Tuesday, 16 July 2019

An Interview With Elizabeth Lowry

NB: This is  'pinned' post to facilitate navigation from Elizabeth Lowry's website.

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 - https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/play/p06k5d8w

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. 

Prodigal - Charles Lambert

Just a one word title and the very word conjures a plethora of images, Biblical and otherwise. I found this story of Charles Lambert reminiscent of some of Patrick Gale’s work, initially. Published last year this novel has been long listed for the Polari Prize 2019. The Polari Prize seeks to 'honour writers whose work explores the LGBT experience, whether in poetry, prose, fiction, or nonfiction.'

Jeremy Eldritch is an older, gay man who earns his living as a soft porn writer living in Paris. Sounds almost sleazy but it isn’t at all. It’s a readable and moving account of the dilemmas we face when family issues demand we leave our familiar and ordinary life and confront pasts and futures. It’s a story that looks at life, love and death, not necessarily in that order, and how people behave and how secrets can be buried for years and what potential devastation their unearthing might bring.

It’s the story of one man, yes, but it is also the story of his family, his place in that family and the dynamic of that family even when they are fragmented. It examines all the different relationships in their complexities and hint at how far nurture may go to shape the people we become or not become as the case may be. 

We see things primarily from Jeremy’s perspective but his sister, Rachel, has her story to tell as well. Both brother and sister are flawed people floundering in their relationships with themselves, with others and each other. There’s a bittersweet dynamic to their relationship. And if this all sounds as if the book is too dark there is some wit running through. For example, Rachel’s culinary response to Jeremy’s homecoming is from M&S because, as she says with allusion to the title, ‘I’m afraid we’re out of fatted calves.’ That had me chuckling.

Lambert is a perceptive observer of humankind and he hits the nail on the head more than once creating situations that are awkward, uncomfortable and yet many of us have been there and wished the ground would swallow us up. It’s emotionally raw and brutally honest. 

Structurally the novel is divided into four parts, beginning and ending in 2012 with two sections taking place in 1977 and 1985 detailing pertinent events that in simplest terms look at the breakdown of a family. What I think Lambert has done very cleverly is to show the complexities and absurdities of such dysfunction but in a way that is comprehensible, paradoxical as that may seem. He doesn’t offer the reader finite conclusions, but rather suggestions as to the nature of this fine mess they’ve gotten into. But if you pare it down to basics their fundamental arguments against each other remain the same throughout  the book and then you’re left asking whether its nature or nurture that has caused their fraternal unrest. There’s a cyclical effect to it all, almost oppressive as the siblings go back and forth in a seeming stalemate of unresolved resentment. 

However downlifting that may seem the book concludes with an element of optimism but it isn’t, on the whole, an uplifting book. It does offer us an interesting portrayal of family life and one man's attempt to deal with who he is and how he became.

My thanks to Gallic press for a copy of this book.  

Monday, 15 July 2019

The Last Stage - Louise Voss

This review was originally part of the Nudge Books/New Books Magazine slot on the Blog Tour for this book

Look away now those of you who love to second guess a psychologic thriller ‘cause I don’t think you will. I don’t even think you can! I don’t even think you’d want to, why spoil the thrill?! And yet……. all the clues are there, so snuggly and craftily nestling in amongst the bulk of the narrative. I was reminded briefly of Minette Walters especially by one of the significant locations in the story. 

This is a delicious exploration into the clandestine and the obsessional with a smattering of police procedural thrown in for good measure. It’s an onion story where layer by layer the truth is divulged to us in the form of the past first person narrative of our ‘heroine’ Meredith Vincent. The rest of the  book is third person narrative and the technique works very well here.  Meredith’s exposition is almost confessional if it weren’t so chronologically detailed and thought provoking. For a while I thought there was too much detail and I was inwardly willing the writer to ‘get on with it’. But I realise now that it was my own impatience to find out ‘whodunnit’  and ‘howdidtheydoit’ that provoked such a response. The expansive detail is absolutely necessary for everything to make sense and slip into place so that by the end the reader is satisfied by all that has happened and the explanation of events. 

It’s dark and uncompromising and there are some ‘nasty bits’, but I don’t do spoilers so you’re going to have to read it for yourselves! If you’re a fan of the genre I cannot see how you would be disappointed.

But for all that it’s a psychological thriller it’ s a clever piece of work because you kind of have an almost  ‘big house’ story, in the shape of Minstead House, an almost ‘rock chick’ story with the band Cohen, an almost LBGT story with some of the characters, an almost retro protest story with Greenham Common  but none dominate or offer anything to unbalance the main thrust of the thriller.(I hope none of that info can be considered as spoilers?)  It’s a competent piece of writing by an experienced writer who seems to understand what her readers want and, what’s more, gives it to them generously.

There’s a touch of poignancy as the story hinges on misunderstanding with no real malice intended yet a whole chain of events spiral out of control from a misinterpretation causing the most devastating of occurrences that will affect many of the characters in this novel for a long time. Secrets are uncovered, friendships and relationships are tested.

Publishers Weekly assert that the book is ‘An expert piece of contrivance.’ yet it doesn’t read as contrived at all in my opinion. Retrospectively, I suppose you could argue, there’s some jig saw piecing of action but the very fact that it’s so hard to second guess explodes the contrivance theory I think. But, best you read it for yourselves and decide! ;-)

My thanks to Erin Britton at Nudge Books for the opportunity to read this book and be part of the blog tour.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

The Doll Factory - Elizabeth Macneal

I’m generally suspicious of hype and over hype but this book somehow ingratiated itself onto my bookish radar to the extent that I couldn’t hold out any longer and I bought myself a copy.  An award winning debut novel, a serialised reading on Radio 4 and a cover to intrigue has to have some considerable merit, hasn’t it?

Set in 1850’s Victorian London with an atmosphere that reminded me of Sarah Waters,  little of Jessie Burton and Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables for starters, it creates a palpable picture of extremes from poverty and prostitution to affluence and art. You can try and label it as history fiction, gothic fiction, romantic fiction, a psychological thriller et al and I guess they all fit but when all is said and done it’s a story and it rises above compartmentalising. Thematically I guess obsession rules, followed by a consideration of the female aspiring to be an artist in a male dominated world. I’m worried about offering spoilers but I get the feeling that I’m possibly one of the last people to have read this book?!

The characterisations are vivid and the main characters step off the page at you. That’s not to say the lesser characters are in any way ‘lesser’ in terms of the fiction but the main players do dominate. Iris Whittle and her twin sister Rose, quite the bouquet, although Rose has suffered some disfigurement due to smallpox, work a soulless existence in Mrs. Salter’s Doll Emporium.  Iris aspires to more, and a chance meeting with an artist, Louis Frost, is the catalyst to further those aspirations. Frost is a member of the PRB and, no, this has nothing to do with Line of Duty (!), it’s the acronym of the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood. Silas Reed is a disturbed individual who earns a crust as a taxidermist often furnished with specimens ‘caught’ by Albie the ubiquitous Victorian urchin who offers more than a passing nod to the Artful Dodger and is the link between Iris and Silas. In turn Silas provides artefacts for the PRB. It all dovetails in quite nicely and prepares the way for the spinning plates to spiral out of control. Even if I am the last person on earth to read this book I still can’t bring myself to ‘do spoilers’ so that’s all I’m saying!

It’s a very readable book with plenty of suspense and tensions that have you turning the pages. The romancey bits were weaker in comparison, in particular some of the dialogue, or that might be me not doing the romantic lit thing. But that didn’t detract from the story as a whole. It was authentic and easy for the reader to become immersed in the contrasting environments; The Royal Academy and the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, other areas of London, Regent Street and the Strand, beautifully realised in descriptive passages. The research was competent and the detail enveloped the reader. The parallel stories offer a wider appeal than had the author confined herself to the ‘mere’ thriller aspect or romance aspect.  I found the art sections of particular interest and the interaction between the painters at times offered some light relief. For the book is dark and unyielding at times. Have a tissue handy!

This is an auspicious debut. I’m delighted I ‘gave in’ and bought the book. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

The Carer - Deborah Moggach

Deborah Moggach has an impressive back catalogue but this is only the third book of hers that I have read. I enjoyed it immensely, You’ve heard of a ‘people person’? Well, this is a ‘people book’.  For people. Of people. About people.

There is an unexpected and magnificent twist just over half way through the book which is a masterstroke if you didn’t see it coming.And I didn’t see it coming! Although all the clues were there. 

Moggach demonstrates an understanding of people from all backgrounds and walks of life, all stages of life. Of the loneliness of old age one of her characters acutely observes,’It’s one of those things, like flatulence and phlegm, they don’t warn you about.’

So what’s The Carer all about? Two siblings, Robert and Phoebe, engage the services of highly recommended carer, Mandy, to look after their ageing father, James. She appears to be the very antithesis of the two of them in terms of background and aspirations. Yet she quickly renders herself indispensable to James who seems to find her company and ministrations uplifting. So much so that it seems as if Phoebe and Robert have been superseded in his affections.

The story is told from the perspectives, primarily, of Robert and Phoebe in the first part of the book and in the second it opens up to include James and a couple of other people including an epistolary reveal. But more than that I’m reluctant to say for fear of spoilers. Except that we never actually hear Mandy, the carer’s, perspective which is an interesting device and leaves you wondering. Everything we learn of Mandy is through others and we have to trust to the accuracy of their perceptions and opinions, good and bad. But it’s all done so plausibly and its all so convincing. You can get under the skin of the characters. It isn’t what I would call a humorous work but there are some instances that elicited a wry smile from me. The narrative has an even, pleasing flow and demonstrates the experience of this much acclaimed author. 

Moggach gets to the heart of peoples’ motivations and suspicions, fuelled by self doubt and perceived inadequacies that must touch upon the sensibility, I should imagine, of most of us. It's topical too as in this current age of living longer the care of elderly parents is a pertinent issue for many.

Whilst there are some very sad moments in the book it is ultimately a book of redemption and upliftment. Robert and Phoebe learn a great deal about themselves and both find themselves better placed at the end of the novel then they did at the beginning. I hope that isn’t a spoiler. 

It’s a fiction but it’s also broad enough to pose some questions and considerations for its readers. There are some nice little observations, for example:-

‘There was no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes.’

Isn't that perfect?!

It’s a substantial yet comfortable read despite the serious implications of its theme and will delight the legions of Deborah Moggach fans out there and probably gain her some new ones!

My thanks to Georgina Moore and Tinder Press for an advance proof of this thoughtful tale. 

Monday, 8 July 2019

Baby - Annaleese Jochems

A new name to me and I suspect to you too!  Annaleese Jochems has contributed to a genre that may not exist yet - the ‘quirky’ genre!! For this book is quirky, to put it mildly. Whilst the book was long listed for the Ngaio Marsh prize last year the crime aspects seems less dominant than the, erm, well, quirky aspects!! The author also won 2016 Adam Prize from the International Institute of Modern Letters  and the 2018 Hubert Church Best First Book Award both awards in Jochem’s native New Zealand. 

It’s a very contemporary, novel with its roots firmly in the world of social media and reality TV. It’s a curious fusion between social comment and an almost farce/ slapstick type humour which works in places but not in others. I suppose the buzzword and alternative genre descriptor might be ’millennial’? Very much the debut novel from a clearly intelligent young writer who is not afraid to tell it how she sees it. There is wit in the novel and some irony, the title, surely is ironic? But it’s a bizarre book that teeters on the brink of abnormality. 

At first I thought it was going to be a Thelma and Louise type tale, but in a boat! However our main protagonist, Cynthia, is little short of a monster!! She is hard to like and you wonder if she is just a self absorbed, spoilt brat but there is an undercurrent of disturbed individual and you also wonder whether she might be somewhere on the spectrum or a victim of parental neglect. 

Anahera, the object of Cynthia’s obsession doesn’t come across as especially likeable either and you feel that she’s using Cynthia to assuage her own unhappiness but ultimately finds she’s in much deeper than she intended. 

The male characters, are there, functional to a degree. But they fade against the two girls whose idiosyncrasies and obsessions with food and money dictate many of their actions. 

It’s a novel of contradictions in intent and execution. Some of the writing is flowing and intelligent, at other times, some of the dialogue particularly,  is almost banal. However it is compelling reading. You can’t quite believe it in places and you can’t wait to see what happens in others. It’s dark and black and downright disturbing.  The passages on the boat are claustrophobic and create a tense atmosphere. In Cynthia the writer has ably demonstrated what a chaotic mind is capable of and ordered thoughts just don’t figure! 

What it does do is force the innocent reader to think, re think and question their sanity maybe!! Reading this book is a surreal experience almost, it’s as if the book is describing a dream you’re having and not a particularly good one. But I’d put money on one thing - it’ll get people talking!!

Thanks to New Books Magazine/Nudge for a copy.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

A Killing Sin - K.H. Irvine

I do not habitually seek out novels with a political flavour, let alone a terrorist one, but some sixth sense, some instinct, kicked in here and I found myself requesting a copy. As Obi Wan Kenobi said to Luke Skywalker,’Your instinct serves you well.’ I am so glad I did.  This was an amazing read. It's one of those books that you continue to think about long after you've finished reading it.

Not for the fainthearted it pulls a punch that has you open mouthed in disbelief. But more than that it is a chilling reminder of what can happen and what probably is happening as we speak, if not in this country then elsewhere in the world.

Set in an almost future but not very removed from our today three friends find their world turned upside down.  Amala is a Muslim although less than devout, a technology wizard and alternative comedian, Ella, a journalist following a couple of stories, on the verge of one she believes is big and Millie, an academic, bohemian and an expert in radicalisation. Friendships and secrets. Families and trust. No spoilers here so that’s all I’ll say as far as the story line goes.

Most of the action takes place during the day of May 25th from 06:30 until 17:44. it’s tense, shocking, nail biting, compelling reading. The rest of the narrative paints the scene from ten days previously and about ten days afterwards together with past flashbacks allowing us to see the progress of the friendships and relationships of these three women. There are other significant characters and their stories unfold along the way.

The writing is taut, economic, yet detailed where it needs to be. The author seems to have an ability to get into the minds of some diametrically opposed people and their ideologies that ensnares the reader and enables us to engage fully with what unfolds. It’s edge of the seat stuff. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this on either the big or small screen. 

It’s highly contemporary and the research takes this novel to just past fiction into a realism that sends chills through you. It’s not an easy read or an uplifting read but it is an important read for it examines religion, radicalisation, corruption, politicians  and what can happen when you mix it all up. It’s an intelligent thriller and I can hardly believe that it is a debut novel!! I am so impressed with it. I want this book to be successful. It deserves nothing less. 

Thanks to Urbane Publications for sending me a copy.