The Midnight Rose, Lucinda Riley
The Midnight Rose is a story within a story. Anahita is 100 years old and has written her life story for a son everyone else believes died at the age of 3. She refuses to believe this and gives the story to her great grandson Ari (grandson of her daughter), charging him with discovering the truth. His investigation takes him to a Astley House in Devon in the UK where a film crew is currently working, including Hollywood’s biggest star Rebecca Bradley, who also becomes fascinated with working out what really happened. Anahita’s story itself is wonderful. As a companion to an Indian princess, she travels from palaces in India to boarding school in London to the battlefields of the First World War and, of course, to Astley House. This is a story of friendship, love and wisdom as well as tragedy, malice and insanity. There are some dark and delightful twists in the latter half. I found myself very emotionally involved in this story.
The Lie, Helen Dunmore
This is the first of Dunmore’s novels that I’ve read but I gather it’s not the first to explore the same subject matter: ‘the long shadow of war’. Daniel returns from the First World War to his Cornwall village but he has no home or family and ekes out a small living on a plot of land of an elderly woman with whom his mother was friends. He cuts himself off from others not only because of his poverty but because he has trouble telling reality from memory: smelling mud sends him back into the trenches, for example, and he is visited by his best friend and commanding officer Frederick who died in the war. The reader is drawn into Dan’s world of quiet desperation where he can’t be reached by others or reach out to them: he is always to be in No Man’s Land. Beautifully written, this subtle tragedy is a stunning depiction of the engulfing stress of a half-life after death.
A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
An Australian classic, I read this straight after The McKinnon Legends (see below) and it was an absolute pleasure to read something that was well written and constructed. Related through a third person narrator, the story follows Jean Paget. In WWII Malaya, she is taken prisoner by the Japanese but because no commanding officer wants the responsibility of a stack of British women she and her compatriots are marched all over the country enduring all kinds of hardships. The second half of the book sees Jean setting up life in outback Australia six years after the war and attempting to transform a small country town into a place where women might come to live. Written in the 1950s, the novel shows its age, with Australian slang which today would be a caricature, as well as what we would now consider not just quaint but fundamentally offensive and racist language and attitudes. A gentle love story acts as a catalyst that ties the two continents and experiences together, but I also enjoyed the exploration of this female protagonist’s capacity and limitations.
Gloria! The Archbishop’s Wife, Sanusi Abidemi
Gloria Kwashi’s husband Ben is the Anglican Archbishop of Jos in Nigeria. Though lesser known than her husband, Gloria sounds like the radical one! Her story touches on political and religious issues that are not explained or discussed. It’s a personal story, and one of motherhood: her own birth in difficult circumstances, her marriage to Ben and mothering of their children, and the many hundreds of children she has rescued, educated and adopted. At one point she says, ‘The most practical thing seemed to be to move the 300 children into our home.’ Only to her would that appear to be a practical thing to do! However, this book is not a hagiography – far from it! Reading it I thought that I might not like her if I met her. She is described at various points as coming across hard or cold, and it’s clear that her compassion for some (e.g. orphans) led her to neglect others. Her failings are clear, yet that makes God’s work through her all the more powerful, and perhaps, all the more possible. I couldn’t help thinking that a more sensible woman or emotionally expressive woman could not have accomplished what Gloria has.
The McKinnon Legends, Ranay James
There are five in this time-travel series but I only read the first two. The plot’s not bad, kind of similar to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, and there are some interesting inter-generational time-travel interactions. However, if ‘show not tell’ is the first rule of storytelling, this author needs to revise her basics. Apart from some cringe-worthy phrases — “Connor laughed softly, and the sexy sound shot through Reagan, caressing her deep in her core” — and some repeated plot devices, this book reads more like the dot points of a plot outline than a novel. I felt like I was being informed or caught up to speed on the characters rather than journeying with them. I kept reading to find out what happens to them but the drudgery of the writing eventually made this quite a boring read.
A Gone Pecan, Dusty Thompson
I came across this novel because of a leadership talk that I found mildly amusing. Having heard the author’s voice and knowing the context was the American South, I had some idea of the rhythm of the prose but even so I found the language and sentence structure quite impenetrable. That discomfort lessened for me as there was more dialogue and I got used to not understanding most of the idioms and references. It’s supposed to be a mystery, but the reader sees the murder at the beginning and then has to wait for the investigating characters’ knowledge to catch up to their own. That takes quite a long time because the vast majority of this book is introducing you to various kooky characters of the small town that have almost nothing to do with the mystery. This is meant to be the first in a series but I won’t be bothering with the rest.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.