Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Govinden - Wyld - Erdrich

An actual written review for a change as I seem to keep being frustrated in my attempts to record a new video post. I'm sure you can cope! It's a round up of three recent novels I've read, all of which I'd recommend for different reasons, so there's something here for a wide range of readers. Enjoy.

Black Bread White Beer - Niven Govinden 

Originally published as an ebook first, this novel has now been given a physical printing by The Friday Project due to some prize longlisting and word of mouth success. You can decide amongst yourselves the significance of that in the debate about ebooks/real books etc etc. This is primarily the portrait of a marriage, Amal and Claud are a couple who have struggled to conceive and whose sex life has therefore disintegrated into a scientific quest for conception. Having worked so hard to get pregnant Claud loses the baby and this novel follows the fallout. The best sections for me were the two bookends, those parts that focused solely on the couple, Govinden writes wonderfully about Amal and Claud's relationship and in particular about Amal's feelings. It is an unflinchingly honest portrait of a man at a particular stage in his life and his relationship. The middle section which opens things out with Claud's family and a more home counties setting, allowing Govinden to explore all sorts of awkward social interactions and the topic of mixed cultures and religions certainly has its moments but I always longed to get back to the nitty gritty of the central relationship.

All The Birds, Singing - Evie Wyld

After the success of her debut and the inclusion of her name on Granta's Best British Novelists list there's plenty of buzz about Wyld and it's easy to see why after reading this novel. Her writing really is top drawer and this book is one which leads the reader along a path of foreboding memory, one in which we are keen to find out about secrets in the past but also worried about what we might find so tense is the atmosphere at times. At the centre is a woman, Jake Whyte, now resident on an island off the British coast. She has a farmhouse, a dog called Dog and some sheep but something is coming for them, picking them off. This device might sound familiar to anyone who read The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker, which saw a female character on the run form something shacked up in a farmhouse in Wales and watching the geese that she has inherited being slowly picked off but the two books use it for differing effects and the atmospheres are distinct. Jake's past is filled with some genuine brutality as we might have suspected from the scars that cover her back but there is a secret too which throws a different light on things and Wyld is brilliant at delaying the reader's access to all the facts. Almost too good in fact, the revelation when it comes might not satisfy some readers, but Wyld seems to be a writer interested in the journey rather than the destination and she promises to be one to keep reading for many years into the future.

The Round House - Louise Erdrich

A book I read because Philip Roth's praise adorns the cover dare I even suggest that the reason for his praise might be because they share certain characteristics as writers. Roth obviously drew on his Jewish family and upbringing for many of his novels and Erdrich has similarly drawn on her Native American heritage to write about a specific group of people living in America. This the first of hers I've read and I'm ashamed to discover that she has had thirteen published previously. From the first page I felt that I was in the hands of a very accomplished writer and this book is one filled with anger, injustice and the struggle of a people to protect themselves on their own land. It is narrated by 13 year old Joe Coutts whose mother is raped and beaten in the sacred building of the title, only managing to escape an even worse fate through a combination of luck and guile. The complexity of state, federal and reservation law means that the most important aspect of the crime in terms of seeking a conviction is not so much who did it but where the assault actually took place. As a side note it is worth mentioning that one in three Native American women report being raped in their lifetime and nine times out of ten it is a non-native man responsible, there is even the suggestion that some men, or even groups of men come onto reservation land for this very purpose, a chilling thought. Joe's father is a tribal judge but seems tied down by legal process whereas the adolescent Joe is freer to pursue a more direct approach to the problem. It is a genuinely exciting book to read as we see Joe growing up faster than he can cope with, and the wider community of engaging characters in its struggle to maintain any kind of safety or protection on their reservation.

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