The Island of Missing Trees

Elif Shafak’s part-magical realism novel about family, ancestry, war and the inner thoughts of trees is a wonderful wintery read. The Island of Missing Trees crossed my path thanks to Emma’s review at Em with Pen. Emma’s thoughts on the novel made me want to read it, so I reserved it at the library.

The story starts with a history of an island divided by war. The island is Cyprus, its long history bound up with legend, its recent history one of violence. In a well lies a pocket watch and the chained together bodies of the joint owners of a tavern. The tavern is significant to the story in this novel.

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The Memory of the Air

The Memory of the Air is a novella in monologue form from the Belgian woman of letters, Caroline Lamarche. First published by Gallimard in 2014 as La mémoire de l’air, the English language edition is translated by Katherine Gregor for Héloïse Press.

The narrator of The Memory of the Air is unnamed. She begins by telling us about a dream she had. In it, the body of a dead woman is lying at the bottom of a ravine. Across the rest of the book, the narrator tries to reach that woman by recalling her past and how it has led her to where she is now as a woman.

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The Forager’s Calendar: A Seasonal Guide to Nature’s Wild Harvests

Happy New Year! (It’s not too late to say that yet, despite being almost halfway through the first month of the year.) My first read of the year is John Wright’s book The Forager’s Calendar, a Christmas present from Mr Hicks. Last autumn, I took Mr H on a walk along our local canal to see how many of the blackberries I’d seen in their pre-ripened state during my solo summer walks we could pick for a pie. Sadly, the extreme summer heat had shrivelled most of the berries I’d seen. We gathered just enough for a pie. The flip side, though, was that in peering into the canalside hedgerows, we saw other things, including mushrooms and blackthorn. We came home with more sloes than blackberries, which we froze until we could pass them on to our friends who like gin.

As we walked, we talked about how, as children, we’d both been on family trips to forage for berries. I remember gathering wimberries (vaccinium myrtillus, also known as bilberries, whortleberries and blaeberries) on moorland around the Snake Pass between Glossop and Sheffield, and staining my fingers with their juices until I learnt not to squeeze when taking them from the plant. I loved those wimberrying trips, and the crumbles that resulted from them.

Wright opens this guide to gathering wild food and the things you can make from it with his own childhood memory of blackberrying which is very similar to mine. He also talks about something that I think about a lot, and more now than I did before the pandemic: the way in which we are losing touch with our natural selves.

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Lee Miller and Surrealism in Britain

Lee Miller and Surrealism in Britain is a scholarly tome from the team at the Hepworth Wakefield. Written to accompany an exhibition there in 2018, which I didn’t see, it attempts to position the photographer Lee Miller at the heart of the British surrealist movement in the 1930s and 1940s.

I can’t remember where I first encountered Miller’s photography. It was in an exhibition many years ago. I recall seeing solarised images she had made in collaboration with Man Ray alongside the photographs she took as a war correspondent during and at the end of the Second World War. I bought a postcard of her image ‘Portrait of Space’, depicting a landscape seen through a torn piece of netting with an empty picture frame hovering over the sky, because it made me think of Magritte. I was drawn by the framing and lighting of her images, that borrowed from the world of fashion she had experienced as a model and that also had a theatrical feel to them.

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