Book Review – The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld

I nearly didn’t review this book.

Not because I didn’t love it, but because I wasn’t sure I could find the words to do it justice.

The Bass Rock was one of those books that I was immersed in completely and immediately. I kept telling myself to slow down, savour it, don’t rush. But I didn’t. I devoured it.

There was so much I loved about this book, that I almost don’t know where to begin…

At it’s heart is the story of three women. Sarah’s story is in the distant past. A young girl, accused of being a witch, blamed for hard times and disease that had befallen her village.

Ruth’s story begins in the period after the Second World War. After losing her beloved brother in combat, she has married a widower, Peter. Living in a large house on the shores of North Berwick, transplanted from her London life, Ruth is trying to get to grips with being a wife and a step mother to Peter’s sons.

And finally, in the present, we meet Viv. Having recently lost her father, she too is struggling with her grief and an apparent lack of purpose in her life. She has been sent to Berwick to clear out her Aunt’s house.

The stories of the three women are woven together in a stunning narrative. There are ways in which the women are physically connected, which emerge throughout the novel. But most importantly they are tied by themes and experiences which focus on the treatment of women throughout history.

This book has a a number of core and important messages which I will try and uphold the brilliance of. However I just want to take a moment to highlight the skill of the writing within these pages.

There were so many phrases that just took my breath away. Evie Wyld has that rare ability to weave words in such a way that the reader is able to paint truly vivid pictures in your mind. Whether it is simple description of a dog stretching…

The dog stretches out her long legs and spreads her toes, groans with the weariness of a saint.

The Bass Rock – pg 187

…or the interaction between a man and his wife in church…

A man coughed and was shushed by his wife. The man held up his palms. What would you have me do, choke to death? And the woman shook her head. I’m not listening to you. The man settled back against the pew and the woman stayed so still and so straight it seemed she might lift off the seat and float in irritation to the ceiling of the church.

The Bass Rock- pg 84.

…the clear simplicity of the writing means you are there. As a reader you are present within this novel and for the message it brings home this feeling of connection is so important.

When we meet these three women they are all somewhat disconnected from the world. All are grieving, all feeling the effects of lost and all seem to be on the outside of their lives looking in. There is a sense of these women trying to find their place in the world, trying to push back against a complex web of family relationships and past grief.

Within this context, this novel is a meditation on the treatment of women. Despite some hard scenes of physical abuse, the most striking and distracting element to the narrative is the inherently casual nature of the abuse of women. There is recurring and underlying feeling that it is, and always has been, expected and indeed accepted that women will be mistreated, minimised and ultimately silenced.

The men portrayed in this novel aren’t comic book villains. They are rounded, functioning, successful participants in normal life, each displaying a softer side. So when the pivotal moments of abuse occur, it’s ingrained and almost incidental nature is even more shocking. Through their words and deeds Wyld upholds a sickening sense of inevitability; that men will use women, that there will be reasons and excuses, and that blame will always lie with the female of the species.

This is the key thread that binds these women. With it’s reoccurring motifs of foxes, wolves and dogs there is the pervading sense of the hunter and the hunted running through the pages.

But there is hope, and that hope is found in the ties that bind the women themselves. The answers are found in the shared history of these women, both within the present, the recent shared past and the more distance past. For this novel has a supernatural element, a gentle and ongoing presence in the house which never feels out of place or contrived. Instead it feels essential, as if some female presence in the house is bearing continuous witness.

This book is stunning. It made me laugh, it made me angry, it made me hope. It has important things to say, and it deserves every ounce of the praise that is being heaped upon it.

This one is a must read.

Rachel x

Blog Tour Review: I Am Dust by Louise Beech

It is my absolute pleasure today to be taking my turn reviewing I Am Dust by Louise Beech. Huge thanks go to Louise, Anne Cater and Orenda Books for inviting me along to celebrate this truly unique novel.

The novel spans two time frames, both encompassing the central character Chloe. In the earliest timeframe, Summer 2005, we met Chloe as a teenager. In love with her best friend Jess and involved in the local youth theatre production of Macbeth, she is wrapped up in those heady days of summer.

However when Ryan, Jess’ ‘on/off’ boyfriend suggests dabbling with a Ouija board events take a much darker turn. All three teenagers are talented, all three are looking for bigger and better things, but which one of them has the power to command the game they have begun? And what will the consequences be?

For there are consequences, even if they are not feel until much later.

Fast forward 14 years and Chloe is working as an usher in the iconic Dean Wilson Theatre. She is coasting, unfulfilled both personally and professionally. The scars of her past are emotional and physical. No one, can explain the blackouts she has suffered for years and she hides evidence of longstanding self abuse from her friends and colleagues. Working alone in her room, writing her script she dreams of bigger things, without really daring to reach for them.

Suddenly Chloe‘s world is turned upside when the ailing theatre announces the return of it’s most successful ever show. The musical Dust was the venue’s first performance, frozen forever in cult status. An incredible production made iconic due to the death of it’s leading lady Morgan Miller, murdered in her dressing room during opening week.

The original run of Dust holds many special memories for Chloe, but it’s return is about to bring the past and present together in a spectacular way. The return of a familiar face means that Chloe is forced to face long ignored demons and suppressed memories begin to come to the fore…

I Am Dust is quite simply a book that almost defies classification, It is very much a ghost story, and a breathtaking one at that, but it is so much more.

It is a story which deals with complex relationships. It questions how we define ourselves through the eyes of others and what that means for our personal growth. It considers the lengths people will go to satisfy their desires and how power is a game played with dangerous rules and unforeseen consequences.

The plot and character dynamics of the chosen summer play, Macbeth, are matched by the characters with in the novel. This ‘story within in a story’ sheds new light on the power balance between the three experimenting teenagers. The roles they take on in Macbeth offer insight into their personalities and ultimately clues to their fates.

Ryan is Macbeth; desperate for the power but weaker than he seems. Jess is Lady Macbeth; initially appearing submissive but driven to ruthlessness and regret. Chloe is one of the witches; nameless, overlooked but possessing the ultimate power.

Throughout the novel there is a feeling of duality. Love quickly spills into hate, admiration into envy, life into death, truth into lies. The dual time frames are skilfully and seamlessly woven together to create a feeling of reckless inevitability as history looks destined to repeat it’s self.

If you are looking for a cracking ghost story look no further. But I repeat my assertion that this novel is so much more.

I Am Dust is a book that drives you forward in a mesmerising rush. But stop…take some time to savour what Louise Beech has created here…

Because, believe me, it is special…

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more reviews of this gem of a book, check out the rest of the tour …

It’s Women’s Prize Short List week!!

Just that really! On Tuesday of this week the Short List for the 25th Women’s Prize for fiction will be announced.

The Long List this year is :

  • Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara
  • Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
  • Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
  • Dominicana by Angie Cruz
  • Actress by Anne Enright
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
  • Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie
  • A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
  • How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Led
  • The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
  • The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
  • Girl by Edna O’ Brien
  • Hamnet by Maggie O’ Farrell
  • Weather by Jenny Offill
  • The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
  • Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Every year I set a completely unrealistic goal of reading each book before the Short List is announced and every year I fail spectacularly. I always forget how many other brilliant books I want to read that aren’t on the list!

This year out of 16 books I have managed 6. In fairness one was 900 pages long, so could actually count as 3 books! And I have 6 more waiting on my shelves.

But I can’t let Women’s Prize Short List week go by without marking it in some way, so I bring you my thoughts on those I have read.

Red at the Bone – Jacqueline Woodson

I thought this was an incredible book. It was short and I read it quickly. Probably too quickly. I am convinced that it is one of books that you need to reread to pick up all the inferences and cleverness you missed first time around.

It is an inter generational novel, set in NYC, chronically the changing fortunes of one black family. It had a time frame that reaches as far back as 1920’s, detailing the Tulsa Massacre and encompasses the 9/11 tragedy.

For a book with relatively few pages it paints a detailed picture of a family beautifully and effectively. I love a long book, but I also really appreciate a book that uses words sparingly and makes every paragraph count. This is one of those rare books.

Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams

This one was a Christmas gift. I had heard lots of good things and was intrigued.

Set in London this is the story of Queenie, a young black woman whose life is spinning out of control. There is so much humour, love and life in this book.

And there is also darkness and pain.

It is a book that creeps up on you. At the beginning it seems light, easy to read, unassuming, but as the story develops it becomes clear that this a skilled exploration of mental struggles and the journey back to health. It is about how our past shapes us, can scar us but how sometimes the support we need can be found where we least expect it .

Girl, Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo

Twelve black women of Britain, all different ages, all with a different story to tell.

This book is a collection of perspectives and experiences bringing seemingly separate stories together; all cleverly intertwined through the characters within their tales.

When I heard about this volume I wondered if I would find it disjointed and disconnected. Nothing was further from the truth.

It is a glorious melting pot of sexuality, gender, politics and family identify. A triumphant representation of Black Women in Britain today.

I adored this book. It is going on the forever shelf.

The Dutch House – Ann Patchett

I might as well come clean now and say I am a huge fan of Ann Patchett. Her novel Commonwealth has stayed with me for a long time, so I had high hopes for this one.

Again, in the interest of transparency I think it is only fair that I admit that I listened to this book. With Tom Hanks narrating it was likely to be a winner, but it was so much more than that.

The story of Maeve and Danny, growing up in The Dutch House in the suburb of Elkins Park, Philadelphia. When their Father remarries, they find themselves increasingly isolated.

It is a story that spans five decades, told in detail, a beautiful portrait of siblings tied together through hope and adversity. In their lives the unique and beautiful house in which they spent their formative years becomes a symbol and a focal point.

This is a story that is told with the attention to detail and the understanding of family dynamics which is Ann Patchett’s own particular strength. It is a joy.

The Mirror and The Light – Hilary Mantel

This needs very little, if any introduction from me. The third book in her epic Trilogy documenting the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell, it is quite simply a masterpiece.

At over 900 pages it is a challenging read, but in all the right ways. A host of complex and vivid characters, each vividly painted and woven into the novel seamlessly.

The historical research and accuracy of this novel is quite simply staggering. But for all that attention to detail, nothing of the emotion of the situation is lost. Quite simply this novel broke my heart. Being a Tudor geek I knew in glorious technicolour what Cromwell’s end would be. But Mantel had me believing that we could rewrite the story, she summed in me a hope that was cruelly dashed.

Simply brilliant.

And have producing one volume of this brilliance seems impossible, to have produced three is staggering.

It is hard to believe that this won’t win awards. Possibly it will follow it’s predecessors and claim the Booker, completely the Triple. Will it win the Woman’s Prize ? Who knows, but I will be amazed if it isn’t on the Short List.

Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell

And finally we come to Hamnet.

I am not sure where to start with this book. It may not be the 900 pages of The Mirror and The Light. But it is a little drop of perfection.

I love Maggie O’Farrell’s writing. I find her one of the most skilled and versatile contemporary authors whose work I have read. Hamnet is, I feel, her masterpiece.

The fictional account of Shakespeare’s son’s short life and death and the love of a mother, skilled in healing but unable to protect him. It is also a testament to the love between parent and child and how loss shapes our lives.

The characters of this novel, burst off the page. For example Agnes, his wife, individual, strong and devoted; looking into the future with her curious gift of sight, facing down demons and healing the sick. Agnes is a creation of such skill and empathy that it is hard to see another novel being able to topple this from my read of the year so far.

I am going to put my neck on the line and say I would love this to win the Women’s Prize. And I will throw quite an unseemly tantrum if it isn’t shortlisted!

And what of the rest…?

In addition to the six books I have read I have another six waiting for me on my shelves.

I am particularly excited by Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. The publication of this novel as, due to ‘current circumstances’ been delayed. I am scheduled to be on the blog tour for this one later in the year and have a gifted copy waiting for me. For which, I am as always very grateful.

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo is another one waiting in the wings. After seeing it described on Twitter as a cross between The Cazalet Chronicles and Little Woman, I knew I had to have it. Seriously hoping it lives up to that label!!

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes has been sitting on the book trolley for a while and I am pretty sure that is where I am heading next. Circe, The Song of Achilles and The Silence of the Girls have all been winners for me in the last couple of years; I quite fancy losing myself in Ancient Greece again for a bit.

And finally, Girl by Edna O’ Brien, Actress by Anne Enright, and How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Led have all been waiting for me while. Plenty to be getting on with as always, and plans might well change when the short list is published !

So, a couple of predictions from me, but I haven’t read nearly enough of these stunners to predict the whole short list. I will be watching and waiting with anticipation, and as always really interested to hear your thoughts.

Rachel x

Blog Tour Review: Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

When the invite for this Blog Tour popped up in my Inbox I was intrigued and thrilled in equal measure. Promises of writing that evoked Toni Morrison were more than enough to get me interested, and what a pleasure it has turned out to be.

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora is a debut novel published by 4th Estate Books on 16th April. This book is already drawing some pretty heady comparisons, including the work of Sara Collins (The Confessions of Frannie Langton) and Yaa Gyasi (Homegoing).

And in my humble opinion it is entirely worthy of all the praise being heaped upon it. Quite simply it is remarkable . And for a debut novel it is exceptional, both in content and style. Thanks go to Lindsay Terrell for my gifted copy.

This is the story of Miss Rue. Rue is a black woman, healer and midwife to the recently freed black community on an American plantation. Rue has followed her mother Miss May Belle in taking on this role.

But her mother’s shoes are proving hard to fill and times have changed since the Civil War brought the nominal freedom of the plantation’s slave community. Rue continues her mother’s work but finds the community’s loyalty and unquestioning respect is no longer the same.

As the novel begins Rue attends the birth of a child; a pale skinned, black eyed and strangely watchful boy who is quickly known as Bean. Bean’s birth seems to herald unsettled times for the community as a strange sickness moves unchecked through it’s people. First affecting the young and then the old, it strikes fear amongst people’s hearts.

As the villagers look for someone to blame they look upon the strange untouched child and a perceived kinship between Bean and Rue, the woman who delivered him.

When Bruh Abel, a celebrated but transient preacher visits the village, suspicion against Rue and her practises increases and she begins to be further cut off from the people who have looked to her to sustain them for years. Talk of the strange spirit or ‘haint’ that roams the woods magnifies their fear and ultimately their distrust of Rue and her ‘hoodoo’ ways.

But can Bruh Abel provide the answers everyone is desperately searching for ? Or are there more similarities between Bruh Abel and Rue than it would appear at first glance? And by attempting to destroy Rue does the community risk it’s own safety in a way it can not comprehend?

For Rue, like her Mother before her is more that the healer of the sick, guardian of the dead and experienced midwife. She is also the keeper of secrets. Secrets that are woven into the fabric of the past, present and future, and whose exposure would jeopardise the community’s very existence.

This novel is a story that spans two distinct time frames. The ‘past’ refers to the time immediately preceding the American Civil War, up to it’s conclusion, ending with the freeing of the plantation slaves and the burning of the big house. The ‘present’ is a new time, of both nurtured hope and long held fear, of white men roaming the woods, unaccustomed freedom and loose ends that need to be explained away.

In the past, in the time of Rue’s girlhood,the figure of Varina, the white daughter of the plantation, owner looms large. She and Rue are of an age. On some level playmates but never to be equals, their destinies are tied together in a way that only Miss May Bell could foresee.

The two girl’s individual losses and trials run parallel to each other, two sides of the same coin, reflected in the unusual doll stitched by Miss May Bell. Over a period of years, the rise and fall of their fortunes seem to mirror one another, in an uncanny and almost predestined way. Change is coming, but change is hard for all involved.

There is a tangible sense of the complex history of the time; the feeling that changes brought about by the end of slavery open a gateway to a new era. And each step along this new path is fraught with fear and only achieved through the presence of hope. The ties to the past are strong, not easily shrugged off in this new world where rules are still being written and the past still lingers in the air.

There is natural pacing to the narrative, it is a story of individual lives woven together; tragic at times but with glimpses of light and colour providing balance. It is a story told with pathos, in lyrical, flowing prose. There is a tangible and authentic ‘voice’, a real sense of a story being told, a history being passed on to those that need to know.

This is ultimately a story of women. Of their bodies, their lives, their hopes, dreams and sorrows. It is a chronicle of motherhood, it’s complexities, sacrifices and joys.The characters that populate the pages of this novel are strong, flawed but genuine.

Everything adds up to make this a beautiful, reflective novel. Afia Atakora has created something that is, quite simply, stunning. Take some time to immerse yourself in the world of Miss Rue. You won’t regret it.

Rachel x

And there is more…

I guarantee I won’t be the only person to fall under the spell of Conjure Women. For more reviews and reactions check out the rest of the blog tour …

BLOG BIRTHDAY – ONE WHOLE YEAR!

A year ago today I started a blog!!! It started as a bit of a whim. I had no expectations that’s many (any!) people would follow, that anyone would read it and I certainly had no idea how important the blog would become in my day to day life.

But here I am; one year on and I can honestly say I am loving running this little book blog! 87 blog posts in and the novelty isn’t yet wearing off!

One year of blogging feels like a milestone that needs to be marked. So today I have decided to write about the top 10 things that I have learnt, appreciated and loved about growing this blog over the last year.

#1. You meet some flipping wonderful people

I honestly never expected to have my life enhanced by so many genuinely lovely people on this journey. Literally from the moment I hit post on my first review I was welcomed with open arms into the book blogging community. I cannot put into words just how supportive so many people have been. Book bloggers are literally the kindest people in the world! Every day they make things just a little bit brighter with the online recommendations, banter and encouragement. And the fact I have got to meet up with some of these beautiful people in real life is the icing on the cake.

In addition I still haven’t got over the thrill of interacting with authors, publishers and publicists. And do you know what…I hope I never do!

#2 Your blog, your rules…

This one has taken a while to sink in! And in all honesty I am still reminding myself of it fairly regularly!!

There are literally hundreds of book bloggers out there, and there is room for each and every single one. Because everyone has something different to offer, a different take on a book, different tastes, a different style of writing…

It took me a while to grasp that there are no rules. I can review what I want, when I want. It is my blog, and I make the rules !

#3 It’s not all about the numbers…

In fact it is nothing at all about the numbers!!

I learnt pretty quickly that I would drive myself daft constantly checking followers, site traffic and likes. Don’t get me wrong, it is lovely when they happen but I am very aware that a tweet about the dog will get more attention than a book review!

Doesn’t stop me reviewing books though!

#4. You can’t read everything

I am not going to lie I still have to tell myself this a billion times a week!!

It only takes 20 mins on Twitter for me to become convinced I am missing out on fabulous books of all shapes, sizes and genres. Sometimes it seems that the whole world is reading at an impossible rate and I am being woefully left behind.

Of course it is tripe! Nobody can read everything! And it is madness to even try!

#5. You can’t review everything

You just can’t! So don’t even try!

My reality is that blogging is a sideline, a hobby, an escape. I have a demanding job, a family bursting at the seams with teenagers and animals. Much as I would like to hole myself up with a job lot of Thornton’s and my TBR pile it isn’t going to happen. And even if it did I would drive myself daft trying to review it all.

Reviewing can be hard work and sometimes you need to read a book you have actually no intention of writing about! No notes, no nothing, just enjoy.

#6. It’s OK to take a break…

When I started this blog I set myself an impossible timetable. I was going to blog twice a week, come hell or high water about really fantastic, individual books.

And pretty soon I was in danger of burning out! Managing real life and a blog is harder than it looks. It didn’t take me long to realise I had to relax my own daft rules or go under.

I chatted to a few bloggers, gave my head a wobble and realised that having time out is sometimes essential to keeping some you treasure alive!

#7. Don’t bite off more than you can chew…

This one is an extension of points 4,5 and 6. Blogging is exciting and addictive! In my heady first days I was completely overwhelmed and overexcited by all the opportunities out there. NetGalley seemed like the most miraculous invention in the world! And I couldn’t believe that I could request books from generous publishers and publicists and they would actually gift them! Don’t get me wrong I didn’t and don’t want to hoard books, I genuinely want to read them all!! And I am and remain so so grateful for every single piece of lovely book post I have received.

However, it is fair to say I was like a kid let loose in a sweet shop and quickly in danger of becoming overwhelmed.

And Blog Tours…who doesn’t want to be involved with every exciting new release?? This year I have taken part in 28 blog tours. I honestly don’t regret a single one, and I love the fact I can do my small part to support authors. But I am slowly learning to pace myself!!

So let’s loop back to points 4 and 5 ; You can’t read and review everything!!

#8. Don’t under estimate the thrill of sharing book love…

Long before I started blogging I have loved chatting about books, pretty much to any poor soul who would listen . I love sharing opinions, finding out people’s reading tastes and both receiving and giving recommendations.

This joy is now extended through social media, where I interact daily with so many interesting and devoted book people.

And the thrill I still get when someone says they have read and enjoyed a book they picked up after reading one of my reviews is priceless. I feel privileged to be sharing the book love!

#9. There are so many undiscovered gems in the world of books…

Before I started blogging I had no idea just how many books were out there!!! This sounds completely daft I know but a year on and I realise just how mainstream my tastes were. They were largely driven by big book shops and mainstream reviews. All of which are of course wonderful but when I started blogging as whole new world opened up.

It was a world of independent publishers, debut novelists and dedicated book bloggers and promoters. So much of the fantastic stuff I have read over the past year I would never have discovered without the connections of the blog.

And for that I am so grateful.

#10. There is still so much to learn…

A year seems a milestone to me, but I am acutely aware that my blog remains very much a youngster in the book blogging world.

I am so lucky to be surrounded by other experienced and fantastic book bloggers, who willingly share their time and support and from whom I still have a great deal to learn. I remain in awe of their skill and beautifully crafted reviews.

This blog post is merely my attempt to sum up my thoughts on the year. I know I have made some classic mistakes along the way and I am under no illusions that there is so still much to learn!!

Finally

Thank you! Just that…

Thank you to every single person who has read a post, retweeted, shared, liked, commented, engaged or messaged .

Thank you for every kind word, every blog tour invite and every piece of book post.

It has all meant the world, each interaction has been gratefully received and whole heartedly appreciated.

And here’s to the next year!

Rachel xxxx

Blog Tour Review: The Silent Treatment by Abbie Greaves

Sometimes a blog tour offer lands in my inbox and I shamelessly beg to be included. This is what happened when the lovely Anne Cater offered the opportunity to read and review The Silent Treatment by Abbie Greaves.

Lots of book people who I know and trust has been raving about this debut on Twitter and I desperately wanted to be involved. So thank you to both Abbie and Ann for the chance to read and review.

Let me say straight away this novel did not disappoint!!!

The premise of the story is a simple but intriguing one. Frank and Maggie have been happily married for many years. Their’s has been a marriage filled with love, trust, respect and compassion. But in recent times darkness has fallen and so has silence.

For the past 6 months not a word has passed between them.

There have been no blazing rows, no thrown plates or slammed doors. Just a terrible secret sadness that has paralysed their relationship and has caused Frank to stop speaking to Maggie.

They have continued to live in the same house, sleep in the same bed, eat meals together, generally co-exist, but Frank finds he is entirely unable to utter a word to his beloved wife.

The novel opens with Frank, six months into his silence finding Maggie collapsed on the kitchen floor. With her life in the balance, Frank is encouraged by a empathic nurse to begin to talk to his now unconscious, but still beloved wife. Through his memories we begin to unpick the terrible secret burdens that Frank has concealed in his silence.

Equally, as the novel progresses, the narrative shifts to present Maggie’s story and we begin to appreciate that this a couple who both holds secrets and fear close.

Without wanting to state the obvious, this is a novel about silence. But it is more than just the nominal silence of Frank. It is the silence of things unspoken; between generations, families and partners. To label silence a theme would be understating it, it is the very core of the novel

This simple but beautiful novel is an exploration of all the things we don’t tell each other. It details and embraces all those secrets within a family, even those that have been together for years, even those that seem transparent, unbreakable, strong.

Here we see the heartbreaking truth of the all too common cycle of pain lending it’s self to silence only leading, inevitably, to more pain.

Through compelling and empathic characters Abbie Greaves has created a moving portrayal of a family touched by mental health issues. She explores how a sudden breakdown in communication, coupled with the pain and complexity of mental ill health, means that someone whom you have loved for so long and so completely can become entirely unreachable.

She embraces the concept of parental guilt. That unavoidable and debilitating urge to pick over what has happened again and again , even those things you can’t control. With heart breaking clarity she portrays the desperate need to make things right, however terrible the events and the pain when this isn’t possible.

Within these pages are both the joy and pain of family relationships. We see how our love for people can spill over into commitments and obligations and how we start to take responsibility for others happiness even when the answers to problems are far beyond our control.

Abbie Greaves lays bare the uncomfortable truths that come with a lack of communication and the internalisation of pain.


The message of this book is clear. Words are important; they sustain us, they support and nurture us. By communicating we risk opening ourselves up to pain but also embrace life saving support, love and solace.

When the author wrote this novel she could never have predicted the strange and scary times her creation would be launched into. In our current situation of self isolation, social distancing and separation we are finding anew just how important communication really is. Be it through Social Media, Zoom, FaceTime, HouseParty, clapping on the door step, rainbows in windows, a simple phone call or a good old fashioned letter; the ongoing sustaining necessity of words is right now being felt across the globe.

This novel may have been conceived in entirely different times but for me it is the perfect novel for right now. Timely, warm and authentic; it is time to let Frank and Maggie speak to you.

Rachel x

And there is more…

For other reviews of this beautiful book check out the rest of The Silent Treatment Blog Tour

Book Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Every now and then a book arrives in your life that you know is going to stay with you long after you have read the last page.

Often those books are filled with comfort, they resonate and feel completely relatable, a ‘go to’ tale to raise cheer.

Well in the case of My Dark Vanessa, the very opposite is true.

Don’t get me wrong, this book will stay with me. I want it to stay with me. And I want it to stay with anybody who reads. Particularly young women, particularly those in authority, particularly those in a position of trust.

But I doubt they will find comfort in it’s pages, but they will find truth. A truth that everyone needs to acknowledge and understand.

My Dark Vanessa is the story of stolen youth, in fact a stolen life. It focuses on Vanessa Wyes. An unusual teenager, romantic and bright, she is awarded a scholarship at prestigious Maine boarding school. A loner, struggling to find her place she enters a relationship with Jacob Strane, her English teacher. He is much older, not physically attractive but charming. He begins by praising her poetry, singling her out for additional attention in class, handing her challenging and individual texts. Soon this progresses to passing physical contact; a hand on a knee, a kiss on her head. Then it goes further.

Even calling this a relationship makes me uncomfortable. It is an ‘interaction’ that Vanessa defines as love; indeed as the her greatest love. But which the reader clearly sees as abuse.

When the novel begins Vanessa is in her early thirties, working, by her own definition, a mind numbing job in a local hotel. None of her early literary promise is fulfilled. Vanessa engages in periodic bouts of alcohol and drug abuse, references to broken relationships and casual sex litter her narrative.

And Strane is an ever present force in her life. When he is publicly accused by another former pupil of sexual assault Vanessa is forced to examine her experiences and start to redefine what she has clung to as her one great love.

My Dark Vanessa is raw, complicated and powerful.

It is an effective, but painfully stark portrayal of the power imbalance within abusive relationships, particularly those built on natural relationships of trust, like a student and teacher.

It is an expert portrayal of the process of grooming, exploring the myriad of ways an abuser can twist the situation. Classically Vanessa is an outsider, put bluntly she is easy prey. Strane is wholly aware of his strength. And he plays with power, seeming to hand it over to Vanessa at points and then taking it away in an instant. He is a master of control; control of the situation, of emotions, of futures. It seems unlikely that Vanessa is his first and only victim.

We see Vanessa blame herself. Time and again Strane makes her responsible for the situation, seeks to make it her fault, makes it clear that all the consequences of this relationship will be felt by her.

And he is right. The novel provokes many strong emotions but there is an overwhelming sense of anger that Vanessa pays the continuing price for this situation. At the time of her abuse no one steps forward to be her champion. There is no one to tell her that this isn’t love. That these dark feelings of shame, disgust and fear aren’t part of some dark romance that everyone experiences. That love should open up your life, not close it off. That’s it should help you grow, not shut you down. That this situation is so far from healthy, that she doesn’t need to be defined by this forever.

The power and pain of this novel lies in the focus on the long term effects of Vanessa’s experience. Years later she is still in a turmoil of denial. A state that goes far deeper than an inability to acknowledge and accept what has happened. We find her making excuses, rewriting history, redefining relationships and social norms.

Vanessa is in despair. In the face of Strane’s public accusations by other women her long term survival mechanisms of normalisation are crumbling. By defining the relationship as love she has refused to be a victim, attempting, in some way, to take control. The most painful thing to acknowledge for both Vanessa and the reader is that if she admits this relationship was abusive then her foundations, the events that have defined her life are rotten at the core.

As the events move out of Vanessa’s control, as more women step forward and Strane makes an unforeseen but decisive move, there begins a spiral of self degradation. Echoes of past behaviour re-emerge and it is clear that Vanessa is asking for help in the only way she knows how.

This book is one of the most powerful and important novels I have read for a long time. It doesn’t hold back in it’s portrayal of the realities of abuse. At times it will make you wince, at times it will make you deeply uncomfortable and I guarantee it will make you angry.

But it will also bring understanding, and empathy for all those victims whose stories have gone unheard and shed light on those relationships society has in the past ignored or in some cases normalised. And for all of that it will engender hope.

Rachel x