september 2019 books…

Dark Pines (Will Dean): A Nordic noir crime novel (set in the northern wilds of rural Sweden) written by a bloke who grew up in the English Midlands (who now lives in rural Sweden in a wooden house he built in the middle of a forest). Tuva Moodyson, a 26 year-old, deaf reporter on a small-time local paper, who is looking for a story that could make her career. Dead bodies found deep in the forest, with their eyes missing, could just be the story she’s looking for! This is an intriguing, fast-moving, tense, haunting and compelling novel. I really enjoyed it… once I’d overcome my feeling that the main character was a little too much in the Saga ‘mould’ portrayed in the brilliant “The Bridge” television series (with her Asperger syndrome meaning that she doesn’t act in socially conventional ways)… but perhaps that was just me!
Back In The Frame (Jools Walker): I bought this book after attending an author’s evening at our local StorySmith bookshop. She’s an articulate, interesting woman who re-discovered cycling at the age of 28 after a ten-year absence. She’s a popular and successful blogger (alias Lady Vélo - which focuses on her cycling adventures). In truth, it’s a biker’s book… it’s encouraging and rather too nerdy for me. I’ve just sold my bike. I’m not a biker! She writes about the joys of cycling, but also about the difficulties of finding a place in an industry not traditionally open to women – especially women of colour. I found the most interesting sections of the book were those that outlined her struggles with depression and then, in her early thirties, when she had a mini-stroke – and how cycling helped her recoveries. It’s an unnecessarily long book, in my view (348 pages!) and, frankly, it wasn’t for me.   
Lanny (Max Porter): This is another of our book group’s books… and I thought it was really very special. It’s something of a mesmerising fable… quite magical, intoxicating and enchanting. Lanny is a young boy, living in a rural village, who spends his time exploring, building dens, chatting to trees and generally investigating the important things in life. His parents (especially his devoted mother) adore him but, at the same time, are baffled by him. There’s an ageing artist, ‘Mad Pete’ (I loved this character!) who lives in the village plus others like old Peggy, gossiping at her gate - but the village also belongs to Dead Papa Toothwort, an ancient spirit who stirs in the ground and has seen all life in this place. Lanny and Toothwort are forces for good(?)/positive characters: fertile, resourceful, but frequently skirting danger. This comparatively short book is a combination of strangeness, raw emotion and risk. In a somewhat eerie way, I also found the book something of a call to action regarding today’s world – reminding us about the need to nurture and care for our planet (and people); about the wonders of imagination and beauty; about the need for encouragement and acceptance; and a warning about intolerance and suspicion (no names!). A beautifully composed, sustaining, compelling and ultimately joyful book (and beautifully set out on the page). I really loved it... the book group discussion will be fascinating.
Wild Swimming (Marek Horn): Moira and I went to see the play and this is book of the script. The action takes place on a beach across five centuries of time-shifting action and involves just two characters, Oscar and Nell. The script wonderfully sets up the sense of fun and irreverence we saw in the play… with the two individuals attempting to perform the play but, at the same time failing (and frequently just making things up!). Their relationship is complicated (sometimes great friends, sometimes loving, sometimes hating, sometimes jealous and resentful). Nell comes from a rich family, but she’s a woman, and she’s bored and life has no proper purpose… until she begins to write. Oscar is a university student with grand ideas about swimming, writing (and the Hellespont) and preaching to Nell about his theories, but that’s as far he ever gets. As the play develops into the 20th century, one becomes aware of a reversal of gender-derived success… Brilliantly conceived and scripted.
Kingfisher’s Fire (Peter Harris):Good friends of ours have a long-established association with A Rocha (an international network of environmental organisations with a Christian ethos) and, next month, are due to depart Bristol to live and work in Nice for the organisation. I read Harris’s book ‘Under The Bright Wings’, telling the story of how A Rocha started, a couple of months ago. This (published in 2007) is a follow-up book written 15 years on (ie. 25 years since the organisation was first established). To be honest, some of their Christian views are a little too ‘evangelistic’ from my perspective, but I find what they’ve achieved since 1983/4 quite remarkable. From very small beginnings in Portugal, they’re now established in some 20 countries around the globe. When they were first formed, they were way ‘ahead of their time’ as far as environmental awareness was concerned and since this book was completed, 12 years ago, issues relating to climate change, global warming and the climate crisis are now at the forefront of global issues being discussed on a daily basis. This book recounts their challenges in helping to bring new life to urban and rural areas; the issues and problems they’ve faced (frequently involving bureaucracy and lack of funding); and the blessings and the gifts of the people working for the community. A fascinating and inspiring book.