Dark Shadows Clearing to Shimmering Skies
My literary weather report: two more excellent books read, and several really interesting new ones impending.
Issue #13 Sunday, 9 January 2022 ; Welcome to 2022!
New and Upcoming Releases
Several very interesting-looking books coming out this year.
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
“The award-winning, best-selling author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel returns with a novel of art, time, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon five hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.” (Bookshop.org)
“… a wondrous novel of time travel that precisely captures the reality of our current moment. Sea of Tranquility is a virtuoso performance and an enormously exciting offering from one of our most remarkable writers.” (Pan Macmillan)
“So wise, so graceful, so rich. I loved Sea of Tranquility” Naomi Alderman, author of The Power.
Due out 28 April 2022
I liked the author’s Station Eleven a lot, and also her non-sf novel The Glass Hotel, so I’ll definitely be looking to get hold of his one.
Our Wives Under The Sea by Julia Armfield
“Miri thinks she has got her wife back, when Leah finally returns after a deep sea mission that ended in catastrophe. It soon becomes clear, though, that Leah may have come back wrong. Whatever happened in that vessel, whatever it was they were supposed to be studying before they were stranded on the ocean floor, Leah has carried part of it with her, onto dry land and into their home.
“To have the woman she loves back should mean a return to normal life, but Miri can feel Leah slipping from her grasp. Memories of what they had before – the jokes they shared, the films they watched, all the small things that made Leah hers – only remind Miri of what she stands to lose. Living in the same space but suddenly separate, Miri comes to realize that the life that they had might be gone.
“Our Wives Under The Sea is the debut novel from the critically acclaimed author of salt slow. It’s a story of falling in love, loss, grief, and what life there is in the deep, deep sea.”
Out 3 March 2022.
I don’t know anything about this author, but the book looks intriguing.
The Murder Rule by Dervla McTiernan
“No one is innocent in this story …
“First Rule: Make them like you. Second Rule: Make them need you. Third Rule: Make them pay.
“They think I’m a young, idealistic law student, that I’m passionate about reforming a corrupt and brutal system. They think I’m working hard to impress them. They think I’m here to save an innocent man on death row. They’re wrong. I’m going to bury him.” (Harper Collins)
“Diabolically clever, highly compelling and deeply moving. I loved The Murder Rule and did not want it to end.” Don Winslow, New York Times bestselling author of The Force and The Border.
Out 4 May 2022.
I’m a big fan of McTiernan’s crime novels set in Galway, Ireland, and I’m looking forward to this new stand-alone novel from her.
Completed Since Last Issue
The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North
What I like about many of Claire North's books is the way she comes up with a fascinating but unlikely concept, spins a gripping story around it, and plumbs it to its logical depths.
In The Pursuit of William Abbey, the concept is that of a curse which invokes a shadow relentlessly following the person cursed, with dire results should it catch them.
The opening of the book is set in a hospital near the trenches in the First World War, and is narrated by one of the nurses there, who tells us of the arrival of a Dr. William Abbey, who says he has been sent by headquarters. However, she soon realises that there's something strange about Abbey, though he's doing good work as a doctor. His behaviour towards a particular patient is very odd, she thinks.
Eventually Abbey confides in Sister Ellis and tells her his story. He was working in the Natal in South Africa in 1884 when he witnessed a young native boy beaten and set alight for daring to kiss a white girl. Though Abbey was horrified, and he's a doctor, he did nothing to stop the lynching. The boy's mother cursed Abbey as he stared at her as she cradled her dying child.
The effects of the curse are strange: Abbey soon becomes aware that he's being followed by a "shadow"—the ghost of the young boy, you might say—and the nearer the shadow gets to him, the more Abbey is able to see into the hearts of people around him, and the more he is compelled to babble them aloud. Should the shadow ever catch up with him, whoever Abbey loves the most will die.
That's the premise, and of course the world being the way it is, it's not long before the authorities see the potential of someone cursed the way that Abbey is cursed, and find a way to put it to use. And as in North's other books along the same lines, Abbey eventually finds out that he is not alone: others are suffering similar curses.
Abbey is a deeply flawed, complex character, but we feel for his suffering and failures; and the author spins his story into a gripping thriller.
All Our Shimmering Skies by Trent Dalton
I loved Dalton’s debut novel Boy Swallows Universe, and I’ve been wanting to read this, his second novel, ever since it came out in 2020, but I’ve only just managed to get to it (my To Be Read pile is unforgiving!).
I’m certainly glad I finally read it; I thought it as good if not better than his first novel. It has a really engaging main character, a gripping story, and wonderful descriptions of the beauties of nature, in the lush tropical north around Darwin.
Set in Darwin, beginning in 1936, it follows the fortunes of young Molly Hook, a “little gravedigger girl” who works for her father and uncle in the cemetery they own. When she is only six her mother tells her that she’s going away and won’t come back, she’s going to join Molly’s grandfather in the sky. But the sky will give Molly gifts to help her in her life when her mother is gone. And Molly will need them, because her Uncle Aubrey is a brutal, bitter man driven by hatred and resentment, who dominates Molly’s father, his younger brother.
Six years after Molly’s mother dies, in 1942, Japanese aircraft thunder over Darwin, dropping bombs and strafing the naval ships in the harbour and the township. Molly’s father is killed and her uncle badly injured. Molly takes the opportunity to flee.
Most of the book relates Molly’s long journey, with two unusual companions, through the extraordinary and beautiful landscape of North Australia, in search of the man she believes cursed her grandfather and his family decades before.
It’s a celebration of the beauties of nature, and the perseverance and bravery of an extraordinary character.
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. His Pulitzer Prize winning novel, All the Light We Cannot See was great, one of my top ten reads of 2019, and I’m excited to be starting this one.
Waiting on the Shelf
The Books of Jacob by the Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk. This is a massive book, almost 1,000 pages (kind of ridiculous as a paperback, which is what my library has), and I don’t have much hope of completing it before it has to be returned. But I hope to read enough to decide whether I want to buy my own copy or not. Her novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead was wonderful and funny, so I’m intrigued to see what this one is like. One interesting feature: the book’s pages are numbered in reverse order. I imagine there’s an important reason for that.
That’s it for this issue. Thanks for reading, and please help spread the word so I can pick up more readers. And a reminder about our podcast, and my new Substack newsletter featuring my short fiction, A Flash in the Pan.