Monthly Archives: March 2015

On-Line Writing Course #4 Revising Structure and Plot

I committed 6 weeks to following an on-line course on self-editing the first draft of my novel. I enjoyed it very much and learned a great deal, and when I finished I drew up a plan for the editing. You can read about my plan here. It involves six stages, each a focus for roughly a month on one aspect of the course. Phase one was structure and plot. Phase 2 is characters.

JG Ballard's edit of The Crash, tweeted by @johnnyGeller

JG Ballard’s edit of The Crash, tweeted by @johnnyGeller

It’s time to review how it’s going.

Here are the excuses, aka reasons

  1. All the things I had put to one side so that I could complete the course have claimed my attention since I finished.
  2. I have several writing projects –the blog, a co-authored book, writing groups – and these have also claimed my attention.
  3. I have had other time-consuming activities such as joining a panel at WOW The Truth about Ageing and the City Lit meet the authors event.
  4. All the other time-consuming activities such as walking, grandparenting, seeing friends, going to the opera, a day at the spa, all these have stolen away the days.
  5. Spring means that the desire to spend time in the garden has overwhelmed me, until …
  6. … I got this rotten cough and cold.

So it’s not surprising that my progress has not been as I hoped and envisaged.

What I have done

  1. I have decided on a new structure for the novel, which involves re-ordering half of the chapters, adding a new one and moving some scenes around. Not much re-writing there, but it feels like an important decision as well as the right one and I looked at it carefully before the physical task of renumbering consumed me.
  2. I have read lots of posts on writer Emma Darwin’s excellent blog: This Itch of Writing. I especially liked the one about the exercise where you go through the plot looking at fortunately/unfortunately. This reveals where the plot is engaging and moving forward. For example: ‘Fortunately Lorna’s niece came to stay. Unfortunately the nosey girl opened the box of letters.’
  3. 163 Into woods coverEmma Darwin recommends Into the Woods by John Yorke (Penguin), about story telling. It’s an interesting book about structure, and what keeps a story moving and why we tell stories this way. That’s stories of all kinds: novels, plays, tv series, films etc.
  4. I’ve been reading novels recommended during the course to help me look at structure and also psychic distance. I need to grapple with both of these during my revision.
  5. I’m learning that revision means asking questions, taking a longer view and lots of thinking and considering. At this moment, not so much rewriting. I am predicting that this will change as I move through The Great Plan.
  6. And now I’ve started on the second phase, revising aspects of the characters. I have already redrafted the arrival of the second main character. It’s not tight enough yet, doesn’t quite say enough about her yet, but I’ll get some feedback from a writing group this weekend.

    Pencils from tree trunks. Have I bitten off more than I can shew?

    Pencils from tree trunks. Have I bitten off more than I can shew?

Well I’m being systematic, which may not be a good thing. But at least I have a plan and I am following it. When I first tried to revise my first draft I had no real clue what to do. Now I feel a little more in charge. Will it last? Oh I do hope it will last.

Do you have any recommendations for books about revising a first draft?

 

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Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

162 BR orange p coverLobby Lud, the man from the News Chronicle was a perpetual disappointment in my youth. If you spotted Lobby Lud, you were supposed to strike him on the shoulder with a copy of the News Chronicle and say, ‘You are Lobby Lud and I claim my £5’. But he never appeared in my home town in South Wales and on the occasion he came to Newport we did not. The paper ceased publication in October 1960 when my chance disappeared for ever.

Why read this novel?

I picked up Brighton Rock from my TBR pile because I needed a thin book to read on the train. It was on the pile as a classic to re-read. I was immediately rewarded with the brilliant opening paragraph of the novel.

Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him. With his inky fingers and his bitten nails, his manner cynical and nervous, anybody could tell he didn’t belong – belong to the early summer sun, the cool Whitsun wind off the seam the holiday crowd. They came in by train from Victoria every five minutes, rocked down Queen’s Road standing on the tops of the little local trams, stepped off in bewildered multitudes into fresh and glittering air: the new silver paint sparkled on the piers, the cream houses ran away into the west like a pale Victorian water-colour; a race in miniature motors, a band playing, flower gardens in bloom below the front, an aeroplane advertising something or the health in pale vanishing clouds across the sky. (5)

This opening paragraph is acclaimed for setting up the novel’s violence, tension, and the place and time of its events. The first sentence is apparently contradicted by the picture of Brighton on a Whitsun holiday. But we know at once that Hale is doomed.

Brighton Beach on Whitsun, 31 May 2009. By David Hawgood of Geography Project via Wiki Commons.

Brighton Beach on Whitsun, 31 May 2009. By David Hawgood of Geography Project via Wiki Commons.

I am working on the revision of the first draft of my novel. So I read the most acclaimed novels with attention. Graham Greene was one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century and this is one of several of his novels classed as classics.

There is one major novelistic problem for me in Brighton Rock. For this story to work we have to believe in several unlikely aspects of the characters. We have to believe that, knowing his life was in danger Hale would not try to escape; that Pinkie, only 17 years old, would go as far as he does; that Ida really cares enough about a man she barely knew to pursue the truth and put her own life in danger; that Rose is as innocent, stupid and gullible as she acts. None of these are givens, but there would be no story without them.

The story

162 BR filmWe are in the late 1930s. You may be visualising the Boulting Brothers 1947 film, which starred Richard Attenborough as Pinkie and Hermione Badderly as Ida Arnold. (The more recent film has not made a big impression.) That rather pasty face, with its scar and huge eyes, a baby face with the eyes of a mean old man, this is the Pinkie of the novel and 1947 film.

Good and evil were themes in the air in the late ‘30s and through the 40s, the time of the Second World War. And they are themes for all times. Graham Greene was a Roman Catholic and embraced these themes. The orthodox Roman church is not the hero of this novel. Rather it is the wholesome goodness of Ida Arnold, (almost a tart with a heart of gold). Pinkie’s evil is set against Ida’s humanity.

Lobby Lud lives on in Killey Kibber, aka Fred Hale, a journalist with the Messenger, in Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock. He is in Brighton to leave his cards (finders could claim 10/-) and be ready to be challenged by a member of the public.

Pinkie, the Boy, is 17 and trying to assert himself as the leader of a violent gang in Brighton by stepping into the shoes of Kite, slashed in the waiting room at St Pancras station in London. Pinkie organises Hale’s murder, because the journalist exposed gangs in Brighton and is on Killey Kibber duty in Brighton that Whitsun holiday. Pinkie is conscious that if caught he will not hang because he is a minor. But the gang do not lay the false trail according to his directions and in putting this right he meets 16-year old waitress Rose. She is a potential witness and Pinkie has to marry her so that she will not be able to testify against him. But he becomes so revolted by the idea of being tied to her he plans her murder as well.

Brighton West Pier October 2009. By Lars Olsson via Wiki Commons

Brighton West Pier October 2009. By Lars Olsson via Wiki Commons

As the story progresses Pinkie finds that the more violent he becomes, the more he compromises himself with everyone, including of course his God. Meanwhile his hold on his gang diminishes in the face of his rival Mr Corleoni. Evil will get its just desserts.

Ida Arnold, who likes a good time, was friendly with Hale, and she suspects foul play and injustice when she finds he has died. She sets out to find the truth which brings her into conflict with Pinkie. She also tries to rescue Rose but the girl has never received any attention before and is determined to do what Pinkie wants.

Why do we care?

Of course we want Pinkie’s plans to fail. But we also have some sympathy for Pinkie and Rose, they are young and naïve and come from impoverished backgrounds. Pinkie has no concept of any one else’s experiences and feelings. Consequently, he is very dangerous. Although Pinkie is evil, he experiences fear and frustration as his plans unravel. For example when he is tricked and cut at the races.

The poverty of Rose’s parent’s house and of her upbringing are stark. This is the scene when Pinkie goes to get permission for their marriage from her father.

There was only one door and a staircase matted with old newspapers. On the bottom step between the mud marks stared up the tawny child face of Violet Crow violated and buried under the West Pier in 1936. He opened the door and there beside the black kitchen stove with cold dead charcoal on the floor sat the parents. They had a mood on : a small thin elderly man, his face marked deeply with the hieroglyphics of pain and patience and suspicion : the woman middle-aged, stupid, vindictive. The dishes hadn’t been washed and the stove hadn’t been lit.

‘They got a mood,’ Rose said aloud to him. ‘They wouldn’t let me do a thing. Not even light the fire. I like a clean house, honest I do. Ours wouldn’t be like this.’

‘Look here, Mr -.’ The Boy said.

‘Wilson,’ Rose said.

‘Wilson. I want to marry Rose. It seems as she’s so young I got to get your permission.’

They wouldn’t answer him. They treasured their mood as if it was a bright piece of china only they possessed : something they could show to neighbours as ‘mine’. (141-2)

The childish mood persists until Pinkie offers 15 guineas for Rose. It is accepted. Poverty, violence, inadequacy, ignorance, mean-spiritedness – all these in so few lines.

Following the civil ceremony they wander at a loss around Brighton until they return to Pinkie’s lodgings. Finally he graduates in the last human shame (sexual consummation of the marriage) and now he believes he could face anyone. Both young people have been raised as ‘Romans’ and because their marriage is not solemnised in church, they are aware they have committed a mortal sin. Now they are lost they go on to plan more mortal sins.

The references to the church are to not to everyone’s taste, but this novel is an excellent thriller and raises important questions relevant to all beliefs and all times.

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene (1938) Penguin pp247 (Page references are to the 1977 Penguin edition).

How do you react to this classic? Is it a book you would re-read?

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Two Authors in Search of an Audience

Authors: Caroline Lodge, Eileen Carnell

Stage manager: Marian Lennon

And an audience of hundreds

Place and date premiered: Drury Lane, London. Thursday 12th March 2015

Setting: The foyer of City Lit and room 508

 

Prologue

Eileen made her way down Drury Lane on a lovely sunny afternoon. She had been attending courses at City Lit for the last 50 years – from movement, speech and drama to art, calligraphy and writing. Her favourite class had been Acapella singing and it was there she had sung with Marian Lennon who was a member of staff at City Lit and whose idea this event was. Eileen was excited about her new role of co-author and meeting up with Caroline to sell their book and promote their course*.

161 City Lit1Meanwhile Caroline and Marian had prepared the stage. A massive table in the foyer had been laid out with the books, posters and flyers – all in bright red and yellow it looked really eye-catching. The backdrop was a huge electronic display of the book – very impressive. The only concern had been whether the props would arrive on time but phew Retiring with Attitude published by The Guardian had arrived.

Act one: The foyer of City Lit

161 CityLit 2Excited crowds gathered to talk with the authors and declare they had either retired last week, last year or were just about to. Some spoke about the joys of retirement and that were having the time of their lives. Books started selling. Caroline and Eileen were thrilled at all the interest.

Act two: room 508

Five characters turned up to meet the authors: Jenny who had been part time for the last year, Anne who was experiencing the slowest retiring period in history, James a novice retiree who teaches as a sideline occupation, Ashley who was looking for strong role-models and Veronica who wondered if she needs to work for a further seven years. Key themes emerged: considering the process of retiring over time, the concept of retiring zones and the importance of belonging to at least three communities in order to flourish, being busy and finding purpose, making your mind up to retire, the importance of singing to bring joy to one’s life, finding resources within ourselves and outside.

Act three: The foyer of City Lit

This photo was taken at a quiet moment!

This photo was taken at a quiet moment!

More crowds of enthusiastic people, more smiling, more selling and signing. More retiring stories: working in the community, political activity, attending courses, living with loss, writing novels, jewelry making. Bustling atmosphere and movement.

Act four: room 508

Five new characters: June, a novice retiree, Timothy who had set his retiring date, Belinda who was considering her options, and Mary and Fiona who were thinking about retiring. The main themes were worry about the loss of identity in retirement, taking control of one’s life, stopping running around like a headless chicken, the importance of inter-generational living, the role of ‘carer’ in the family, maintaining self-esteem after work, where to live and rolling in the hay!

Epilogue

101 RWA pile19 books were sold during the day. Two men had signed up already for the one-day course in June and many more people said they were going to apply. At the end of the afternoon one person came back to show how much of the book she had already read! She was beaming. Caroline, Eileen and Marian were delighted.

Reviews

Really useful and fascinating.

That really cheered me up.

It was nurturing.

The ‘Attitude’ is great.

This is really a good thing that you are doing.

Brilliant marketing to be here at City Lit for this perfect demographic.

The themes are so relevant.

Although the groups seemed on the small side it was richer for those who came.

I found the session very helpful, inspiring and timely.

The course at City Lit is PG732 Retiring with Attitude, on Saturday 6th June 2015, 10.30 – 16.30 at City Lit, Keeley Street, Covent Garden, London WC2B 4BA. On-line details can be found here.

101 RWA coverRetiring with Attitude: approaching and relishing your retirement by Caroline Lodge and Eileen Carnell (2014) published by Guardian. Available from the Guardian Bookshop (at reduced price) and all good bookshops.

Thanks to Eileen Carnell who was the guest blogger for this post.

 

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How to be both by Ali Smith

Even if you haven’t read How to be both, you probably know two things about it. First, it has been getting noticed for many literary prizes:BWPFF 2015 logo

  • LONGLISTED FOR THE BAILEYS WOMEN’S PRIZE FOR FICTION 2015
  • WINNER OF THE GOLDSMITHS PRIZE 2014
  • SHORTLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2014
  • WINNER OF THE 2014 COSTA NOVEL AWARD
  • WINNER OF THE SALTIRE SOCIETY LITERARY BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARD 2014
  • SHORTLISTED FOR THE FOLIO PRIZE 2015

The second thing you may have heard about this book is that it is in two halves and it is a matter of chance whether your copy starts with George’s story or Francesco’s. The reader cannot escape or answer the question of how it would have been different to start with the other story. And the reader must also ask themselves about the relationship between George’s and Francesco’s halves. This is the idea I enjoyed most about the book – its exploration of ambiguity. Are you looking at this? Demands Ali Smith, asking the reader to do some work.

What is the book about?

160 How to be bothPart One (in my copy) is about George, a teenage girl in the present day, who has recently lost her mother. Her father’s grief is expressed in drinking and the care of her younger brother Henry falls to George. It is narrated in the present tense as we follow George undertaking rituals and activities in response to her mother’s death. We also see the closeness of her relationship with her mother. So here’s a ‘both’. Her mother is dead but also very much part of George’s life. ‘Because how can someone just vanish?’

Despite her grief George is able to make relationships with Mrs Rock, her school counsellor, and with Helena Fisker, aka H, a school friend who is also something of an outsider. And her search to hold onto her mother leads her to follow the mysterious white haired woman, Lisa Goliar, and to Room 55 in the National Gallery, where there is picture by Francesco del Cossa of St Vincent Ferrer.

One of the joys of Ali Smith’s writing is her description, her ability to evoke a picture in words. This extract is from George’s close examination of the frescoes at Ferrara, also by Francesco del Cossa.

It is like everything is in layers. Things happen right at the front of the pictures and at the same time they continue happening, both separately and connectedly, behind, and behind that, and again behind that, like you can see in perspective, for miles. Then there are the separate details, like that man with the duck. They’re also happening on their own terms. The picture makes you look at both – the close-up happenings and the bigger picture. Looking at the man with the duck is like seeing how everyday and how almost comic cruelty is. The cruelty happens in among everything else happening. It is an amazing way to show how ordinary cruelty really is. (p53 in version starting with George’s story)

160 St VincentThe other Part One opens with the spirit of Francesco del Cossa emerging from the canvas to see a boy sitting in the Gallery in front of the painting of St Vincent Ferrer. The arrangement of the text on the page clearly tells us that Francesco’s story has a tortuous beginning. It recalls the mouse’s tail/tale in Alice in Wonderland. And the ‘boy’ is of course George, and there is a point to Francesco mistaking her/him.

Francesco’s biography is told in the first person; childhood talent with drawing, mother’s death, modest success as a jobbing painter, including the frescos at Ferrara which so enchanted Ali Smith (as they did George’s mother). You can find Francesco del Cossa’s April here.

Francesco captures a beautiful moment near the end of her part, observing George as she keeps watch outside her mother’s friend’s house. She has been doing this for many days, and previously an old lady has brought her tea or a blanket. The prose is odd because it is from a renaissance artist after all, but it is tender.

Today there will be blossom in the study the girl will make cause the trees in the street round this house she is looking so hard at have the beginnings in them of some of the several possible greens and some, the blossoming ones, have opened their flowers overnight, some pink among the branches, some loaded with white.

Today when the old woman came out of her house she brought nothing but for the first time sat down on her own poorly made wall behind the girl in silence and companionable.

There are bees : there was a butterfly.

That blossom will smell good to those who can smell blossom.

How the air throws it into a dance. (326 in version starting with George’s story)

Both parts subvert the idea that the world is divided into binary categories: male/female, dead/alive, old/young, gay/straight. Even your identity can be muddled with another’s, for example on a mobile phone.

What’s to enjoy about this book?

There is so much to enjoy in this book. In our book group, half the readers began with George’s story and the others with Francesco’s. Both liked the way they had entered the novel although we agreed that Francesco’s story has a more challenging opening.

We found the main characters, George and Francesco to be very sympathetic and wanted to know what would happen to them as they confront their difficulties. Although there is not a great deal of action, the novel is carefully plotted, without being obvious, and the structure echoes the theme of ambivalence and ambiguity, simultaneously being different things, being both.

I enjoy a novel that treats the reader as intelligent and makes demands. I also enjoy wit, cleverness and intriguing titles, dialogue and names. I hope you noticed the names. And the prose, even when it needs close attention, is inventive and lively. There are many small linguistic sparkles.

This book took me to Room 55 in the National Gallery to consider Francesco’s painting of St Vincent Ferrer. And now I would like to visit Ferrara as Ali Smith described in an article in The Observer. Some of fresoes are reproduced in the article.

I enjoyed this review of How to be Both on the blog called JacquiWine’s Journal.

I have enjoyed two previous books by Ali Smith: The Accidental and There but for the. In both these novels existing social groups and ordinary lives were disrupted by intruders. Look, she says. Can you see that.

 

How to be both by Ali Smith (2014) published by Hamish Hamilton (Penguin Books) 371pp

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Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2015

BWPFF 2015 logoHere’s the shortlist for this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction:

Rachel Cusk: Outline

Lissa Evans: Crooked Heart

Patricia Ferguson: Aren’t We Sisters?

Xiaolu Guo: I Am China

Samantha Harvey: Dear Thief

Emma Healey: Elizabeth is Missing

Emily St. John Mandel: Station Eleven

Grace McCleen: The Offering

Sandra Newman: The Country of Ice Cream Star

Heather O’Neil: The Girl Who Was Saturday Night

Laline Paull: The Bees

Marie Phillips: The Table of Less Valued Knights

Rachel Seiffert: The Walk Home

Kamila Shamsie: A God in Every Stone

Ali Smith: How to be Both

Sara Taylor: The Shore

Anne Tyler: A Spool of Blue Thread

Sarah Waters: The Paying Guests

Jemma Wayne: After Before

PP Wong: The Life of a Banana

Dates?

The short list will be announced on 13th April

The winner will be announced on 3rd June.

Prizes, who needs prizes?

What are the arguments for a women only prize in fiction? See this post from June 2013.

And the arguments for having prizes at all? Another post here.

Reviews on this site:151 E missiing cover 3

Emma Healy Elizabeth is Missing

My next post (in the next few days) will be a review of Ali Smith’s How to be Both. Look out for it.

Another list:

A wishlist list for the prize was posted by A Life in Books last week. Now you have two lists of books by women (some overlap) to feed your reading habit. Happy reading.

Anyone want to predict the shortlist or even the winner? Any serious omissions?

 

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WOW The Truth about Ageing

158 WOW logoIt is the first day of spring, and in London young women bare their arms and young men bare their legs. Everyone comes out on the streets and if there’s a festival or demonstration it’s well attended. This week it’s WOW 2015 (Women of the World) at the Southbank Centre – scheduled to coincide with International Women’s Day on Sunday 8th March.

I’m on a panel talking about The Truth about Ageing, as co-author of Retiring with Attitude. I’m here with five other women, but none of them are my co-author who is currently enjoying a holiday in the Mediterranean. Would I rather be with her than here? 101 RWA cover

Here’s the name dropping bit. The panel sat with their backs to the fantastic view, so this photo is good on effect but not on face recognition. 158 panel

From left to right:

  • Baroness Lola Young, prominent in the arts and as a member of the House of Lords able to bring a special experience to our theme.
  • Sue Kreitzman, artist and curator, known to many through her appearance on Fabulous Fashionistas, one of Selfridges’s Bright Old Things with a store window display to herself.
  • Me, co-author with Eileen Carnell of Retiring with Attitude, approaching and relishing your retirement.
  • Ruth Pitt, producer and writer and excellent chair.
  • Katherine Whitehorn, journalist.
  • Stevie Spring, businesswoman, CEO of several companies, chair of BBC Children in Need.

Here’s a clearer picture by Monika Butkute (from twitter).158 panel 2

Aren’t we impressive? One of my friends, when she saw the line-up emailed ‘Gosh you are in there with all the other really important women!!’

And I was impressed by the audience. We had a full house, at least 100 people, mostly women (of course) and it seemed they had an average age of about 30. With the clear blue skies and 6 silhouettes to amuse them they responded to the 90 minute session with enthusiasm.158 setting up

Our chair, Ruth, lead us through a prepared set of issues: workplace issues, economics of ageing, memory problems, fashion and appearance, relationships, media, health …

And there was much laughter from some bon mots, especially from Sue Kreitzman.

Sue: You’re not old until you’re dead.

Sue: I’m disguised as an old lady.

Sue: Don’t wear beige – it may kill you.

Lola: I feel like 25 in the House of Lords.

Stevie: Our generation are pioneers for a different way of ageing.

Stevie: it all starts with a good bra.

158 Prog WOWAnd I told my story about Joey, but you have to wait for the publication of our next book (on ageing) to read it. (And yes, we have a contract for the new book. Yay!)

 

Refusing to be Silenced

After our session I attended Refusing to be Silenced, chaired by war correspondent Lindsey Hilsum (International Editor for Channel 4 News), with input from Vian Dakhil (the Yazidi MP in the Iraqi parliament), Obiageli Ezekwesili founder of the Bring Back our Girls movement in Nigeria, Angelina Atyam who campaigns for the return of thousands of kidnapped Ugandan children held by the Lords Resistance Army. The story of Charlotte, Angelina Atyam’s daughter who was held for 7 years and 7 months, was the most moving element of my day.

The lyric from the Bob Marley song ‘So much trouble in the world’ ran round and round in my head.

This session was organised in partnership with RAWinWAR (Reaching all Women in War).

 

Photo from tweet by RAWinWAR

Photo from tweet by RAWinWAR

If you have been affected by any issues in this blog it’s probably because you are a feminist, a believer in equity, a good citizen or my mother. What will you do? If nothing else you could click on the links in this post.

 

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5 books for World Book Day

Thursday 5th March is World Book Day. At my grandson’s pre-school they are asked to dress up as a favourite character from a book. I wonder what people would think if I accompanied my Gruffalo to pre-school down the village street dressed as Elizabeth Bennett.

Remove that thought and consider instead five world books – my contribution to the celebrations.157 book pile

  1. Stone in a Landslide, by Maria Barbal (2008) Peirene Press. Translated from the Catalan by Laura McGoughlin and Paul Mitchell

The story concerns Conxa who at the age of 13 leaves her too-big family to live with her childless aunt in a nearby village in the hillside. It is the early 1920s. She lives a patient and level headed life, marries Jaume and has three children by him. The village community is everything, with its customs, rituals, tolerances and slow change until the Civil War intervenes and her husband is taken from her.

157 Stone coverThis is the quiet story of a woman living close to subsistence level, valuing family connections, friends, differences, and respect built up by years of honouring and community. Large events shape life, as do poverty, seasons, the demands of land, family and animals.

Each stone in the landslide is necessary to the existence of the landslide; each stone is affected by others around them; a landslide is dangerous.

One of my bookish pleasures is my subscription to Peirene Press, which each year brings me three novellas, translations of European fiction. Here’s a second Peirene publication.

  1. Under the Tripoli Sky, by Kamal Ben Hameda (2011) Peirene. Translated from the French by Adriana Hunter

157 Triploi coverA boy grows up in Tripoli before Gadafi comes to power. The heat of the city, the poverty of many families, the iron conventions that ruled the lives of women are all evoked. The child is lonely and spends much of his time with women. The novel is suffused with affection for women, their humour and warmth (including physical warmth), their resilience and their resolution in the face of bad treatment and abuse by men. We are treated to the physical sweet smelling environment of women, together with much spicy and tasty and sweet food. This is a book about the divisions of life between male and female, and adults and children in Libya at the time.

  1. Zebra Crossing, by Meg Vandermerwe (2013) Oneworld

157 Z Crossing coverFrom the southern end of the African continent comes a novel by a Zimbabwean about migration into South Africa. It’s a grim story of exploitation of immigrants and life on the underside of poverty.

Chipo is an albino Zimbabwean, who following the death of her mother from AIDs escapes with her brother George by crossing to South Africa. They live in a shared room with twins from their home village.

It is the year of the World Cup and there are rumours of xenophobic violence after the final. Chipo and her brother cook up a scheme with Dr Ongani to use Chipo’s appearance to cast magic for people who bet on the World Cup. This leads to her exploitation, imprisonment and eventual abandonment.

Recommended on Annecdotalist’s blog.

  1. In the Orchard, the Swallows by Peter Hobbs (2012) faber and faber

148 Orchard coverI reviewed this book in January 2015, recommending it for its fragility and poetic qualities.

In northern Pakistan the unnamed narrator has returned to his family farm and the pomegranate orchard, which he loved as a child. Everything has changed for he has been in prison for 15 years, since he was a boy of 14. He sits in the orchard and writes.

The novel asks, what sustains people in extreme pain? And what heals them?

  1. Americanah, by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie (2013) 4th Estate

Shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014.

This is a long book about Ifemelu and her childhood boyfriend Obinze growing up in Nigeria at the time of military dictatorship. Both aspire to escape as soon as possible. Ifemelu goes to America where she stays for 17 years. Obinze tries to follow her, can’t get a visa, so goes to the UK and is deported. At the time of the story Ifemelu is planning to return to Lagos, and Obinze is a married man, made rich by some suspect property deals for a man known as Chief.

The story is framed by Ifemelu’s trip to get her hair prepared for her journey home, which takes hours and she has to travel from Princeton to a less salubrious part of New Haven to find the right shop. She reflects on her life in America, as a student, attempting to find work, even taking some sex work, and then beginning her blog, which is successful enough to bring her an income.

Obinze in the meantime has had to demean himself in the UK, rent the identity of another person to work and live in pretty squalid conditions. He is on the point of getting the right to remain through marriage when he is deported.

157 Americanah coverThe more interesting themes of this novel are to do with identity and home country, race, blogging, the effects of life on relationships, and vice versa. Much of the story is about the on-off communications between Ifemelu and Obinze during her absence, and then when she returns. In the end … Well it is a love story.

 

What world books would you recommend?

 

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