The Valley at the Centre of the World – Malachy Tallack

 

I love this book. I’m trying to work out what it is about it that is so compelling. I think it’s the detailing of lives, and the creation of a world where a dead lamb is as important as a prodigal mother returning. The hard manual work of the crofter is presented in great detail, the difficulty and the satisfaction of living so close to the soil. It doesn’t feel like a work of fiction, it feels like these are real people living real, messy, more or less happy or unhappy lives. There are so many stories, one of the characters comments, and this is a collection, a weaving together of a number of stories into one coherent narrative. The landscape here shapes the people, forcing them to be self-reliant, but they are not separate from the world. The world intrudes, changes things, people come here and are changed by their experience of the place.

 

The whole book just leads you in, and on, and reads so smoothly and so naturally. I don’t know how you would classify it. It’s not a page-turner, but it’s gently addictive.

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Fat Girls Don’t Dance – Maria Ferguson

I went out last night, which is a complicated thing to do midweek, what with the hectic social and sporting timetable the kids have developed, and the fact that my husband works too  hard and too long. I wasn’t even mad keen on going. It was an event organised by Apples and Snakes,   and compered by Briony, who organised the Open Mouth evening I attend. I went to support her, and to support spoken word in the area in general. It was billed as spoken word and dance, and I was expecting something pale, and drooping, and intense.

What I got was Maria Ferguson, who is sharp, funny, smart, warm, and just a little bit dangerous. And classically trained. She’s great. She writes with a scalpel, she moves beautifully – just the way she moved her hands as she spoke was awesome – and she can really, really sing. She made me laugh, and she kept me on the edge of my seat, not quite sure what was going to come next. Not bad, for a one woman show, in a freezing cold ex-chapel in North Devon.

Her show is called Fat Girls Don’t Dance.   And she has a book, of the same name.  Look out for her. She’s funny. And she doesn’t droop at all.

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The Wicked Cometh – Lorna Carlin

Oh, yummy! This is a glorious gothick extravaganza, featuring mistaken identities, forbidden love (of many kinds), two feisty heroines in big frocks (or not, as occasion demands), and the stinking, dangerous, foul, criminal haunted slums of London. It wrong-footed me a couple of times, which is always good, and I loved the final untangling of the sordid web.

I think I particularly liked the portrayal of the London slums, and the sheer desperation of life there. It really shows you how easy it would have been to sink without trace, if just a couple of things went wrong (being orphaned and friendless is never a great start in life, but at least we have some kind of a welfare state now that just might notice you). Hester crawls her way back out of the mire, using her own native wit to do so, and she’s fabulous.

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Sexual harassment.

Yes, I’m getting on the bandwagon. I’m allowed. Everyone else is.

What gets me, right, is these men who say “as the father of daughters…”. The people who say “there are parents out there who have the right to expect that their daughters can work in a safe environment”. All those people who say ” what if it was your daughter… sister…wife…mother…”

Because it seems like women are only to be respected if they belong to some man or other. Or men can only be expected to respect women if they happen to respect the women they “own”. It’s not language that suggests that women should be respected because they are human beings, because they deserve respect in their own right. It’s language that suggests that they only get respect because men permit it.

As the owner of a dog, I understand that you shouldn’t leave them alone for weeks at a time.

As the owner of a horse, I understand that you should drive slowly when you go past them on the road.

As the owner of a woman, I understand that you shouldn’t grab them by the pussy.

That’s what I’m hearing.

What I’d like to hear is:

As a human being, I understand that you shouldn’t seek to degrade or abuse other human beings. Simple as that.

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The Book of Joan – Lidia Yuknavitch

This took me back to my student days in the 80s, buying second hand Viragos and Women’s Press books at the bookstalls on the South Bank. It feels very much in that tradition of feminist sci-fi, and I haven’t read anything like it for a long time.

The main characters are Christine Pizan and Joan of Dirt, and the action divides between Earth and CIEL, so you can see we are in symbolic territory here. These are figures who trail the  herstory movement, and feminist iconography in their wake.  It’s almost a religious parable, if your religion encompasses a direct connection with the planet as a living thing, pan-sexuality, and the use of the body as a form of artistic self-expression, and it’s all set in the aftermath of the war that literally ends all wars – and just about everything else.

Big themes. The battle between a dehumanising retreat into technology and the great, visceral natural world, between female strength and de-sexed decadence.

Great images. The descriptions of the new bodies the inhabitants of CIEL have developed – more like living i-phones than real people – and the high-tech prison they have made for themselves, are particularly fascinating.

So there’s all this, and a good story, too. In fact, you could probably just read it as a good story, if you weren’t the kind of person who hung around second-hand bookstalls snapping up second-hand feminist literature in your student days.

 

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Genuine Fraud – e lockhart

Oh, this is a good read. I loved it.

It’s a story told backwards, which is a tricky thing to pull off, but e manages it. It mimics real life, as well, in the way that you start off with an opinion about somebody, and then learn a little more, and a little more, and gradually develop an understanding, and with that your opinion changes. It’s a book about identity and the structure itself plays with that. The fraud is perpetrated on you, and gradually uncovered by you. I don’t really want to say any more, because the pleasure is partly in the gradual uncovering of the truth. It’s a great read. Gripping, and intriguing, and clever.  

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The Woman Behind the Waterfall – book review

Well, I don’t know if you should call this a novel at all. You might call it a poem. Or a piece of music. It ripples and flows, it turns on itself. It’s beautiful.

 

I have a tendency to read for plot, and this hardly has a conventional plot at all. There is a story, and it’s an age old story of love and loss, but it’s the way that it’s told that is so engaging. There are themes and motifs that recur – the river, the rope, the bird, the dancing child – as if the writer is creating a new mythology, making new images out of the same set of picture tiles.  There’s a sense of place and of culture that is subtle but powerful. Basically, you’ll either love it or just not get it. You should try it, though, because if you do get it, you’ll be discovering something really special. 

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