Book Reviews

Book Reviews for August 2020 – Literary Fiction

Here are my Book Reviews for August 2020 and my writing news, plus special mention for a fundraising challenge in support of the Red Cross in Beirut.

Two Plays and a Story by Ogo Nwokedi

I’m a hopeless traveller. I try to avoid it as much as possible and certainly never travel alone. And as a shy person, I dread group situations. So it was with much trepidation I took three trains and a taxi to Lancaster University for the MA Creative Writing Summer School in 2014.

One of the first people I met was fellow course member Ogochukwu Nwokedi. She seemed immediately at ease in the course environment despite having travelled all the way from Nigeria to attend. (Her journey put my 180-mile trip into perspective.) She was a good bit younger than me, but her calm and wise manner put me at ease too. We often found ourselves in the same workshops and it wasn’t long before I discovered how great a writer she is.

I haven’t seen Ogo since the course but have often wondered whether she published any of her wonderful stories. I was delighted when another MA course member, Fergus Smith, told me Ogo’s siblings had arranged publication of Two Plays and A Story.

My favourite piece is the short story Three Faces. It is an unusual setting for a tale of control and manipulation, and written with flare. I won’t say more because it is one for the reader to unwrap as they read.

It is no surprise that one of the plays, The Expert Gravedigger, was shortlisted for the BBC International Playwriting Competition. This warm, rich story is imbued with the calmness and wisdom I saw in the author when we met. It reminded me of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and the ending brought a tear to my eye.

This collection is well worth reading and I’m delighted to be able to feature it in my book reviews for August 2020.

 

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

This literary novel tells how profound events in her childhood deeply affect the life of an unnamed Irish girl. Her elder brother, who underwent brain surgery as a toddler, is cossetted by their religious mother and taunted by children at school. The family lives under the shadow of the possible return of his tumour. Life takes another turn when their mother’s sister and brother-in-law come to visit. The uncle grooms the thirteen-year-old girl and sets her on a course of self-degradation that runs throughout her teens and beyond.

The writing style is unique and not immediately accessible. For example, the girl describes her own birth as: “… Mucus stogging up my nose. Scream to rupture day. Fatty snorting like a creature. A vinegar world I smelled. There now a girleen isn’t she great. Bawling…”

In an interview with David Collard, Eimear McBride described her technique as: “… attempting to tell a story from a point so far back in the mind that it is completely experiential, completely gut-reactive and balancing on the moment just before language becomes formatted thought … Every word had to be drawn from whatever would exist in anyone’s basic active vocabulary and this was the rule I pretty much stuck to.

“… I wanted the simplicity of the vocabulary to allow the more complex construction to slip in under the radar so that the decoding would take place within the readers themselves, almost as though they were experiencing the story from the inside out rather than the outside in.”

When you know that this is her method, the writing makes perfect sense. When approaching the text, it is best to commit to the narrative as a whole and not to try to decode the detail. Let the meaning emerge in the subconscious.

Vivid, tragic and immersive.

 

The Spider King’s Daughter by Chibundu Onuzo

Welcome to Lagos was one of my favourite reads of 2017 so it was great to catch up with the author’s debut, The Spider King’s Daughter, published in 2013.

Spoilt rich girl Abike, out and about in Lagos in a chauffeur-driven car, buys an ice cream from a street hawker. But, to Abike, he doesn’t seem like other hawkers. He’s eighteen and handsome with a riches-to-rags backstory. Except for one startling incident at the beginning of the book, the reader could be forgiven for thinking they were about to embark on a romantic story of star-crossed lovers. However, it is the incident between Abike and her powerful and cruel father that foreshadows the dark, tense tale that will emerge from the mid-point of the narrative.

Blood thicker than water? The triumph of nature over nurture? Read this unusual book to see how the author poses and answers these questions.

 

My Writing News

As well as writing my book reviews for August 2020, I have continued to work on my major new project and I have also completed the editing of a psychological thriller.

The publicity effort this month has been cheerleading for our son’s fundraising challenge for the Red Cross in Beirut. Since 2nd August Harry has been walking the streets of London, following the routes of all the Underground lines and taking selfies outside each station. He has now walked ten of the eleven lines and clocked up over 180 miles. Donations from generous friends and strangers have topped £6,400, but he would like to raise £7,500. More information is available on his Just Giving page.

His story, with more about what the Red Cross is doing in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion, featured on ITV London News and can be watched here.

By Rachel Sargeant

Rachel Sargeant is a British author. Her latest thriller, The Roommates, is a Closer Magazine "Must Read". Her other titles are The Good Teacher, The Perfect Neighbours and Gallipoli: Year of Love and Duty. Rachel won Writing Magazine’s Crime Short Story competition and has been shortlisted in various competitions including the Bristol Short Story Prize. She was born in Lincolnshire and is a graduate of Aberystwyth University. She now lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and children.

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