Saturday 24 September 2022

BOOKS @ VOLUME #297 (23.9.22)

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Book of the WeekConversātiō: In the company of bees. Photographer Anne Noble has become increasingly fascinated with bees: their social complexity, their otherness, their long importance to humans, and the clarity with which they raise the alarm over environmental stress and degradation. This beautifully presented and idiosyncratic book displays Noble's bee photographs, at once sensitive and stunning, and helps us to think in new ways about the bees with which we share our world.
>>Look inside.

Friday 23 September 2022


>> Read all Stella's reviews.


Best of Friends by Kamila Shamsie    {Reviewed by STELLA}
It’s Karachi, 1988, and best friends Zahra and Maryam are negotiating their teenage years alongside dynamic political change. Each has a dream: one to inherit the family business, the other to study abroad. Private school girls — Zahra there for her academic prowess, Maryam on the basis of class and her family name — their lives are ones of privilege, but tentatively so. Being young women in this society brings with it expectations and restrictions for both. For Zahra with her school-teacher mother and her cricket commentator father, nothing can be taken for granted. To win a place at an overseas university, she must be better, academically and socially, than all the other students. Pressures from the military regime loom large in her psyche and on the eve of the downfall of General Zia, luck averts a moral crisis for her family. For Maryam, her grandfather’s favourite, taking on the family leatherworks business is never a given, but she’s confident of winning what she sees as her rightful position, female or not. When Maryam returns from summer with her family in London, Zahra notices a shift in her bearing. Maryam is changing and Zahra is confronted by this new bolder young woman aware of her physical presence in the world. Change is in the air. The election of Benazir Bhutto is a pivotal moment for the friends and they feel like they are invincible as they celebrate. Under this breakthrough, though, lie all the issues of gender and class inequality, which won’t be easily undone. On the micro-scale, Maryam is attracting the attention of an older teen boy, Hammad — all leather jacket and slicked back hair — and this creates a fissure in the girls’ friendship, one which will have repercussions in their adult lives, decades on. When a ride in a car goes drastically wrong, both Zahra and Maryam’s lives are turned upside down. Maryam is sent away to boarding school in the UK and Zahra carries with her a sense of guilt and shame she can’t throw off. The second half of the novel is set in 2019. Zahra is a successful civil liberties advocate, and Maryam the CEO of an entrepreneurial investment company. While their friendship has endured, the differences between them are stark. Yet they are also bound by their shared history, personal and cultural. Here Shamsie uses the tensions in their relationship to tease out political and cultural issues, such as facial recognition technology and state control, migration and deportation. Here also, the novel starts to unpick Zahra’s complex sexual repression and Maryam’s alienation from her partner. It examines the role power has in personal, as well as political, relationships. There’s an impending sense of doom, as each of the friends’ behaviours and choices set off a ricochet of events which require them to face each other and themselves. Another powerful novel from the award-winning author of Home Fire


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 


The Notebook by Ágota Kristóf  {Reviewed by THOMAS}

In an unnamed country [Hungary] during an unnamed war [WWII], twin brothers from the Big Town are deposited with their unknown grandmother in the Little Town [near the German border]. Their belongings are immediately taken and sold by their grandmother, apart from their father’s big dictionary, which they use to write their story in the big notebook they demand from the local bookseller on the basis of ‘absolute need’. They set rules for their writing: “The composition must be true. We must describe what is, what we see, what we hear, what we do. For example, it is forbidden to write, ‘Grandmother is like a witch,’ but we are allowed to write ‘People call Grandmother a witch’. We would write, ‘We eat a lot of walnuts’, and not, ‘We love walnuts,’ because the word ‘love’ is not a reliable word. Words that define feelings are very vague. It is better to avoid using them and stick to the description of objects, human beings, and oneself, that is to say, to the faithful description of facts.” The twins describe how they perform ‘exercises to toughen the body’ – hurting themselves and each other until they no longer cry when they are hit, and ‘exercises to toughen the mind’ – subjecting each other to verbal abuse until they no longer blush and tremble when people insult them, and also repeating the words of affection their mother used to use to them until their eyes no longer fill with tears: “By force of repetition, these words gradually lose their meaning, and the pain they carry in them is assuaged.” Unable to be separated, controlled or opposed, the twins practise the only virtue left in a world rendered amoral by war: survival. ‘Absolute need’ is the basis of their interactions with others: they demand boots from the cobbler so they can go about in the winter, they blackmail the priest on behalf of the unfortunate Harelip, they comply with the masochistic requests of the Foreign Officer because of his ‘absolute need’ (which is no less absolute for being psychological), they wreak disfiguring revenge on the priest’s housekeeper because of her mocking of the passing [Jewish] Human Herd’s absolute need for bread. The narrators’ dual identity, the pared-back matter-of-fact prose without metaphor or superfluity, the rigour with which small and horrendous matters are treated with flat equivalence make this book powerful, moving (while remaining unsentimental) and memorable.

VOLUME FOCUS :  Decolonisation

A selection of reading from our shelves:


Sylvia and the Birds: How the Bird Lady saved thousands of birds, and how you can too by Joanna Emeny and Sarah Laing          $40
Part graphic biography, part practical guide to protecting our bird wildlife, this remarkable book for young readers and their families is fully committed to detailing the wonders of our native birds, the threats they face and how we can help them. Based on the life of 'The Bird Lady', Sylvia Durrant, who helped over 140,000 sick, injured and lost birds during her lifetime, it inspires a reverence for the natural world and is a call to action to all young ecologists and environmentalists. With charming illustrations by Sarah Laing, an engrossing text, mātauranga Māori insights, activities and how-tos, it offers hours of enchantment and engagement.
>>Look inside
Diego Garcia by Natasha Soobramanien and Luke Williams         $33
A collaborative fiction about grief, friendship, and how to tell stories that are not yours to tell. Edinburgh, 2014: N. and L., two writer friends arrive from London, a city they believe killed L.'s brother. Every day they try to get to the library to write their blocks, but every day they get distracted, bickering over everything from whether or not it's going to rain, to their Bitcoin tanking, trying and failing to resist the sadness which follows them as they drift around the city. It's on a day like this that they make a new friend, Diego. They go out drinking and swap stories. Diego tells them he is named after his mother's island in the Indian Ocean, part of the Chagos Archipelago, which she and her community were forced to leave by armed soldiers in 1973. The writers become obsessed with this shameful episode in British history and the continuing exile of the Chagossian people. Angry and sad and funny, this collaborative fiction set in Edinburgh, London and Brussels is about grief and friendship, and about trying to work out how, as a writer, you share a story that needs to be heard if it is not your story to tell. But ultimately this is a novel about the true fact of a collaborative fiction authored by the US and British governments, created to maintain military power and to dispossess a people of their homeland.
"As an experiment in 'fictive criticism', this is a new type of social novel, one that avoids stable conclusions. Instead it demands the reader's own critique." —TLS
"Intimate yet expansive, heartbroken but unbowed, and a book about writing that is anything but solipsistic, it's a stirring novel that lights a way forward for politically conscious fiction." —Observer
"Focusing on the ongoing atrocity of the Anglo-American occupation of the Chagos Islands and displacement of their native people, Diego Garcia is a subtle contemplation of the uses of fiction and narrative (for good and bad) and how, where and why individual and collective narratives meet. Taking in artists from Kader Attia to Sophie Podolski, as well as depictions of the Chagossians in poetry, documentaries and essay films, it is a moving study of friendship, allyship and creative forms of political struggle." —Juliet Jacques
"As affecting as it is intellectually agile, Diego Garcia achieves what few novels even aim at - it opens up fresh ways of reading both history and fiction." —Pankaj Mishra
"Diego Garcia is an important and highly original work, incredibly well-researched and thought-through." —Philippe Sands, author of The Last Colony
>>See also: The Last Colony by Philippe Sands.
Dandelions by Thea Lenarduzzi            $38
Where, or what, is home? What has it meant, historically and personally, to be ‘Italian’ or ‘English’, or both in a culture that prefers us to choose? What does it mean to have roots? Or to have left a piece of oneself somewhere long since abandoned? In Dandelions, Thea Lenarduzzi pieces together her family history through four generations’ worth of migration between Italy and England, and the stories scattered like seeds along the way. At the heart of this book is her grandmother Dirce, a former seamstress and a repository of tales that are by turns unpredictable, unreliable, significant. Through the journeys of Dirce and her relatives, from the Friuli to Sheffield and Manchester and back again, a different kind of history emerges. 
"Dandelions is a book of hauntings, intensely experienced, pierced by occasional terrors, yet irradiated throughout by passionate attachment. Generations of family ghosts wander between Italy and England, their lives summoned from a beloved grandmother’s long memories and the author’s own wide-roaming, often poetic reflections on botany, history and language. Thea Lenarduzzi has spread out before us a feast of sensuous and sensitive, nuanced and deeply appealing testimony to migration, survival, and complicated identities at a time when such thoughtfulness is desperately needed." —Marina Warner
Leaving: A poem from the time of the virus by Cees Nooteboom (translated by David Colmer), illustrations by Max Neumann              $48
Approaching ninety, Nooteboom studies his garden and is thrown back into memories of World War 2. With the outbreak and spread of the covid virus, he feels the pull of death even more more strongly, and wonders just how many things are coming to their end. Nooteboom's mesmerising poems are perfectly matched with Neumann's unsettling illustrations. 
>>See some of the artwork
My Mind To Me A Kingdom Is by Paul Stanbridge             $34
Paul Stanbridge tells us about remarkable things. He tells us about the plains of Doggerland, lost under the North Sea. He tells us about ancient horses, carved into chalk hillsides. He tells us about the mysteries and wonders of trees, the beauty of equations. My Mind To Me A Kingdom Is is a book bursting with knowledge. It is a novel about the joy of discovery, the beauty of the world, the rich, warm pulse of life. It is also a book about death. In 2015, Paul's brother took his own life, leaving behind pitifully few possessions and an irreducible complex of questions. In his search for answers, Paul discovers that facts can be the opposite of truth, and that to see something fully, we must sometimes look away. In the end, sifting through a chaos of fragmentary remains — both personal and historical — Paul begins to piece together a sense of the value of living, and to understand what cannot be known. Blending fiction and memoir, knowing and unknowing, love and loss, My Mind To Me A Kingdom Is is a heartbreaking and generous exploration of grief, and a beautiful and painful tribute to Paul's brother. 
Kāwai: For such a time as this by Monty Soutar               $40
In this novel from the notable historian, a young Māori man, compelled to learn the stories of his ancestors, returns to his family marae on the east coast of the North Island to speak to his elderly grand-uncle, the keeper of the stories. What follows is the enthralling account of the young man's tipuna, the legendary warrior Kaitanga, after whom his marae's whare puni has been named. Tracing the author's own ancestral line, Kāwai reveals a picture of an indigenous Aotearoa in the mid-18th century, through to the first encounters between Maori and Europeans. It describes a culture that is highly sophisticated with an immense knowledge of science, medicine and religion; proud tribes who live harmoniously within the natural world; a highly capable and adaptable people to whom family and legacy are paramount. However, it is also a culture illuminated by a brutal undercurrent of inter-generational vengeance, witchcraft and cannibalism.
>>“It’s like a history of New Zealand through Māori eyes.
Fossil Treasures of Foulden Maar: A window into Miocene Zealandia by Uwe Kaulfuss, Daphne Lee and John Conran          $60
A paleontological site of international significance, Foulden Maar in Otago is home to an amazing record of life on Earth. Formed by a volcanic eruption 23 million years ago, the Maar’s undisturbed sedimentary layers are the resting places for countless rare, well-preserved fossils. The site is unsurpassed in the Southern Hemisphere as a scientific record of changing life and ecosystems at the beginning of the Miocene. In recent years, the fossil treasures of Foulden Maar have been threatened by a proposal to mine the site’s rich diatomite deposits. Local and national scientific researchers rallied to call for the protection of this unique location, sparking an international debate about the importance of the preservation of paleontological sites worldwide. Very well presented and illustrated.
He Reo Tuku Iho: Tangata whenua and te reo Māori by Awanui Te Huia        $30
Awanui Te Huia focuses on the lived experiences of tangata whenua and explores ways in which they can reclaim te reo. Drawing upon findings from the national research project Manawa ū ki te reo Māori, which surveyed motivations and barriers for Māori language acquisition and use, Te Huia encourages readers to explore how they can journey back towards te reo Māori in daily life. We hear from tangata whenua learning te reo, and from those who are fluent, while considering challenges to language reclamation – such as experiences with racism, whakamā, historical trauma and resourcing – and ways to overcome these.
Perfume by Megan Volpert              $23
Our sense of smell is crucial to our survival. We can smell fear, disease, food. Fragrance is also entertainment. We can smell an expensive bottle of perfume at a high-end department store. Perhaps it reminds us of our favorite aunt. A memory in a bottle is a powerful thing. Megan Volpert's Perfume carefully balances the artistry with the science of perfume. The science takes us into the neurology of scent receptors, how taste is mostly smell, the biology of illnesses that impact scent sense, and the chemistry of making and copying perfume. The artistry of perfume involves the five scent families and symbolism, subjectivity in perfume preference, perfume marketing strategies, iconic scents and perfumers, why the industry is so secretive, and Volpert's own experiments with making perfume. 
Fono: The contest for the governance of Sāmoa by Peter Swain           $40
The story of the development of Sāmoa’s unique system of governance, and of those who have fought for power and shaped the development of the Independent State of Sāmoa, from first settlement through German colonisation and New Zealand’s administration, to indigenous governance, including the hard-fought 2021 General Election and its dramatic outcome.
"This book, based on a wide range of historical sources and original research, provides us with fresh insights into the history of Sāmoa and the struggles our leaders and people went through in their search for the ideal form of governance for Sāmoans to live their own way of life. Fono is essential reading for all Sāmoans, and for all those interested in the good governance of small island states." —Tuila‘epa Dr Sa‘ilele Malielegaoi
Ritual: How seemingly senseless acts make life worth living by Dimitris Xygalatas         $45
Ritual is one of the oldest, and certainly most enigmatic, threads in the history of human culture. It presents a profound paradox: people ascribe the utmost importance to their rituals, but few can explain why they are so important. Apparently pointless ceremonies pervade every documented society, from handshakes to hexes, hazings to parades. Before we ever learned to farm, we were gathering in giant stone temples to perform elaborate rites and ceremonies. And yet, though rituals exist in every culture and can persist nearly unchanged for centuries, their logic has remained a mystery. An anthropologist helps us to understand. 
>>The power of ritual
What We Owe the Future: A million-year view by William MacAskill           $35
We are remarkably early in the story of human civilisation. We are still five hundred million years away from the sterilisation of the Earth by the Sun, and one hundred trillion years away from the dying of the last stars. Leaving a shard of broken glass on the ground, for instance, may harm someone tomorrow or one hundred thousand years hence. Our duty of care to each of those individuals is the same. Positively influencing the long-term future is a key moral priority of our time. Future peoples are completely disenfranchised — they can't lobby or vote for change. As we lock in today global values and systems that will outlast us by eons, let's not forget the many left to come whose quality of life is in our hands. How does morality change when we consider all the people who have not yet been born?
The Con Artists by Luke Healy            $40
Frank only wanted three things this year- to perform stand-up comedy, go to therapy, and to keep his house plants alive. Then Giorgio got hit by a bus. As Frank moves in with Giorgio to help him recover, he begins to suspect that the perfect life Giorgio has been sharing online may be nothing more than a web of lies and scams. Finding himself unable to disentangle himself from his friend's complicated life, has Frank become Giorgio's unwitting accomplice?
"A beautifully observed masterpiece." —Observer (graphic novel of the month)
"I loved it — it’s quiet and funny and anxious, most of all it’s dreadfully human." —Evie Wyld

Dance Move by Wendy Erskine          $45
In the new collection of stories from Wendy Erskine we meet characters who are looking to wrest control of their lives, only to find themselves defined by the moment in their past that marked them. Meet Drew Lord Haig, called upon to sing the obscure hit from his youth at a paramilitary event. Or Max, who recalls an eventful journey to a Christian film festival. Meet Mrs Dallesandro, in the tanning salon on her wedding anniversary, dreaming of a teenage sexual experience. And Sonya, who scours the streets of Belfast for the 'missing' posters of her dead son.
"There are few short story writers I look forward to reading as much as Wendy Erskine. Humane, funny, surprising, profound; in Dance Move she does it all." — Chris Power
The Stupefying by Nick Ascroft               $35
"The Stupefying is a bruised arm firmly removed from its sling. It isn’t funny ha-ha but funny that-can’t-be-true-but-I-know-it-is. In poems of eavesdropping and invention, deflation and elation, Nick Ascroft’s poetic sensibilities and craft are always surprising, sometimes morally questionable, always a delight. His fifth collection may be his most personal yet, with a sweetness that stings us repeatedly. The Stupefying is not to be missed."
Sridhar highlights lessons learned from outbreaks past and present in a narrative that traces the COVID-19 pandemic - including her personal experience as a scientist - and sets out a vision for how we can better protect ourselves from the inevitable health crises to come. Why did deadlier variants emerge? Why did countries with weak health systems like Senegal and Vietnam fare better than countries like the US and UK (which were consistently ranked as the most prepared)? Why were the benefits of the quickest development of game-changing vaccines in history squandered by unfair distribution? 
"The sensational story of how a disaster was turned into a catastrophe, with the clarity, precision and humanity that you would expect from one of the most important voices of reason of the COVID era. A brutally compelling reminder that if voices like Devi's had been listened to, so many more could have lived." —Owen Jones
"Fair, clear and compelling. And like all of Devi's contributions over the course of the pandemic, very accessible." —Nicola Sturgeon
Poemas / Moteatea / Poems by Gabriela Mistral (translated by Jessica Sequeira, Leonel Alvarado and Hone Morris)           $35
A trilingual selection from the deeply loved Chilean poet, with versions in Spanish, te reo Maori, and English. 

The Sidekick by Benjamin Markovits           $45
At his high school basketball try-outs, nerdy sports-obsessed Brian Blum meets new kid Marcus Hayes. What neither of them knows when they line up at the end of practice to shoot free throws is that Marcus will soon be living with the Blums, following his parents' messy break-up, and that he will go on to become an NBA star, the next Michael Jordan. As sportswriter Brian spends the following twenty years tracking his friend's career, he remains Marcus's only link to his pre-fame life. And, as Marcus mounts his comeback after a couple of years out of the game, both men must face the tensions and disappointments of getting older.
Special Delivery: A book's journey around the world by Polly Faber and Klas Fahlen       $23
When a book comes off a printing press, it is just starting a journey that ends when it is delivered into a child's hand. This appealing book looks at all the people involved along the way. 

Rewilding the Sea: How to save our oceans by Charles Clover         $40
Clover chronicles how determined individuals are proving that the crisis in our oceans can be reversed, with benefits for both local communities and entire ecosystems. Rewilding the Sea celebrates what happens when we step aside and let nature repair the damage- whether it is the overfishing of bluefin tuna across the Atlantic, the destruction of coral gardens by dredgers in Lyme Bay or the restoration of oysters on the East Coast of America. The latest scientific research shows that trawling and dredging create more CO2 than the aviation industry and damage vast areas of our continental shelves, stopping them soaking up carbon. We need to fish in different ways, where we fish at all. We can store carbon and have more fish by stepping aside more often and trusting nature.
Needs Adult Supervision: Lessons in growing up by Emily Writes           $35
This book looks at the growing pains of kids and their parents and their attempts to navigate a world that's changing by the minute. Emily paints a vivid picture of all the feelings, fortunes and failures that come with trying to parent when you don't always feel up for the task. What it feels like to be learning at the same time your kids are. What happens when we get radically honest about the challenges parents are facing.  Funny, sad, thoughtful, inspiring and ultimately up-lifting for parents at all stages of life.
Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves by Meg Long          $26
A lone girl determined to survive. The feral wolf she must learn to trust. Only one chance to escape their icy planet: a race across the deadly tundra. Seventeen-year-old Sena Korhosen hates the sled race, especially after it claimed both her mothers' lives five years ago. Alone on her frozen planet, she makes money any other way she can--until she double-crosses a local gangster. Desperate to escape, Sena flees with his prized fighting wolf, Iska, and takes an offer from a team of scientists. They'll pay her way off-world, on one condition--that she uses the survival skills her mothers taught her to get them to the end of the race. But the tundra is a treacherous place. When the race threatens their lives at every turn, Sena must discover whether her abilities are enough to help them survive the wild, and whether she and Iska together are strong enough to get them all out alive. As the girl and the wolf forge a tenuous bond and fight to escape ice goblins, giant bears, and the ruthless gang leader intent on trapping them both, one question drives them relentlessly forward: Where do you turn when there is nowhere to hide?
The Enlightenment: The pursuit of happiness, 1680—1790 by Ritchie Robertson         $48
The Enlightenment is one of the formative periods of Western history, yet more than 300 years after it began, it remains controversial. It is often seen as the fountainhead of modern values such as human rights, religious toleration, freedom of thought and evidence-based argument. Others accuse the Enlightenment of putting forward a scientific rationality which ignores the complexity and variety of human beings. Answering the question 'what is Enlightenment?' Kant famously urged men and women above all to 'have the courage to use your own understanding'. Robertson shows how the thinkers of the Enlightenment did just that, seeking a rounded understanding of humanity in which reason was balanced with emotion and sensibility. His book goes behind the controversies about the Enlightenment to return to its original texts and to show that above all it sought to increase human happiness in this world. 
Blind Bay Hookers: The little ships of early Nelson, and colonial times by Fred Westrupp          $55
From 1841 to 1925, central New Zealand's Blind Bay (now Tasman Bay) was enlivened by the white sails of a 'mosquito fleet' plying local waters and beyond. The earliest of these seagoing little ships were often built from the bush, some only about 30 feet in length. All were able to 'take the mud' to discharge and load on beaches and in estuaries. For the pioneer settlers, struggling to cope in difficult terrain, these little ships were their lifeline. Embedded within this meticulously researched book is the social and economic colonial history of central New Zealand, viewed from the perspective of the working-class seafarers who owned and operated vessels in the trading fleet. Updated edition. 
Football by Mark Yakich           $23

When is the "beautiful game" at its most beautiful? How does football function as a lens through which so many view their daily lives? What's right in front of fans that they never see? Football celebrates and scrutinizes the world's most popular sport-from top-tier professionals to children just learning the game. As an American who began playing football in the 1970s as it gained a foothold in the States, Mark Yakich reflects on his own experiences alongside the sport's social and political implications, its narrative and documentary depictions, and its linguistic idiosyncrasies. Illustrating how football can be at once absolutely vital and only a game, this book will be surprising and insightful for the casual and diehard fan alike.
>>Other 'Object Lessons'.

The Cold Inside: A story of mountains, friendship, and doubt by Paul Hersey         $35
Mountains may inspire or repel. For climbers, they offer an opportunity for extreme adventure, as well as elusive, precious moments of feeling truly alive. The Cold Inside takes an intimate look at what it takes to climb. With a unique focus on New Zealand’s breathtaking, unparalleled landscape, seasoned mountaineer and award-winning author Paul Hersey is profoundly introspective, and his passion for his crafts — storytelling and climbing — is evident from the first pages. A mix of adventure narrative, prose, and memoir, this book explores the psyche of climbers. It’s as much an unflinching recount of risk and loss as it is a love letter to nature, both facets heightened through the deep connection that climbing provides. 
“Part mountaineering adventure, part meditation on the meaning of mountain climbing, Paul Hersey explores ways in which being among mountains can guide us towards a better understanding of ourselves. Drawing on decades of experience, Paul goes beyond simply asking ‘Why do I climb?’ to address issues of self-belief and doubt, teamwork and individualism, emotional wellbeing and pressure to succeed.” —Laurence Fearnley
Chess for Children by Sabrina Chevannes           $20
A new edition of this international chess classic, with all-new illustrations. Aimed at children aged 7 and up, this appealing book is a complete guide to chess for those starting out in the game. In straightforward, animated language, Jess and Jamie explain everything you need to know, from first sitting down at the board to sneaky tricks to help you beat your opponents. The book explains who the pieces are and how they move, how to reach checkmate (or, in Jess's words, 'how to kill the king'), and the concept of the opening, middlegame and endgame. It also introduces the idea of chess etiquette — and explains why sometimes no one wins and a game ends in stalemate. Friendly and fun. Recommended. 

Saturday 17 September 2022

BOOKS @ VOLUME #296 (16.9.22)

For new books and book news, read our latest newsletter. 


Book of the Week. Alan Garner's TREACLE WALKER is a spare and moving story of a lonely boy who strikes up a friendship with a wandering rag-and-bone man who opens his eyes to new depths of experience. Melding myth, folklore and quantum physics, Treacle Walker is a novel about the acquisition of human depth, and an exploration of the possibilities and limitations of our understanding of time (“time is ignorance.” —Carlo Rovelli).
"Treacle Walker crams into its 150-odd pages more ideas and imagination than most authors manage in their whole careers." —Alex Preston, The Guardian
>>Where did all the children go?
>>Blackden and beyond
>>Myth meets modern science. 
>>Knowing your place
>>"You don't want to have a brilliant idea for a novel at the age of 87.
>>"Age, in itself, is irrelevant."
>>Read an extract
>>Short-listed for the 2022 Booker Prize



>> Read all Stella's reviews.


Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel  {Reviewed by STELLA}
Emily St John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility is a book to be lost in. It’s a book about time, living and loving. Superbly constructed, it stretches from 1912 to 2401; from the wildness of Vancouver to a moon colony of the future. A remittance man, Edwin St.John St.Andrew, is sent abroad. He’s completely at sea in this new world — he has no appetite for work nor connection — and makes a haphazard journey to a remote settlement on a whim. Here, he has an odd experience which leaves him shaken. He will return to England only to find himself derailed in the trenches of the First World War and later struck down by the flu pandemic. It’s 2020 and Mirella (some readers will remember her from The Glass Hotel) is searching for her friend Vincent (who has disappeared). She attends a concert by Vincent’s brother Paul and afterwards waits for him to appear, along with two music fans at the backstage door. It’s here, on the eve of our current pandemic, that she discovers that Vincent has drowned at sea. Yet it is an art video that Vincent had recorded and been used in Paul’s performance which is at the centre of the conversation for one of the music fans. The film is odd — recounting an unworldly experience in the Vancouver forest. A short clip — erratic and strangely out of place, out of time. It’s 2203 and Olive Llewellyn, author, is on a book tour of Earth. She lives on Moon Colony Two and is feeling bereft — missing her husband and daughter. It’s a gruelling schedule of talks, interviews and same-same hotel rooms; and, if this wasn’t enough, there’s a new virus on the loose. Her bestselling book, Marienbad is about a pandemic. Within its pages is a description of a strange occurrence which takes place in a railway station. When an interviewer questions her about this passage, she’s happy to talk about it, as long it is off the record. It’s 2401, and detective Gaspery-Jacques Roberts from the Night City has been hired to investigate an anomaly in time. Drawing on his experiences and the book, Marienbad, and finding connections between the aforementioned times and people, will lead him to a place where he will make a decision that may have disruptive consequences. A decision which will cause upheaval. Emily St.John Mandel is deft in her writing, keeping the threads of time and the story moving across and around themselves without losing the reader, and making the knots — the connections — at just the right time to engage and delight intellect and curiosity. Moving through time and into the future makes this novel an unlikely contender to be a book of our time, but in so many ways it is. Clever, fascinating, reflective and unsettling, it’s a tender shout-out to humanity. 


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 



The Years by Annie Ernaux   {Reviewed by THOMAS}

“She will go within herself only to retrieve the world,” writes Annie Ernaux in this astounding work of what she terms “impersonal autobiography”. Conspicuously not a memoir, unless it is a memoir of time itself, the book takes the form of a ‘flat’, rigorous and unsentimental serial accumulation of moments that would otherwise be lost from human experience, moments shorn of interpretation or context, impressions that the author has resisted the expectation to turn into a narrative. Thus preserved in the nearest possible state to experience, the memories retain the power of memories without being condensed into fact, they retain the power to resonate in the reader in the way in which the reader's own memories resonate. Although the memories are often very personal and specific, covering every detail of Ernaux’s life from childhood to old age, Ernaux never presents them as belonging to an ‘I’, always to a ‘she’ or a ‘we’. She does not presume a continuity of self other than the self that exists in the moment of experience, a moment that will continue until that memory is extinguished. The distancing of the memory from the ‘I’, the clipping free of the experience from its subject, the creation of a text that is at once impersonal and personal, becomes a machine for the conversion of the particular into the universal, or, rather, for erasing the distinction between the two. “By retrieving the collective memory in an individual memory, she will capture the lived dimension of History.” At the moment that Ernaux severs her attachment from the memories that she records, she saves them from plausible extinction, she makes them the memories of others. When such responses are awakened in the reader, the reader becomes the rememberer (the rememberer in this case of living in France between 1941 and 2006). Any emotional response comes from the reader’s experience, not the author’s, or, rather, from the collective human experience that includes both reader and author. There are separate narratives, or separate modes, for what one remembers and what one knows to have happened. What is the relationship between these two kinds of memory? “Between what happens in the world and what happens to her, there is no point of convergence. They are two parallel series: one abstract, all information no sooner received than forgotten, the other all static shots,” she writes. As Ernaux reaches old age, witnessing a series of “burials that foreshadow her own,” she casts back from an imperative somewhere beyond her death, recording the rush of memory towards its ultimate forgetting. “All the images will disappear. They will vanish all at the same time, like the images that lay hidden behind the foreheads of the grandparents, dead for half a century, and of the parents, also dead. Thousands of words will suddenly be deleted the ones that were used to name things, faces, acts and feelings, to put the world in order. Everything will be erased in a second, the dictionary of words amassed between cradle and deathbed, eliminated.” But it is not only death that can extinguish memory: “The future is replaced by a sense of urgency that torments her. She is afraid that her memory will become cloudy and silent. Maybe one day all things and their names will slip out of alignment and she’ll no longer be able to put names to reality. All that will remain is the reality that cannot be spoken. Now’s the time to give form to her future absence through writing.” Her book is an attempt to “save something from the time where we will never be again.” By her method of conjuring and recording the raw material of her life, Ernaux “finds something that the image from her personal memory doesn’t give her on its own: a kind of vast collective sensation that takes her consciousness, her entire being, into itself.” The passage of time is made tangible, subjects are dissolved in their experiences, the intimate is revealed as the universal, moments are, in the act of writing, both held and relinquished.