Precious Bane

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Read 29/06/2021-21/07/2021

Rating 5 stars

For my third summer read, I headed to Shropshire with Mary Webb’s novel Precious Bane. There’s an excellent preface in the Virago Modern Classic edition that I bought from Well-Read Books in Wigtown. Written by Michelene Wandor, it gives a feminist context for the book, describing a little of Webb’s life alongside the history that surrounds her character Prue Sarn’s 19th century existence. Although set at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, Wandor tells us that “national events appear to be outside the concern of the isolated, rural and largely illiterate community” and “the backdrop to Prue’s story is the three centuries of intense and virulent witch-hunting all over Europe.” Continue reading

Six Degrees of Separation: From The Bass Rock to The Lowland

Hello June, here so soon. I’m a day late for this month’s Six Degrees of Separation because summer arrived in Manchester this week and yesterday was too glorious to pass up the chance to read in the garden. Kate, who hosts the meme at Books Are My Favourite and Best, has chosen the Stella Prize winning book The Bass Rock for the first book in the chain.

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Cockfight

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Read 25/05/2021-31/05/2021

Rating 4 stars

Cockfight is the debut collection of short stories by Ecuadorian writer María Fernanda Ampuero, translated by Frances Riddle, that explores the violence and exploitation that comes with being a woman in Ecuador.

The writing is lyrical and Riddle’s translation chooses words and phrases with care, capturing the visceral nature of Ampuero’s original narrratives. Continue reading

The Shadow King

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Read 18/04/2021-04/05/2021

Rating 4 stars

Hirut, a woman with a long scar “that puckers at the base of her neck and trails over her shoulder like a broken necklace”, waits in Addis Ababa station for a man she hasn’t seen in almost 40 years. They are connected by a secret, one from history, involving Mussolini and Emperor Haile Selassie. Continue reading

Permafrost

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Read 21/02/2021-26/02/2021

Rating 5 stars

Permafrost is the first novel by Catalan poet Eva Baltasar. It’s a thing of beauty, visceral and uncompromising. It’s about depression, and being cared about but not loved; it’s the story of someone who tries not to let others in because being self-contained is safer. It’s also deeply, dryly funny.

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famished

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Read 16/12/2020-23/12/2020

Rating 4 stars

famished is a collection of ultra short stories by Anna Vaught. The minimalist, modernist cover contains 17 baroque horror stories, all centred on food or eating, and influenced by writers from Angela Carter, Henry James and Edgar Allan Poe to F Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and Carson McCullers.

These tales are strongly feminist, peopled by women who are taking control. The subtext is often ‘eat, or be eaten’. Continue reading

Six Degrees of Separation: from The Handmaid’s Tale to Red Dust Road

I’m a day late for November’s Six Degrees of Separation. I’m blaming my anxious refreshing of the Presidential election count page on The Guardian website yesterday. This month, Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best has given us a sort of free pass on the starting book. We’re starting our November chains with a book that ended a previous chain. For anyone new to Six Degrees, the general concept is explained here.

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Mirror, Shoulder, Signal

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Read 27/09/2020-04/10/2020

Rating 4 stars

Dorthe Nors’ fifth novel examines the crisis of middle age as experienced by a single woman estranged from her sister and trying to work out what she wants from life. It’s a funny and moving book, with a deadpan humour that wrong foots the reader from time to time with its seriousness. Continue reading