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Book Nook - 02-10-2017

Monday, October 02, 2017

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

Children Of  Nature
Fiona Mozley’s debut novel Elmet is a surprise pick on the Man Booker Award shortlist this year, making the 29-year-old writer one of the youngest to make the grade. She wrote the book on her train commute from York to London, which makes the end result all the more amazing.

 Elmet gets its name from an ancient Yorkshire kingdom; the narrator Daniel, his sister Cathy and father John—whom they call Daddy—live in seclusion in the forest, in a house they built themselves; their Spartan existence more medieval than modern.

‘Daddy,’  hulking giant of a man, was famous in those parts as a bare-knuckle fighter, who was never beaten. Now, he stays away from that violent life with his children, growing their own food and hunting for game with homemade bows and arrows, to eat. Their rough life has made the teenage Cathy strong and fearless. When they were still living amidst civilisation, she had thrashed a group of boys who picked on her and Daniel.

They had very little to do with their mother who drifted in and out of their lives and finally vanished. They were raised for a few years by their grandmother, till she died. In the village,  John makes arrangements for them to be educated by a mysterious female friend who lives nearby, but only Daniel is interested in books and knowledge; Cathy is more of a wild child.

 In their tranquil life, a threat comes in the form of powerful landlord, Price, who claims that the land they have built their house on, belongs to him. But there is a history to his hostility, because in the past, John used to be his muscle-for-hire henchman.

 Price’s two thuggish sons harass Cathy, while the father threatens John.  When John becomes one of the leaders of an uprising against the exploitative ways the landlords, Price and his men get even more vicious.  The tragedy that follows is heart-rending.  There is also a touch of the mythical in the fight between evil and elemental purity.

Mozley uses Yorkshire speech in her dialogue, the way characters say “doendt” for doesn’t and “wandt” for wasn’t. But there is a kind of lyricism with which she describes the copse, the animals and birds that surround this strange paradise this family of three has created for themselves; Daniel comes up with observations like: “The soil was alive with ruptured stories that cascaded and rotted then found form once more and pushed up through the undergrowth and back into our lives.”

The book deserves the acclaim and attention it has received so far, and Mozley is writer to watch for.

Elmet
By Fiona Mozley
Publisher: JHodder & Stoughton
Pages:  311

Excerpt of Elmet
Daddy and Cathy and I lived in a small house that Daddy built with materials from the land here about. He chose for us a small ash copse two fields from the east coast main line, far enough not to be seen, close enough to know the trains well. We heard them often enough: the hum and ring of the passenger trains, the choke and gulp of the freight, passing by with their cargo tucked behind in painted metal tanks. They had timetables and intervals of their own, drawing growth rings around our house with each journey, ringing past us like prayer chimes. The long, indigo Adelantes and Pendolinos that streaked from London to Edinburgh. The smaller trains that bore more years, with rust on their rattling pantographs. Old carthorse-trains chugging up to the knacker, they moved too slowly for the younger tracks and slipped on the hot-rolled steel like old men on ice.

 On the day we arrived an old squaddy drove up the hill in an articulated lorry filled with cracked and discarded stone from an abandoned builders’ yard. The squaddy let Daddy do most of the unloading while he sat on a freshly cut log and smoked cigarette after cigarette that Cathy rolled from her own tobacco and papers. He watched her closely as she spun them with her fingers and tipped tongue over teeth to lick the seal. He looked at her right thigh as she rested the tobacco pouch upon it and more than once leaned over to pick it up, brushing his hand against her as he did so, then pretending to read the text on the packet. He offered to light her cigarettes for her each time. He held out the flame eagerly and took offence, like a child, when she continued to light them herself. He could not see that she was scowling the whole time and frowning at her hands as she did his work. He was not a man who could look and see and understand faces well enough to tell. He was not one of those who know what eyes and lips mean or who can imagine that a pretty face might not be closed around pretty thoughts.

Accident Or Murder?
In Mary Kubica’s suspense drama, Clara Solberg’s life comes crashing down when her husband Nick is killed in a car crash; their four-year-old daughter Maisie, who was in the backseat, miraculously survives unhurt, with no memory of the accident.

 When Clara gets the news, she has just delivered her son, Felix for days ago.  Her father and Nick’s friend Connor helps her cope with the tragedy.  But there are expenses and unexpected crises that keep popping up.  Clara had put all her savings into Nick’s dental business; her father offers to help, but she knows that he has his own burden to carry, what with his wife suffering from dementia.

Maisie is an annoying, self-centred kid, the kind who will demand to be taken to the bathroom at the most inconvenient time, and throw tantrums at the slightest opportunity. Clara is unable to tell the child that her father is dead.

Then Maisie lets drop that a “bad man” was after them, and gets hysterical at the sight of a black car. Clara suspects that her husband’s accident may have been murder. The cops are not in the least cooperative, so a grieving Clara, tries to investigate herself.

Kubica writes from Clara and Nicks’s voices—she in the present discovering things Nick hid from her; he in the past, talking of the trouble he is facing in his business that is spiraling out of control.

The pace and suspense build up to a point, but redundant characters like the neighbour with an abusive husband and Clara’s ill mother, hamper the flow; too many red herrings are bunged in, so that the climax comes as a downer, and the narrative of Clara’s problems is left dangling.

Every Little Lie
By Mary Kubica
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages:  331

Excerpt of Every Little Lie
They say that death comes in threes. First it was the man who lives across the street from my father and mother. Mr. Baumgartner, dead from prostate cancer at the age of seventy-four. And then it was a former high school classmate of mine, only twenty-eight years old, a wife and mother, dead from a pulmonary embolism—a blood clot that shot straight to her lungs.

 And then it was Nick.

 I’m sitting on the sofa as the phone beside me starts to ring. Nick’s name appears on the display screen, his familiar voice on the other end of the line like any of the other thousands of times he’s called. But this time it’s different because this is the last time he will ever call.

“Hey,” says Nick.

“Hey yourself.”

“How’s everything going?” he asks.

“Just fine,” I tell him.

“Is Felix asleep?”

“Yup,” I say. The way new babies have a tendency to do, up all night, sleep all day. He lies in my arms, rendering me immobile. I can’t do a single thing but watch him sleep. Felix is days and three hours old. In seventeen more minutes he will be four days and four hours old. The labor was long and intense as they nearly all are. There was pain despite the epidural, three hours of pushing despite the fact that delivery was supposed to get easier with each subsequent birth. With Maisie it was quick and easy by comparison; with Felix it was hard.

“Maybe you should wake him,” Nick suggests.

“And how should I do that?”

My words aren’t cross. They’re tired. Nick knows this. He knows that I am tired.

“I don’t know,” he says, and I all but hear the shrug through the telephone, see Nick’s own tired but boyish smile on the other end of the line, the usually clean-shaven face that begins to accrue with traces of brown bristle at this time of day, along the mustache line and chin. His words are muffled. The phone has slipped from his mouth, as I hear him whisper to Maisie in an aside, Let’s go potty before we leave, and I imagine his capable hands swapping a pair of pale pink ballet slippers with the hot-pink Crocs. I see Maisie’s feet squirm in his hands, drawing away. Maisie wants to join the troop of other four-years-olds practicing their clumsy leg extensions and toe touches.

But, Daddy, her tiny voice whines. I don’t have to go potty.

And Nick’s firm but gentle command: You need to try.

Nick is the better parent. I tend to give in, to say okay, only to regret it when, three miles into our commute home, Maisie suddenly gropes for her lap and screams that she has to go with a shame in her eyes that tells me she’s already gone.

Maisie’s voice disappears into the little girls’ room, and Nick returns to the phone. “Should I pick something up for dinner?” he asks, and I stare down at Felix, sound asleep on my still-distended lap. My chest leaks through a white cotton blouse. I sit on an ice pack to soothe the pain of childbirth. An episiotomy was needed, and so there are stitches; there is blood. I haven’t bathed today and the amount of sleep I’ve reaped in the last four days can be counted on a single hand. My eyelids grow heavy, threatening to close.

Nick’s voice comes at me again through the phone. “Clara,” he says, this time deciding for me, “I’ll pick up something for dinner. Maisie and I will be home soon. And then you can rest,” he says, and our evening routine will go a little something like this: I will sleep, and Nick will wake me when it’s time for Felix to eat. And then come midnight, Nick will sleep and I will spend the rest of the night awake with a roused Felix again in my arms.

“Chinese or Mexican?” he asks, and I say Chinese.

These are the last words I ever exchange with my husband.
 

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