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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Saving Lucia

When I plucked Saving Lucia from my To Read pile, I wasn’t expecting another time travelling novel that takes imagination and rethinks reality. I also wasn’t expecting such a slim book to be so dense with ideas and feelings.

The Lucia of the title of Anna Vaught’s book is the daughter of James Joyce, incarcerated in St Andrew’s Hospital for Mental Diseases in Northampton in 1953. One of her fellow residents is the Honourable Violet Gibson, daughter of a Lord Chancellor of Ireland and famous for her attempted assassination attempt on Benito Mussolini. Violet makes it the work of her last few years to save Lucia from the pain of life in a psychiatric institution.

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Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions

My best friend bought me Alberto Manguel’s reflections on a life in books, because she knows me very well. Packing My Library is subtitled An Elegy and Ten Digressions. It opens with Manguel’s reminiscence about the last location in which he had set up his library of 35,000 books. His reflections on the serious matter of what libraries are and what they mean to us are punctuated with digressions that often stem from a throwaway thought but also season the whole.

Early on, Manguel warns us that he can’t think in straight lines, that he goes where his thoughts lead him, something reflected in his idiosyncratic approach to arranging the books in his library. Manguel groups things by the first language of the author, then by author surname. I’ve come across people who arrange their books by the spectrum of colours on their spines. I’m pretty much an author surname and publication date arranger, although with non-fiction the size of the book also comes into play, and I don’t necessarily arrange non-fiction by author or chronology.

I, too, love a digression.

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American Pastoral

American Pastoral is the novel that won Philip Roth the Pulitzer Prize. It’s also the first novel I’ve read by him. It recounts the life of a high school athlete, Seymour ‘Swede’ Levov, from his schooldays during the Second World War to a point in his adulthood where his daughter’s countercultural leanings disrupt his American idyll.

People speak highly of Philip Roth. As well as the aforementioned Pulitzer Prize, he also received multiple PEN/Faulkner awards. His complete novels were published in his lifetime, in a nine-volume series, by the Library of America. I only really paid attention when he died, though. Until then, I hadn’t even heard of him. Or if I had, his name and status hadn’t registered. It’s a funny old literary world, full of reading lacunae.

The first few pages of American Pastoral put me in mind of John Updike and Richard Ford, but better. There’s also a bit of Ray Bradbury about the writing, particularly his Green Town books. Roth’s phrasing has a beautiful rhythm that carries you like a river burbling through the story. Roth also managed to make me care about something that I really don’t care about – the very male world of competitive sport.

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The Communist Manifesto

I’ve had a copy of The Communist Manifesto on my e-reader for years. In the first year of my Economics and Economic & Social History degree, I did a module on political philosophy. I work at a museum that documents the times that Marx and Engels were writing in/against/for/about. Somehow I have lived for more than half a century without reading this prime text for anyone who claims to be socialist.

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The Good Journal Issue One

June 2018 seems such a long time ago. So much has changed, so much hasn’t. The Good Journal launched in June 2018, to build on the success of The Good Immigrant and provide British writers of colour with a showcase for their work. Unlike The Good Immigrant, issue one of The Good Journal has a mix of fiction and nonfiction. The writers are a mix, as well, of established and never published before.

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Goldilocks

An interstellar event that happened 30 years in the past is at the centre of Laura Lam’s Goldilocks. The novel begins with one of the people who was involved in the event and its consequences finally deciding to break her silence.

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