I can write haiku on twenty-five milligrams— amid rolling waves. A. G. 2020 (Photo credit: Shutterstock.)
Snowflakes in sunbeams settle upon pink petals— a summer surprise. Amanda Gilmour 2020
(Due for publication 20th of August 2020)
I absolutely adore Sarah Crossan’s debut adult novel, Here is the Beehive. The story is written in verse and it is the most exquisite piece of literature that I have read since Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. It is quite simply art.
In some ways Here is the Beehive reminds me of Roy’s manipulation of story structure. Crossan’s story uses a mish-mash of linear and non-linear narrative. For much of the time the present narrative is linear; whereas, much of the past narrative is non-linear. However, some of the past narrative blends into the present narrative. Crossan reproduces traumatic events for the protagonist, Ana, by embedding the non-linear, bi-temporal structure into the story’s skeleton. We, the reader, experience Ana’s trauma through the structure. Her memories continuously interrupt her present, and therefore, interrupt the readers reading experience, which means that we share Ana’s distress.
Right from the beginning, the prose reminded me of Raymond Carver, which was interesting as Carver is mentioned in the story. Though I could have believed this was synchronicity, I don’t think it was. I think Crossan may be influenced by Carver’s minimalist style of writing. The prose emits superfluous detail, but a great deal is hidden below the surface in the subtext. Crossan, like Carver, is fully aware of what silence does for the reader. She invites interpretation, but not ambiguity, it is clear that our sympathies as readers lie with Ana, rather than Connor’s wife Rebecca.
Crossan’s use of psychic distance is interesting. Subtext brings the reader up close, but simultaneously I felt distant from Ana; however, this distance seems to be a technique that mirrors post-traumatic amnesia. There are many repeated words and phrases which hint at something terrible; although, we aren’t presented with the catastrophic trauma memory until close to the end, and gosh, it hurt my heart.
Though the poetic prose is clean and clear, the story is sprinkled with beautiful imagery, which is demonstrated in the following extract: ‘In the raw dark garden the moonbeams light me up like I am on a stage. But I am not singing or dancing.’ For me, prose such as this is reminiscent of Anton Chekhov, which is interesting given his influence on Carver, who may have influenced Crossan. Like Chekhov and Carver, Crossan’s work reminds me of an impressionist painting – a beautiful Monet.
There is an unspeakable beauty in this story and there are so many more thoughts that I could add, such as the title; or how Crossan’s disregard for sentence structure is reminiscent of Beckett, Joyce or Proust; or how there is an affinity with Max Porter’s story Grief is a Thing With Feathers. I’ll leave those thoughts for now though.
Reviewed by Amanda@bonny-highlands (9th of August 2020)
Memories A breeze whispers to the peony roses, expelling scents of Mum. A. G. 2020 Documenting sertraline/zoloft withdrawal through Haiku. Withdrawal day 3. Current dose 100mg. Symptoms: smelling things that aren't there, nausea, headache, dry mouth, depersonalisation, vivid dreams.
(Due for publication on 9th September 2020)
I’m usually quite a slow reader, but I read ‘The Wife,’ written by Shalini Boland, in two sittings. The narrative structure is tight. The story is paced well and there is no lull in the narrative drive. The tension ascends parallel to plot twists all the way through.
I read a lot of books, particularly psychological fiction. Since I read books back-to-back, I often find it difficult leaving one story world for a new one. Often, it can take me a few days to get into a new story, but this wasn’t the case with The Wife. In this book, I hit the story reading! There was no time to brood over previous stories. This takes skillful writing on the authors part.
The story is written in first person narrative. Zoe is the narrator as well as the story’s protagonist, so we see events unfold through her eyes. The narrative distance or psychic distance brings us up close to Zoe’s situation, and because it is expertly applied, at times, we essentially become Zoe – hence my beating heart!
I did have some issues with characterisation. Zoe’s characterisation was fantastic; however, I felt that Nick, in particular, required more depth. He isn’t really a minor character in this story, so he could have been fleshed out a bit more than he was. At one point, there was a monologue by another character, which referred to Nick’s nervousness. It wasn’t until this point that I truly realised his actions were caused by nerves. If Nick was fleshed out more, this could be shown implicitly through characterisation rather than explicitly telling the reader.
I also felt there were some loose ends with regards to Dina. What is her story? Perhaps it is intentional that we are left wondering? I just felt that something important had been missed out. However, I still absolutely loved reading the story, and I’m going to buy everything Shalini Boland has written!
Reviewed by Amanda@bonnyhighlands 7th August 2020
Withdrawal Half a pill less thaws my heart's frosty fringe but the freeze remains. A. G. 2020
The Unintentional Unreliable Narrator
You and Me, written by Nicola Rayner is a contemporary psychological thriller due for release later this year. The protagonist, Fran, lives a relatively simple life. She lives alone and works in a bookshop. Her mother is dead, and she misses her sister and niece who both live abroad. This all seems normal; however, Fran has a twenty year long obsession with a former school classmate, Charles.
Some reviewers feel that the story is slow to start; however, I disagree. The prologue is sinister, atmospheric, and like all good prologues, it subtly echoes the end. Chapter one begins in the middle of the action when a tragic accident occurs. I think rather than a slow start, there is a bit of a lull in the narrative drive while the focus is on the protagonist, Fran.
Fran is a first person narrator who is defined by her lack of credibility to the reader. Her version of events is unreliable. While her unreliability is apparent early on, Rayner still takes time to handle Fran delicately by allowing these traits to build and surface gradually. As she narrates the story, Fran begins to contradict herself and it becomes obvious that her obsessive behaviour towards Charles is worsening. She views him through ‘rose tinted glasses,’ so therefore, her fallibility of perception may misdirect the reader. Fran’s unreliability as a narrator is unintentional. She is an outsider and appears to have other issues, which garners the reader’s sympathy or empathy. The reader doesn’t really understand the true version of events—only Fran’s—so their expectations of the narrative may be upended.
The unreliable narrator is not a new phenomenon, but it is current. I enjoy reading psychological thrillers, and I often read so many that they all blur into one. However, I don’t believe this will be the case with ‘You and Me.’ The narration reminds me to think critically about the unintentional, unreliable narrator in order to question events.
I highly recommend reading ‘You and Me.’ If the beginning of the story seems slow, like others have suggested, or you experience a lull, stay with it. Rayner is developing psychological depth in Fran’s character which is essential to the narrative.
Reviewed for NetGalley by Amanda@BonnyHighlands 3rd August 2020