And He’s Back, Where The Funk Has He Been?

Forgive me readers for I have sinned, it has been ten days since my last blog post. Ten days which actually feels like ten months as I have been working on the lead up to, delivery of and then derigging of a huge music festival and I am utterly, utterly shattered. I know I have shared a fair few video’s on here with you (some of you love it, some of you not so much) however I thought I would share a vlog I made last week whilst working on the festival, and a few other things, so you could see what on earth it is I do. You know, getting to know me a bit better and all that…

Bar festivals, and working around 15 hour days, I haven’t really done much else i.e. reading or writing reviews. I have mainly been bingeing on Stranger Things on Netflix or pizza’s when I get in. Then sleeping, as much sleeping as possible. So I guess I have been a bit boring book wise. What have you all been up to and what have you been reading? I would love to know.

Also, how can it be Man Booker longlist day tomorrow already, I haven’t even played guess the longlist this year which feels very odd. I might try and squeeze that in if I can maybe, though all I want to do is sleep, sleep, sleep. Oh and host an event with Jenn Ashworth tomorrow night, then I plan a long weekend of nothing but sleeping and reading, bliss. Bring it on. I am hoping to see Sarah Moss, Sarah Perry, Charlotte Wood, Garth Greenwell and Paul Beatty on the list. I need to give it more thought, what about you?

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Books of 2016, So Far…

So as we have reached, well slightly gone over, the halfway point in the year, I thought I would do something I don’t think I have done before and share with you my  Books of 2016 so far. Well it made sense to me considering I had just done the below video for my YouTube channel and so I thought I would share it on here too. (I am really enjoying the booktube community but trying not to bombard you with it on here.) So if you would like to know some of my favourite books of the year so far, grab a cup of tea (as its about 20 minutes of me going on about books) and have a watch of this…

I hope you like the list, some of the books haven’t been mentioned on here before so give you an idea of what is coming over the next few weeks and months*. I would love to hear you thoughts on the books that I discuss and what you have made of them if you have read them. I would also really love to know which books have been the books of your year so far too, so do tell.

*Yes I know there have been a few video posts of late, with work being utterly bonkers in the lead up to one of our biggest festivals this weekend, video’s are so much speedier to make than a review which takes me ages, they will return though, honest – along with the usual rambling posts. I just need to play catch up with life after the musical festival has happened. It is this weekend so I am getting there. 

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Time To Move On…

One of the reasons that I have been quieter over the last few weeks/months on the blog has been because I have been making a big decision, which some of you may know about through social media. After several years I have decided that enough is enough, I need more space for reading and books and so I am moving house. Well, I say I am, we are. Myself and The Beard have decided to get money married, me with a mortgage feels so grown up I could be sick/cry, before we actually get married in September 2017. I should also point out that I didn’t demand we move out, we have both – along with the cats – just outgrown the wonderful, wonderful apartment we have lived in for the last four and a bit years (which is The Beards not mine) and are heading to a new house in the next few weeks/months.

It is very exciting. It is also a bit odd and we are going to be very sad to say goodbye to somewhere we have loved, and had has such high ceilings perfect for so many bookshelves. I thought I would share some pics of the house because then a) you will get to know a bit more about where I live b) see why we are sad to leave and why it’s been so great for all the books.

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It is lovely isn’t it? But onward, what is very exciting is is that our new house is quite big and two of the six bedrooms are going to become a library for me on the first floor. (There has since been a small amount of kerfuffle when I mentioned I would still need shelves in every other room too, but that has been agreed in exchange for a new swanky kitchen.) Even more exciting is that The Beard and I are also planning on making the house a writers B&B, somewhere they can get away from it all for a week (well, five days) with breakfast, dinner and bookish chats by the log burner in the evening if they aren’t writing away. So exciting times ahead indeed, though with a holiday in Italy, several festivals at work and me having an operation for my Dercum’s it also looks like a bonkers summer.

So what is news with you? What have you been reading lately? Also, random ask but how would any of you feel about a readers retreat, somewhere you can just go and read and hideaway from the world with a lovely breakfast, dinner and lots of bookish chatter in the evening – maybe a few trips to the seaside thrown in. The Beard doesn’t think people would go for it, I am not so sure. Thoughts please.

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Other People’s Bookshelves #79 – Sarah Shaffi

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the perfectly natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are in London where we join the lovely Sarah Shaffi, who works for the book news bible that is The Bookseller. There is, as always with these lovely bookish folks whose houses and shelves we invade, quite the spread on so let’s all grab a drink and a snack and get to know Sarah and her bookshelves better.

I’m a journalist by trade, currently working at The Bookseller magazine as online editor, which feeds my book habit. I’ve had a blog for a few years now, mainly focused on books, but also includes a little bit of whatever takes my fancy!

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

My system basically consists of trying to keep my bookshelves at home and at work under control. This means being able to stack everything bar maybe half a dozen or so books on my shelves. I don’t always succeed, but I am thankfully past the days when my floor was taken up by multiple large tote bags full of books. I generally keep books I only really, really, really love now. And even then, something else can supplant that if needs be.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

My bookshelves at home are double stacked horizontally, and then those rows have books lying on top of them. The top shelf of my bookcase has some of my university textbooks on it, and some non-book stuff (*gasp*), and at the front is where I keep my graphic novels. The rest of my shelves are a mix of fiction and non-fiction – the back row is ordered alphabetically by author surname. The front rows, which are the ones you can see, used to be for books I hadn’t read but intended to, but given that I have so many books they’re a complete mix now, and I’m sad to say there’s no order – read, unread, fiction, non-fiction, new, old, proofs, final copies. I’ve learned how to live with them.

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

I really don’t remember. I do remember buying an abridged copy of a Dickens’ novel, possibly Great Expectations, on a school trip when I was about eight. And I’m sure I bought something from one of those Scholastic fairs that used to come to school, but I really don’t remember what.

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Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

I don’t believe in book guilt – read what you want, enjoy what you want, don’t be ashamed of it.

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

I love my copy of Anita Desai’s The Peacock Garden, which was the first book I ever read with a non-white protagonist and which I got for completing a summer reading challenge with my local library. I also adore my battered copy of The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton, which was a birthday present. And I have a gorgeous limited edition proof of Ryan Gattiss’ All Involved, which is signed and which I would love to rescue because it definitely can’t be replaced.

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

I spent many, many hours at the library, but the grown up books I remember are all from my dad’s bookshelves. I read my way through all his Jeffrey Archer novels when I was about 12, and the book I always wanted to read that he had was Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. I’ve never got round to it – life is too short to spend reading classics you think you should have read.

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If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I’ll only buy a book I’ve already read and enjoyed if I really, really love it. I just don’t have the room otherwise, and I grew up borrowing books from the library, not owning them, so I’m in the habit of not buying everything I read. But I do have a tendency to buy books I love to give as presents to other people in lieu of buying them for myself.

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

The last book I bought was The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie, for my Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction reading, but I’m constantly bringing books home from work, so I’m not sure that was the last one I added to my bookshelves.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

When I was little my dad bought me a box set of the Beatrix Potter books, and we gave them away once I’d grown out of them. Now I really regret that, I’d love to have those on my shelves, not least because you never grow out of great books!

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

I like to think they’d think I’m a person who just loves books and words.

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Huge thanks to Sarah for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Sarah’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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The Girls – Emma Cline

One of the books that is, without question, being most talked about this summer is Emma Cline’s debut novel The Girls. It is one of those books that seems to be everywhere and everyone is raving about, in fact they were before it came out which I have to admit put me off reading the proof. However the urge suddenly grabbed me, I am great believer in reading books when your mood is just right, a few weeks ago. Several weeks later I am still mulling over the way the book made me feel because I think it is fair to say I had rather a roller coaster of extreme feelings about it which are only just starting to settle down.

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Chatto & Windus, hardback, 2016, fiction, 355 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I looked up because of the laughter, and kept looking because of the girls.

In the summer of 1969 Evie is just fourteen and struggling with school friendships, hormones and her mother gaining a new boyfriend. From the moment she spots a group of slightly older girls getting off a coach and wandering around her town she becomes somewhat besotted. These are the girls she dreams of having friendships with, these are the kind of girls that she dreams of being and so she starts to, in a cutely naive and slightly doe-eyed way, linger around waiting for an opportunity to engage with them. After a rather daring act for her age she does indeed befriend one of them, Suzanne, who is also seemingly the leader of this girl gang. Soon Evie is drawn into a whole different sphere as she follows the girls back to where they live, which happens to be the home of a cult and its charmingly manipulative leader, Russell.

I think it is pretty common knowledge that Cline has centred her book around a fictional take of the Charles Manson murders, which I have to admit I knew (and still know) very little about. So from the start we know that there is going to be something horrific that happens at the end. What we don’t know, and really becomes the momentum for why we keep reading, is how implicit Evie becomes in those dreadful events. Cline does something else to add a layer of enigma to that when she alternates chunks of the book with Evie at 14 and then several decades later when she is staying at a friends house hiding away from the world.

This also rather brilliantly adds a very clever dynamic to the narratives of Evie, particularly as when she is younger we have the naivety of her age at the time, as well as her rebellion, but also a slight sense of hindsight because of the older Evie telling us that story now. It creates a slight unseen sublayer that also makes us question how much of what she is telling us is the complete truth; you all know I love a good unreliable narrator. With this technique Cline does wonderfully evoke the thoughts, feelings and most importantly the vulnerability of being a teenager, when you think you know how the world works and you are a complete grown up but years later realise you had no clue, and the whole idea of hero worship.

As soon as I’d caught sight of the girls cutting their way through the park, my attention stayed pinned on them. The black-haired girl with her attendants, their laughter a rebuke to my aloneness. I was waiting for something without knowing what. And then it happened. Quick, but still I saw it: the girl with black hair pulled down the neckline of her dress for a brief second, exposing the red nipple on her bare breast. Right in the middle of a park swarming with people. Before I could fully believe it, the girl yanked her dress back up. They were all laughing, raunchy and careless; none of them even glanced up to see who might be watching.

Because of all these factors I raced through the first part of the book, even when it starts to get a little bit icky towards the end when Evie and Russell finally meet. Admittedly, as well as the book grabbing, part of why I was racing through it was for Evie to get to the cult and to then see how Cline evoked the persuasive nature of a leader who could get people to believe in the oddest of things. She does this brilliantly chillingly and uncomfortably. My skin was crawling as you feel yourself being groomed through Evie’s eyes.

“We can make each other feel good,” he said. “You don’t have to be sad.”
I flinched when he pushed my head towards his lap. A singe of clumsy fear filled me. He was good at not seeming angry when I reared away. The indulgent look he gave me, like I was a skittish horse.
“I’m not trying to hurt you, Evie.” Holding out his hand again. The strobe of my heart going fast. “I just wantto be close to you. And don’t you want me to feel good? I want you to feel good.”

Yet after the initial introduction to the girls, the cult and the repulsive Russell the book took a couple of turns for me as a reader that I wasn’t expecting. I hate to say it but in part two I got really, really bored. Let me explain why. For some reason just as Cline gets us to the cult storyline she turns away from it, even though Cline has said this book is about peripheral characters around a horrendous event which is fair enough. She instead veers away and takes us to the present where Evie strikes a weird friendship with a much younger woman. Whilst I understood why she did it, after I realised which Evie we were with, as it is another discussion of female role models and bonds between women, it just felt a bit clunky and unnecessary. Then when we do go back to the summer 1969 suddenly seems to shy away from the cult and just focus on the girls causing mild havoc in suburbia instead. I was a bit miffed frankly. However her writing and the brooding slightly gothic sense of doom led me on to part three… the part which made me utterly furious. See I said it was a rollercoaster of a read for me.

As most readers will know there are going to be murders I don’t think it is a spoiler, or much of a leap of common sense, to know these will happen towards the end. For me Cline suddenly ramps everything up and sends us suddenly to that point. Two weird things happened as we got to these murders, which to be honest suddenly came quite left field after quite a few pages of meandering elsewhere, for me. Firstly I was taken back to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood where as you get to the actual description of the murders I started to feel sweaty sick and actually cried as they went on, so Cline had got to me in some way. Then, unlike with In Cold Blood in fact the polar opposite, I suddenly felt incredibly manipulated by this book, then disgusted. Then really, really, really angry.

Whereas with In Cold Blood (which is a masterpiece and slightly unfair to compare this novel to but it is my reference point and what I thought about after reading The Girls) you get to know the murderers and their motives inside out as well as the lives of the victims, you don’t with The Girls. The girls themselves are quite shadowy and two dimensional, Evie is really the only fully formed character, who still in some ways remains an enigma. So therefore the intended impact for me to be horrified yet try and understand how these girls ended up doing such a horrific thing, was completely lost. Instead it felt more like Cline had decided to write about a famous murder and the people behind it but chickened out somewhat and wrote about the character on the periphery instead but kept a big, slightly voyeuristic gory murder scenario in because that is what would sell books. At least that is how that all made me feel which I am sure is not what Cline intended at all, it is just what I was left with.

Extreme I know, but that is where this book took me which I am actually really sad about because Emma Cline can clearly write, her prose is wonderful throughout even in the horror-fest which as I said did the job because it moved me to tears. I just wish I had felt it was all for more of a reason and I didn’t. Really strange. Funnily enough I was talking about this book just the other day and was saying how this is probably how it feels to be someone who loathed A Little Life, which you know I have a special place in my bookish heart for, and felt it utterly manipulated them. I am also clearly in a very small minority because everyone I love and turn to for book recommendations has been utterly bowled over by it. It is also for that reason, though I would never tell you not to read a book, that I would still say give the book a whirl and see what you think… then come back to me and have a natter about it please.

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This Must Be The Place – Maggie O’Farrell

For those long enduring (is that the right word, it sounds a little painful which I hope reading this blog isn’t) followers of Savidge Reads, you will know that one of the authors I hold in very high esteem is Maggie O’Farrell. I was actually introduced to Maggie one summer when I was staying with my Gran in my hometown of Matlock and we spent a week reading, pottering around bookshops and having cream tea. I ran out of books I had brought and she popped The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox into my hands and didn’t hear a peep out of me for the rest of the day until dinner. From then on I have loved everyone of the books she has published since and I think her latest, This Must Be The Place, might be my favourite of her novels yet because its bloody brilliant.

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Tinder Press, hardback, 2016, fiction, 496 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

In essence This Must Be The Place is the novel of a marriage. Admittedly if that was how the book had been sold to me I admit, well if it wasn’t written by Maggie O’Farrell, I would have possibly rolled my eyes and muttered ‘oh how original’ under my breathe. For let us be honest books about marriage are hardly original are they? Yet here I do think that Maggie O’Farrell gives us something in the ‘marriage plot’ genre that is quirklily unusual, delightfully original and is also completely and utterly wonderful. But I should really tell you some more about the book shouldn’t I, though admittedly it is hard because there is a little mystery that I don’t want to give away. I shall do my best…

As the novel opens we meet Daniel as he watches a man, who he thinks is a photographer, watching his house. That is until his wife, Claudette, comes around the corner brandishing a gun (with one of their children firmly on her arm) and putting the fear of god into the man who has come into the middle of the Irish countryside where they reside together. However this is not really the start of their story, in fact we soon discover that we are somewhere in the middle of the story of Daniel and Claudette and as we read on we are thrown in all different directions in and around their marriage before and after this moment.

If that makes things sound like they are going to be all over the place, complicatedly time hopping here there and everywhere fret not. What Maggie O’Farrell does is give the reader a wonderful kaleidoscope like set of patchwork pieces of stories that we stitch together as we read before making a wonderful huge patchwork quilt we can luxuriate in. Yes we do go off into many different timeframes, never really in order and we do head off into different countries and different people’s heads, which you would think would distance us from the main story, oddly it makes us closer to it and see it from all these different angles. In fact really it becomes a patchwork of a couples life, the lives around them and the way we sometimes have a butterfly effect on each other, a small act of kindness we think insignificant becomes something huge and life changing to someone else, a moment of foolishness by someone else can lead to a life altering event for someone else, etc. I found this really fascinating as it looks at people’s lives from the inside and the outside, something we forget to do from time to time.

Anyway, the older, longer sluggish Marithe had looked up at the stars and asked her mother, who was sitting in the chair opposite, whether it would come back, this sense of being inside your life, not outside of it.
Claudette had put down her book and thought for a moment. And then she had said something that made Marithe cry. She’d said: Probably not, my darling girl, because what you’re describing comes of growing up but you get something else instead. You get wisdom, you get experience. Which could be seen as compensation, could it not?
Marithe felt those tears prickling at her eyelids now. To never feel that again, the idea of yourself as one unified being, not two or three splintered selves who observed and commented on each other. To never be that person again.

You may also think so many different narrators and perspectives might also make the novel and it’s characters a little gimmicky or two dimensional, in some authors hands that would be the case but not in this instance. O’Farrell creates a large cast of characters who come fully formed with some wonderful insights into Daniel and Claudette as well as their own stories which add to the reading experience. Somehow in a book that is just under 500 pages (O’Farrell’s longest) she covers adoption, cultural clashes, celebrity, infidelity, art and culture, nuclear families, love, death, grief, loss, illness, gun crime, separation, marriage, fate, co-dependency vs. independence and more, the list goes on and on. It is remarkable and shows the vibrancy and diversity of everything we human beings go through. It celebrates people and their lives, each time you meet a new character you become fully absorbed in them. One of the standouts for me was one of Daniel’s children Niall whose story of having eczema will stay with me for a long, long time. I genuinely felt what he felt.

Niall feels his eyes fill, feels the burn take hold. His hands spring upright of their own accord and begin to tear at his neck in a sawing motion, back and forth, across the skin of his throat. The feel of it is an exquisite, forebidden, torturing release. Yes, he tells himself, you are scratching, you are, even though you shouldn’t, but how good it is, how amazing, but how dreadful it will be when he stops, if he stops, if he can ever end it.

If it wasn’t for the fact that we come back to Daniel and Claudette for a chapter or two between the other alternating voices you might feel this was really a collection of interweaving short stories based around anecdotes passed between a cast of people who appear and reappear, but then isn’t that what our lives are really built on anyway? It shows though that Maggie O’Farrell is really experimenting and pushing the boundaries on her writing and as I hinted at in the introduction I do think this might be her most accomplished novels. Though accomplished makes it sound like I am going to give her a ‘well done’ sticker for good behaviour rather than the truth which is that she exceeded all my expectations and showed me what wonders the novel can do.

I loved how she played with form. In one chapter we go through an auction catalogue of some of Claudette’s possessions (I know I have avoided talking about Claudette and Daniel specifically but seriously, I don’t want to spoil their secrets and the events that become the heart of the novel, it is a huge part of its brilliance) from her twenties. One is told through an interview with an ex spouse. Another, one of my favourites, is told by someone who loves footnotes; their real story being revealed through the footnotes they interweave in their own narrative. She also plays with giving the reader more insight than the characters have, she might kill off a character in a mere line that we the reader get and yet no one else will pick up on until it happens many years later for them. She may send the story off before the main characters are even born, it is never gimmicky and always deftly done. There is no showing off, just some really stunning writing such as the below which is just a mere part of the book and shows you what she can do in a paragraph.

She doesn’t know it at the time but she will think about this moment again and again, the two of the standing on the steps of the subway station, a boy between them, a pool of blood at their feet, trains arriving and departing above their heads. She will play it over and over in her head, almost every day, for the rest of her life. When she lies in the bedroom of her apartment with only hours to live, her daughters bickering in the kitchen, her husband in the front room, weeping or raging, her son asleep in the chair next to her, she will think of it again and know it is perhaps for the last time. After this, she thinks, it will only live in the head of one person, and when he dies, it will be gone.

I could go on much, much more though I won’t because really I just want you to go and pick up This Must Be The Place because I think it is fantastic and quite a special book indeed. I have loved Maggie O’Farrell’s writing for such a long time and this just affirmed her as one of my favourite living authors, I am so, so excited about what she might do next. The only downside for me is that my Gran never got to read this, so I can’t chat about it with her which made me feel much more emotional than I was expecting. I have got a copy for my Mum though, which will be her first novel by Maggie O’Farrell so I am spreading the love, as I hope I will do to any of you who have yet to read her work. If you have, and indeed if you have read This Must Be The Place, I would love to have a good old natter with you about it.

Oh and if you would like to see Maggie talking about the book without spoilers, I got her to answer ten tenuous questions about it here.

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Filed under Books of 2016, Maggie O'Farrell, Review, Tinder Press

Black Water – Louise Doughty

Back in May of 2014 I read Louise Doughty’s Apple Tree Yard and was, I think it is fair to say, pretty caught up in it and its brilliance. It was one of those wonderful thrillers that packs and extra punch with all the themes it talks about amongst the main propelling action. In the case of Apple Tree Yard it was the cracks in families lives, the sexual desires of women (some not all) as well as a woman’s fall from grace – lots of things packed in. So I was very, very, very excited about the arrival of Black Water the follow up (not in a sequel or series sense) to it when I was at a Faber event in the Spring, where I also met Louise who was lovely. The thing with highly anticipated novels though is that I then get nervous about them and/or save them for a rainy day. However the lovely folk at Dead Good Books asked me if I would review it, a shorter version of this post is here, and so I pulled it off the shelves and set to devouring it.

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Faber & Faber, hardback, 2016, fiction, 345 pages, kindly given at an event by the publisher

John Harper is a man waiting to die. Each night he lies in wait for the men with machetes that he believes are coming to kill him. The question we have as a reader is of course ‘but why’? Why does a man spend his days in a small hut in the middle of the nowhere in Bali? Why does he avoid people as much as he can, and seem instantly suspicious of any one he does meet? Why would people want to kill him? What on earth did he do? These are just some of the mysteries that lie deep in the heart of Black Water from the opening chapter, and there are more as the reader carries on.

A picture came to him, black water, long strands of hair, clinging like seaweed across his wrist; he dismissed the picture. Instead, he played the game of pressing at the bubbles of air beneath the t-shirt until they formed smaller bubbles, mobile beneath the thin material. Then he was impatient with the game and held the whole t-shirt down, crushing it between his fists. It was like drowning a kitten.

Early on things shift somewhat when, on a rare trip into the nearby town, he meets Rita and after a night of sex that they both feel is inevitable Harper starts to look back at how he has ended up in this situation; paranoid, isolated, aloof. It is difficult to go much further into the plot for fear of spoilers, however what I can say is that what unravels is not what you might be expecting. We are given the story of a man’s life from his difficult birth, literally – it is really traumatic, then through his unusual upbringing and onto his eventual part in the Jakarta riots of the 1960’s and the effect that has on his life afterwards. Only we don’t get this in order, course not where would the fun be in that, we get it in fits and starts, dribs and drabs, not always in order and not always with the whole truth until right at the very end.

It was the unexpected aspects of Black Water that I found fascinating and the most compelling, often grimly so, giving extra weight to the novel. I previously had no idea what happened in Jakarta during 1965 and was horrified at the extent at which killings and riots were carried out which I found quite shocking. Doughty cleverly manages to give insight into both viewpoints on either side of the communist divide, there is one particularly emotional seen in which she discusses how friends, and neighbours could turn to foes merely to save their own live. How does that leave someone afterwards, where on the spectrum of morals does it fall to save your families lives at the expense of another?

Nina glanced at Poppa and Poppa said, ‘We’re not the usual household here, Nicholaas. Michael Junior’s mother died when he was around your age. Nina came into our lives about a year later, and she’s been the best wife and mother we could have hoped for.’
‘Even though, legally speaking, I’m neither,’ Nina said with a smile that seemed resigned but not particularly unhappy. ‘Well not quite yet.’
‘Soon though…’ said Poppa firmly, looking over his glasses at her and beaming, before turning to Harper and adding, ‘Nina’s mother was from Salvador. She’s Catholic,’ as if that explained everything.

What I also thought was brilliantly done was the discussion of family and race. As Harper and his mother Anika end up in America they become part of a family who are anything but conventional and brimming with love. I thought these sections of the book were wonderful especially as they show how the things that people go through in their childhood can so easily, and Doughty doesn’t mind putting her characters through the ringer.

The only slight critique I have of the novel is that occasionally when I was in Jakarta I was secretly hankering to go and see Harpers nuclear family (or whatever the awful  term is) be it in America or off in Europe with his mother. In the latter case particularly I feel there is a whole book waiting in the wings all about Harper’s mother Anika which I would rush out to read the instant it came out because I found her story, even though it is a tiny piece of Black Water’s jigsaw puzzle, really fascinating and also tragic in a whole different way. This small critique is actually a sign of how great Doughty’s writing is, she can create pivotal plot points with peripheral characters who come fully formed and seem desperate to tell you their story too.

For readers, like me, who loved Apple Tree Yard there is the same delicious mounting tension, along with much intrigue, as a lead character slowly reveals their story – and who doesn’t love that – yet this is a very different kind of book. With Black Water Doughty uses the tropes and pace of a thriller to look intricately at race, grief, what makes a family a family, communism, historical events and the disparity of social classes as well as those between Asia and the rest of the world. That is quite something and sure to please Doughty’s many fans as well as bringing her many more.

Have you read Black Water and/or Apple Tree Yard and if so what did you make of them, as always I would love your thoughts and a natter about the book in the comments below. Apologies there has been a drought of reviews of late, I will be rectifying this over the next few weeks.

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Filed under Faber & Faber, Louise Doughty, Review