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Book reviews ... Author interviews ... and anything else I think might be of interest to writers and readers.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Look At Me by Sarah Duguid

Look At Me

Sarah Duguid's debut novel is a compelling snapshot of a family under pressure.

It raises a number of interesting questions. What is the meaning of family? What is the meaning of home? What do you do when home doesn't feel like home any more and your family no longer seems like your family?

Lizzy lives with her father Julian and her brother Ig. The three of them are trying to come to terms with the death of her mother, Margaret. The house still feels full of her presence as they struggle to deal with her absence.

Into this mix comes Eunice. Eunice is Julian's daughter - born as a result of an extramarital affair. She has decided she wants to get to know her family and she isn't really taking anyone else’s feelings into consideration in the matter.

All the characters in this novel are really interesting. They are all flawed, but they all cry out for empathy in their different ways. Julian - unable to come to terms with the loss of his wife. Eunice - the cuckoo in the nest. Lizzy - resenting Eunice and the way she has imposed herself onto her family, and into her home.

It's a novel that appeals to all the senses. There is lots of luscious description of food and drink, not to mention the effects of smoking hash. I particularly loved the descriptions of the barbecue that Julian holds in the courtyard of the house for all his family and friends, where Eunice, dressed in silver, flits through the party, causing havoc in her wake.

‘Look At Me’ works really well as a study in human relationships; an examination of love, grief, jealousy and bereavement.

I loved its complexity and the beauty of the writing.

This is a great debut novel which leaves the reader with so much to think about.

Thanks very much to the publishers for a review copy of this book.

You can find out more here.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The Ballroom by Anna Hope

The Ballroom

By Anna Hope 

I loved 'The Ballroom'. It is a swooping, amazing romance of a book.

Caught up in the asylum system for the most flimsy of reasons, Ella and John first come across each other when she tries to escape. After that, they cannot forget each other, and finally are able to spend time together in the Friday night dances held in the ballroom of the asylum.

As well as segments of the story being told through the eyes of Ella and John, there is a third strand told through the eyes of Charles, a doctor at the asylum. Charles is a very interesting character as, although in many ways he is the one with the power, in fact he is just as tortured as John and Ella. He is in denial about himself and seems incapable of finding happiness.

Reading ‘The Ballroom’ will make you feel angry about how the inmates of asylums were treated, about how they were thought of by some as less than human, and about the ludicrous reasons why some people ended up incarcerated in such a cruel way. In Ella's case it was because she broke a window. In many cases, it was simply for the crime of being poor.

But there is some hope in the way the human spirit, embodied in both John and Ella, was able to overcome the imprisonment in different ways. I loved the way a glimpse of sky through an open window, a flower, or a bird feather representing the outside world could take on huge significance.

This story could have been a much simpler one that it was - at one point a very neat conclusion suggested itself. But the author went for something more complex, more believable and ultimately more satisfying. I’m glad she did.

I don't want to say any more for fear of spoilers, but the ending is perfect, moving and beautiful.

I highly recommend this novel. A tale of love, pain and humanity in the most difficult of circumstances.  

Thanks very much to the publishers for a review copy of this book.

You can find out more here.