October Wrap Up – Escaping from the world…

It’s been a strange old October. The world shows no sign of getting any calmer and in general things feel trickier than at any point in the year. My reading, the book community and the friends I have within it seem like a focal and high point in my life at the moment. And I continue to be grateful for that.

In terms of blogging this month there has been the inevitable slowing of posts. I am working on roughly a post a week at the moment; the Autumn return to school necessitates a slow down! But the blog is still alive and kicking!! Just a wee bit slower!

I have been involved in some fantastic bookish events this month. High on this list was the Blog Tour for A More Perfect Union by Tammye Huf. This is a beautiful story of love that transcends barriers but also a study of true freedom and what it costs us.

I was thrilled to be able to take part in the cover reveal for Medusa Retold by Sarah Wallis, published by Fly on the Wall Press next month. I often say I don’t read enough poetry, but this myth interpretation is firmly in my sights.

Talking of November releases please don’t miss the unique and beautifully crafted novel by Catherine Cusset about the genius that is David Hockney! David Hockney – A life is published by Arcadia Books on 12th November.

One of the most beautiful and moving books I have read this year has been published this week by the wonderful BlueMooseBooks. Sharon Duggal’s Should We Fall Behind was a joy from the first sentence to the last; the perfect antidote to the craziness of the world around us. It is out now, and everyone needs a copy in their lives.

As well as new releases this has also been a month of dipping into the TBR pile and getting to those books that have been waiting for too long. I finally got around to polishing off Kate Atkinsons latest Jackson Brodie novel Big Sky, as always a pleasure. I read my first, and definitely not my last (!) Donal Ryan, the haunting All We Shall Know. And I was lost in the beauty that is Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie, the Women’s Prize nominee which deals with one fateful day in a tower block’s history; a day that will change the world forever.

And of course with Hallowe’en upon us October isn’t complete without some haunting reads. Tick off one long delayed visit to The Haunting of Hill House and an often trodden path to Wuthering Heights and spooky reads are accounted for.

I have also spent the last week looking forward. November promises to be a bumper month of reading and new releases. I am lucky enough to be part of four blog tours, all unmissable reads. Look out for the latest release from Caroline Scott. Following on from the wonderful Photographer of the Lost, Caroline returns to WW1 in her latest novel When I come home again. It is looming large in my mind still, and already causing a well deserved Twitter storm after it’s release earlier this week.

Dipping into the magical and the next two blog tour reads are The Thief On The Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas – perfect for fans of The Doll Factory and Once upon a river – and The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow. Any story that combines witches and suffragettes gets my vote!!

The final blog tour read ready for next month was the delightful How to belong by Sarah Franklin. Set in the Forest of Dean and populated with a cast of authentic characters this one was an absolute joy. I can’t wait to share my review.

My final book of October was a dip into my pile of 2021 proofs. I am squirrelling away information ready for my Most Anticipated Reads of 2021 blog posts later next month. And my goodness did I start my 2021 reading with a bang! I am still finding the words to describe The Push by Ashley Audrain, but this one is going to be HUGE!!!

So there ends the month of October. I have a few reads on the go which are hanging on in there and will pop in next months round up. Happy reading and stay safe.

Rachel x

Book Review: David Hockney – A Life by Catherine Cusset

Sometimes you stumble across a book quite unexpectedly and you know it’s one you need to read . This exactly what happened when David Hockney: A Life by Catherine Cusset winked at me on book twitter. Huge thanks to Anna Zanetti at Midas PR for my gifted copy

Published on 12th November by Arcadia Books this is a novel charting the life of Hockney, celebrated English Artist, from his childhood in Bradford, through the Art college years in London, hedonistic times in LA and back to his roots on the East Coast of Yorkshire.

This novel details beautifully the artist’s continuing search for reality, originality and creativity. Each section of Hockney’s life is laid bare with insight and clarity, drawing the artists own personality and emerging sexuality in to the narrative. Captured vividly and with a sense of place and purpose is Hockney’s continual determination to be true to his sense of self, both in his artistic process and in the way he lived his life.

Here is a portrait of an artist, ever evolving, working across two continents, redefining his boundaries, skills and understanding of the artistic process. Always refusing to compromise and following his creative urges rather than those widely accepted norms or expectations. Hockney and his art never stagnate and often challenge.

This novel has a prose that is authentic, a delightful combination of fact and fiction. It charts the triumphs but also the tragedies of Hockey’s life and career and how these events have made him both the man and artist we celebrate today. At the core of his story are his relationships, with lovers, friends and his supportive parents. Throughout a rapidly changing age Hockney’s own sexuality provides both inspiration and heart ache.

Throughout the book Hockney’s work and life are intertwined and inseparable. Life informs art and art informs life, both pushing him forward and fuelling the next stage of creativity and brilliance. I defy anyone not to read this book without Google close at hand. References to and the names of Hockney’s work litter these pages and it adds immeasurably to the reading experience when you see these works before you. Every canvas, every sketch, adds something to this novel and indeed the story of Hockney’s life.

For any one who wants to understand and appreciate a giant of the British Art world and watch an artist evolve in every sense of the word David Hockney: A life, is an inspired place to start. It is an ambitious undertaking that achieves it’s aim of providing a unique and compelling portrait of a supremely talented artist.

Rachel x

Book Review: Should We Fall Behind by Sharon Duggal

Bluemoose Books haven’t let me down yet. And in this year of 2020, when the rest of the world seems out of kilter, their unique commitment to publishing only women writers seems spot on.

Their latest title, published on 20th October Should we fall behind by Sharon Duggal, is yet another triumph. A testament to people, a patchwork of individual stories that weave together to form a community. Stories that sometimes go unheard, even untold but nevertheless form the bedrock of actions and reactions and affect the lives of others around them.

At the heart of this story is Jimmy. Young, troubled and homeless, he finally seems to find a human connection with another young homeless girl, Betwa. When Betwa disappears Jimmy finds himself drawn to the neighbourhood she has described, desperate to find the warmth and humility she has awakened within him.

Within this novel are a cast of people waiting to be found. Multigenerational, multicultural, these skilfully drawn characters all come together in one place. But each have different stories that have modelled and shaped them.

Here are a collection of lives that haven’t taken the course individuals have hoped. In each case familial relationships have both nurtured and disappointed; at times they have twisted, at times they have broken. Each character harbours their losses and regrets, there is a tangible sense of each holding themselves still and close , trying to not to crack as they get through each day.

The arrival of Jimmy within their community, a human being at his lowest ebb, acts as a catalyst. For Rayya, looking after her dying husband, watching the love of her life disappear before her eyes, her long buried maternal feelings are reignited and she reaches out with compassion and empathy.

Ebele, running from her past, protecting her young daughter, reacts with hostility and fear. While landlord, Nikos Makrides, can barely lift himself from his own grief and loss to feel anything at all.

With insight and clarity Duggal brings the community of characters together, woven tight with a gentle prose, sharpen with an edge of humanity and reality that brings some sense of resolution to each character. Here is a story that effortlessly pulls the reader into the depths of character’s hopes, dreams and despair. Here is a commentary on how we treat our fellow man, when our fellow man is in desperate need. This is a window on what individuals truly see when they encounter a homeless person or more specifically when they fail to see. Why, for example, do we equate possessions with actual human worth? When does a person stop being seen as a person? With intelligence and perception this writing sweeps away the myths surrounding street dwellers and forces us to look beyond what we think we see.

The relationship developing between Betwa and Jimmy , shows us the best of human connections. It is this relationship that reawakens him and gives him purpose, and it is a process repeated within the story of other characters . This novel is a web of human connection, radiating outwards in the most joyful way.

Thank you Bluemoose for the chance to read this special title, another gem in the crown.

Rachel x

September’s gone??! Here’s a quick wrap up!

So autumn is very much upon us and September seems to have disappeared in the blink of an eye. For me September is always about the start of the school year, always busy, but this year unsurprisingly it has presented it’s own unique challenges!!

As such the reading totals are way down on last month and the type of books I have read have varied enormously!!

For example, there have been a number of books which I think of as ‘dip in and out books’, books perfectly suited to grabbing when I have five minutes to indulge myself. Keeping me company throughout the whole month has been the glorious Poems to live your life by collected and illustrated by the wonderful Chris Riddell. It’s been the perfect bedside companion to busy days and early mornings.

Entirely different and accidental poetry and very light relief has been found in The beautiful poetry of Donald Trump by Rob Sears. Each poem is a little gem created by the author from actual Trump quotes. As with anything surrounding the current US President it is hilarious and scary in equal measure.

My final ‘dip in and out’ read has been the excellent The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla. This is a collection of experiences and essays by a multicultural cast of voices, focusing on what being a immigrant in Modern Britain really means. Illuminating, sometimes heartbreaking, this collection is likely to provoke every emotion going but it is an absolute must read.

Immigration seems to have been a bit of a theme in my reading this month. I started the month with the fabulous, if some what challenging Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar, part fiction, part fact this is an honest account of what it is like to grow as a Muslim in the USA.

And in a similar vein the month drew to a reading close with the beautiful The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim. My Instagram review can be found here

In a bid to escape the reality of daily news I have reawakened my habit of listening to an audiobook on the drive to work. I am almost at end of my life long love Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, performed by the talented Joanna Froggat. and l have also listened to this month’s book club pick Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

I have been involved in two cracking blog tours this month. One was the mammoth but delightful undertaking of Unto This Last by Rebecca Lipkin, a detailed and compelling retelling of the complex loves of John Ruskin.

The second was an absolutely fascinating series of essays focusing on female philosophers too long over looked and unappreciated. The Philosopher Queens by Lisa Whiting and Rebecca Buxton . It’s already on my Christmas Gifting list for this year!

I am sent so many fabulous books to read and review and I am genuinely appreciative and overwhelmed by them all. But I wanted to take this opportunity to say a special thank you to Camilla Elworthy from Picador. This year, thanks to her, I have had the pleasure to read some amazing books, including the incomparable Shakespearean by Robert McCrum; my Instagram review can be found here

But this month Camilla sent me a book that literally saved me. In all kinds of ways this has been a tough month but sinking into the pages of Dear Reader by Cathy Rentzenbrink was like being enveloped in a warm and book lined cloak. I am so grateful for the chance to read and review this book. Camilla, from the bottom of my heart, Thank You!

I have ended the month with two cracking books which have both come highly recommended and neither disappointed. I delighted in the short but deliciously dark Sisters by the super talented Daisy Johnson. And lost myself in the workings of the Royals with The Governess by Wendy Holden.

So there we have it; September’s reading laid bare. On to October…

Rachel x

#BlogTourReview : Unto This Last by Rebecca Lipkin

Victorian Literature has always been a source of fascination to me. So the chance to read this detailed and beautifully researched work about the life and rather torturous and unconventional love of John Ruskin was too good to miss. Many thanks to Anne Cater of Random Tours for the invite and for my copy of Unto This Last By Rebecca Lipkin

John Ruskin was a writer and scholar, prolific in the Victorian Age, sharing his thoughts on art and philosophy. In the years after the annulment of his unconsumed and deeply unhappy marriage to Effie Gray he rather unwillingly accepts an invitation to tutor the children of the aristocratic Mrs La Touche. Mrs La Touche herself appears infatuated with Ruskin, unhappy in her own marriage, her husband holding deeply religious views at odd with her own.

Quite unexpectedly Ruskin is deeply touched by the younger of the two girls, Rose. Bright and quick witted, Rose possesses artist talent and a sharp mind. At the time of their first meeting Rose is 10 and Ruskin 39, but over the years their relationship deepens. Often separated by miles; both Rose and Ruskin spend periods of time on the Continent and Rose’s ancestral home is in Ireland, the couple often conduct their relationship through letters.

As Rose passes through adolescence and into adulthood the burden of strained relationships within her home and her strong but confusing feelings for Ruskin take a toll on her physical and mental health. Her parents are an ill matched pair; her mother a social butterfly, intelligent and frustrated, her father deeply conservative and religious. Their own unhappiness translates into unhappiness for those around them. Both parents are horrified by Rose’s relationship with Ruskin. They are often cruel in their attempts to thwart the couple and Rose spends sometime in asylums, her spirit and physical health slowly eroded.

Lipkin’s portrayal of Ruskin is of a man quite dedicated to his work. A man of strong ideals, who is worshipped and indulged by his aged parents. The fortune his industrialist father had amassed affords Ruskin the luxury of living by his principles, well read and well travelled. A huge advocate of art, he champions the cause of those he admires with a passion that is often blinkered.

For a man of such sensitivities and broad minded thinking, Ruskin appears to hold a crippling lack of self awareness with regard to the impact his own conduct has on the life of others. He seems emotionally selfish; his own comfort and security is always at the forefront of his mind and he is oblivious to the impact of his actions on others. In a strange, almost contradictory way Ruskin is loyal and generous to a fault when he forms an attachment but often fails to see another’s true feelings or indeed worth.

Through examination of both his torturous and complex relationship with Rose and his failed marriage to Effie, we are faced with a man who holds a deep ideal of marriage but struggles to translate this into a practical reality. Effie is destroyed by her husband’s inability to engage in any physical relationship, or indeed to attempt to understand her own needs or point of view. Her annulment of the union and subsequent marriage to the painter John Everett Millais blindsides Ruskin, leaving him shocked and broken.

This book is a tour de force. It examines and lays bare this period in the life of infamous and complex man. It’s style is entirely in keeping with the Victorian time period, giving a weight and authenticity to both the writing and the subject matter. Researched in immaculate and often uncomfortable detail this is a book that takes you to the heart of Ruskin’s life and motivations, turning the spotlight not only on him but on the women of his story too.

Rachel x

Unto This Last by Rebecca Lipkin is out now, published by The Book Guild Publishing

And there is more…

For further reviews and reactions to Unto This Last check out the rest of the blog tour…

Book Review – Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books by Cathy Rentzenbrink

Since all this Covid madness began the one thing I have been missing hugely is hugs. Not being able to throw my arms around a friend or give a colleague a reassuring squeeze is just the hardest thing in the world. So if you, like me are missing your fix, get your hands on Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books by Cathy Rentzenbrink, because this my friends is a book hug! Huge and heartfelt thanks to Camilla Elworthy at Picador for my gifted copy.

It’s not often these days I sit down to write a blog post with no notes. As I am reading I am usually scribbling away, trying to get my thoughts down. But this review has come from a place of love and instinct; I don’t need any notes to tell you this book spoke immediately to me.

Any book that has embraced and celebrated Rebecca and The Chronicles of Narnia within the first 10 pages is guaranteed to touch a special place within me. These are the books that I return to time and again, that are tied up within my life, woven into the fabric of growing up. So many familiar and favourite books are to be found here. The Cazalet Chronicles, for example provokes an almost identical reaction within me as it does the author; a beautifully constructed time-gone-by saga which gives more of it’s self every time you read it.

And there are books celebrated here that remind me of those I love. I have never read a Catherine Cookson in my life but these novels were the backdrop to my childhood, exchanged every other Sunday by my Mum and my Grandad, each new release eagerly awaited and devoured.

Cathy Rentzenbrink reads compulsively and with passion. I am told I am a quick reader, but I am in awe of her ability to devour three books a day. This book felt like sitting down with a kindred spirit and comparing notes. This isn’t a list of books the author has read; it isn’t a volume of put together reviews; it is a tale of how reading had underpinned, shaped and support a life, through all it’s challenges and joys. And I feel a deep connection with that.

You see reading has helped to build me and it always has the power to put me back together again. For me reading is like breathing. I need to read. In this world of box sets and social media the amount I read each year often seems to provoke constant comment, as if compulsive reading is some kind of disease or affliction. Maybe it is but like the author I am powerless to change now.

Cathy Rentzenbrink has made books her salvation and her career. It is a source of regret to me that no one ever told me and the teenage me never realised, that I could make books the centre of my professional life. Maybe my blog is part of the desire to address this. Or maybe it is way of fulfilling that desire to recommend books to complete strangers in libraries, in book shops and in public transport.

This book felt like coming home to an old friend. My reading list has grown beyond all measure and so has my bookish heart.

Rachel x

Book Review: Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar

Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar was published by Tinder Press. Thank you to Louise Swannell for my gifted copy. It’s author, Ayad Akhtar, is an American-born playwright, novelist, and screenwriter of Pakistani heritage who received the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The premise of this book was quite simply fascinating. This is the story of a Muslim man, born to first generation Pakistan immigrants in the USA. Both his parents are doctors, although his mother does not practise. He is born and raised in Western Society; his father embraces and adores his new homeland, his mother never feels at home and the author himself always feel as strange disconnect, a feeling of being on the edges of the culture he is surrounded by.

Told through a mix of memoir and fiction, which is deliberately impossible to tease apart, the reader is taken through the complex journey of growing up a Muslim in modern day America. There is a careful and cutting examination of American norms and ideals; the fact that their very society is built upon the drive and need to consume; that human beings are judged by their financial success rather than their moral fibre. Juxtaposing this with the foundations underpinning the Muslim religion and the seeds of discord are sown. There is an immediate and obvious tension around how Muslims, both immigrants and those born in the country, assimilate these differences; is it ever possible to be at home under such circumstances?

Here is a portrait of a community attempting to find their path. There are no common and easy answers. Take for example the author’s father; drifting further and further away from his roots. He becomes a successful cardiologist, in the 1980’s he becomes Trump’s own doctor. He is wholly taken with the man’s success and lifestyle, almost falling into mourning when the relationship abruptly ends. He supports Trump in his bid for the Presidency, wholly believing that none of the xenophobic chatter and proposed measures will apply to him. The reality of Trump’s Presidency is a world apart from his fantasy, and yet another nail in the coffin of his American Dream. This man, who embraces the capitalist culture, is brought twice to the edge of ruin.

Through the journey of the author and those around him the complexities of this picture are laid bare with a starkness that is at times uncomfortable. There is no attempt to shy away from the fact that it was Muslim Terrorists who attacked the Twin Towers; 911 and it’s ramifications are at the very heart of this book. With brutal honesty the author looks at the reactions of American Muslims, the long and complicated history that led up to these attacks and the way life has changed beyond them. At times I drew breath and had to stop reading as I wadded through a complex picture and forced myself out of my Western comfort zone.

The author explores and details the history of conflicts within the Afghanistan and Pakistan. From the horror of Partition, witnessed and never forgotten by his mother, to the 1970’s conflict with Russia; when American troops embroiled in the Cold War trained up these young fighters. The ensuing American retreat, that left a gaping hole of discontent and fury, filled by the regimes we see today. The complex wider picture is presented and picked apart, whilst maintaining an individual focus too.

For here our author give countless examples of what having a brown skin in America today os really like. How people judge; be it at the side of the road when your car has broken down, on the subway or when you are in court.

It’s a long time since I have read any book that has been so unflinchingly honest and direct. If you want a read that will challenge and enlighten then Homeland Elegies will definitely fit the bill.

Rachel x

Book Review: The Night of the Flood by Zoe Somerville.

Thursday 3rd September has been well documented as a stella day in publishing, with over 600 new titles hitting the bookshelves. With that number of reading matter around it could be easy for a book to get lost. But I am here to tell you that one book you don’t want to miss out on is the fabulous debut by Zoe Somerville, The Night of the Flood. This book has everything!

Set in the early 1950’s on the North Norfolk Coast, there is a heady sense of change and tension from the off. Verity Frost is a young woman grieving her mother’s death; a death officially logged as an accident but silently accepted as suicide. Her father is cocooned in his own grief and her brother, Peter is struggling to keep their once prosperous farm afloat.

Arthur, a childhood friend and ex evacuee has just returned from his National Service and is looking to make his mark on the world. Trying to pull himself away from his ailing mother and her shop, he has dreams of a career in journalism and marriage to Verity. Verity herself is straining at the leash of her own life, working feverishly to secure a place at Oxford. The social gulf between the pair is wide and their own ambitions seem to be at odds with their relationship.

Into this world that seems to be crushing all three young people; Verity, Arthur and Peter, bursts Jack. A charismatic American airman, based at the rather mysterious US airforce base outside of the village. All three are drawn to and equally horrified by his dominant presence; a presence which will change their world forever.

The US Base is the site of much speculation and intrigue. Arthur in particular is suspicious of what maybe happening there and sets out to expose it’s secrets. Aware that Jack is a threat to his own personal happiness with Verity, he allows this to feed a wider threat, encompassing the base as a whole.

Tensions increase throughout the novel, driven forward by the atmospheric sense of time and place. There is a feeling of change, of a post war world that is shifting on an axis, unsettling those within it, forcing things and people to change too. From the failure of the farm, to the arrival of the Americans, nothing in this coastal town is quite the same.

The real life and devastating North Sea Flood provides the flash point for the novel. Both as a catalyst and a climax which takes everyone’s lives to a point of no return.

The Night of The Flood is a stunning debut. A novel with pace, atmosphere and a true sense of character. It has important things to say about social change within Britain, particularly in relation to women and the class structure. Verity, for instance, is an intelligent women attempting to resist being trapped in a middle class role of social expectation and domesticity, a role that may well have killed her beautiful, talented mother. This is the kind of novel that pushes you to learn more about the events and circumstances that frame it’s narrative. This novel should be winking at you from September’s mammoth publication lists like a jewel. I am hugely grateful to Lauren Tavella at Head of Zeus for my proof copy, thank you.

Enjoy !

Rachel x

Better late than never … My August Wrap up!

August is always my Happy Reading month! A combination of so much good stuff coming out at the beginning of September and the fact I am not in school, means I can truly indulge myself, and my reading totals tend to climb. This month I have read 21 books in total. It’s been bliss! Back to school this week and I suspect that September’s totals will struggle to reach double figures! August is definitely the purple patch!

August’s books were really varied. I read both physical and eBooks, and was able to catch up with several books I have been meaning to get to for a while. These included Breaking and Mending by Joanna Cannon, Himself by Jess Kidd, Keeper by Jessica Moor , Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield, Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore . Each one was a book neglected for too long and it’s own unique way a delight.

Another book that I finally got round to reading cover to cover was Hollie McNishs Nobody told me. I am way behind with this one but if you don’t know it is a collection of prose and poetry written during the author’s pregnancy and the first weeks, months and years of her daughter’s life. It is perfection. It sums up the terror, exhaustion, love and exhilaration of that unique time so beautifully. And for this mum about to send her eldest off to the big wide world of University it was a reflective trip down memory lane.

Another book I had been saving for a special, uninterrupted reading time was Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers. Honestly it was one of the best books I have read this year. I wasn’t planning to review it but having been totally immersed in it there was no way I could pass this one by!

Similarly hoarded and enjoyed have been In The Sweep of The Bay by Cath Barton and Alison Weir’s fifth Tudor Queen book; Katheryn Howard: The Tainted Queen.

I love short stories, but I don’t feel I have read enough this year. So I have managed to squeeze a couple in to August. First was the newly released Supporting Cast by Kit de Waal. This book was like meeting up with old friends as we gain further insights into the lives of the characters from Kit’s previous novels. This one is going on the forever shelf and is due a reread.

The second collection of stories, arrived through my love of Pondweed by Lisa Blower. It’s gone dark over Bill’s mother’s provoked every emotion going! Highly recommended!

My one and only audiobook this month has been Hamnet. Having read this one back in April, the beauty of this book kept us company on the long drive through France and drew a whole car full of people under it’s spell. I will never fail to be stunned by this book.

I made one foray onto the Booker Prize list with The Redhead By The Side of the Road by Anne Tyler. Always in a safe pair of hands with Tyler!

And, as always this month I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to read some cracking proof copies. Thanks to everyone who sent and continues to send me books. I will never take this privilege for granted.

Camilla Elworthy at Picador has sent me some absolute beauties this year! I have her to thank for the wonderful reading experiences that were The Harpy by Megan Hunter and The Lamplighter by Jackie Kay

A pretty inspirational proof for me this month was Finish your book by Lizzie Enfield. It has given me the writing kick up the backside I needed and August was a really productive month!! Thank you Emma Dowson for sending this one my way.

Gifted books that have thrilled me in every sense (!) this month have been The Heatwave by Kate Riordan, for which I am delighted to be part of the Blog Tour, and After the silence by Louise O’Neill published on 3rd September. Both kept me enthralled and intrigued! Similar responses were provoked by the stunning debut The Night of the Flood by Zoe Somerville published on 3rd September. Review coming next week…

And last but certainly not least are the two gorgeous reads that were A Ghost in the Throat and Potterism. Both unique and both bringing new writers into my life, something which gives me joy.

So it’s been a mammoth reading month! The feast before the famine I suspect, but that’s the way it rolls! Bring on autumn…

Rachel x

Rose Macaulay – A new discovery.

I love finding ‘new- to- me’ authors. Those gems – and I know there are hundreds of them- that I haven’t discovered. I particularly enjoy finding female authors whose work throughout the 20th Century has slipped out of memory and is now being rediscovered and reprinted.

So when I was sent two works by author Rose Macaulay I was intrigued. I knew nothing about this writer at all. But hearing that she was writing in the early part of the 20th Century my interest was piqued.

On 27th August Handheld Press published Potterism: A Tragi-Farcical Tract, alongside a new collection of Macaulay’s pacifist writings from 1916 to 1945, Non-Combatants and Others: Writings Against War.

Potterism focuses primarily on the years directly after the First World War and the newspaper empire of the Potter family. It highlights a movement entitled by it’s detractors as ‘Potterism’; a view of the world based on suspicion, fear and the creation of fake news. There are, it has to be said comparisons to be drawn with certain sections of today’s press and political agenda.

Percy Potter, aka Lord Northcliffe is the newspaper magnet and head of the Potter Family. His wife Lelia Yorke is a romantic novelist, entirely caught up in fiction and entertaining the spiritualism so popular towards the end of the war. Her eldest daughter Clare is dull but dutiful, unlike her spirited and intelligent twins Jane and Johnny Potter.

The Twins are both Oxford educated, both take delight in aligning themselves against their parent, alongside the anti- Potter faction. Within this movement we are introduced to Arthur Gideon, devotee of fact and Katherine Varick, pragmatist and scientist. The battles lines of fact and fiction are drawn early on and it is the twins, most specifically Jane that play around their fringes.

The novel is structured in a unique way. The first and final sections are narrated by Rose Macaulay herself. She sets out the characters and ties up the loose ends, but within the central sections she hands both narration and perspective over to her characters. And when a tragedy strikes at the heart of the Potter family it threatens to drag everyone into it’s wake.

Here is a murder mystery, but it is so much more. Wrapped up in the actions and words of this cast of characters is a timely and authentic portrait of the time. There is a simplicity to the writing, a wit that is stark, sharp and revealing. The novel is steeped in the feeling of the age. Tackling subjects such as spiritualism, rise of socialism, emerging changes in class structure, antisemitism and much more, here is a biting social commentary on the press; it’s uses and misuses.

Having never read Macaulay’s work before I am thrilled to see I have a whole back catalogue to get through. First up, and already started (!), is Dangerous Ages published by British Library Publishing, another lovely gifted copy.

I can’t wait to report in!

Rachel x