17 September 2021 · 18:04
I read a lot of great books over the summer and now I have a huge pile of reviews to keep up to date. Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller Tells the story of 51-year-old twins, Ginny and Julius, who still live with their mother in rural isolation, until her sudden death forces them to confront some harsh realities of life in the modern world and the truth behind some dark family secrets. It is a rather convoluted novel, often in a melancholy tone, but I very much enjoyed Fuller’s rich descriptive prose, which captures the oppressive atmosphere of the twins’ daily lives. ‘Unbearable Ground’ was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Literature of the Year, and while it was not too surprising that the judges crowned ‘Piranesi’ by Susanna Clark as the winner last week, I think ‘Unsettled Ground’ was a worthy winner as well, and I will definitely look for the other novels Of Fuller.
Maybe I do not belong here by David Harwood Is a homeland actor’s description of his mental health breakdown in his early 20s shortly after leaving school for drama and racism he experienced while growing up in the West Midlands in the 70s and 80s. The book follows the excellent documentary Harwood made for the BBC a few years ago called ‘Psychosis and I’, and sees him ponder the impact of racism on mental health and identity in the most troubling terms. He was operated on twice during his illness and says: “I am absolutely convinced that if I had been in America at the time of my collapse, I would probably have died.” The racist abuse he suffered as a child caused him to be “half black and half English” and his broken sense of self and identity was evident in the nature of his breakdown, where a psychiatric report read: “The patient believes he is two people.” His documentary and reading of his medical comments on what happened during his illness clearly influenced him.Harwood’s informal and conversational style is very fascinating to read.Thank you very much to Pan McMillan for sending me a review copy via NetGalley.
Published earlier this year by my favorite indie press, Bluemoose Books, Home Happiness and Other Disasters by Jane Eyes Is a comedic novel about a middle-aged woman named Sally Forth who took a career break from her job as an English teacher in high school. Her son, Dan, returned to live with her after completing a degree in performing arts and her daughter, Laura, recently gave birth to a baby and she is shocked to discover how difficult it is. Ions’ novel is on the long list for the Women in Comedy Award for Print for 2021 and is written with a very dry sense of humor. I particularly enjoyed the competitive parental dynamics between Sally and her friends and the portrayal of mothers to adult children reminded me a bit of the BBC sitcom ‘Mother’ whose main character played by Leslie Manville is unappreciated by almost everyone around her. All in all, this is a light and entertaining read.
China Room by Sunjeev Sahota Is the author’s third novel and partly inspired by his family history. In the rural Punjab in 1929, Mahar is one of three teenage girls who had an arranged marriage to three brothers, but they are not allowed to know which brother each of them is married to. The wives work in the family “porcelain room” during the day away from their husbands until they are summoned to a dark room by their mother-in-law at night to conceive a son. Mahr eventually believes she has managed to figure out which brother is her husband, but this has dangerous consequences for her. Seventy years later, Mahar’s anonymous grandson travels from England to India, first staying with his uncle and uncle and later to the abandoned farm where he quickly lived, while trying to clear himself of heroin addiction before starting university. Sahota delicately draws thematic connections between the narratives, with Mehr’s story being the stronger and more memorable of the two overall. I enjoyed Sahota’s second novel “Escape Year” which was selected for the Morning Prize in 2015, and I was a little surprised that “China Room” did not make the shortlist this year either (I only read one more title on the long list so far, so I can not comment on the rest yet) . Many thanks to Random House, Vintage Books for sending me a review copy through NetGalley.