Everything Under – Daisy Johnson

Everything Under - Daisy Johnson.jpgThis is a really excellent novel set in contemporary England. The core of the story is a complicated mother-daughter relationship but it is much more: the use of a private language and a river creature and supplemental characters. The timeline is an interesting feature of the story telling. Johnson’s writing reminds me of Sarah Winman, so high praise.

Affinity – Sarah Waters

Affinity - Sarah WatersThis is an early book of Ms. Waters (1999). The setting is England in 1873-74. Margaret Prior, a 29 year-old woman with a troubled past decides to preoccupy herself with good deeds by visiting women prisoners in at Millbank, a notoriously dark and evil prison. There she becomes entranced by a spiritualist, Salina Dawes. The story slowly and inexorably become one of obsession and almost possession, and has a cracking good ending. This book is from a VPL list of “books that broke our hearts”.

Big Sky – Kate Atkinson

Big Sky - Kate AtkinsonHurray, Ms. Atkinson has written a fourth Jackson Brodie novel, a much anticipated gift to the detective-mystery genre. Brodie is in North Yorkshire and has time to be unusually introspective, often with hilarious internal dialog punctuated by pithy comments (in parentheses) from ex-partner Julia. The first third of the book is all character development, a rich cast of quirky individuals. Indeed, the first crime does not occur until the end of 100 pages. The story does take a gritty look at topical themes, from child abuse to human trafficking. Brodie is a delightful character and this book is a must-read!

Stay With Me – Ayobami Adebayo

Stay With Me - Ayobami AdebayoThis is a powerful story set in Nigeria, 1985-2008. The story centres on a couple, Yejide and Akin, who are struggling with infertility against the background of profound traditional family pressure to have children. A loving relationship is tested by lies and a stunning betrayal. What will we sacrifice for family? The story involves very strong emotions with Nigerian political instability as a constant background force. Very fine writing. This book is also from a VPL list of “books that broke our hearts”.

An American Wife – Tayari Jones

An American Wife - Tayari JonesMs. Jones has written a superb relationship book. Celestial and Roy are newlyweds but Roy is wrongfully imprisoned and so goes to jail for 5 years. In Roy’s absence, Celestial’s relationship with Andre, a lifelong friend, is strengthened. So this is about a 3-way relationship with one of the participants, Roy, absent in prison for much of the story. The resolution to this complicated story is breathtaking.

The Island of Sea Women – Lisa See

A detailed account of a friendship between two Korean women who are part of a woman’s diving collective (Haenyo) on a Korean island. The story begins in 1938, then progresses through the Japanese occupation prior to and during World War II. Their friendship is ruptured by an act of atrocity; the post-war years leading to the Korean War are filled with hardships. The latter part of the book is a poignant recalling of broken trust and how difficult it is to achieve reconciliation and grant forgiveness. This is a profound story of women who are powerful in the sea but overcome by extreme forces on  land. The history of Korea, especially the post-war chaos, makes for a powerful book.

The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker

A re-telling of the Iliad from the point of view of Briseus, the daughter of the King of Lyrnessus who is awarded to Achilles as a trophy. The best part of this book is the portrayal of the ensuing 9-year Trojan War as the folly of men, waging war because of a mis-guided sense of honour usually manifesting as petulance. Achilles is especially blood-thirsty, driven by a rage and compulsion to kill. The savagery of war is described wonderfully by the author of the Regeneration Trilogy, a masterful treatment of war and its collateral damage.