Publication Day Review: A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth – Daniel Mason

I am intrigued by short stories. I make no secret of my admiration for writers who can weave a spell in this particular way. I am always on the look out for well put together collections that show off the skills and diversity of an author. This collection, A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth by Daniel Mason, published by Mantle is a stunning example of it’s genre. Heartfelt thanks go to Camilla Elworthy for my gifted copy.

Right from the beginning this books feels like a journey. It has the quality of a genuine collection, in the truest sense of the word. Opening it’s pages is like stepping into the beautifully curated museum of curios. Each chapter is flanked by a beautiful engraving and stories are presented with craft, care and love. Like exotic winged specimens within a case they will provoke so many emotions, but I guarantee you will be marvelling at the beauty that they possess.

From the first story; of the bare knuckle fighter, clawing his way through the ranks one bloody fight at a time; to the desperate and driven mother looking for the answers to her sudden’s debilitating illness, there is a sense of awe and wonder. A pervading sense of a world filled with secrets, a world of treasures and happenings still undiscovered, unexplained and unexplored.

Like a A Victorian specimen collector the reader is invited to travel through time and over distance. Each story holds its own miracle, it’s own way of questioning the world as we know it and it’s own way of imparting new knowledge and perspective. The human spirit of adventure and it’s thirst of knowledge drives us through the collection, pausing to appreciate the known and to push the boundaries of the unknown, one delightful story at a time.

Stories such as the tale of Alfred Russel Wallace and his communications to Darwin, Psammeticus I and the beginnings of psychological experimentation, all highlight humankind’s ongoing and instinctive search for truth. And crucially while as a species we explore the truth created around us, we all instinctively need to make our own to make a mark upon the earth.

This collection is a jewel. It has certainly made it’s mark on me. Time to get exploring.

Rachel x

Publication Day Review: The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

I am starting this review with unadulterated and profound gratitude to Katie Green at Picador for gifting me a copy of The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave.

The Mercies is Kiran’s first adult novel, an absorbing and powerful read. This atmospheric tale weaves a spell, delighting the senses and lingering with me long after I had closed it.

Based on a true story, we begin in Vardo, a remote fishing community in North Eastern Norway, in 1617. Here, on Christmas Eve, a young woman, Maren Magnusdatter, watches from the cliffs as a freak storm claims the lives of forty men. In an instant the community’s male population is wiped out, her father, brother and betrothed included.

Suddenly the survival of the community rests entirely in the hands of the women. Once the grieving and rituals are completed, the women, led by fiery and practical, Kirsten, must do what they have never done before and take to the sea, fishing for their survival.

Life is hard, but despite tensions within the community, the women craft a life for themselves. Maren learns to live with her grief and begins to put the past behind her. She acts as the practical mainstay of her small family, absorbing and tempering the grief of both her mother and her sister- in- law Diinna.

Diinna, who gave birth shortly after the accident, is right on the fringes of the community. Her heritage lies with the Sami people and her customs, particularly those bound up in grief and mourning, drew some suspicion within the community. There are whispers that the storm was unnatural, sent or conjured by an unseen force.

It is upon this unconventional community that Absalom Cornet and his young wife Urla are thrust, three years after the accident.

Their marriage is young and arranged; Ursa has been married off by her father for the family’s financial gain. She has left behind a settled, if somewhat sheltered life in Bergen, as well as her beloved but ill younger sister.

Ursa has arrived naive, lonely and unprepared for life in such an inhospitable place. Seeking both practical and emotional support, Ursa strikes up a relationship with Maren. The two women form a connection that is originally based on need and practicality, which grows to something far beyond.

Ursa’s unease about her new life is compounded and subsequently magnified as her understanding of her husband’s role within the community develops. For Commissioner Absalom Cornet has been appointed by the authorities to bring morality, Christianity and order to this unconventional community of women. And he means to do so by any means.

This book is a stunning portrait of the power of women and how this power is harnessed in the solidarity of hardships, domesticity and knowledge passed down through the years . It returns to that haunting truth that the power of women taken by the wide reaching Witch Hunts of the 1600’s. When religious fevour began to turn against ancient knowledge and spirituality, branding strong wise women as witches and demons. It gives credence and strength to petty jealousies that build to levels of cruelty and destruction.

The portrait of a remote but tight knit community being slowly ripped apart by suspicion, vindictiveness and worse, is vividly told. The women are beautifully painted, each character coming alive through their grief, hopes and dreams. There is a feeling of connectivity and kinship on the behalf of the reader which denies the centuries that separate. In many ways this story feels all too raw and vivid; a female fight for survival which is very much relevant and pertinent today.

I read The Mercies at the tail of last year. I was quite simply entranced. I have waited to write and published my review, in no small part because I was looking for the words to do the novel justice. As I write now I am longing to reread it, to soak up the details once more.

There are certainly books this reminds me of and comparisons I could make. But I am loathe to do so. The Mercies is a book that should stand alone.

I hope it flies!

Rachel x

Book review – Expectation by Anna Hope

Ever get an Advance Reader Copy of a book that makes your heart sing?

That’s what happened to me when I was approved for Expectation by Anna Hope. So thank you Transworld Books for making a middle aged blogger very happy!

Anna’s post World War 1 novel Wake has lived large in my memory for a number of years. I vividly remember reading it on a 5 hour train journey north. Spellbound and moved, I finished it almost in one sitting. Thank goodness my stop was the end of the line, as I would have undoubtedly missed it otherwise.

Hence my excitement about the release of Expectation.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

Expectation is a novel about three women, all ploughing their own furrow. All following their own and others expectations, none of them completely fulfilled.

Cate, Hannah and Lissa have been friends for years. Connected by past events and shared memories, all three are at a crossroads in their lives.

Lissa is an actress, not quite fulfilled, still seeking success, constantly in awe and frustration with her artist mother.

Hannah is successful, married but desperate for a child, and facing down the process of IVF and all that it brings.

Cate is a new wife and mother but feels life has over taken her and that somehow she has missed out; that she has taken a wrong turn and is not fulfilling her potential.

Throughout the novel we see each woman peering in at the lives of their friends, and building their own expectations and desires. Each woman is questioning what they have achieved and quietly coveting what the other has.

Hope has created a believable portrait of friendship that houses underlining tensions and unspoken truths. Events and emotions in both the past and future seek to undermine the foundations of their friendship and those of people surrounding them.

The power of this novel lies, undoubtedly, in the authenticity of the characters. Their dilemmas and stumbling blocks aren’t outlandish or unusual. In fact that they are common, some might say mundane but they are all the more powerful and heartbreaking for that.

There is a real sense of empathy with these characters. We care what happens to them.

More than that we feel what happens to them. We have been Cate, or Hannah or Lissa. Surely is a rare individual who hasn’t questioned where their life is heading or where they have ended up.

And it is this quiet simmering undertone of dissatisfaction and re evaluation, which drives the story along. Can these characters make the changes they need, even if means changing the course of their lives and not fulfilling their own and others exacting expectations? Or are they destined to live up to Expectation but live unfulfilled?

Hope is showing us that fulfilling ‘Expectation’, is not necessarily the key to happy and successful life. In doing so she has created a novel that refines the terms and phases of our everyday lives.

Is fulfilling Expectation a mark of success? Or do we judge our lives through different eyes?