of lovely books for my pile and this time featuring another author I haven’t previously come across. Rebecca Tope, it seems, is fairly prolific, with three series to her name already: The Cotswold Mysteries, A Cotswold Casebook and The Lake District Mysteries. To quote one of her characters - ‘the Cotswolds are the most beautiful place on earth’, and she has chosen two of the most beautiful places in Britain in which to…

Review: The Power By Naomi Alderman

The Power is a globe-trotting thriller which manages to capture not only gender power relations but to explore the idea of why exploitation occurs, and how ultimately simple the reasoning behind it is. When the women in Alderman’s novel acquire the power to electrocute people at will, a reversal is effected as the world swiftly swings from a patriarchy to one of female domination. The book is separated into several distinct viewpoints, all of which show different aspects of the power…

At Close Range: Annie Proulx's Wyoming Stories And Novels

To bastardise Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813), it is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer in possession of a Pulitzer Prize and international success may garner both reader opprobrium or approbation, irrespective of deserved critical acclaim. Indeed, literary réclame can dissever a potential audience as readily as it can create one. Austen and Proulx sit at polar ends of the literary spectrum, sharing only their ability to inspire devoted acolytes. Marmite springs to mind - that polarising epitome…

'Women Are From Venus': Joanna Trollope And Helen Fielding

I have long loved the novels of Joanna Trollope and have read most of them. She seems to understand the female mind, the insecurities and needs, the passion, the almost contradictory longing for relationships and independence, the importance of family, the love of home, and the inherent nesting instinct. Rarely, in my view, has any writer shown such empathy with the female psyche. I think I read The Rector’s Wife first and I loved it. Anna Bouverie is the frustrated wife…

The Digital Cage – What Price Progress In H. G. Wells’ The Shape Of Things To Come And Heather Child’s everything About You

I have something of an antipathy towards new technology. Though I’m no Luddite, I’m certainly a technophobe. I’ve not yet made the transition from paperback to Kindle, for instance; and an Alexa I was once given free of charge, I promptly gave away just as freely. But it seems I’m not the only one to have been troubled by the onset of technological progress. H. G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come (1933) differs from his earlier science-fiction masterpieces…

'I Am Thora': A Better Place By Alyson Marsh

Alyson Marsh’s new book explodes with polychromatic harmony: the colour of a firework display, Marsh renders the immense gravitas of her theme counter-intuitively, and with the heavy symbolism of a Frida Kahlo canvas. Ilustrated by the author, the book’s fine images are delivered in a spectrum of light. Which is fitting for a narrative of survival and endurance beyond the death whose untimely occurrence is the subject of its contemplation. Notionally a book for children – the reflective, rhyming lyricism…

‘Hindsight Is A Wonderful Science': Artistic Licence By Katie Fforde

Thank goodness for lockdown and those people who have used the time to have a good old clear out. Thanks to those friends of mine who have thrown their unwanted books in my direction and so replenished the pile by my bedside, now teeteringly tall once more. I discarded The Godfather from the pile without a second glance (the horse’s head on the pillow is all that springs to mind), along with a couple of ‘psychological horror’ stories. Not my cup…

Review: Stranger In The Shogun's City By Amy Stanley

Stranger in the Shogun's City, a story of Tsuneno, a woman who defied convention to forge her own path through life in nineteenth century Japan, is penned with the precision and dexterity of a Japanese calligrapher; the result is engaging, impactful and insightful. Tsuneno, born in 1804, daughter of a Buddhist priest and raised in a snowy, provincial district of Japan is evocatively brought to life from the opening lines of the prologue. The stage is set, with the background neatly…

Poem Of The Week: 'The Lion And Albert' By Marriott Edgar

The Lion and Albert There's a famous seaside place called Blackpool, That's noted for fresh air and fun, And Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom Went there with young Albert, their son. A grand little lad was young Albert, All dressed in his best; quite a swell With a stick with an 'orse's 'ead 'andle, The finest that Woolworth's could sell. They didn't think much to the Ocean: The waves, they was fiddlin' and small, There was no wrecks and nobody drownded, Fact, nothing to laugh at at all. So, seeking for further amusement, They paid…

Banjaxed By The Celtic Tiger: The Wild Laughter By Caoilinn Hughes

Poets elevate the moments they scrutinise, crystallising subjective insights and responses into assiduously crafted literary expressions and in so doing, often articulate the essence of both the granular and the universal. As such, poets are often rightly venerated as crucially important voices amongst literature’s soothsayers. George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) wrote, ‘Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself’. Caoilinn Hughes might agree with Shaw and find herself in sympathy with the thoughts of another of her countrymen. Sean…

Prayer For The Living: Ben Okri At The Yorkshire Storytelling Festival

Booker prizewinning novelist Ben Okri’s wonderful new book of tales, Prayer for the Living, has no chronology and no especial provenance, enabling him to wing wildly over time and space like an Orlando figure, given to the turning of despair and hubris, dislocation and loss, into fables for our time. His journey of transformation is inclusive in the best sense: ranging over the world’s topographies, he finds terrain in violent turmoil, historical archetypes disturbed by the intrusion of the tourist…

Review: The Beauty Of Living - E.E. Cummings In The Great War By J. Alison Rosenblitt

In his poem ‘The Rainbow’ (1802), William Wordsworth (1770–1850), gives us the oft quoted line, ‘The Child is father of the Man’. This axiomatic pronouncement of course moves beyond Wordsworth’s coterminous delight as both boy and man, in the presence of a radiantly beautiful rainbow. The line strikes at the very centre of the Nature vs. Nurture debate and perhaps reflects the co-dependence of these binaries, rather than the unnuanced fallacy of accepting one whilst disregarding the other. The Beauty

'Science Turns Paradise Sour': The Nuclear Imagination

Each generation has its own fear to face. In our case, it was the atom bomb and the potential for nuclear disaster. The notion that the two world leaders of Russia and America each carried a case containing a red button, just waiting to be pressed, was not fanciful to us, as children. The world of television and film reinforced the fear. I remember a fantastic, albeit gruelling, docu-drama called Threads (1984, though I would have sworn it was earlier)…

Review: The Switch By Beth O'Leary

I have a system for annotating books. I use sticky tabs to mark any references I like or sections I find amusing: orange to mark quotations, yellow to mark anything that makes me happy, blue to mark anything that makes me sad, green to mark anything I especially like, and pink to mark anything I find funny. Looking at my copy of ‘The Switch’ now it is a rainbow of sticky tabs, but particularly awash with pink. The book is a…

The Heat Of The Night: An American Marriage By Tayari Jones

Recommended to me by a friend and ex-colleague, this novel is definitely worth a read. The first couple of pages of the book are simply reviews from all sorts of luminaries from Oprah Winfrey to Barack Obama and all the major newspapers, both here and in the US, and it deserves every one of the accolades. Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 and a New York Times Bestseller, this has a well-deserved pedigree. Celestial and Roy are newlyweds, educated,…

Review: Anyone For Edmund? By Simon Edge

Anyone for Edmund? is a highly entertaining work of satire, written by former features writer and theatre critic, Simon Edge, who deftly applies his journalistic skills to fiction. The story delivers a wonderful blend of what you know to be pure fiction and what you suspect has been written with ‘insider knowledge’. The depiction of the press and the media industry is wry, and the inner schisms of government departmental hierarchy portrayed in what one presumes to be an equally…

Review: Never Let Me Go By Kazuo Ishiguro

This dystopian winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature is a complex and deeply compassionate insight into friendship and humanity. The narrative follows the life of Kathy from her childhood in Hailsham (an idyllic institution for raising children) to her work as a carer as an adult. From the outset there are subtle undertones of the unspoken treatment that would befall the children once leaving Hailsham - they are clones raised for their organs to be harvested to save the…

Poem Of The Week: 'The Marriage' By Anne Stevenson

The Marriage They will fit, she thinks, but only if her backbone cuts exactly into his ribcage, and only if his knees dock exactly under her knees and all four agree on a common angle. All would be well if only they could face each other. Even as it is there are compensations for having to meet nose to neck chest to scapula groin to rump when they sleep. They look, at least, as if they were going in the same direction. The geometrical arrangement of limbs in Anne Stevenson’s fine poem of marital disharmony is the key to an…

The Picture Of Dorian Gray And Bel Ami : A French Connection

In The Book of Five Rings of 1645, legendary Kenjutsu master Miyamotto Masashi wrote ‘Be detached from desire your whole life long…do not seek pleasure for its own sake or let yourself be guided by the feelings of lust or love’. Neither the infamously vain Dorian Gray nor the socially ambitious self-styled Baron, Georges du Roy de Cantel, heeded this sagacious advice. The causative agent acting upon these iconic literary anti-heroes was a decidedly French muse of an altogether different…

Review: The Mating Habits Of Stags By Ray Robinson

For some writers, plot development is secondary to considerations of tone, of mood. Ray Robinson’s brave excursion into the sparse interior of the world of itinerant Jake Eisner – ex-farmer, on the run for murder – reveals narrative through back-story, allowing the reader to construct a picture of a life, and the dramatic emotional turning points of that life, in thralled harness to shifting temporal tableaux. Moving between Wensleydale and the North Yorkshire coastline, the hinterland of Jake’s life is…