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BLOG POST: The Leopard – Jo Nesbo

Thursday, January 12, 2017

THE BLURB (from GoodReads)

In the depths of winter, a killer stalks the city streets. His victims are two young women, both found with twenty-four inexplicable puncture wounds, both drowned in their own blood. The crime scenes offer no clues, the media is reaching fever pitch, and the police are running out of options. There is only one man who can help them, and he doesn't want to be found. Deeply traumatised by The Snowman investigation, which threatened the lives of those he holds most dear, Inspector Harry Hole has lost himself in the squalor of Hong Kong's opium dens. But with his father seriously ill in hospital, Harry reluctantly agrees to return to Oslo. He has no intention of working on the case, but his instinct takes over when a third victim is found brutally murdered in a city park.

The victims appear completely unconnected to one another, but it's not long before Harry makes a discovery: the women all spent the night in an isolated mountain hostel. And someone is picking off the guests one by one. A heart-stopping thriller from the bestselling author of the The Snowman, The Leopard is an international phenomenon that will grip you until the final page



MY THOUGHTS:


I’ve heard a great deal about Jo Nesbo and similar Nordic-noir crime novels, but have not yet read any. 


So I borrowed The Leopard from my brother, and so was drawn into the dark, cold and sinister world of Harry Hole, Norwegian detective and alcoholic. There are dead women, murdered in horrible ways, secrets and betrayals galore, and lots of unexpected twists. It’s a big book, but the pace never flags. I do wish, though, that I had read earlier books as there are lots of references to past characters and cases (in particular, the previous book The Snowman.) So I might have to track down the first book in the series!


PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!

BOOK REVIEW: Enemy: A Daughter’s Story by Ruth Clare

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

THE BLURB (from GoodReads):

'I was born into the war still raging inside my father.'


Ruth Clare's father came back from the war a changed man: a violent and controlling parent and a dominating, aggressive husband. Through a childhood of being constantly on guard, with no one to protect her but herself, Ruth learned to be strong and fierce in the face of fear.

After escaping her difficult upbringing, Ruth went on to have children of her own. The challenges of parenting left her desperate for reassurance that she would not repeat her father's behavior. She met with other veterans and began learning about the effects of conscription, military training and post-traumatic stress disorder. The stories Ruth uncovered left her with surprising empathy for the man who caused her so much pain, and renewed her determination to stop the legacy of war passing down to the next generation. 

Weaving a striking personal narrative with a revelatory exploration about the effects of war, Enemy is a bold, compelling and ultimately triumphant memoir from a hugely impressive new Australian writer.


MY THOUGHTS:


I met Ruth Clare at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival, and was so intrigued by her story I bought her book – a memoir of growing up with a brutal and domineering father who had been damaged by his experiences in the Vietnam war. 


I’ve always been interested in the way violence done to one generation can warp and cripple the generations to follow, and the difficulties in breaking the cycles of harm. Ruth Clare’s memoir is a searing indictment of the shadow cast by the Vietnam war, and a timely reminder of the imperative to learn from the mistakes of the past.


The most poignant aspect of the novel, for me, was the way Ruth Clare’s mother was broken by her husband’s violence … and the fact that Ruth herself was able to survive and heal, and build a new life for herself. 


A powerful and heart-rending memoir, told with grace and empathy.

THE STORY DOCTOR: Narrative Distance

Monday, January 09, 2017


THE STORY DOCTOR

So many people email me asking me for writing advice I have decided to begin a new section on my blog where I share my answers to these questions. 
Over time, I hope to build a wonderful resource for aspiring writers to help them diagnose what may be ailing their story ... 


Dear Kate

I heard you speak one time about the importance of controlling narrative distance in your writing, and what a useful tool it can be in writing from a 3rd person perspective. Can you please explain a little further?


I can!


Deciding what Point-of-View (POV) to use when writing a novel is one of the earliest decisions an author makes. As you would know from grammar lessons at school, there are three types of POV:

1st person – I
2nd person – you
3rd person – he/she

Sometimes it’s an easy choice. The voice of Charlotte-Rose de la Force, the protagonist of my novel Bitter Greens, came to me very clearly in 1st person: I was always a great talker and teller of tales …’ 

There are actually three narrative strands in Bitter Greens, two of them told in 1st person and one in 3rd person, which is an unusual authorial choice. I had a good reason for that choice (though to explain why would be a spoiler!)




I knew from an early stage of the novel that The Wild Girl would be told in close 3rd person: ‘Wild by name and wild by nature,’ Dortchen’s father used to say of her. He did not mean it as a compliment. He thought her headstrong and so he set himself to tame her. 

(Close 3rd person simply means that there is only one point-of-view all the way through the novel).



I initially wrote The Beast’s Garden in close 1st person, but then – after a great deal of agonised heart-searching – decided the book was not working as well as I wanted, and so I rewrote the entire book in multiple 3rd person (which means more than one POV). 


I fell in love the night the Nazis first showed their true faces to the world


was changed to: 


Ava fell in love the night the Nazis first showed their true faces to the world. 




It was a slow, difficult, back-breaking process. I could not blithely use the global change facility in my word processor – I had to go through every page line-by-line, checking it again and again, rewriting every sentences, every scene.


So why did I choose to go through the agony of changing POV?


There were several key reasons, but most important to me was that multiple POV allowed me to tell my story from many different angles, across times and geographies; and because 3rd person POV has one huge advantage over 1st person.


The use of the objective narrator.


When writing in 1st person, the author must always stay deep within that character’s consciousness, privy only to their thoughts and feelings and only ever speaking in their voice. Their POV is therefore necessarily limited.


However, when writing in 3rd person, the writer can move fluidly between the voice of the objective narrator and the deep, close point-of-view of the character. 


Not sure what I’m talking about? 


Now might be a good time to talk about narrative distance.
 
Narrative distance is the feeling of closeness between the reader and the point-of-view of the characters. It is, of course, controlled by the author and is part of what creates a distinctive “voice.”


John Gardner explores the idea in his book The Art of Fiction – though he calls it ‘psychic distance’. He defines it as ‘the distance the reader feels between themselves and the events in the story.’


Basically, it's how deep the reader is taken inside the character's head. Gardner has defined five different levels of engagement: 


1 It was winter of the year 1853. A large man stepped out of a doorway.
2 Henry J. Warburton had never much cared for snowstorms.
3 Henry hated snowstorms.
4 God, how he hated these damn snowstorms.
5      Snow. Under your collar, down inside your shoes, freezing your miserable soul.


The first example creates the greatest distance between reader & character, but is the most effective for delivering information. Each new example takes us deeper into the character’s individual point of view, and – in the final two examples – into the character’s own voice. The deeper the author goes, the more is revealed about character and the less about anything else. 

The deeper you go, the more important is the character’s individual “voice”. 

When writing in 3rd person POV, the writer draws upon all five states of narrative distance, for different purposes and for different reasons. The first example is often called ‘the objective narrator’. It’s a really useful method for quickly giving the reader necessary information. Most writers will use it to give a wide-screen shot of the scene, before zooming in to the character’s thoughts and feelings, and then zooming out again. 

Others will write the entire story in ‘deep point-of-view’, only ever revealing the character’s thoughts, feelings and impressions in a ‘stream-of-consciousness’ manner. 

Of course, this method means a lot more investment from the reader – they need to figure out what’s going on with little help from the narrator.

The objective narrator is such a great tool for writers, but beware of over-using the device as it can create a coldness or a distance between reader and character. Slip into the deeper POV as often as you can without confusing the reader. One way to do this is to signal the change from the objective narrator to the deep point-of-view by moving from indirect discourse to free indirect discourse i.e. I wonder when she’ll be here, he thought. Damn, but I’ve missed that girl. 

What is crucial, however, is that narrative distance must always be controlled. The author must choose how deep to go. 

I hope this helps you!

all my best



Kate 


Kate Forsyth has been writing stories since she could first hold a pen, and has since sold more than a million copies worldwide.  She has a Bachelor of Arts in Literature, a Master of Arts in Writing, and a Doctorate of Creative Arts in Fairy Tale Studies, and is an accredited master storyteller. She teaches creative writing at all levels at many different venues. Check out her Appearances Page to find out where she is next speaking.  


If you found this post of interest you may enjoy







BOOK LIST: Kate Forsyth's Best Books of 2016

Sunday, January 08, 2017



In 2016, I read around 90 books (not including research books!) 

That’s an average of seven or eight books a month, and is actually less than I usually read. I had a lot of research to do this year, though!

For my own interest I’ve done two pie-charts to break down the gender of the writers and the genres of the fiction. 

Unsurprisingly, I read a lot more books by women than by men, and my favourite genre was historical fiction. 

I was surprised by how little fantasy and romance I read – it’s not like me. I obviously have some reading to catch up on! 









Here are my lists of the Best Books of the Year. Just click on the links to read my reviews of these amazing books.




Fiction



1. The Observations – Jane Harris



2. Fingersmith – Sarah Waters



3. All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr



4. The Last Painting of Sara de Vos – Dominic Smith  



5. Tower of Thorns – Juliet Marillier 



6. The Marvels – Brian Selznick



7. The Other Daughter – Lauren Willig



8. The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry 



9. The Midnight Watch – David Dyer



10. The Lie Tree – Frances Hardinge



11. The Signature of All Things – Elizabeth Gilbert



12. The Good People – Hannah Kent



13. The Suspect – Michael Robotham



14. Wolf Winter – Cecilia Ekback 



15. The Wonder – Emma Donoghue


Non-Fiction/Memoir




1. H Is For Hawk – Helen Macdonald 



2. The Bayeux Tapestry: The Life Story of a Masterpiece - Carola Hicks



3. Peacock & Vine – A.S. Byatt



4. A Woman on the Edge of Time: A Son’s Search for his Mother – Jeremy Gavron



5. Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place – Philip Marsden



6. Victoria the Queen – Julia Baird



Wondering what were my Best Books of the past few years? Click here!

SPOTLIGHT: My Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2016

Saturday, January 07, 2017

1.1


    Every year I take part in the Australian Women Writers Challenge, in which readers all around the world do their best to read as many books written by Aussie women as possible. Last year I read only 10 books  by Australian women, and so I was determined to do better this year. I'm really rather proud of myself because I managed 28 books in total, and enjoyed them all.


     Here is my list (in the order in which I read them). Most of them have longer reviews that you can read by clicking on the title.


    I hope you are inspired to try the challenge for yourself in 2017. You can sign up here



1. 1. Wild Wood – Posie Graeme-Evans

WILD WOOD is a dual timeline narrative that moves between the Scottish Borderlands in the 14th century and an unhappy young woman in the 1980s who finds herself compelled to draw the same Scottish castle over and over again 


2.  Summer Harvest – Georgina Penney

A funny, romantic story with lots of heart, set in the Margaret River wine region and featuring engaging characters and light-hearted encounters. 



3. The Wife’s Tale  - Christine Wells 
The Wife’s Tale is a dual timeline novel that alternates between the point-of-view of Liz Jones, a young Australian lawyer whose ambition and drive to succeed have put her marriage at risk, and Delany Nash, who was at the centre of an infamous scandal in the 1780s.  




4. Tower of Thorns – Juliet Marillier 
Juliet Marillier’s books are an enchanting mix of romance, mystery and historical fantasy. Tower of Thorns is the second in her new series ‘Blackthorn & Grim’ which tells the story of the damaged and disillusioned healer Blackthorn and her faithful companion Grim. 




5. Our Tiny, Useless Hearts – Toni Jordan
The fourth novel by award-winning Australian author, Toni Jordan, Our Tiny, Useless Hearts is a clever, funny, wise-cracking novel about love, infidelity and divorce. 




6. Nest – Inga Simpson
Inga Simpson is an Australian writer and Nest is a rhapsody about the importance of being at one with the natural world.. 




7. Daughter of the Forest – Juliet Marillier
This is one of my all-time favourite books, that I like to re-read every few years. A retelling of the ‘Six Swans’ fairy-tale, set in ancient Ireland, it is a beautiful story of courage, love, peril and wonder set in a world where magic is only ever a hairsbreadth away from us all. 



8. The Lost Sapphire – Belinda Murrell
I always love a new timeslip adventure from my brilliant sister, Belinda. In The Lost Sapphire, a teenage girl Marli is reluctantly sent to stay with her father in Melbourne. Things began to get more interesting, though, when she discovers an abandoned house with a mysterious past, and makes a new friend, a boy with his own connection to the house. 





9. Hexenhaus – Nikki McWatters
Hexenhaus is a gripping story of three different young women at different times of history who all find themselves persecuted in some way for witchcraft. 




10. Enemy: A Daughter’s Story – Ruth Clare
A memoir of growing up in Australia with a brutal and domineering father who had been damaged by his experiences in the Vietnam war. 



11. The Good People – Hannah Kent
Dark, poetic, and intense, The Good People is a fascinating and atmospheric tale of the ancient fairy lore of Ireland and how it shaped the people who believed it. One of my best reads of 2016.



12. The Summer Bride – Anne Gracie
The last book in Anne Gracie’s delightful Regency romance quartet, ‘The Chance Sisters’. 



13. The Ties That Bind – Lexi Landsman
An engaging and heart-warming read that moves between the story of a modern-day woman’s desperate search for a bone marrow donor for her son, and the hidden secrets of the past.



14. Den of Wolves – Juliet Marillier
The final book in Juliet Marillier’s latest magical historical trilogy, Den of Wolves wraps up the story of Blackthorn and Grim beautifully. A wonderful mix of history, romance, and fairy-tale-like enchantment. 



15. Where the Trees Were – Inga Simpson
A beautiful meditation on the Australian landscape and the Aboriginal connection to it, Where the Trees Were is a must-read for anyone who has ever swung on a tyre over a slow-moving brown river or lain on the ground looking up at a scorching blue sky through the shifting leaves of a gum tree. 



16. On the Blue Train – Kristel Thornell
This novel was inspired by the true-life story of how Agatha Christie disappeared for eleven days in 1926. A slow, melancholy, and beautiful meditation on failed love. 




17. The Dry – Jane Harper
Set in a small Australian country town, The Dry is a tense, compelling and atmospheric murder mystery, as well as an astonishingly assured debut from English-born novelist Jane Harper. 



18. Castle of Dreams – Elise McCune
A gorgeous cover and intriguing title drew me to Castle of Dreams by Elise McCune, described as an ‘enthralling novel of love, betrayals, loss and family secrets.’  



19. The Family with Two Front Doors – Anna Ciddor
Inspired by the real-life stories of Anna Ciddor’s grandmother, The Family with Two Doors is a charming and poignant account of the life of a family of Jewish children in 1920s Poland. 



20. Beyond the Orchard – Anna Romer 
A story that moves between the past and the present, with intrigue, passion, betrayal and the metafictive use of a dark fairy-tale – it’ll be no surprise to anyone that I loved Beyond the Orchard, the first novel of Anna Romer’s that I have read. 



21. The Locksmith’s Daughter – Karen Brooks
An absolutely gripping page-turner of a novel set in Elizabethan times. 




22. The Waiting Room – Leah Kaminsky
Set in modern-day Israel, The Waiting Room tells the story of a single day in the life of a female Jewish doctor who is haunted by her parents’ tragic past. 



23. Rose’s Vintage – Kayte Nunn
A warm-hearted and very readable contemporary romance set in an Australian vineyard, Rose’s Vintage throws failed-British chef-turned-au-pair Rose into the midst of a range of lovable, eccentric characters including two adorable children and their brooding, difficult but gorgeous father. 




24. The Anchoress – Robyn Cadwaller
Set in England in 1255, the story begins with 17-year old Sarah being enclosed within her cell. Her door is literally nailed shut. Yet the world is not so easy to lock away. Sarah sees and hears glimpses of the life of the village, and is threatened by desire, grief, doubt and fear just as much as any other woman. 



25. Kumiko and the Dragon – Briony Stewart
26. Kumiko and the Dragon’s Secret – Briony Stewart
27. Kumiko and the Shadow-catchers – Briony Stewart
A trilogy of charming fantasy books for very young readers, inspired by the tales that Briony Stewart’s Japanese grandmother used to tell her. 



28. Victoria the Queen – Julia Baird
Described as ‘An intimate biography of the woman who ruled an empire,’ Victoria the Queen busts open many of the myths about both the woman and the era. 


Want more? Read my list of Books by Australian Women Writers in 2016 

BOOK REVIEW: Victoria the Queen by Julia Baird

Saturday, January 07, 2017




THE BLURB (from GoodReads):

From International New York Times columnist Julia Baird comes a biography of Queen Victoria. Drawing on previously unpublished papers, Victoria: The Queen is a new portrait of the real woman behind the myth—a story of love and heartbreak, of devotion and grief, of strength and resilience. 

When Victoria was born, in 1819, the world was a very different place. Revolution would begin to threaten many of Europe’s monarchies in the coming decades. In Britain, a generation of royals had indulged their whims at the public’s expense, and republican sentiment was growing. The Industrial Revolution was transforming the landscape, and the British Empire was commanding ever larger tracts of the globe. Born into a world where woman were often powerless, during a century roiling with change, Victoria went on to rule the most powerful country on earth with a decisive hand.

Fifth in line to the throne at the time of her birth, Victoria was an ordinary woman thrust into an extraordinary role. As a girl, she defied her mother’s meddling and an adviser’s bullying, forging an iron will of her own. As a teenage queen, she eagerly grasped the crown and relished the freedom it brought her. At twenty years old, she fell passionately in love with Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, eventually giving birth to nine children. She loved sex and delighted in power. She was outspoken with her ministers, overstepping boundaries and asserting her opinions. After the death of her adored Albert, she began a controversial, intimate relationship with her servant John Brown. She survived eight assassination attempts over the course of her lifetime. And as science, technology, and democracy were dramatically reshaping the world, Victoria was a symbol of steadfastness and security—queen of a quarter of the world’s population at the height of the British Empire’s reach.

Drawing on sources that include revelations about Victoria’s relationship with John Brown, Julia Baird brings to life the story of a woman who struggled with so many of the things we do today: balancing work and family, raising children, navigating marital strife, losing parents, combating anxiety and self-doubt, finding an identity, searching for meaning. 




MY THOUGHTS:

I have spent the last two years deeply immersed in Victorian Britain. I have watched dozens of documentaries, and read more than a hundred biographies, memoirs, and histories of the time. Queen Victoria was a constant looming presence, sometimes revered, sometimes reviled. 

I was just finishing the final edit on Beauty in Thorns, my novel set in the mid 19th century, when Julia Baird’s immensely thick biography was published. It seemed a fitting way to finish my investigation of the period and so I paid the hefty $50 purchase price and lugged it home. I expected it to take me a while to finish, but the book is so warmly and engagingly written, and so fascinating, I whizzed through it in a couple of days. 

Described as ‘An intimate biography of the woman who ruled an empire,’ Victoria the Queen busts open many of the myths about both the woman and the era. Victoria was tiny, forthright, and loved sex. She refused to be a mere figurehead, and used her position to promote profound changes in the society in which she lived. For example, she hated cruelty to animals and was instrumental in bringing about anti-vivisectionist laws. Even though she famously said women who marched for female suffrage should be whipped, Queen Victoria was a great example to many women and supported education and job training for girls. And she condemned those around her for their snobbery and racism, and was actively engaged in trying to break down such societal barriers.

It is clear Julia Baird’s research has been impeccable, and there is much in this biography that is fresh and new. However, it is her storytelling skills that really shine.  The crowded streets of London, the stifling atmosphere of the court, the pure air of the lonely Highlands, are all brought vividly to life, as are the people in Victoria’s life – her austere and brilliant husband, Prince Albert, the rough yet tender gilly John Brown, and the many different Prime Ministers who served her. By far, the best biography of Queen Victoria I’ve yet read.

You may also be interested in my review of The Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria's Rebellious Daughter by Lucinda Hawksley 

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT: I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK




BOOK REVIEW: Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place by Philip Marsden

Friday, January 06, 2017




Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place – Philip Marsden


THE BLURB (from GoodReads):


Why do we react so strongly to certain places? Why do layers of mythology build up around particular features in the landscape? 


When Philip Marsden moved to a remote creekside farmhouse in Cornwall, the intensity of his response took him aback. It led him to begin exploring these questions, prompting a journey westwards to Land's End through one of the most fascinating regions of Europe.From the Neolithic ritual landscape of Bodmin Moor to the Arthurian traditions of Tintagel, from the mysterious china-clay country to the granite tors and tombs of the far south-west, Marsden assembles a chronology of our shifting attitudes to place. 


In archives, he uncovers the life and work of other 'topophiles' before him - medieval chroniclers and Tudor topographers, eighteenth-century eighteenth-century antiquarians, post-industrial poets and abstract painters. Drawing also on his own travels overseas, Marsden reveals that the shape of the land lies not just at the heart of our history but of man's perennial struggle to belong on this earth.




MY THOUGHTS:
I love books which take a place or a time or a person or a natural phenomenon, and then uses that as a springboard into a wide-ranging meditation on art, history, science, poetry, or any manner of things. And I have always wanted to go to Cornwall.


So I was interested in Rising Ground as soon as I heard about it. 


Philp Marsden has a degree in anthropology and has written a number of books about his travels in Ethiopia and Russia, as well as numerous essays for The Spectator. He was, however, raised in Cornwall and recently bought a farmhouse on a creek there with his wife and children. The book is not a memoir of the renovation of this old house, though some of his personal experiences are woven into the narrative. It is more about ‘topophilia’, a lovely word which means ‘love of place’, and examines some of the little-known but interesting people of the past who have loved Cornwall and studied it and written and painted about it. 


It’s the sort of book that you can pick up and enjoy, then put down and not pick up again for a few weeks, as each chapter is an essay on a particular aspect of Cornwall. I was particularly interested in the chapters on the standing stones and barrows and graves and other ancient monuments, and on the blind-and-deaf Cornish poet Jack Clemo, who I had never heard of before. 


A really interesting read. 

BOOK REVIEW: The Suspect – Michael Rowbotham

Friday, January 06, 2017

THE BLURB (from GoodReads):


London psychiatrist Joseph O'Loughlin seems to have the perfect life. 

He has a beautiful wife, an adoring daughter, and a thriving practice to which he brings great skill and compassion. But he's also facing a future dimmed by Parkinson's disease. 

And when he's called in on a gruesome murder investigation, he discovers that the victim is someone he once knew. Unable to tell the police what he knows, O'Loughlin tells one small lie which turns out to be the biggest mistake of his life. Suddenly, he's caught in a web of his own making.



MY THOUGHTS:


I bought this book for my brother’s birthday and then borrowed it from him. It’s the first in Michael Rowbotham’s bestselling contemporary thrillers featuring psychologist, Joseph O’Loughlin. I’ve read the third in the series, Shatter, and reviewed it thus: ‘Chilling, powerful and superbly written. Highly recommended for the brave.’ I’ve been wanting to read the rest of the series ever since, and so naturally decided to start with the first.

Michael Rowbotham deserves every prize and accolade he’s ever won. The Suspect was just nail-bitingly suspenseful and surprising as you could wish for. Brilliantly constructed and executed, I was kept guessing right up to the very end. Joseph O’Loughlin is a brilliant character – flawed and yet empathetic, he has just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, and so is struggling with his own body as much as with the murderer who seems to know his every move. Engrossing stuff.


BOOK REVIEW: Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback

Friday, January 06, 2017




THE BLURB (from GoodReads):

There are six homesteads on Blackåsen Mountain.

A day's journey away lies the empty town. It comes to life just once, in winter, when the Church summons her people through the snows. Then, even the oldest enemies will gather.
But now it is summer, and new settlers are come.

It is their two young daughters who find the dead man, not half an hour's walk from their cottage.

The father is away. And whether stubborn, or stupid, or scared for her girls, the mother will not let it rest.

To the wife who is not concerned when her husband does not come home for three days; to the man who laughs when he hears his brother is dead; to the priest who doesn't care; she asks and asks her questions,
digging at the secrets of the mountain.

They say a wolf made those wounds. But what wild animal cuts a body so clean?




MY THOUGHTS:


Atmospheric, compelling and full of foreboding, Wolf Winter was one of my best discoveries this year. It is set in Swedish Lapland in 1717, and begins with the discovery of a dead man’s body in the mountains by two little girls. The girls’ mother, Maija, finds herself unable to let the murder rest. It must be someone she knows, she reasons, and yet … who? 


Filled with superstitions and the fear of witchcraft, the local people all have secrets to hide. And so does Maija. The result is something so eerie, so chilling, so powerful, I could not put the book down. It reminded me of Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites and Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child, two of my favourite books, in the sheer desolation of the landscape and the sense of a dark threat that hangs over the characters. Brilliant.

BOOK REVIEW: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

Thursday, January 05, 2017




THE BLURB (from GoodReads):


In the latest masterpiece by Emma Donoghue, bestselling author of Room, an English nurse brought to a small Irish village to observe what appears to be a miracle-a girl said to have survived without food for months-soon finds herself fighting to save the child's life.

Tourists flock to the cabin of eleven-year-old Anna O'Donnell, who believes herself to be living off manna from heaven, and a journalist is sent to cover the sensation. Lib Wright, a veteran of Florence Nightingale's Crimean campaign, is hired to keep watch over the girl.

Written with all the propulsive tension that made Room a huge bestseller, THE WONDER works beautifully on many levels--a tale of two strangers who transform each other's lives, a powerful psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil.





MY THOUGHTS:


I have read Emma Donogue’s brilliant collection of fairy-tale retellings Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins but have not yet read any of her novels. I have heard such high praise of her writing, however, and I was so interested in the premise of her new novel, The Wonder, that I bought it as soon as it hit the bookshops.


The story begins with an English nurse, who had trained with Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War, arriving in a tiny Irish village to watch over a little girl whose family claims can survive without food. She lives on ‘manna from heaven’, and so is thought of as a kind of miracle. People come to her to be blessed, and leave the family gifts in return. The nurse, Mrs Wright, thinks it is all a sham, and determines to reveal the truth. However, slowly, all her preconceptions and prejudices are turned upside-down, and she discovers a very different truth to what she had expected.


I first read about cases like this in Joan Jacobs Brumberg’s brilliant history of anorexia nervosa, Fasting Girls. She shows how food-refusal by girls and young women stretches all the way back to medieval times, when saints and martyrs refused food or purged themselves of food as a sign of their religious devotion. In the nineteenth century, there were many cases of so-called ‘fasting girls’ including the famous case of Sarah Jacob, the ‘Welsh Fasting Girl’ who eventually died of starvation at the age of twelve after a watch was set over her by the local doctor. 


The Wonder is inspired by such real-life stories but, in the true art of fiction, transforms it into something much greater. The Wonder is a story about faith, about love, about secrets, and about the mysterious ways in which human lives intersect and impact on each other. I absolutely loved it.


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