THIS WEEK’S NEW BOOKS REVIEWED | FEATURE
Rachel Trezise (Parthian)
I admit to being a fan of Rachel Trezise’s writing. Here, she does what she does best: painting the Valleys in a vivid spectrum of depressed, post-industrial greys. This is interspersed with the neon and glare of our modern culture, running through, then, to the lurid pinks and reds of the slaughterhouse where this novel is partially set.
Graphic and gruesome, brutal and banal, this is a masterpiece ‘painted’ by a master, immersing the reader fully into the evocative sights, sounds, and smells of its chosen environs, as well as into the hearts and heads of its characters. Interestingly, the book is more overtly political than any of Trezise’s previous offerings, taking into account the global situation and placing Wales more firmly within a national and international web of political falsity and failure – rather than, as I often find in contemporary Welsh literature, alone and in isolation. Indeed, this premise forms a pivotal axis to the narrative, as we meet our primary character on the day of the Brexit vote.
As you might expect, we’re given insights and opinions into this, therefore, from these characters’ viewpoints, and the tension ramps up considerably, twisting into the reader and giving a real sense of the anxieties, uncertainties, and sense of hopelessness felt. Between this and the gory descriptions of the slaughterhouse, this short book packs a very powerful punch.
Price: £9. Info: here
words MAB JONES
THE EXILE AND THE MAPMAKER
Emma Musty (Legend Press)
A journey explored through the eyes of different characters forms the basis for Emma Musty’s The Exile And The Mapmaker. Narrated from the perspective of three characters, Theo is a Parisian cartographer who is suffering with Alzheimer’s and is attempting to find his first love; his daughter Elise, though estranged from her father, has moved back in whilst struggling with her own personal situation. Lastly, we meet Nebay, who having moved from Eritrea to France without a visa begins to work as Theo’s carer to support his sister’s immigration status.
Lost love, friendship, immigration and war are all major themes – likewise the different ways in which people deal with these situations, and the consequences of others’ actions. This is a story where the events of the past seem to mirror those of the present, and despite the struggles faced by each of the three main characters, hope seems to jump off the page, with so much human spirit on show.
Musty’s writing is beautifully concise, and though changing to a different narrator for each chapter, the threads are picked up with seamless transition, especially considering there are many recollections from past memories. I’m eagerly anticipating where the author will take us with her next novel – and hope there will be a sequel to this one.
Price: £8.99/£4.99 Ebook. Info: here
words RHIANON HOLLEY
HOLDING HER BREATH
Eimear Ryan (Penguin)
As a huge lover of Sally Rooney and in particular Normal People, this story struck me as a unsettling coming of age story that questions the journey into complex relationships. Beth Crowe, our protagonist, escapes her home life and a once-burgeoning career as a swimmer for a shared flat with friend Sadie. Freedom, though, feels short-lived, as she is ultimately tethered to her heritage by her surname, drawn to the book of poems her grandfather Ben wrote.
Sadie introduces Justin, a tutor and “Crowe groupie”; Beth finds herself trapped by her discovery of self and desire to please others. Her home life now tense and strained, Justin offers her a dangerous proposal: to be alone with him. A liaison with a much older man, and a lecturer fascinated by her grandad’s work (“any Crowe will do”)? Justin sends a clear message which, for Beth, pushes her swiftly to a breaking point, numbing her pain by the only means she knows how: swimming.
Holding Her Breath speaks of uncomfortable silences when you’re in an uncomfortable situation. It’s a truly compelling read, and one I wholeheartedly recommend.
Price: £12.99. Info: here
words BILLIE INGRAM SOFOKLEOUS
IN THE SHADOW OF THE FIRE
Hervé Le Corre [trans. Tina Kover] (Europa Editions)
An epic historical tale set during the Paris Commune is the subject of French writer Hervé Le Corre’s novel. Set during a turbulent time in 1871 as the National Guard and the French Armed Forces loyal to Versailles clash in extravagant fashion, the story follows a varied host of characters attempting to navigate the battle – including Nicolas, a member of the National Guard; his fiancée Caroline, now missing; and the criminal activity of Pujols within the city.
With so many permutations to keep in mind, it did take a while to settle into the plot, yet once I did In The Shadow Of The Fire really took hold. Huge credit must go to Tina Kover’s translation, considering the descriptive nature required to convey the magnitude of the tale and the emotion involved. It’s not surprising that Le Corre was awarded the French Voices Prize for this work: though many distressing scenes are documented, In The Shadow… ultimately demonstrates hope and the power people possess to overcome adversity. If you’re looking for a spot of escapism this summer this rich and passionate account will transport you to a different place for a while, and at just over 500 pages it’s well worth the time.
Price: £16.99. Info: here
words RHIANON HOLLEY
THE MYSTERIOUS CORRESPONDENT
Marcel Proust (Oneworld)
Released to coincide with what would have been Marcel Proust’s 150th birthday, The Mysterious Correspondent is a set of nine early short stories by this titan of French literature – all of which, with one exception, are previously unpublished.
It’s a disparate and uneven collection, not so much short stories as fragments or sketches. Most are only a few pages long, and some even lack an ending, breaking off at tantalising moments of heightened emotion. But it’s exactly this enigmatic quality that makes them so compelling.
It is easy to guess why Proust kept these stories from publication. Themes of homosexual desire – a taboo subject in 19th century France, when they were written – are omnipresent, and unambiguously presented. At a particularly poignant juncture in the title story, a woman writes anonymously to another, “I am dying for being unable to possess you”.
Sometimes a little overwrought (these are early works, after all), tragedy, unrequited love, and a not inconsiderable number of deathbeds reign supreme here. And while this heavily annotated volume will mainly be of interest to scholars, the casual reader will still find plenty to enthral in these lost dispatches from French high society.
Price: £16.99. Info: here
words ALICE HUGHES
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