THE BUTTERFLY LAMPSHADE
Aimee Bender (Windmill)
When a psychotic episode sends her mother into psychiatric care, The Butterfly Lampshade’s protagonist Francie tries to make sense of the past which haunts her memories. One event stands out: aged eight, she becomes fascinated by a butterfly lamp. Seeing a dead butterfly – resembling the ones which adorn the lamp – floating in a glass of water, Francie drinks the lot. Whether this event was real or imagined, its intensity echoes through the pages as she grows into a young woman – one with a mundane life and a job she doesn’t enjoy.
While an opportunity to run her own business unleashes motivation within her, earlier experiences of childhood isolation pinpoint her insecurities. Having someone by her side is the first step in conquering fear, Francie figures, and she goes to visit her mother again. It’s been 10 years, though, and she doesn’t know what to expect.
The butterfly and the beetle are a motif throughout, signifying moments in Francie’s life that she is trying to piece together. The Butterfly Lampshade unfolds slowly, willing you to turn the next page to wonder at what may happen. A sensitive piece of work with such attention to detail, you really feel as though you are in the story, seeing it almost through the lens of a magnifying glass.
Price: £8.99. Info: here
words EMILY EDWARDS
DID YE HEAR MAMMY DIED?
Séamas O’Reilly (Little, Brown)
Grief memoirs aren’t known for being funny, which makes it all the more impressive that there are warm, proper belly laughs on almost every other page of Séamas O’Reilly’s wonderful Did Ye Hear Mammy Died?. You’ll struggle to find a funnier book published this year – or a more moving one.
It’s a book about death, but it brims with life. It tells the story of how O’Reilly’s mother passed away while she was young, when the author was five years old, and how he and his family came to terms with her death, and indeed still are. Her absence hangs heavy over the book, and she can be glimpsed in the tender vignettes that O’Reilly describes.
Perhaps surprisingly, though, his mother is not the main focus of the writing. The book eloquently captures the confusing and messy aftermath of bereavement, and shows us how a large family, 11 children strong, dealt with such a devastating loss. The hero of the story is O’Reilly’s eccentric but resolute father, Joe, a man faced with the Herculean task of guiding his flock to maturity: the deep affection the author feels for him is clear.
Price: £16.99. info: here
words JOSHUA REES
THE HUNGRY AND THE LOST
Bethany W. Pope (Parthian)
Set in the swamplands of Tampa, Florida circa 1910, The Hungry And The Lost’s author Bethany W. Pope captures the volatile setting beautifully. The reader feels vividly engulfed in the mosquito-dominated, damp and oppressive heat as you digest Pope’s rich prose. Her Tampa is where men hunt the heron-like egret birds for their feathers, which are then sold and adorn the hats of the ‘Northern rich’. These gnarly hunters choose their wives from catalogues in which their potential bride’s suitability is harshly judged.
After the minister, who is an influential figurehead and cornerstone of the town’s morale, dies from a disease which is spreading rapidly through this decaying, progress-resistant and godless town that time forgot, his widow Rose’s mental health declines. Those who can get out have made a hasty escape, leaving those that can’t in a place which is freefalling into implosion; a town where even “the gators and manatees have made their retreat”. Can Rose’s daughter Joy keep her mother and herself safe from harm?
An atmospheric, thrilling and slow-burning Southern Gothic literary treat, The Hungry And The Lost will appeal to those that cherish the written work of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor or Nick Cave.
Price: £10.99. Info: here
words DAVID NOBAKHT
THE ISLAND OF MISSING TREES
Elif Shafak (Viking)
Elif Shafak writes of pain and heartbreak through the perspective of hope, moving on, renewal and healing, of the need to tell the stories of the past, rather than burying them, addressing the issues that hurt. Her storytelling is profound, compelling, and heartfelt, with an innate understanding of her environment.
Set in Cyprus and North London, the narrative starts in the early 1970s and continues to the present day. Ada, at school in London, is given an assignment to interview an older family member, but they live in Cyprus and she has never met them. Yet she’s struck with the need to fill in the missing pieces and roots of her identity. This duality of self mirrors the historic civil unrests within Cyprus, as recounted by Shafak: fractured communities torn apart by religion, love, loss, grief, migration, and the search for an identity and belonging that refuses to be denied. Families desperately seek to locate their missing loved ones from the conflict, unable to find peace until they do.
A wonderful motif is the POV of a fig tree: growing inside a tavern and through its roof, it observes the movements of two secretly meeting adolescents, Kostas and Defne, respectively Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The tree will later witness the devastation of war and a symbolic cutting will be taken to London.
Price: £14.99. Info: here
words BILLIE INGRAM SOFOKLEOUS
WE ARE ANIMALS
Tim Ewins (Lightning)
Tim Ewins’ We Are Animals is a story about love, loss and longing. It traces the steps of Jan, who has spent his life travelling internationally – and continuously bumping into the love of his life, as the two free spirits weave their way around the world. Now, though, Jan seems to be waiting and watching for his love. As the reader questions whether the time has passed, a sense of sadness is sandwiched between the humour and wit that the book has to offer.
Moving between the past and future, Ewins creates humour by drawing a contrast between the young character, Shakey, and the older, more experienced Jan. Moving between both characters’ perspectives, we get to see the world of the story through a young and old generation.
The story is laced with snippets from the lives of various animals, giving you an altered perspective on the story: the stories of these creatures run parallel to the events in the chapter. The animals have depth and purpose, too, and share their lives with the reader.
A humorous read, packed with colourful characters and imagery and enabling you to experience the places through the eyes of humans and animals alike.
Price: £8.99. Info: here
words YASMIN GRANT