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Archive for March, 2011

Greetings from a sunny day in the hinterland. Himself and I took the dogs for a long walk and youngest is out for a run. Rain is in the forecast but for now I am enjoying the sunshine. It turns out that last Wednesday was World Read Aloud Day which brings back many memories of reading aloud and being read to as a child. Himself and I were just talking the other day about Tock, the watchdog in The Phantom Tollbooth, a book that I read out loud to the boys when they were small on one of our many car trips to my mom’s house. Tollbooth is particularly suited for reading out loud and it remains one of eldest’s favorite books after all these years.

Eva from A Striped Armchair is back from a short absence with her unique perspective – I really trust her opinion, even more so after her recommendation of Purge. This week she reviews Fire on the Mountain by Anita Desai (published in 1977) and set in the foothills of the Himalayas. Nanda Kaul is an elderly woman who wants nothing more than to live in isolation and rest after caring for her family for so many years. And then her great-granddaughter comes to stay with her, a girl who is equally in need of isolation. At 160 pages, this seems like it might be the perfect small bite.

The Boston Bibliophile mentions a newly published work by French author Herve Tellier – set in modern-day Paris, Enough about Love is about two women and set of interlocking love stories amidst the intellectuals of Paris. Reading the reviews of this book I am tempted to call it a comedic, literary beach read. Marie describes it using food (one of my favorite ways of looking at books), “Read it if you want a love story as buttery and flaky as a croissant and as rich as that cocoa.”

John Self of Asylum mentions a non-fiction book that look really interesting. My grandmother collected murder ballads and even wrote a book called American Murder Ballads and their Stories, and my parents raised me (in the 1960’s) on folk music so reading about Dorian Lynskey’s 33 Revolutions Per Minute: The History of Protest Songs brought back memories of the student protests against the Viet Nam War in Santa Barbara where we lived. Lynskey book covers far more than the ’60’s and looks really interesting. This might be a good Christmas present for someone out there.

My niece has been reading fiction from or set in the middle-east and her doing so has prompted me to read The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif, a family saga set in Egypt. Winstonsdad reviews a book of short stories by Saudi Arabian author abdullah al-Nasser called The Tree and Other Stories. Winstonsdad writes, “… these stories do what great Arabic short fiction does and that is show life, like a fly caught in amber catching a unique moment or series of events perfectly.” I really enjoyed In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, the short stories of Daniyal Mueenuddin which are set in Pakistan so The Tree may have to go on the to read list.

After reading The Girl who Fell From the Sky I did some searching for other books about being biracial. Somehow I missed Walking on Dry Land by Denis Kehoe, but Kim of Reading Matters has brought it to my attention. Ana is a woman in her 30’s, raised in Portugal and working on her PhD in Film Studies in Dublin. When her mother dies, she finds out that her real mother was black and from Angola. Ana wants to find out the whats and whys and her story is alternated with the story of her Portuguese parents. The two stories eventually connect. I don’t know if the novel explores bi-racial identity but I love a good tale of family secrets so I will watch for this one.

Finally, Dani from A Work in Progress reports on her reading of Joseph O’Connor’s novel Ghost Light (which is also reviewed this week in The Los Angeles Times). Ghost light is based on a love affair between Irish playwright John Millington Synge and actress Molly Allgood and starts several years after the affair with an elderly Molly contemplating her first drink of the day (at 6:30 am). O’Connor has Molly look back over her life and then switches into the third person to describe Synge and Allgood and their relationship.

 

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Purge

Aliide wanted to spend the day inside, but the mound, visible out of the corner of her eye through the kitchen window, disturbed her. It looked the same as it had from the bedroom window, just as much like a person, and it didn’t deem to be going anywhere on its own. Aiilde turned off the radio and went back to the window. It was quiet, the way its quiet in late summer in a dying Estonian village – a neighbor’s rooster crowed, that was all. The silence had been peculiar that year – expectant, yet at the same time like the aftermath of a storm. There was something similar in the posture of Aliide’s grass, overgrown, sticking to the windowpane. It was wet and mute, placid. (pg. 7)

…her eyes blinked open and she sat bolt up-right. Aliide moved away, just to be safe. The girl’s mouth was still open. She stared in Aliide’s direction, but her hysterical gaze didn’t seem to register her. It didn’t register anything. Aliide kept assuring her that everything was all right in the soothing voice you use with restless animals. There was no comprehension in the girl’s eyes but there was something familiar about her gaping mouth. The girl herself wasn’t familiar, but the way she behaved was, the way her expression quivered under her wax-like skin, not reaching the surface, and the way her body was in spite of her vacant demeanor. (pg. 10)

Shortly after Estonia’s independence in 1991, an elderly woman named Aliide, who lives in a small, dying village in the country, finds a battered and bruised girl in a heap in her yard. Aliide has had troubles of her own throughout her life and is hesitant about taking the girl in. Zara, the girl, is running away from something and she is terrified she will be found. The two women verbally dance, revealing little bits to each other and even more to the reader. Purge unfolds Zara’s and Aliide’s pasts and the problems they face in the present in a novel that brings global issues to the forefront by exploring the lives of two women.

Purge is Sofi Oksanen’s first novel to be translated into English and is adapted from her highly regarded play of the same name. The novel is divided into four parts – the first three tell Zara’s and Aliide’s story ranging in time from 1939 and 1992. Oksanen goes back and forth in time in her writing but the narration is tied together through events, metaphor, and symbol. There are a lot of parallels in her work. The two women are connected by many different threads which are woven together as you read along; the fourth section consists of a series of Soviet reports.

With the majority of the novel taking place in a small village, the reader encounters the reality of what happens to women in war from rape used as a tool of torture and coercion in war and occupation to the victims of the modern-day sex trade. This is the reality for a vast number of women in the world and Oksanen truly gives them voice and stature. Some of the events depicted are harrowing and descriptive as Oksanen doesn’t pull any punches. But each woman is treated by the author with great respect. Purge can be disquieting to read in parts but well worth the effort.

The author has a rhythm to her writing that matches what is happening in the novel. She goes forward, steps back, then goes forward again – each time you go over the same ground again, you get a little deeper, a little more information, more layers.  Words themselves have many layers of meaning including the title: Purge – to cleanse, to wash yourself clean, and to signify the deportation of Estonian citizens to the Soviet Union. There is minute detail without minutia as it seems Oksanen does everything with intent.

There are many themes in Purge which, in some books, can lead to a very muddled reading experience. Here, instead, Oksanen uses these themes almost like layers of an onion, peeling away go inside, deeper and deeper. Themes are restated in different ways from different points of view adding to the reader’s experience.

One of the key themes is self-preservation in any way possible such as playacting as a means of survival:

Possibilities steamed in and out of her head, she couldn’t tame them, not enough to think things through. Her temples were throbbing. She couldn’t breathe deeply, act trustworthy. Like the kind of girl that older people like. She should try to be sweet and polite and well behaved and helpful… (pg. 59)

Another example is the necessity for a person to hang on to their sense of individuality in the midst of degradation – keeping whatever tiny core of self that they can:

Zara wiped the edge of her mouth. She was ashamed, her face burning. And she did what she always did when she was overcome with shame. She focused her gaze and her thoughts on something else. Aliide, the kitchen, and the pot of pigs’ ears disappeared. She stared at her hands. The froth left on her finger from where she wiped her mouth looked like a snake’s spit on a raspberry leaf. A spit bug. She focused on that, a little animal was always best when you had to move your mind away from your body. (pg. 65-66)

The yearning to be recognized as a person, to be valued for who you are, is a universal feeling – for your value as a person, how people define themselves through story and the need to redefine, reinvent and rebuild yourself is well described throughout the novel.

…she would be free; she would get a new passport, a new identity, a new story for herself. Some day all this would happen. Some day she would rebuild herself.” (pg. 264)

Would Zara’s story begin at the gate of that house, a new story, her own story? (pg. 292)

I think the ultimate message of Purge is having control over your person, having a voice, having the power to write your own story and the price that you pay to achieve that control. It is easy for me to see why Oksanen has won so many prizes in Europe for this work. I think it was stunning and worthy of any reader’s time and attention.

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Today’s words come from Purge by Sofi Oksanen, a Finnish-Estonian writer. Purge is her third novel – the first to be translated into English – and is an adaptation of her play by the same name. Purge is the story of two women. Aliide lives in a dying village in the Estonian countryside and has lived through the war and the soviet occupation of her country. Zara is a young girl, clearly in some sort of trouble and has ended up in a miserable heap in Aliide’s yard. This novel is the story of the two women and the variety of threads that connect them to each other. It is a spectacular novel and Oksanen has won just about every prize for Purge that it is eligible for including being the first person to win the Finlandia Prize and the Runeberg Prize for the same work. She has also won the European Book Prize and the Nordic Council Literature Prize. The work is definitely worthy of a wider audience in the United States. Note: This novel a major aspect of this novel is about the sexual degradation and abuse that women can suffer from and the author does not shy away from description. However, the verbiage is not gratuitous and the author treats her characters with a tremendous amount of respect.

But the girl was so clearly terrified that suddenly Aliide was too. Good God, how her body remembered that feeling, remembered it so well that she caught the feeling as soon as she saw it in a stranger’s eyes. And what if the girl was right? What if there was a good reason to fear what she feared? What if that was her husband? Aliide’s ability to fear was something that should have belonged in the past. She had left it behind her and hadn’t built it up again from the rock throwers at all. But now, when an unknown girl was in her kitchen spreading fear from her bare skin onto Aliide’s oilcloth, she couldn’t brush it away like she ought to have done. Instead it seeped in between the wallpaper and the old wallpaper paste, into the gaps left behind by the photographs that she had hidden there and later destroyed. The fear settled in as though it felt at home. As though it would never go away. As though it had just been put somewhere for a while and had come home for the evening. (pg. 79)

Note:  a major aspect of this novel is about the sexual degradation and abuse that women can suffer from and the author does not shy away from description. However, the verbiage is not gratuitous and the author treats her characters with a tremendous amount of respect.

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February Recap

For a short month, I didn’t do too badly especially considering our family holiday St. Cholesterol day happened at the end of the month. I always go down to my mom and dad’s to help with the cooking and cleaning. We had house guests from Wednesday night through Monday morning and although we had fewer guests for St. C’s itself (nineteen instead of the expected 24), there was still lots to do which impacted my reading time for a short while. I did start reading The Water Theatre on the last Monday of the month and that carried me through the beginning of March.

When everything you read is really good, it can be hard to sort things out for the monthly recap. Almost every category has two contenders and for Best Book – Three. Not to mention Purge appears in two different categories.

Best Books:  Three novels this month for Best Book; two are debut appearances and a third novel of an author however, the first to be translated into English.  Purge was fantastic and my review of it will appear this upcoming Thursday. My book group discussed this novel by Finnish author Sofi Oksanen and we all agreed it was an excellent book. Crow Lake came to me courtesy of my mom who heard about it in one of her book groups. This debut novel by Canadian author Mary Lawson has evocative language and a compelling story about a family tragedy and the repercussions on the surviving members. Last is The Still Point had me thinking for quite a while, it is the story of a long ago marriage which produces echoes in a present day relationship.

Best Travel Book: I am going with The Marriage Artist. This is a story about art, relationships as a man tries to understand why his wife commits suicide. It alternates between the present day and WWII as the past impacts the present.

Best Book Group Book: Purge – a great read leading to great discussions. My book group discussed it over an hour and barely scratched the surface. This is one book that deserves wider notice in the United States.

Best Mystery: I read three this month (one a book of short stories) and it is hard to choose between them so it totally depends on your mood – do you want a short story collection, a family tale or a southern mystery? Istanbul Noir collection is great to read a little here and a little there. The Poison Tree was hard to put down and Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter was also good.

Best Books about Books: Both books in this category contain short essays – easy to read in snatches or, as I did, a chapter before bed each night. Polysyllabic Spree is one author’s monthly exploration of his book buying and reading habits and Bound to Last are individual authors writing about the one book that impacted them the most.

Also consider: Molly Fox’s Birthday, a story of friendship, was also a good read and in any other month might have made one of the categories – the competition this month was just too stiff.

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I am back home again: my kitty has forgiven me for being gone, the dogs look much smaller (after looking at the mastiffs for 10 days) and I, having been in the land of butter and cream for several days, managed to not gain a pound! This is a minor miracle. Here is what caught my interest this week.

Laura from laurasmusings has reminded me that I have never read Iris Murdoch with her review of The Nice and The Good, originally published in 1968. The novel starts with a suicide in a London government office and Duncan is asked to look into things. From there it seems there are various twists and to quote Laura, ” The denouement was neat and satisfying, with a bit of high drama, characters getting exactly what they deserved, and an air of hope.” This may be the Iris Murdoch for me to try. Laura also has a great post on why she rereads Jane Austin which can be found here.

This seems to be my week to be intrigued by authors I haven’t read before: Jenny of Shelf Love reviews Christopher Isherwood’s The World in the Evening. I haven’t read Isherwood and even though I loved Cabaret, I never pick-up any of his works. This novel sounds really good – set before and during WWII, Stephan Monk retreats to a small Quaker town to reflect on his life. There are secrets told and untold, exploration of the meaning of intimacy in our lives, and what seems to be a layered plot of great depth. And the quote that Jenny includes in her review is more than enough to put this one on the list.

Gavin from Page247 reviews another neglected author Barbara Comyns and her work Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (love the title). Coincidentally, The Guardian in England put together a post about The Ten Best Neglected literary Classics and the one that sparked my interest was The Vet’s Daughter by Barbara Comyns. The former is about a family in a small English village that first suffers a flood and then some mysterious deaths. The latter is about the daughter of a bully and the powers she discovers she has. It seems like Comyns has a nice sense of the macabre but also a light touch. Sounds like fun.

Now for some newer books:

One of my very favorite English bloggers, Tom of A Common Reader. reviews Pub Walks in Underhill Country by Nat Segnit. This debut novel is about Graham Underhill, a successful author of walking guides. As he is rambling around, Graham is reviewing the state of his marriage to a very beautiful and much younger Bengali woman. The quotes Tom includes are fairly amusing and I get the impression that there is a lot more to this novel that instructions of how to walk across the countryside to the next pub. Note: it seems as if this book is only available in the US in a Kindle Edition.

A second debut novel comes courtesy of Swapna Krishna: Learning to Swim: A Novel by Sara Henry. Tory, in the blink of an eye, sees something fall off the ferry coming opposite to the ferry she is on. She makes a split second decision to dive in and ends up rescuing a small boy. I read the first chapter here and think this would make a great plane ride or escape from reality read.

Diane of Bibliophile by the Sea (I think I feature Diane almost every Sunday – she picks really good books to read) briefly mentioned Instruments of Darkness by Imogen Robertson and I looked it up. This one is an historical mystery set in 1780 in West Sussex, England. Harriet Westerman discovers a body on her land and enlists the help of anatomist Gabriel Crowther. Meanwhile, in London Alexander Adams, who may or may not be a missing heir, also turns up dead. This one sounds like pure fun.

I am off now to finish Weird Sisters which is turning out to be a fun read – I love all the Shakespeare quotes scattered throughout the text and I want to find out what happens to the sisters. Enjoy your reading.

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I am light-skinned-ed. That’s what the other kids say. And I talk white. I think new things when they say this. There are a lot of important things I don’t know about. I think Mor didn’t know either. They tell me it is bad to have ashy knees. They say stay out of the rain so my hair doesn’t go back. They say white people don’t use washrags, and I realize now, at Grandma’s I do. They have a language I don’t know but I understand. I learn that black people don’t have blue eyes. I learn that I am black. I have blue eyes. I put all these new facts into the new girl.

And I am getting better at covering up the middle parts. when Anthony Miller kicks at the back of my chair in class, I focus on the bump bump bump until he stops. I can focus on the bump bump bump and not say anything. I hear the smile on his face as he bumps my chair…And when Antonie mocks me in a baby voice when I answer the questions right, I don’t have to cry anymore or ne so tender. When something starts to feel like hurt, I put it in this imaginary bottle inside me. It’s blue glass with a cork stopper. My stomach tightens and my eyeballs get hot. I put all of that inside the bottle. (pgs. 10-11)

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is Heidi Durrow’s debut novel and winner of the 2008 Bellwether Prize which is given “to the best fiction manuscript addressing issues of social justice.” Durrow is bi-racial and wanted to take a deep look at the issues of race and identity. She added this to her interest in a news story about a woman who threw herself and her children off a roof and used the two interests to create a simple story that can easily be read in a short period of time.

Rachel is the sole survivor of a family tragedy. Her mother is Danish and her father is a black American GI who is unable to take care of his daughter. Having been raised in Europe with little explicit knowledge of racial identity, Rachel is sent to live with her black Grandmother in Portland. Attending middle school is an emotionally turbulent experience as Rachel struggles with her newly given “black” identity as well as the loss of her family.

Durrow follows Rachel through high school and also gives us the voices of her mother’s former boss, Brick (a young boy who witnessed the fall), and Rachel’s father. The different voices occur in distinct chapters however some readers may find the differing time frames of the voices somewhat difficult to follow. The author maintains the tension between Rachel and her Grandmother as well as the mystery of what really happened on the roof throughout the story and I did want to see what happened and the novel held my interest as I was reading.

That being said, I had some difficulty with the novel. I felt the characters were not as fully developed as they could have been particularly the voice of Rachel’s mother through her journal entries. The story of the fall, while being the essential mystery of the book, also seemed to be secondary to the story of Rachel’s identity.

I would recommend the book, particularly for teenagers who are interested in issues of racial identity, keeping in mind that the author does include a brief mention of a sexual encounter. It also makes for a good book group discussion. I read the book in order to attend my mom’s book group with her last night and the discussion was very lively. And if you need an easy read, it would also suit.

However, if you are looking for an in-depth exploration of this issue I would definitely recommend The Color of Water, James McBride’s memoir about his mother and growing up bi-racial. And in looking about the internet, I also found Caucasia: A Novel, by Danzy Senna. This novel, about a biracial girl who looks black and her sister who looks white was long-listed for the 1999 Orange prize along with several other worthy books that year (Ahab’s Wife, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Blind Assassin, Hotel World).

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Book Shopping

I am in Salem visiting my mom and dad and this gives me both lots of reading time and lots of bookstores to visit. We were going to go into Portland and go to Powell’s but a late start and lots of rain sent us to a nice cozy lunch at The Wild Pear instead. I did sneak off that afternoon to visit my two favorite used bookstores and I am very pleased with what I will be taking home.

  • The Assault by Harry Mulisch: Mulisch, who died in 2010 is considered one of Holland’s greatest writers. In 1945, a Nazi collaborator is killed and the Nazi’s retaliate against an innocent family with only the twelve year old son surviving.  Mulisch follows Anton throughout his life, tracing the ramifications of this horrific event.
  • Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane: I have had this one on my radar for a while. Deane is an Irish writer who also writes poetry (I have a fondness for novels written by poets). In addition, Reading in the Dark was short-listed for the Booker Prize. With short stories and brief excerpts forming the chapters, this novel is about a family in the Troubles and a young Catholic boy trying to sort out the truth.
  • Afterwords by Gina Berriault: I was hoping to find The Lights of Earth (a novel) or Women in their Beds: New and Selected Stories but this was the only Berriault work I could find so I thought I would give it a try. Hal, a candidate for Congress, seems to have it all until he is caught in a scandal and commits suicide. Afterwords is about the people left behind and their guilt and loneliness.
  • The Old Capital by Yasunari Kawabata: I read a lot of Japanese Literature when I was in high school; unfortunately I remember only snippets. I am pretty sure I have read some of Kawabata, I just can’t remember which so when I stumbled across The Old Capital, I snatched it up. Kawataba won the Nobel Prize in 1968 and this short novel is one of three the committee cited. Chieko is the adopted daughter of a kimono designer. She eventually learns there is more to her adoption than she previously knew and Kawabata follows Chieko has she struggles with this information.
  • In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut: This was one of the finalists for last year’s Booker Prize and a few readers I admire felt it should have won. It also appeared on some best of lists from last year. I generally borrow the Booker Prize finalists from the library but for some reason i wanted to linger with this book. In a Strange Room follows a South African man has he travels to different places. Galgut uses different techniques to explore the isolation a person can feel while trying to find one’s identity.
  • Brooklyn Colm Toibin: This novel by Irish writer Toibin has been getting a lot of buzz in the reading blogs lately – it is about a young girl who emigrates from her small Irish town to Brooklyn, New York. As she finds her place in America and develops relationships she is called back to Ireland and must ultimately where (and with whom) she wants to be. This wasn’t very high on my reading list but Nick Hornby mentioned in his February column for Believer that he is currently adapting the book for the screen and he calls it a “beautiful little literary novel.”
  • The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng: Eng is a Malaysian author and this is his debut novel which was long-listed for The Booker Prize in 2007.  Set just before and during WWII, the novel is the story of Phillip Hutton (half British and half Chinese) as he struggles to navigate his isolation and loneliness and the space between love and duty.

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Since I had such a hard time choosing quotes to highlight in my post yesterday about The Still Point – Here is some more word candy from Amy Sackville’s Novel.  Rereading these and other quotes shows me just how much depth is in this book – far more than I briefly touched on in my review.

 

The Book lies open: it is close to the end of the tale, although there are many blank pages remaining. Even on a day such as this, you will find frost on them if you touch lightly; the chill of resignation, of despair, of regret for a story untold. A man, fallen through the ice, is dying. (pg. 26)

She had left a joint of lamb marinating in the kitchen, in wine and herbs and anchovy, the savory smell of it twitching at Tess’s whiskers. Tess is agile as any self-respecting feline should be but has learned her lesson from the last time she tried to reach the to top of the tall, smooth-sided fridge and succeeded only in scrabbling at the dish there and upending a fish pie upon herself. Its true she had the chance to lap a little off the floor before Julia, alerted by the crash, found her, but it had all been most undignified. (pg. 41)

If she is daunted by her task, if she has been procrastinating, can we blame her for preferring to lounge in the sun? Can a life be composed of other men’s accounts, diaries, journals, notebooks, whose papers and relics of a wrecked expedition any more than it can of – for the sake of argument – a concerto, a dead pheasant, a cat in the garden, a trace of lipstick, the taste of vine tomatoes, of aniseed, a lily? How can we hope to do more than snatch at our quarry? Even butterflies, so captured, show only one side of themselves. (pgs. 46-47)

When Julia thinks of what a husband means, the impossibility of giving herself up daily, she thinks of her sick father fading and her mother clutching after him, fading with him, so that her teenage years were spent on tiptoe, not wishing to break into the hush that surrounded him.

For Emily, waiting for her Edward, there was no slow souring, no flagging indulgence; and no need to witness any gruesome, petty, gripping illness and death. There was only a hero, vanishing; his wife a figure on the shore. (pg. 107)

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The Still Point

Some hours pass without event. They shift a little. The nascent day will soon begin; have patience. We are watching them in the time most often lost to us, well into the night, but before the threat of dawn. The space in time when, if we wake, we are unsure if here are hours of sleep ahead of or we will be shaken seconds later by whatever it that usually signals the day: music or the shrill beep an alarm; a persistent bird at the window; a lover; dread.

You can draw a little nearer, if you are very quiet. Put your face close to his, close enough to feel the gentle rumble and stink of his breath; feel the damp warmth of hers on your cheek. They fall asleep, as many couples do, first twined and then detached; as we rejoin them they have long since undergone this last conscious act, this delicate separation on the very brink of dreaming. (pg. 5)

Thus the reader is introduced to the first of two couples, Julia and Simon, living in Julia’s ancestral home filled to the brim with both things and echoes of the past.  Still Point, a debut novel by Amy Sackville, is about two couples and the ties that bind them together as well as the tensions that threaten to keep them apart. The second couple is Julia’s great-great-uncle, Arctic explorer Edward Mackley and his new bride Emily.

At the turn of the twentieth century Edward sets out to achieve his deepest ambition, to reach the North Pole. He leaves Emily, after their honeymoon, in the care of his brother, John and his wife in the family home. Edward vanishes, leaving Emily to wait for decades. One hundred years later, Julia is going through the family house in order to catalogue what remains from Edward’s explanations including his diary found a few decades earlier.  Still Point chronicles one day in Julia’s life, one sweltering mid-summer day in stark contrast to the cold, arctic wastelands.

In that one day, Sackville takes the reader back and forth so we learn about Julia and Simon’s somewhat strained relationship, and the story of Edward’s expedition, and most importantly, the story of Edward and Emily’s deep love. Julia’s work is difficult because of the shear weight of the family history as “The house groans in the night, freighted with memories. They are stashed in every cupboard; they lurk in every corner…” (pg. 16) and “Surfaces are crowded with keepsakes, her own, her family’s, piling up over the years so that a thick layer of memory blankets all alike. It is sometimes hard to move in a house like this.” (pg. 32)

The burden memories and the burden of legacy is at the heart of Still Point and the author is skilled in getting to the heart of Simon and Julia’s relationship, peeling away the layers like an onion. Sackville is also skilled at descriptions particularly of the Arctic landscape.

They staggered on deck with much gripping and clambered down onto the new-fallen snow, where their grumbles were slowly appeased by the beauty of the night. Every granule on the ground had its glimmer, and the sky was almost as close-packed with the powder of starlight. White on black like the shine in Edward’s eyes, as he strove to see wide and far, to see everything, longing to bring this perfection back to Emily; if he could only close a glass orb around it and carry the universe home to her. (pg. 80)

I liked how the author was able to paint a scene or give you a sense of a character with a few well chosen words or a short passage. There is a slight hint of sardonic humor underlying some of the passages adding a touch of lightness. Sackville also uses repeating images through out the novel, such as pinned butterflies or the weight of a ship moving through the ice and the pressure of the encroaching ice on the hull of that ship which gives the novel a pleasant rhythm.

Sackville chooses a quote from T.S. Eliot’s poem Burnt Norton to serve as an epigraph, “At the still point of the turning world…Where past and future are gathered.” She uses the image of a still point to capture a day in time, and she uses that day to explore the weight of memory, the burden of legacy, and the real versus the idealistic in relationships, memory versus fact in life. A worthy debut and I look forward to seeing more of this author in the future.

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