Wednesday, 16 October 2019

An Interview With Elizabeth Lowry

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Dark Water, Elizabeth Lowry’s second novel, was published on September 6th to great acclaim.
The Guardian’s Book of the Day, The Times’ Critic’s Choice and Book of the Month. Historia Magazine included it in their list of best recent historical writing. Numerous bloggers, including myself, and other publications are running out of superlatives. With good reason. It is a work of depth and substance that only comes along once in a while. 

I am thrilled beyond measure to have had the opportunity to interview Elizabeth. So without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I present - An Interview with Elizabeth Lowry.

 Dark Water has left a lasting impression on me. There’s been so much to think about long after I closed the book. My mind boggles at the thought of how you approached the planning and plotting of this story. Can you give us some insight into the initial motivation for the book and how the idea for it first came to you?

Well, I’m interested in questions of identity and how we define personality. After you asked me this I went back to my very first notebook for Dark Water (I had three in the end) and found I’d scribbled down this remark by Primo Levi: ‘Man is a mixed-up creature; and he becomes all the more confused, we might add, the more he is subjected to tensions: at that point he evades our judgement, just as a compass goes wild at the magnetic pole’. William Borden sprang out of that, I think, and out of a love of Melville’s sea stories.

 The novel is offered as an historical novel, although I found it to be much more than that. But you must have had to do some extensive research. I found the narrative to be so realistic and convincing, I never doubted for a moment that I WAS back to 1833 Massachusetts. I also wondered if you actually spent some time below decks on a ship, the descriptions were so palpable? Can you tell us a little about the research you undertook?

I didn’t know much at all about ships (though unlike Hiram Carver, I don’t get seasick!) before I began to write Dark Water. It was quite an education. I had before me the painful example of Edgar Allan Poe, who wrote The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket without doing his homework. A scathing early review pointed out that in Chapter One the jib of a ship in a storm is still mysteriously flying even though the mast has been ‘carried away’ by the waves just moments before. (The jib is a small triangular sail that is set ahead of the foremast and is usually rigged to a stay extending from it. Oops.)
I found Melville a good teacher – his memoir White-Jacket about his stint on a US man-of-war was written expressly to explain the ins and outs of life at sea to landlubbers like me. We also share some source material. The route steered across the Pacific by Borden following the Providence mutiny draws on the real-life story of what happened after the Nantucket whaleship Essex was sunk by a whale in 1820. On losing the ship the survivors made for the coast of South America in open boats. An account of this disaster and their journey was published by the first mate, Owen Chase, and was used by Melville as the basis for Moby-Dick (though he was much more interested in the whale). I had help too in the form of marvellous sea-going accounts by other sailors of the time, such as Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast describing his experiences as an ordinary merchant seaman. Dana was a gentleman sailor (like Melville) who enlisted for the adventure of it, rather than from necessity. Once he’d had enough he could afford, unlike your average tar, to go home and retrain as a lawyer. That’s why his book isn’t called Ten Years Before the Mast!
I didn’t get to tour a real wooden man-of-war until I’d already written the early scenes on the Orbis, and took a trip to Boston, where the USS Constitution is kept in dry dock. It was useful to be able to check if I’d got the physical details right. You know, though, when approaching Dark Water I wasn’t drawn so much to the technicalities of ships or sailing as to what a nineteenth-century man-of-war could represent – an enclosed community with a rigid hierarchy and its own inflexible rules. The metaphysics of ships, if you like.

 Geographically that part of the USA is one of my favourite parts, especially Martha’s Vineyard. There is an indefinable thrill associated with those islands and I always feel that affinity when I read about them. I regret never visiting Nantucket. It seems crucial to the book. It conjures the ghosts of Melville and Moby-Dick, adding another atmospheric layer to the story. Are those places familiar to you or did you make some special trips?

I was born in Washington DC but left at a very early age, and hadn’t been back to the east coast at all until I tackled this book. I’d written a good chunk of Dark Water when I decided I’d better go and take a look at the places in it: Boston, of course, but Nantucket especially. It’s easy to get a sense of Boston and its history from paper sources; Nantucket was more slippery. An island has a totally different sense of space to the mainland. I spent about two weeks in Massachusetts in the summer of 2016, walking around Boston’s Beacon Hill and climbing all over Old Ironsides, as I mentioned just now, before staying in a tiny grey shingled cottage in Sconset on Nantucket – pretty much as Carver does, except that I didn’t have a Mrs Bunker to cook my meals.

Hiram Carver? He is the supreme paradox of us all! He behaved abominably at times, especially towards his own sister and her happiness. Yet in spite of it I simply couldn’t bring myself to dislike him. There’s something within him that seems to be within us all maybe? He and Borden seem to be two halves of a dichotomous whole. How did you go about creating such characters? Or did they eventually start to develop themselves!? I’ve heard some writers speak of how once created the characters do go on to develop their selves almost as if the writer has no part in it!

I’m so glad you don’t completely dislike Carver. I don’t either. The challenge, as with William Borden, was to write someone who couldn’t be pinned down too easily. I felt I had to give him some significant redeeming features, in the form of his youthful anti-authoritarianism, his willingness to question the mores of his time and place, and his instinctive sympathy for the social outcasts he is treating at the asylum. Once I got going he added his own flourishes. But of course he is the worst cannibal in the book. By the end he has consumed Ruth Macy as surely as he consumed Richard Mansfield, Frank Goodwin, Adam Thornton, his sister Caro, and William Borden. The irony is that he’s also trapped himself. By achieving a position of supremacy in the society he once despised, he has – as he knows full well – given up his last chance at freedom. 

 The sea as a metaphor is wonderfully sustained throughout the book and together with considerations as to the real meaning of madness encourages the reader to ponder the frailty of the human soul. When Hiram suggests to Ruth that all we’ve created out of freedom is a prison it struck such a mournful chord with me because it’s so inviolably true. I found it a pivotal moment in the story and I wondered whether it was your intention to throw these metaphysical ideas out there in the hope that the reader might ponder some solutions?

Yes, absolutely. And if anyone can find a solution, I’d love to hear it.

 The book has much to say about the invisible line between sanity and insanity. The passages set in the asylum were both fascinating historically and sociologically. All too easy to ‘get it wrong’ but you didn’t! How did you set about writing these sections of the book?

Writing the asylum sections was tricky because I was hoping to show how fine that line can be, and how common, even ordinary, mental disturbance is – but couldn’t use any of the vocabulary we have at our disposal in the age of psychiatry. When I was reading the memoirs of some nineteenth-century asylum patients it seemed obvious that a few of them suffered from maladies which would now be quite easily treatable with psychodynamic medication, and this got me thinking. I wanted to approach these scenes through a sort of double perspective. In the book Adam Thornton, for example, clearly has what we’d today call bipolar disorder, with a two-to-three-week depressive phase, followed by a month-long build up to mania. Richard Mansfield insists that Thornton is mad, but Borden and Carver sense that something else is at play here, and the modern reader will too. What is ‘madness’, anyway? The doctors and attendants aren’t exempt: Richard Mansfield is a morphine addict; Felicity Joy exhibits a form of OCD when washing the asylum floors; Frank Goodwin is a binge eater. The younger Carver himself, whose refusal of food is really a rejection of his overbearing family and everything they represent, is anorexic.

 Suffering, whether oblique or realised, physical or emotional, play a huge part in the book. So many contemporary parallels, for example Richard’s dependence on drugs, Frank’s relationship with food, Hiram’s confusion with his sexuality take this beyond the historical. Was it emotionally demanding to write?

I wrote the book during a period of great personal stress and sadness and the wonderful thing was that I knew, while writing it, that it was acting as a very real life preserver for me. So yes, it was demanding, but not more demanding than actually getting through that time. 

 For me the most uplifting characters are the patients in the asylum! They seemed to have ‘got it right’! Was that your intention or am I… insane?!

You are quite clearly bonkers. Just joking – spot on. As Carver says, they’re at liberty to express the sorts of foibles and idiosyncrasies the rest of us have to keep in check. That can be quite appealing.

 Quite coincidentally as I was writing these questions I noticed that you had referenced Janet Frame on one of the social media platforms. I’ve always found Faces in the Water to be a seminal work regarding sanity, insanity and institutions and wondered whether her work had any influence on your writing?

Janet Frame is an expert at rendering mental anguish. I recently tweeted an excerpt from the second volume of her autobiography, An Angel at My Table, because I’m including it in a feature for the Guardian on my ‘Top Ten Books’ about psychiatric institutions. Her story is truly horrifying. She was misdiagnosed as a schizophrenic in 1945 and spent eight years in and out of mental hospitals in her native New Zealand. In spite of this she managed to write a collection of short stories, The Lagoon. In 1954 she was scheduled to have a lobotomy, when the doctor who was due to perform the procedure read in the paper that her book had won a national literary prize. He cancelled the operation and she was released from hospital. In her autobiography she says, without any exaggeration, ‘My writing saved me.’

 How do you approach your writing? By that I am wondering if you have a special place, special time, any special routines and rituals?

At the moment writing is my day job, though this hasn’t always been the case. I write between dropping my children off at school and picking them up again, a working day of about six hours. It never seems long enough. I was a teacher for many years and I’ve written while taking detention and before registration in the mornings. When I’m away from home I set my laptop up on a bedside locker and write there. You can’t afford to have special rituals or be too fussy about your circumstances when your next thought is liable to be interrupted by someone saying “Mu-uum”. (Hello kids, I love you too.)
 I know that being an avid reader is almost compulsory for a writer so a question I always ask is if you can remember the first book you read that moved you to tears, if any?

Not sure if I can pinpoint the very first book that moved me to tears, but I do recall, with weird immediacy, learning the alphabet itself. I was at the Walworth Barbour American School in Israel and must have been about five years old. We were taught the alphabet with an ingenious story flip-chart. In this story you were taken on a journey through a jungle, over mountains, across seas and deserts, and each day, as you travelled, you met a new letter. An audio cassette tape played alongside and made it all seem doubly real (there were no interactive whiteboards or DVDs then – this was the 1970s). I really had no idea what came after A, or B, or C, so every day was a total cliff hanger. I lived for these sessions and I was forlorn when we reached Z and they stopped. The excitement I felt for those 26 days is still vivid to me – I’ve probably never known anything like it since. Just thinking about it has made my heart thump.

 And finally having enjoyed this novel so much I am bound to ask when we can expect another new one! And is there anything you can tell us about it?

Soon, I hope. I’m working on a novel about Thomas Hardy, set in the weeks immediately following the sudden death of his first wife, Emma. In the thirty-eight years they were married their relationship had become very strained: though they were living in the same house they only met once a day, over dinner, and had stopped speaking to each other. But he is shattered by the loss of her. Then, while he is still overwhelmed by grief, he finds a record she has written about their life together in which she accuses him of a very specific and very terrible thing (you’ll have to wait and see what that is), and he has to start re-evaluating their entire marriage – and himself.
The novel is called The Chosen, after one of Hardy’s poems. While describing it to you I’ve realised that like Dark Water it’s a story about suffering and the unknowability of the other, even the people to whom we’re supposedly closest. And about memory and identity and the mystery of human motivation. Which brings us back to where we started our interview, doesn’t it?

My heartfelt thanks to Elizabeth for this frank, informative, erudite  and entertaining interview. If you’d like to hear more of her I include a link to a radio interview Elizabeth did for BBC Oxford with Kate Orman -

And my thanks, yet again, to the wonderful Ana McLaughlin at Quercus books for introducing me to this book in the first place and for facilitating  this interview. 

A Drop of Patience - William Melvin Kelley

I was blown away by the publication last year of the 'lost' masterpiece, 'A Different Drummer' so I was excited beyond words to read another of Kelley's novels. The guy is surely one of the most important voices in black American literature. And if '....Drummer' whetted my appetite for Kelley's words then '....Patience' has rendered me impatient to read more.

What better way to explore racism than through the eyes of a blind man. And what better way to expose the blindness in us all as we read the account of Ludlow Washington's life. Against a backdrop of the US jazz scene the syncopation and improvisation of the music serves as metaphor for the life of a blind, black man abandoned to a children's home by his parents in a manner that will squeeze your heart.

'A Drop of Patience is the story of a gifted and damaged man set apart - by blindness, by race, by talent - who must wrestle with adversity and ambition to generate the acceptance and self worth that have always eluded him.'

No spoiler, for you can read the above on the back cover and it serves as a perfect summary of this captivating and compelling novel. Whilst the plot is clearly of an America several decades ago there are some contemporary considerations that endure, that of disability and racism, of growing up and falling in love. Kelley deals with it all so sensitively and without sensationalising anything which makes it all the more potent. Ludlow is such a special character, so innocent yet with an inner wisdom that seems to defy the circumstances of his upbringing. Largely unloved for his early years it seems to be the grail he is seeking but his race, disability and musical gift thwart any dreams he may have of true happiness. He searches for true love and a love of the truth. For who will tell it like it really is?

Kelley's style is that of the true story teller. A narrative that flows easily with characters that step off the page and, often, into your heart you're instantly immersed into the tale desperate to know how things turn out for Ludlow but equally, not wanting the story to end. Structurally straightforward a story told chronologically with the various parts of the book prefaced by extracts from an older Ludlow's interview, which is effective since it offers the reader his 'take' after the event so to speak. 

Put Thelonious Monk on the player and let that great man play a soundtrack to your reading. The jazz writing is some of the best I've read. I used to think Jack Kerouac couldn't be surpassed, this comes close. And whilst jazz is never 'just' music, it's a discipline, this book conveys that most succinctly. It's superb.

My thanks to Ana McLaughlin for a copy of this wonderful book. 

Monday, 14 October 2019

Archimimus - Clio Gray BLOG TOUR

My delight in kicking off the blog tour for this latest novel of Clio Gray's is hampered somewhat by the fact that, unfortunately, the book only arrived a day or two ago due to some kind of glitch that caused the poor tour organiser some headaches. Whilst I AM a voracious reader I do prefer a little longer, especially for a blog tour, to read, collect my thoughts and pen a review. However in my 'show must go on mode' I've done my best. Yet, mine is but the first stop on this tour, Please check out my colleagues opinions too. 

Here's what I think...........

After cursorily reading the blurb I was prepared to deride the comparison with Patrick Susskind but I get it totally. Ultimately Archimimus is one of those genre fusion books that dares you to neatly compartmentalise it. Which suits me just fine! What I must be cautious about is giving anything away for the conclusion is explosive and, for me anyway, unexpected. 

So let’s begin with all things blurbish - 

Lukitt Bachmann is waiting in his Lanterne de Mortes, a Tower of the Dead, in the middle of a cemetery.
He's had a complicated life: son of a Herrnhuter Brother thrown out of his sect; help-meet to a pastor; sailor; fisherman; boar-hunter; and student and lecturer, exploring the varied histories of the Knights Teutonic and the bone-chapels their descendants left behind them.
He has become an assassin and a murderer, learned the terrible highs and lows of friendships made and lost, and is awaiting now his last remaining friend to set him free so he can put right past wrongs.
As Lukitt is let loose on a world gone mad, can this avenging angel finally find solace for his soul?

Clio Gray's stunning novel is ideal for readers of Mervyn   Peake, Erin Morgenstern and Patrick Süskind.’

Yep, that just about sums it up. Or does it? Yes, that is what actually happens but the novel is much deeper and richer than a précis might suggest.

Lukitt is a deep and complex character, a paradox, and potentially symbolic of the eternal right/wrong demons that can reside within us all. A skilful characterisation has us warming to him, rooting for him and feeling his pain and dilemmas. But it also asks us to question his morality. Is he merely a survivor? Doing whatever he needs to survive regardless of what that might entail? Can he be deemed guilty of making wrong decisions, because that's what we all do sometimes  Or is he lacking sufficient courage to stand up to bullies and blackmail? Or have the events of his life shaped him into the Lukitt he becomes? I think it's up to the reader to decide. His close friendships with, firstly Pregel, and then Alameth prepares the reader for a wider consideration of friendship and what constitutes a good friend. 

The novel is also a rich historic tapestry. Curiously I had no real sense of any historic period to begin with, I felt a greater sense of magical realism in the opening chapters. It was only as the story developed and the book progressed and dates were offered here and there that a sense of time and place became apparent and allowed me to slot everything into place. The research is impressive because it is seamless within the narrative. It rests alongside the story so that the reader is not unaware of it but accepts it as a plot function. 

And the title? Archimimus? I looked it up before I was halfway through the book. This is what the world dictionary has to say - 

archimimus is an Latin word started with a. Here is the definition of archimimus in English
  • archimimusmasculine noun
    chief mimic actor, chief of troop of mimics/actors; leading actor/player, lead
  • archimimus archimimus, archimimi
    masculine noun chief mimic actor, chief of troop of mimics/actors; leading actor/player, lead;

However if I had been patient enough to wait until I read the author's note, her explanation enriches that definition most significantly.

I feel quite ashamed given the author's impressive catalogue, that this is the first Clio Gray I have read. I feel fairly sure it won't be my last. A gutsy, historical thriller with some subliminal semantics and metaphysics that are there for the taking but won't mar a readers enjoyment if they simply want a good old yarn. 

I didn't like the ending! My heart hurt! But it was real. And clever. And unexpected. 

My thanks to the LoveBooksGroup and Urbane Publications for a copy of this book.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

The Seagull’s Laughter - Holly Bidgood BLOG TOUR

I’ve never heard a seagull laugh. Living by the sea I’ve heard them cry and scream and vent their landlocked frustration on the world around them when the weather closes in. But I’ve never heard them laugh. Or maybe in a perversion of reversion that IS their laugh. But the sound somehow seems fitting for this story of Malik, with mismatched eyes and fractured identity. Accompanied by Eqingaleq, a guiding spirit from Greenland legend, (reminded me of Lyra’s daemon, Pantalaimon)  he searches for answers and meanings.

A multi narrated story the first part deals with Malik’s  and that of his late father Rasmus an arctic obsessed explorer. The two histories work in tandem to offer the reader a complete a picture as possible of the two characters. But through the skilful story telling most of our sympathies remain with Malik. Further on in the second and third parts of the novel we learn of Martha, her story and her challenges. On the run with a friend, Martha and Malik’s paths cross and they briefly seek sanctuary in the Shetland Islands but Malik has questions he wishes to have answered and he continues his search.

Yet with every passing second I feel myself drifting further and further away from this fleeting moment of connection, until I realise that we are each adrift in our own ocean and the two do not share their waters.’

Thus surmises Martha after a moment of connection with Malik and a sense that they are both searching for something and it seems a fitting way to sum up their situation.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved Malik, his sensitivity and desire to please, the confusion of his origins and his place in the world and where other people might fit in. There was a deep sense of him being a very proper person in the sense that he possessed an intuitive understanding of the decent and human way to behave. He seems righteous, guileless and open. The sense of spiritualism running through the story, too, was fascinating. How Eqingaleq’s presence gave us such clues as to Malik’s state of mind and conscience. 

The narrative flowed easily and informatively with some palpable descriptions of the diverse landscapes within the book. The hostile landscapes of Greenland to the more suburban, secular  environment of Judith’s home. (Who’s Judith? Read the book! ;-))I felt a comparison between Greenland and Shetland, something to do with how remote both locations feel so they offer a paradox of being both distant yet offering a sanctuary of kinds. Is Malik swapping ‘Green’  for ’Shet.? There was a mystery, too, off sorts with the continued reappearance of ‘Birdie’. Is he the laughing seagull? An unusual book in some respects which is always a good thing for me! Thr nuances don’t allow the reader to sit back and relax, the reader has to sit back and READ! 

Thank you Wild Pressed Books and LoveBooks Tours for this captivating tale. 

Thursday, 3 October 2019

The Choke - Sophie Laguna

Aptly titled book for it choked me up and that’s for sure. An Australian novel that has already won an award and appeared on short and long lists of others this is the tale of the endearing Justine born into a world of poverty and neglect blaming herself for being a breech birth and finding a back to front world. If you’re a breech baby, like myself, this will touch you to the core. But alongside poverty Justine experiences violence and oppression that sees her catapulted into an untenable situation that will squeeze your heart.

Beautifully written this writer has burrowed into the very soul of a young girl trying to make sense of the world around her and the people in it, her family, her friends, her teachers, her enemies. The characterisation is so thoroughly convincing you almost feel you want to put the book down to find Justine and help her. She shows remarkable determination and resilience reluctant to lose belief in those adults she feels she should trust. And she is full of love.

Many of the adult characters in the book, especially the males, have issues a plenty which you see Justine struggling to understand. In their own way I guess they try, especially Pop. But it is the younger characters that really resonate.This author seems to have a particular gift for understanding children with, challenges, for want of a better word and without wishing to give anything away. I wanted to hug Michael. 

For those of us far from the antipodean shores and never having visited even this is a palpable portrait of life in the outback. The natural world a supporting player if you will. I felt the heat, the dryness the very ‘Australianess’ of the landscape through the descriptive passages. 

There is a redemption of sorts at the end of the book which I think was most necessary to preserve the wellbeing of the reader! A different outcome would have had me bereft for weeks! There is so much in the book that gets you thinking and worrying about anyone who might be experiencing similar. It’s harrowing in many respects and quite disturbing and whilst showing how accepting children can be of their circumstances when they know no different it does also show the resilience of the human spirit. It is not a feelgood book but it is a book that stays with you and asks you to think. 

Thank you Gallic Press for the opportunity to read this.

Monday, 30 September 2019

Sleep - C.L.Taylor

Taylor’s dual persona appeals to the gemini in me but I confess that Sleep is the first of her books I have read either as Cally Taylor or C.L.Taylor. However she has been a writer on my radar for some time. Thus I was delighted to review a copy of Sleep from Readers First.

I read it almost in one sitting. Somehow I feel that is a compliment for a writer. It suggests the unputdownable which IS a compliment! Creating an atmosphere redolent of Agatha Christie with And Then There Were None seven guests on a remote island, and, Anna, our protagonist so suffused with guilt she can’t sleep, all combine to create a thriller that has you second and third guessing, suspecting everyone on two legs and rarely reaching the right conclusions.

I love how writers of psychological thrillers have that ability to manipulate their readers. On several occasions here we are ‘persuaded’ of one thing only to find that it is not so and we stagger back in amazement at how we could have made what turns out to be an assumption without any real basis. As the story unfolds and the denouement becomes clear you berate yourself for being so horribly wrong. All the necessary clues are there but you follow the wrong line of thinking willingly! It’s very clever and C.L.Taylor shows herself to be a master of finagling the reader!

But a good thriller needs to be multifaceted and here all of the seven hotel guests have their own stories and secrets for us to unravel and decide what bearing they might have on Anna. And Alex, Anna’s ex boyfriend, what part does he have to play in this? No one escapes our mantle of suspicions which, I suspect, is exactly what Ms. Taylor wants from her readers! The book is peppered with some flawed and blemished people. Their foibles turn out to be quite fascinating and offer some tangential lines of thought and considerations. 

But of course we are more than happy to have our thoughts and ideas messed with as long as the conclusions are satisfying and believable. Without that the thriller loses its momentum and the reader feels cheated. So, what happens with Sleep I hear you ask? Read it and see!! I’ve given you all the clues!

Another compliment for a writer is whether the reading of one of their books  sends the reader scuttling off to seek out more. So? Will I be seeking out more of C.L.Taylor’s books? It’s a ‘Yes’ from me!

Saturday, 28 September 2019

The Testaments - Margaret Atwood

‘Nolite te bastardes carborundorum’

Many have referenced the hype and publicity campaign surrounding the publication of this book. But I hardly think a book like this needs much help! I think it sold itself from the very first announcement of a sequel to The Handmaids Tale. Anyone who has read and revered that would surely have devoured it  regardless of hype. I know I have. I was driven by curiosity in part. The burning question for me surrounded the motivation of the author primarily. What would persuade you to write a sequel  to a novel first published in the eighties and that has a been a catalyst for a three series TV show of the same name? You might be tempted to say money and sales, surely? Exploit the situation to your own advantage? And if the author were anyone other than Margaret Atwood I’d probably cynically be nodding my head in agreement. But for a writer of her integrity, critical success and back catalogue I felt there had to be something else. I definitely wanted there to be! 

For me The Handmaids Tale was a landmark in dystopian, no, sorry, speculative fiction and re reading it in a) the wake of series one of the TV show and b) Trump’s America  the prophetic qualities were chilling. Here's what I thought if you're interested -

There’s much a TV show cannot represent from a work of fiction especially some of the structure and nuances of narrative and I thought that was apparent when seeking an immediate comparison between book and TV show. However reading The Testaments I feel the book owed much to the TV show! It’s made me wonder how great was Atwood’s contribution to series two and three and it’s made me question, yet again, my memory of the Handmaids Tale! I feel sure there are situations referred to in The Testaments that do not occur in HT but in the TV show. It feels odd to say that. And I will stress that it may be my ageing memory. Atwood has this to say in her acknowledgments - ‘The television series has respected one of the axioms of the novel: no event is allowed into it that does not have a precedent in human history.’ And if that isn’t food for thought for readers and viewers alike I don’t know what is! Talking of food - Blessed be the Fruit. 

But I’m also questioning how to approach any kind of relevant review since it is the book not the TV series I need to focus on. But I’m damned if I can rid myself of Ann Dowd’s face when I’m reading. It all seems to fit together so well. I wish I’d read both books without seeing the wretched TV show! I think I could be more objective about the book. Thank goodness, I enjoy a challenge!! 

 I don’t want to give anything away. Bur the twist as I see it is delicious!! Structurally no surprises here as in HT the testimonies are clear and dominate from the start. And it’s pretty much straightforward story telling of what happens in and out of Gilead several years after the conclusion of HT. That simple, huh? Not really, for at the back of your mind you continue to consider all that’s happening in the world today, politically and within the world of feminism that the book is almost a fabled commentary on our world today. It’s left to the reader to form conclusions and ask questions. One or two maxims that resonate with me -

The inventor of the mirror did few of us any favours: we must have been happier before we knew what we looked like.

You don’t believe the sky is falling into the chunk of it falls on you.’

I thoroughly enjoyed The Testaments. As a story, well paced, brisk even, an underlying sense of urgency, anger almost or maybe that is too strong.  It was broader in concept with the voices of more than one character whereas HT offers us Offred’s only. We see it all through her eyes. The Testaments may present as more accessible and appealing to a wider readership in terms of style and the connection with the show. The really strong characterisation was Aunt Lydia which seemed to be the only character where Atwood delves a little deeper. I found myself looking forward to her ‘bits’ more. Was the book what I was expecting? No, I don’t think it was.But then again I don’t know what i was expecting. Maybe that was part of the attraction.  I guess my familiarity with HT and GIlead diluted some of the impact. But I don’t seem to be able to jump off the fence and be critical. I do have to question whether it justifies a Booker nomination though. For I don’t think it achieves the heights that Handmaids Tale did or has. I think it serves to show just how great that book is. I know there are some people questioning whether a sequel was even ’needed’ . That’s up to the writer, no one has to read it do they? As readers we make the choice to do so. Something else that has occurred to me as somehow ironic were the publicity screenings simultaneously in goodness knows how many cinemas of Margaret Atwood talking about the book. It seemed a very Gilead thing to do! One step away from it being beamed to all homes!!??

I think I’ll have to conclude by admitting a large degree of uncertainty. I brought too much to this book before I even started to read it to believe that I can do a half decent job of commenting on it. But it sure as hell has got people talking!