Book review: Here is the Beehive by Sarah Crossan

(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)

Book review: The Wife by Shalini Boland

(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

Book Review: You and Me

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

Book Review: People Like Her

The Kierkegaardian concept of ressentiment is at the heart of Ellery Lloyd’s debut novel, People Like Her. Lloyd has married the concept to the digital era phenomenon, Instagram, which is relevant right now. The bones of the story are strong, and it is meticulously crafted. There is a sense of Gone Girl and a dash of Girl on the Train. There are even examples of modern Homeric cataloguing.

Emmy—one of the three narrative voices in the text—plays her  life out on social media. She is an ‘Insta-mum’ and has a million followers. She regularly displays photos of herself, her husband and children on the social media platform. However, once her husband Dan has narrated chapter two, the reader discovers that Emmy’s life has a warped sense of reality. Dan’s version of events is very different to hers. She is an unreliable narrator, whereas Dan appears to be reliable. Having said that, Dan’s version may also be questionable as he is oblivious to his own Kierkegaard ressentiment towards his wife; although, he recognises the concept in her followers.

A bent on existentialism bubbles beneath the surface of Emmy’s flawlessly crafted Instagram world. However, although Emmy comes across as a selfish unlikeable character, the reader can’t help but pity her. ‘The Truman Show’ facade begins to crumble when someone else notices, through tragic circumstances, that Emmy isn’t giving honest advice to her followers.

The third narrator—the follower— bears similarities to the underground man in Dostoevsky’s Notes From the Underground. Similarly to underground man, this narrator goes unnoticed and remains nameless through most of the story, which adds to the rising tension. 

I read a lot in this genre, so I usually have an idea of where a story is going; However, in People Like Her, the plot twists and turns, and flips the perceived outcome on its head. The aftershocks are already rippling through my social media usage. 

Book Review: Storm Damage

Storm Damage is a collection of short stories written by John A. A. Logan. There is a surreal intent to many of the stories. Reality appears to straddle a dream-like world, which at times manifests as a sprinkling of the uncanny. These sprinklings are present in Sometimes all the World Comes Down. A man discovers an old fashioned metal spinning top lying on the road between him and a stag, sending him spinning into the past. Elsewhere a boy disappears into the desert; in another story, circus animals and performers revolt against the establishment. Some stories go further by dancing at the edge of magical realism. In The Orange Pig, a lonely orange pig climbs to the top of a hill with a long wolf. For the first time, the pig realises that the world has been pulled over his eyes when he sees a ‘silvered panorama.’ In The Airman, realms become so thin that the omnipotent narrator can see ‘the airman’s blood burn and spin.’

The stories slide between the first, third and omniscient narrator, and it becomes apparent that these seemingly separate stories are bound to one another by an intricate weave of interrelations. The metaphorical wolf appears in no less than five of the ten stories. Further to this, the ‘shimmering purple cloud’ from the first story appears again and again throughout in different forms, such as streams, cloaks, sails, cloths and carpets. This ambiguous metaphorical punch may be difficult for some readers to grasp; however, Logan’s beguiling prose is peppered with poetry and offers striking imagery and symbolism. In The Magenta Tapestry, the protagonist, ‘could still remember the feel of the dry fibres against her skin, like dead spider legs about to crumble.’ The protagonist in The Pond feels his lover’s fingers ‘lightly flutter in his palm like a tiny bird’s wings answering him across forty years.’

Storm Damage is thick with a perception that lies beneath the surface of each story. It is a philosophical enquiry into the nature of the human psyche and a rebellion against ideology in many forms. The stories are entangled with folklore and mythology—including the symbolic white butterfly. Although the narratives of each story are linear, there appears to be an overarching circular structure to the book as a whole. Each story encompasses a pre-echo of the final story, Sometimes all the World Comes Down, which is as much the beginning as it is the ending. The original trauma and betrayal occurred in this story, as a character ran across a purple carpet away from a metaphorical storm, and setting the scene for everything that was to come, including the title story Storm Damage. The stories and characters ‘end up so far from their beginnings there is no sense to be made of it’ though ‘souls are fortunate, whenever they find their respite, here and there along the way.’

Reviewed by Amanda@Bonny-Highlands 2020

Spring Storm Haiku

At dawn, torn 
blossoms litter the lawn:
storm damage.

Son

Soul

As I burn your soul
onto paper, a butterfly
lands on my pen.

by Amanda~Louise Gilmour

Click here to bring the outside inside

Shadow

In between shadows,
moonlight illuminates cats
fighting on spring grass.

by Amanda~Louise Gilmour

Amber

Oriental lily
stains the wings
of a white butterfly,
amber.

Mill burn

Beneath susurrus snowflakes
by lilting Mill burn,
his going spawned silk rivulets
glissading over wrist bone;
echoing in pearly scars
over crimson flowing vein,
a gossamer reminder
of his whispered nasal hymn.
Narnia embellished summer
dresses hidden silvered skin,
beneath susurrus snowflakes
by lilting Mill burn.

Amanda-Louise Gilmour

Haiku

Hanging from the bough,

a solitary ice strand

bathes in dawning glow.

Haiku

Badger

Snowflakes rest upon
the old badger, blanketing
sleeping, open eyes.

Pandora’s Box

He removes his vinyl records from the shelf and puts them into a cardboard box. ‘Living room’ is written across the side in black marker pen. He slides open a drawer in the sideboard, and takes out ‘his’ things.

“Coffee?” I say.

No reply. He’s standing with his back to me. I can see that several drawers are now open. God, that bloody annoys me. Why can’t he just shut one drawer before opening the next. I sigh, but he doesn’t react.

His shoulders slump forward, and I see that he is holding the little pink, velvet, chest. I pray that he won’t open it, but like Pandora, he can’t help himself. A rush of memories come tumbling out. I don’t need this. Our eyes meet, a message transmitted. He lifts the white baby booties from the bed of silk they lie upon. I can’t look, so I get up and walk into the kitchen.

The kettle bubbles and clicks off. I pour boiling water over the instant granules, taking my time to stir. I rinse the teaspoon. When I turn around, with both mugs in my hands, he steps in front of the doorway.

“James, please, I’m not in the mood for games!”

“What about these?” he asks, as he holds up the booties.

“What about them?”

“I thought we could keep one each,” he murmured.

“I don’t want it.”

“So, you don’t mind if I…”

“Do what you want, you always do anyway.”

He takes a step back, as if I’ve slapped him. I bang the coffee cups down, and brown liquid spills down the sides.

A film forms on the surface of the untouched coffee, as he continues to pack. I eye the boxes, and hope that he didn’t take the booties: they’re all I have left now.

He takes a suitcase out to his car. As the front door closes behind him, I rush over to the sideboard, pulling the drawer open. I open and shut the other drawers too.

“He’s taken them,” I say, closing my hand over my mouth.

The car door slams. I dash to the chair, curling my legs beneath me as I sit. Reaching forward, I grab my book from the table and open it.

He comes back in and lifts a box. Please don’t let the booties be in that box!

“Your book is upside down,” he says.

My cheeks flame, and he lays his hand on my shoulder.

“Don’t,” I tell him, shrugging him off.

He leaves again. I’m on my feet again, pushing my hand into the nearest box, feeling about for the small chest. The door opens, and I pull my hand back, tearing the cardboard. If he has seen, he doesn’t let on and continues to take boxes and suitcases out to the car.

“Okay, that’s me. I think I have everything.”

I keep my eyes on the book. His keys jangle, and I hear the clink of metal being placed on the table by the door. He stays there for a moment and then he is gone. I go to the window, being careful to stand back so he won’t see me. Tears dribble down my cheeks, dripping off my chin. I don’t wipe them. The car starts. Several minutes pass before he pulls away. I watch him until he disappears at the end of the road. On the table, a solitary bootie lies beside his door key.

The original story can be found in Northwords Now – issue 37.