The Great Alone is about Alaska in the 1970s; beautiful, remote, harsh, and populated with a small and tightly knit community. Ernt Allbright, recently returned from Vietnam and deeply scarred by the experience, brings his wife and thirteen year old daughter, Leni, to start afresh. Their struggle to survive both breaks and makes them. The characters, including Alaska itself, are strong and compelling, and while I found the story a little overwrought towards the end, on the whole it was a moving story about love, damage, kindness and belonging.
I love that Hazel has taken the story of the Cottingly fairies and added her own characters to create this novel. It is full of warmth and magic, and even includes a lovely bookshop! The overarching theme of the story is that for magic to happen, you first have to believe.
Across the Nightingale Floor is set in an imagined time and place, based on feudal Japan. A young man is rescued, after his family is killed, by a man who adopts him. He discovers he has unusual skills that are highly prized, and bring him a great deal of danger and adventure. The setting is lush and luminous, the characters are compelling and it is a great story of loyalty, treachery, love, loss and honour.
The sort-of-Japanese setting is lush, evocative and almost the best thing about this series. Continuing on from the first book, Takeo is a young man, forced into a life he hates, and Kaede a young woman trying to overcome her misfortunes, and learn to command respect like a man. They both have a difficult journey ahead, made harder by their youthful impetuousness. I found the relationships a little too much in this book, but I am still keen for the rest of the series.
Set in a 2021 when no children have been born in twenty-five years, The Children of Men is a most thought-provoking dystopian novel. Theo Faren is an Oxford don, solitary and rather self-centred, until he is drawn into contact with a group of dissenters. There is a great sense of place, this beautiful, crumbling Oxford, and increasing tension as Theo’s life changes dramatically, and he is pulled out of his apathy. A clever, disturbing, and satisfying mystery.
Captive is all action with a cause. Set in South African national parks, and Mozambique, it follows Aussie lawyer, Kerry, as she comes to volunteer at a wildlife orphanage. No time to settle in, as violent action ensues, as the good guys fight the war on poaching, where the enemy is not always as expected. Captive is fast paced, with lots of African scenery and wildlife, an international cast of characters but a deeply Australian, even ocker, flavour. Lots of fun.
Mae’s husband has been posted to serve on the HMAS Sydney leaving her to cope with their newborn child. This is not going to end well. Grace has just fallen head over heels in love, and her journalist boyfriend leaves to cover the war in Singapore – more tragedy to come. There is a lot of emotion in this story and it is handled beautifully. The women’s grief, hope and ambitions along with coping with everyday life are explored. War effects everyone and this story brings it to life.
An unusual collection of characters are found in this story that has several dark mysteries to explore. There is a strong sense of place, the wild around Cairns, which matches the tone of the story. There are some really nasty people out there, able to hide their secrets – for a while!
Swing Time is the story of two brown girls from London, who love to dance and have a complicated relationship. We follow them from childhood to adulthood, in London, New York and Africa. It is, as you would expect from Zadie Smith, beautifully written, and I never found it dull, but I was not entranced, either. The narrator, not named, is detached, without ambition, even shiftless, so I found the themes of parenthood, race, belonging, poverty, charity, fame, purpose, and meaning not, perhaps, as powerful as they might have been.
For lovers of language, not action, this book is about life and those who live it; it’s a river flowing through the mundane, the every day, picking up the thoughts, motivations, loves, losses and every little foible of those it carries along. It is beautiful, lush, stark, funny, uncomfortable, and tenderly beautiful.