THIS WEEK’S NEW BOOKS REVIEWED | FEATURE
THE AMAZINGLY ASTONISHING STORY
Lucy Gannon (Seren)
There can’t be many people brave enough to call their memoir The Amazingly Astonishing Story, and fewer still whose account of their life would live up to such a billing. Luckily for the reader, playwright Lucy Gannon’s remarkable work is one of them. Not for Gannon the formulaic, David Copperfield-esque approach of beginning at the beginning. Instead, she dives straight into an immersive sea of distant fathers, cold step-mothers, loyal friends and kindly nuns.
Written entirely in the present tense, the memoir dazzles and devastates in equal measure, showing us the world as viewed by an often neglected, sometimes abused but always remarkably resilient and wonderfully funny adolescent. It is a fascinating world in which 2s become swans, imaginary friends Elvis and Clint Walker pop round to help you do your chores, and the shadow of a particular uncle looms large over the narrative and Gannon’s childhood nightmares.
In another person’s hands, this story could easily become one of the ubiquitous misery memoirs which stalk Amazon bestseller lists and Take A Break covers. Instead, Gannon’s indomitable spirit and hilarious turns of phrase make this a laugh-out-loud, pottymouthed redemption narrative in which you will cheer on the heroine even more than you long to reach into the book and rescue her. Spoiler alert: keep reading, and this amazingly astonishing woman will manage to save herself.
Price: £12.99 Info: here
words RACHEL REES
James Kennedy (Eye/Lightning)
Noise Damage’s byline, My Life As A Rock’n’Roll Underdog, is perhaps the most fitting description of what the book is ‘about’ in a strictly plot-based sense. However, this book does much more than just tell the story of the (rather ropey) career of south Wales rock band Kyshera, and the life of an almost-rockstar.
It also tells a story of the time on multiple levels. Through the lens of Kennedy’s memoir, Noise Damage unearths a working-class dissatisfaction particularly prevalent in post-mining Wales, as well as the crippling effects that the ‘almost’ – almost famous, almost out of almost-poverty, almost able to fit in – has on mental health and addiction. It is an eye-opening insight into what keeps the music industry ticking, or rather what Kennedy thinks keeps it rotting at the core.
Funny throughout and thoroughly self-deprecating, Kennedy is both self-aware and confident, offering ‘lessons’ to aspiring rock musicians with brutal realism without necessarily saying “RUN NOW”. It’s written in a rockstar-ish manner, which is admittedly something a bookish not-rockstar would say, but meaning there’s a definite no-holding-back policy: swearing, drugs, alcohol, wild parties (which he’s not even going to try pretend aren’t fun) and the spiralling, insane world of rock‘n’roll.
Price: £9.99. Info: here
words MEGAN THOMAS
ONE DAY OF LIFE IS LIFE
Joan Maragall (trans. Ronald Puppo) (Fum d’Estampa)
If, perchance, you’re already a fan of Catalan poet Joan Maragall (1860-1911), then you’ll probably already be excited by the first full translation of his work into English; if not, then Ronald Puppo’s new curated collection is the perfect introduction. Characterised by an abundance of verisimilitude and surprisingly uncomplex prose, Maragall’s poetry tackles a full spectrum of topics, from death and love to nature and conflict, each treated with a disarmingly relatable perspective.
With poems so candid, personal, and largely peopled by his nearest and dearest, it’s clear that Puppo has taken deliberate care to preserve Maragall’s own voice, simply transforming it for a wider audience. The exhaustive yet accessible notes penned by Puppo that accompany each section of the book are scrupulous enough to transform the reader from a Maragall virgin to bona fide expert alone. Whether they’re explaining context, offering an insight into subtle meanings or justifying a choice in the translation, the insight is valuable and allows the reader to properly appreciate the wealth of work that this collection provides.
Also included are a selection of Maragall’s essays and letters, which offer some flavour and context into both his own life, and several seminal Spanish events that dominated the turbulent times he lived in.
Price: £14.99. Info: here
words ALEX PAYNE
SLASH AND BURN
Claudia Hernandez (And Other Stories)
Capturing the consequences of war through a female gaze, Claudia Hernandez’s [pictured, top] latest novel is ambitious in its scope but is executed brilliantly. It brings the national tragedy of El Salvador’s civil war to the homestead; to the front rooms of the communities who were devastated by the conflict.
Throughout the novel, you follow a universal story: of a mother fighting to keep her daughters safe. Meeting her as a young girl, you see the narrator travel into the hills with her father, to fight for the poor. The child that she conceives in the camp is spirited away. Years later, you see her inner conflict as she tries to find her missing child and support her four other daughters, who are struggling to make their way in the village.
The novel combats issues such as machismo culture, demobilisation, the tragedy of disappearances, and ultimately, the challenges of defining an identity after trauma. Long sentences allow the chapters to flow as a stream of consciousnesses and by leaving characters and placed unnamed, the narrator’s voice is highlighted. Slash And Burn aims to shine a light on a conflict that has fallen away from Western consciousness and in doing so, provides a unique and at times beautiful picture of modern life in rural Central America.
Price: £11.99/£6.99 Ebook. Info: here
words ELOUISE HOBBS
THE STROMNESS DINNER
Peter Benson (Seren)
A lyrical and evocative tale of one man’s unexpected journey – while finding love when it’s least expected – forms the basis of this novel from Guardian Fiction Prize-winning author Peter Benson. Ed spends his days working with his father for his family building services business in south London, when he is offered a refurbishing job in Orkney by Marcus, one of his clients.
Guiding the reader through the simple events of his daily life before the trip, he appears to lead a straightforward and uncomplicated existence. However, his time in Orkney and his relationship with Marcus’ sister Claire awakens new desires and possibilities that he could not have anticipated, despite their differences.
Despite the events throughout the novel not appearing to be significantly noteworthy, the simple prose and vivid descriptions as seen through Ed’s eyes convey an interesting assessment of the world. Having not encountered Benson’s previous works, I was enchanted by the story – indeed, I have ordered another of Pete Benson’s books looking to fill the void that finishing The Stromness Dinner left behind. An impactful novel that highlights the basic human characteristics of hope and love, from a very distinctive contemporary fiction voice.
Price: £9.99. Info: here
words RHIANON HOLLEY