THIS WEEK’S NEW BOOKS REVIEWED | FEATURE
Alice Albinia (Serpent’s Tail)
Women have daringly populated a lonely archipelago off the coast of Britain, dominating all aspects of what it is to thrive as a functioning society. They’ve taken on roles that have always been controlled by men, for were the women not the farmers who ploughed the fields when these men went to war? Did they not learn, in male absence, what it is to survive and be triumphant?
It is the women that decide how their island is manned, how its money is spent, how its families contribute and how its young are educated. But when Eva, the island’s founding visionary, disappears her feminist utopia is cast into negativity, along with the incredible potential of womankind, now at risk of suffocation.
With intelligent prose, Alice Albinia explores what it means for a woman to feel at home and empowered in an alternative setting. Cwen’s mystical, ancient roots will bury themselves inside its readers and whisper encouragement to the radical feminist blossoms that will no doubt unfurl their petals in awakening minds. A truly triumphant novel, sowing wise seeds on how different life could be when opportunity takes the form of land and female determination.
Price: £14.99. Info: here
words KARLA BRADING
FLASHBACKS & FLOWERS
Rufus Mufasa (Indigo Dreams)
Our writer [pictured, top] believes in magic, and after reading, you will too. This is a poetry collection with a beating heart – and no, not through the overuse of trite romanticism. Raw emotion is the palpable push of the meter, discernible in the tight control of her villanelles, evident in the poet’s fierce love for her subject matter: home, hearth and heritage.
Confessional in style, Rufus Mufasa’s verse reveals her internal thoughts and feelings but she also manages to substantially shroud herself in her own personal mythology. This fascinating balance allows us to be mystified by our narrator, whilst also feeling as though we know her intimately.
Steadily reflecting on her childhood is a consistent theme that she refrains from over-treading. Using occult imagery to conjure the ghosts of the dead from memory, Mufasa constructs an overarching thematic narrative of ancestry and faith. She explores the idea that we can take power from our heritage – in both the positive and negative ways it shapes us – to have faith in ourselves.
Flashbacks & Flowers is an empowering ode to the self and an essential literary collection for an anxious generation. A celebration of survival, motherhood and self-creation, it establishes Rufus Mufasa as one of the most exciting voices in contemporary Welsh poetry.
Price: £11.50. Info: here
words RHIANNON HOLLEY
Jayne Joso (Seren)
This collection’s unassuming front cover, and my personal lack of passion for the nation of the title, led me to initially regard Jayne Joso’s Japan Stories rather coolly. How wrong I was to do so. In fact, the collection of fictional vignettes, each set in modern Japan, offers a brilliant understanding of both the nation and the lives that populate it.
Joso paints her short stories in broad strokes, and that unadorned prose lets readers insatiably hurtle through them. The collection’s most striking quality, however, is the sheer variety offered. Each story is distinct in both narrator, style and content, and Joso offers a deep insight into a cast of characters that range from a monk-in-training, a shopping addict, an adulterer and an illustrator, with many more in between. Their fictional lives lurch from tragic, to brilliant, to benign, but each offers a fresh and exhilarating opportunity to steal a glimpse into the mind of another.
I’m Not David Bowie is a highlight, and the peremptory antagonist of Sachiko And Saeko possesses a truly haunting quality. Japan Stories far exceeds its purpose of translating Japanese culture, and instead details the breadth of the human condition in a charming, universal and accessible way.
Price: £9.99. Info: here
words ALEX PAYNE
LAST DAYS IN CLEAVER SQUARE
Patrick McGrath (Hutchinson)
The action, both real and imagined, in Patrick McGrath’s latest novel largely unfolds in the house Francis McNulty inherited from his father, located in South London’s Cleaver Square. McNulty is our unreliable narrator: in his early eighties and living with his civil servant daughter Gilly. Set to marry a senior diplomat, Gilly is vainly trying to persuade Francis to leave Cleaver Square and allow them to move out.
Taking place in autumn 1975, Last Days In Cleaver Square is punctuated by appearances by Spain’s dying dictator, General Franco. A bete noire from Francis’ past, sometimes he awakes to find Franco in various situations around him, unsure if he is truly there or just an apparition of his worst fears.
In due course, we hear of Francis’ experiences fighting on the losing side of the Spanish Civil War, including one pivotal but undisclosed incident – and after being approached by a journalist, Francis reveals his repressed trauma. Yet as the layers of story falter, we feel the veil of lies and deception fade away, piece by piece. You lose trust in Francis’ testimony, but want to read further: the effect is something like the control sleep holds over you when you’re eternally exhausted.
Price: £16.99. Info: here
words BILLIE INGRAM SOFOKLEOUS
Sinéad O’Connor (Sandycove)
It would be reductive, from some angles even ridiculous, to say that Sinéad O’Connor has been a rock’n’roll cliché. More accurately, she has kicked against and subverted those tropes, which does still require being on nodding terms with them. Musicians’ autobiographies usually need to pay lip service to those clichés to be successful, in either a literary or commercial sense, and so it is with Rememberings, which O’Connor hopes will be her first volume. It is, equally, a strange, jumbled, eyebrow-raising, sad and funny dispatch from a sincerely unique musical figure and stick in the wheel of today’s ‘like that? try this’ algorithmic processes.
The sort of read which can be blazed through without one feeling shortchanged, Rememberings is written in the present tense (until the career-defining, Pope-photo-tearing 1992 incident which precipitated a lengthy mental breakdown and many scenes missing) and an earthy, insouciant tone that belies, especially, some grim childhood abuse at the hands of O’Connor’s late mother.
Tentative teenage steps into the Dublin music scene, then the London biz, then the global industry materialise as if inevitable – the retelling of these years coming off as hazy rather than arrogant – and although the minutiae of recording studios and contract negotiations does feature, it very much feels like the singer is more at home describing sitting in New York cafés with grizzled Rastas who have no idea who she is. Additionally, and there’s a decent chance you’ve seen this bit already, the episode in which she goes to hang out at Prince’s gaff and he spends the whole time being an unpleasant danger ought to move the needle somewhat on his still-intact public image, but probably won’t.
Price: £20. Info: here
words NOEL GARDNER