Marilynne Robinson || Jack

Spoiler Alert!

Robinson ends her series of novels on the small town Gilead with a novel not taking place in Gilead, it is set in St.Louis. Home of the black sheep of the family Broughton, Jack. He is introduced to us shortly after he has left prison and falls for a young woman. In the first chapter they run into each other on a cemetery; their conversation lasts some 80 pages. A complex dance between two potential lovers ensues, Robinson indulging in philosophical and religious contemplations, lots of literary quotes and even more inner dialogues on the part of Jack.

I must admit I made my way through the first chapters of Jack with difficulty. The discussions between Della and Jack were rather complex, difficult and intellectually challenging, they Jack looks upon himself had me troubled. He, the son of a vicar, will not be redeemed; everything he tries to do will lead to failure without any doubt. Every step he takes will contribute to his undoing. Though he is smitten with Della he is convinced that a relationship will only lead to sorrow, that being his destiny.

Della does not agree. This daughter of a vicar looks for the good in Jack and decides not to give up upon him. All efforts made by him and her family and friends to separate them are thwarted. Quite an act when you are living in the south of the United States somewhere in the fifties. A time when any relationship between a Black and white person was illegal. Della being the daughter of a militant Black vicar who believes Black and white should lead strictly separated lives her family is far from pleased with her choice of man. A white bum, no less.

I read Gilead, Lila and Home. In that novel Jack was already introduced. I wonder how to read Jack if you have not read the others. Robinson regularly refers to his family, to the strained relationship with his father and his siblings. I noticed that whilst reading I automatically compared Jack to its predecessors. Not necessarily in a positive way. I asked myself why I was gripped by Lila and Home, could not seem to be drawn to Jack.

It might be the major rol family and community have in Jack’s predecessors. In these novels Robinson also offers many quite intricate contemplations and reflections, they do not focus on one person however. Jack is on Jack. The entire novel is told from his perpective, is about him. Della is prominently present, we only hear her speak through Jack. Jack is about what harm Jack will do to Della, what the effects of his relationship with her will be.

Another aspect is prominently present when you’ve read Home. It does not end well for Jack. I read Jack continually waiting for the break-up with Della that will lead him back home. In my mind the novel was slowly making its way to disaster. To my surprise Robinson has chosen to end Jack when he and Della have purposely chosen to spend their lives together and are about to face problems together. Jack contrary to his own believes has come to realize that their connection made actually be a blessing.

Robinson once more wrote a novel that demands your attention. She keeps on writing beautifully, given carefully chosen words to thoughts and reflections. As a result I did get intrigued by Jack and Jack. The novel might not be my favourite in the Gilead series, it is definitely worth the effort.

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Julia Phillips || Disappearing Earth

Disappearing Earth was waiting to be read for quite some time. I got stuck on page three, it kept on lying on my bed without me wanting to pick it up for some strange reason. The moment I got past page three it had me hooked.

In Disappearing Earth two girls disappear without any trace. Whilst their mother was at work they were wandering through Petropavlosk, Kamchatka. Tired after a long day they acecpt a ride from a man they have helped before. Exactly what adults keep telling their children: do not get into a car with a stranger! The search for the girls is in vain, they cannot be found.

Next Phillips describes the effect their disappearance has on people in Kamchatka. Only towards the end one realises she has carefully picked those people. They all turn out to be part of an intricate scheme. Some people are given a few pages, others a multitude. This structure of the novel has it resemble a collection of short stories, not always my cup of tea. In the final chapter the almost short story structure comes to a satisfying conclusion.

The resemblance to short stories had me annoyed from time to time. Especially so when it is student Ksyusha’s turn. A young woman who grew up in a small, traditional village, in the summer herding the road with her family. When her niece forces her to participate in a traditional dance group she slowly starts to appreciate her own culture. She is Even, one of the nomad people who have lived on Kamchatka for ages. She also realises how much she is pressurised by family and culture, she is not given a choice, a voice of her own. I was so gripped by her story I was absolutely disappointed she totally disappeared from the novel after the chapter dedicated to her.

In several chapters the disappearance of an Even-girl years earlier is spoken of. It shows the inherent racism in Kamchatka. Despite all the family’s requests the police hardly bothers to look into the girl’s disappearance. She is supposed to have run away, a bad reputation does her no good. Her mother Alba runs the cultural centre in Esso, a small village. She knows the police is not interested in an Even- girl, it hurts that they do spend time and money on two Russian girls.

Phillips mingles the disappearances and the harsh life in inhabitable Kamchatka expertly. Climate and society make it difficult for people to live there. One might better not be LHBTI for example, not acceptable. In such a case one is lucky if one has the chance to study and start a career far away in a big city. For many inhabitants of Kamchatka fleeing to the big city is not an option. Their lack of education and money have them stay put. Other inhabitants have chosen to live on Kamchatka, because of scientific interests for instance.

I would have preferred it if Disappearing Earth had less resembled short stories. I just do not like being presented isolated short pieces of a story. Phillips however knew what she was doing and expertly builds her novel up to a crescendo at the end. Despite moaning about the short story structure I did really get into Disappearing Earth, thoroughly appreciating the ending. You’ll have to read the novel by yourself to find out why I was pleased with it.

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Kazuo Ishiguro || Klara

Ishiguro has written another dystopic novel. Once again one in which the threat is hovering in the background. There are references to brutalities, they are never described directly. Main character Klara is the obvious sign Ishiguro has taken us to another day and age: she is not human, she is an AF: an Artificial Friend. In this particular case the friend of sick adolescent Josie.

The novel sets off in the shop Klara is being sold together with the other AF’s. Though it is clear that she is a remarkably well executed AF it takes quite some time for someone to buy her. Ishiguro uses the time Klara spends waiting to acquaint us with Klara en the AF brain.

The AF is fed by the sun, literally. Their system depends on solar energy. Klara and the other AF’s therefore are continually in search of rays of sunlight. A spot in the shop’s display window is the ultimate place to be; it provides the AF with continues energy. The further to the back, the less energetic the AF will be. To Klara the sun is God. An entity that enables and saves lives. She does not understand she is in the wrong when it comes to humans. Unfortunately there is no-one to correct her. Klara draws conclusions based on what she sees whilst standing in the window, conclusions that are sadly mistaken.

AF’s are feared for being capable of using their brains in ways humans cannot fathom. Ishiguro, through the way he has Klara come to the wrong conclusions, shows us that the AF’s in order to develop their faculties someone has to aid and teach them, has to instruct them properly. In the case of the AF’s in his novel this is quite clearly not the case. In Klara the AF’s remain plain robots with their specific restrictions.

Klara is a very loveable AF. She is programmed to help humans and help she will. When Josie turns out to be terminally ill and requires a physical sacrifice from Klara she gladly sacrifices some of the fluids needed to keep her functioning. It is endearing to read about Klara’s firm believe Josie can be cured by the sun; she goes to extremes in order to save the human who chose her. Reading about the way she is being used by the humans hurts.

The dystopic world is not shown through descriptions of a destroyed world, but through references to a society which is strictly divided into haves and have nots. Humanity has not only learned to make AF’s, it is also capable of genetically manipulating human brains. Therefore influencing intellectual qualities. Parents have the choice to lift their children; Josie has been lifted.

Esteemed universities only accept lifted students, certain jobs are no longer open to those who have not been genetically manipulated. Large groups of people no longer participate properly in society. It is hinted at that this will ultimately lead to violent upbringings. The characters in Klara are not aware of this as yet. They suffer in a different way because of the lifing process. It can lead to children falling ill, as has Josie. Her parent’s choice might cause her to die.

Ishisiguro presents us the tale of Klara and Josie solely from the perspective of the first. We see the world through her eyes, including the imperfections due to her lack of understanding. When her brain is supposed to further grow and form a basis for further growth, the restriction of the AF’s brain becomes clear. Klara could have become a highly intelligent creature, she gets stuck at a child’s level. The humans around her keep her back. Klara considers Josie her best friend, to Josie she is a mere talking doll.

Klara introduces to a chilling world. Yet again Ishiguro shows his talent in showing us this world through the eyes of an imperfect creature who lives in an almost dreamlike world, in merely subtly referring to the harsh world she inhabits in reality. Klara is loveable, you sympathise with her. I was appalled when Ishiguro revealed in which way Klara was being abused by the humans. Klara, novel and AD, show us a world of Artificial and manipulated intelligence that has taken a wrong turning at some point. Kudos for Ishiguro.

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Patricia Lockwood || No One Is Talking About This

Shortlist

I plead guilty: lots of the intricacies of this novel have gone by me completely. Though I am pretty pleased with my own understanding of social media at my age, No One made it clear I had fallen behind in a big way. I was capable of understanding the outline of the novel, I did not get the subtleties of ‘memes’ and internet jokes. Just as well the second part of the novel dealt with a topic not fit for internet.

No One Is Talking About This is written in the perspective of an influencer. I do not quite grasp what she writes about thus influencing people. She herself mentions from time that posts have gone viral. Posts that make me wonder ‘why, to what purpose?’. I do understand however that lack of understanding is entirely due to having to adapt to social media life at a later stage in my life, is it not?

It is quite obvious that are main character’s life is dictated by social media. Posts on social media, especially the ones that go viral matter. It is also quite obvious the search for viral potential posts is making for a hectic life. To be quite honest, I get tired reading about it. On the lookout for a new scope all the time, browsing the internet all day long, being scared all the time of having missed out. Despite my lacking knowledge of the phenomenon influencer, I perfectly understand her life is all about the digital world. The so-called platform completely dictates her life.

Then her unborn niece turns out to have Proteus Syndrom. Her life expectancy is minimal. If she survives the delivery, she is bound to die a few moments later. In the conservative world her parents live in abortion or inducing labour is not done. Doctors, parents and influencer are impotent and can only pray for a good outcome.

There never will be a good outcome however. Proteus Syndrom causes the baby’s head to be abnormally large and continuing to grow. Ultimately the baby will suffocate. To everybody’s surprise the baby does not die soon after being born. Mother and sister are hopelessly in love with her, their lives focuses on the little girl from then on. The girl is responding to them, acts like a normal baby. Her head however grows and grows, nothing can be done about that.

Next Proteus Syndrom becomes tending topic on the platform. Our main character however does not care, is annoyed by all the attention her niece’s disease gets. Her niece has become the focus of her life. The love she feels for her is not something to share with the entire world, it is restricted to family and close friends. It hurts when the digital feels entitled to ‘own’ a little girl it cannot feel, touch, smell and see.

As mentioned before, I did not completely get everything about our main character’s digital world. The gap between this world and the real one is which love and sorrow are the main elements is described accurately by Lockwood. The fact that she divided the novel into two parts helps to pinpoint the gap. Both worlds stand alone, there is nothing to link them. The difference is also highlighted by the main character’s voice. The first part of the novel she is funny, hectic and hurried. Communicating digitally with large numbers of unknowns. In the second part she has become grounded, life and suffering have begone to matter. The personal contacts are the ones that count.

In the first part of the novel I kind of felt lost and surprised, in the second part I was capable of feelng for the baby and her family. This is largely due to Lockwood’s talent to describe despair, love, sorrow and suffering delicately and beautifully. She manages to combine and contrast both worlds at the same time. By describing a digital world that has become part of us and contrasting it with the correct words for unbearable pain.

Proteus Sybdrom is a rare disease that causes excessive growth, in this case of the brain. To the ones who know about The Elephant Man, he probably had Proteus. In this case Lockwood refers to her own niece who died shortly after death and was given a beautiful epitaph by her aunt.

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Annabel Lyon || Consent

Longlist

In Consent the history of four sisters comes together; Sara and Mattie are linked to Saskia and Jenny. Only towards the end does Lyon reveal the link between the four sisters. At first it appears as if she is taking us along in the histories of two individual couples of sisters. Though one does wonder why she has decided to join them in her novel.

Sara and Mattie are sisters only, the one a successful lawyer, the other dependent on her family. She was born with Down Syndrom. After the death of their parents in a car crash Sarah has to take care of Mattie. She finds taking care of her sister a daily struggle. She has her own career, does not want to be bound by her younger sister. When Mattie falls victim to a con man she finally comes to grip with the situation and realises she certainly does want to take care of her sister.

Saskia and Jenny are twins, stereotypical ones. The one an extravert, enjoying life to the max, the other a diligent student, always in the background. The extremity of Jenny turns out to have a physical reason, she has an unnamed disorder that prevents her from recognizing her boundaries. She gets entangled in sexual games with a man that ultimately lead to her downfall. She ends up paralysed and dies through complications. Sister Saskia is left totally disorientated. Through sheer chance she discovers the identity of the man who she holds responsible for her sister’s death.

Lyon has structured her novel precisely. She alternates the chapters giving the perspective of either Saskia or Sara. Time is followed chronologically. She starts off with childhood scenes, skips some years and starts again with both girls studying. The chronology is maintained in the alternating chapters as well. One chapter on Sara and Mattie situated in 2011, switching to Saskia and Jenny, the younger twins, in 2015.

What happens to Mattie and Jenny is not as relevant as what it does to their sisters. They have to cope with a reality in which their sisters no longer take part. Sara finds solace in alchol and extreme shopping; when she runs of to Paris she spends every day buying expensive clothes to wear the next day. Her inner conversations reveal the measure in which she blames herself for finding her younger sister a nuisance. Remorse controls her life. Saskia at first escapes in her studies, next in trying to find the one person responsible for Jenny’s death. Taking advantage of the fact that identical twins with identical haircuts and dressed alike do tend to resemble each other a lot.

At about two thirds of the novel the link between the women is revealed. Sara and Saskia meet, once. Only later it turns out Lyon is about to surprise her readers. I’ll not reveal that surprise, I’ll have you find out yourselves. Sara and Saskia going their own way later on in their specific ways is less of a surprise. The circumstances have influenced their lives, determining the way they cope. Who’ll manage to pick up her life is determined early on.

Consent is a beautiful novel. Lyon keeps her readers at a distance however. She describes almost literally whatever the sisters are about to do. Regarding from a safe spot. Lyon does not seem to be interested in the emotions, her novel is more of a search on the effect of a traumatic experience on a person. Beautiful, at a distance.

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Claire Fuller || Unsettled Ground

Shortlist

The title Unsettled Ground contains several layers. It refers to the rather precarious housing of both main persons Julius and Jeanie. It also refers to their even more precarious way of living. Julius and Jeanie, 51 year old twins, live in an idyllic setting in the country. They have no fixed income however, no education, no connection to modern society. The death of their mother literally tears away the foundations of their life.

At the start of the novel, Dot, the mother’s twin, dies of a stroke. She turns out to have been sick for quite some time; everyone knows except for her children. Her death starts a sequence of developments the twin cannot control. They are informed that they have to leave their tiny cottage with its immense garden, that Dot has been loaning money from several people, bills have not been paid. At that moment it becomes clear the twin is ill-prepared to deal with real life.

Julius earns a living doing day jobs. He has no steady income, no insurances, no certainties. Suffering from severe car sickness he can only look for jobs close by, which are sparse. In their idyllic setting there is hardly any demand for physical labour. It does not help that Julius does not know how to broaden his horizon, he sticks to the familiar.

Jeanie is even worse off. She suffers from a heart condition which has made her neglect school. I suspect a severe case of dyslexia which has led to her basically being illiterate. Her only talent lies in growing vegetables and fruit in the garden she lovingly maintains with her mother. The produce is sold in a booth alongside the road, to a B&B and to the deli that has started recently in the village. The owner is proud of the local products, which does not prevent him from paying the women far too little for their vegetables and fruit.

Dot dying influences the life of Julius and Jeanie in a major way. At first Fuller appears to have their life crash completely. Julius and Jeanie are seen as symbols of people not participating in society. They have good intentions, work hard but are just not op to the demands of present society. At that moment ‘unsettled’ kicks in. The situation of the twins is heartbreaking. Next change occurs. One in the category ‘heavy, cathartic but leading to the correct result’. The title turns out to have been well chosen by Fuller. Its second meaning kicks in: to free oneself, to let go. Jeanie finally lets go of her old ways and shifts gears. She turns out to be capable of taking control of her own life.

We meet Julius and Jeanie when they are 51 years old. Their character is not likely to change a lot. Good on Fuller that she does have the twin change. Especially by using those aspects of their characters that are dormant, that have been lying in wait all that time. Julius turns out to be the man of major plans, hoping for a wife to spend his life with. Jeanie is the more practical one who is finally able to couple practicality to ingeniousness and determination.

One might say the ending of Unsettled Ground is slightly corny. The novel shifts from bleak realism in an idyllic setting to a more American ‘go and find your inner strength and things will turn out well, they really will’. That shift is made possible by Fuller gradually revealing secrets. Secrets that throw a different light on Dot; her sorrow and despair have influenced her choices in a way Jeanie could not have fathomed. Those choices turn out to have been less unchanging than she thought. It allows for Fuller to prepare the novel going from bleak to more optimistic; she does not completely surprise her readers by shifting the focus.

Unsettled Ground is a disturbing, confronting novel. Fuller shows us that in an affluent country like Great Britain people can live in poor conditions, having no way to participate in modern society, no way to meet its demands. Or keeping their eyes closed to change, to grabbing hold of chances that are more out of the box. It hurts to read that Dot keeps her daughter out of school because she feels a life of service, cleaning and growing produce, will suffice. Fuller also shows that a willingness to change can result in said change. Unsettled Ground deserves its spot on the shortlist.

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Taylor Jenkins Reid || The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Evelyn Hugo, born Evelyn Diaz, is an actress. A star. In her days of glory she charmed and shocked the world through her almost outer world beauty and her scandalising roles. Evelyn Hugo was the first actress to play a near realistic love scene in a movie. Towards the end of her life she has become unapproachable, surprising everyone when she wants to be interviewed by an unknown editor of a famous glossy, Monique Grant.

Grant goes for it, who would not? She gets herself to the diva’s apartment and finds out the truth quickly. Hugo does not want an interview, she wants a biography. I’ll not give away her conditions or the reasons Grant still accepts, it is more important to sketch the effect the assignment has on Grant.

Hugo describes her marriages to Grant. Some for true love for the man she marries, some for mere opportunistic reasons and in two cases, meant to hide the truth about Evelyn Hugo and her relationships. Grant does not have to wait long to be told who was the one true love of Evelyn Hugo. Suffice it to say Hugo never married the love of her life.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is not interesting because of the accurate descriptions of the main characters. They to be quite honest are mere stereotypes. Neither is The Seven Husbands challenging in its structure. Jenkins Reid sticks to chronology and gives the account of the marriages in the correct order. The Seven Husbands does interest because of the truth about Evelyn Hugo. That truth offers a different view on the actress and the hypocrite, harsh world of film making.

Evelyn Hugo starts acting somewhere in the fifties. She profits from her beauty, her slender forms and most important of all, her stunning breasts. She goes from brunette to being a blonde with extraordinary, dark eye brows; she is transformed into a magical beauty. Jenkins Reid does not surprise us by exposing the way actors and actresses are marketed. Including marriages that can enhance their market value. In the case of a divorce usually leaving the actress the losing party in several ways.

After divorce two Hugo is no longer offered relevant parts in movies. It is her own guts that gets her back in business with a vengeance. The next years she is the star in many a movie, deciding for herself to quit when she was still ahead. She does want to end up someone’s mother or granny in a movie. Hugo turned out to be quite calculating when it came to opportunities to be had in her career. Her human side is shown to a small group of people only. Her ambition however does make dealing with her quite difficult for those friends. Putting her career first at the wrong time has dire consequences she has to live with for many years.

Grant listens and learns. Quickly one might say. Slightly too quick even. Grant is rather apt in applying Hugo’s techniques in her own negotiations with the glossy. It does become clear quite soon Jenkins Reid parallels the lives of Hugo and Grant. Both women need to chose and fight, for their careers and their personal lives. Needless to say Jenkins Reid does not elaborate a lot on the character of Grant. She remains shallow, there is no real depth in the way she is described.

Only in the final pages do we find out why Hugo chose such an inexperienced unknown person the write her biography. To be quite honest: I did not see the truth coming. Jenkins Reids turns out to be the kind of writer who is perfectly capable of not giving away the truth. The Seven Husbands is a decent, fluently written novel. It is a fine novel that transcends from mediocrity through the message Evelyn Hugo has for the world.

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Sarah Moss || Summerwater

In a mere 200 pages Sarah Moss paints a mini society. A collection of families that is staying in cabins near a Scottish loch enables her to give poignant meaning to the concept of family and relationships between old and young, Scottish and British and British versus non-British.

During an extremely rainy summer season a number of families stays in the wooden cabins near a lodge. Those cabins are dated, lacking up-to-date conveniences. The families staying in the site do not feel the need to make contact with any of the others. The continuous downpour, it just does not seem to end, does not improve things. The loud music coming from one cabin every evening keeping the others from sleeping does not help to create a feeling of holiday relaxation.

Moss has structered her novel in a very clear way. Each chapter is written from the perspective off one the holidaymakers. In their chapter they are the narrator. She alternates those chapters with short ones of at the most one page, about the natural world. In this way separating the holidaymakers from each other but also humans and the natural world they inhabit. The chapters are descriptions of moments in time, the thoughts of the narrator at a certain moment of time determines the written output. Those moments are not synchronic, they do take place in one specific day. From the early start of one person to the final moments.

The use of perspectieve enables Moss to offer us insight into the reflections of a varied group of people. Reflections they probably do not share with family and friends. Moss’s selection provides the necessary diversity. From the middle-aged mother who literally runs away for death, to the retired family doctor who has always taken first place in his family and has trouble adjusting to spending time on his wife suffering from dementia to the young child echoing her father by teasing the daughter of the Ukrainian neighbours.
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Summerwater introduces us to middle of the road people. We read about the routine that has sneaked into a marriage, about the idealism of a young couple planning to move to a forlorn island whilst she is not sure he is her one and only, not sure whether she’ll not miss all her girl BFF’s. We are also taken along in the certainty of an old man who fails to grasp that the world has changed, in the quite obvious postnatal depression of a young mother, in the despair of the young ones who crave wifi and their friends having to make do with rain in a depressing non-exciting environment.

Moss is sharp at times, mellow at others towards the people she describers. She only requires a subtle hint to clearly paint a picture. I suspect she is acutely aware of the fact that she is describing people we all know. The slightly too old feminist hippie, the chai-drinking younger feminist, the couples in the different stages of relationships, the children from baby to adolescent. She describes them accurately. One group she leaves out of the picture however: the Ukrainian family. We only learn about them through the others. This is a deliberate choice. It allows Moss to seclude the family from the others: those that do not adhere to the rules by keeping quiet at night versus the others who have come to the site to enjoy peace and quiet. It also enables her to show the real divide between those who are on a holiday and the migrants who have come to Scotland in need of work. The Ukrainians do not belong to the in-crowd.

Only at the very last moment Moss shows the social part of the holidaymakers, their ability to take care of each other. The last heartbreaking sentence of the novel makes clear this change in attitude arrives too late for some of them. I can imagine Summerwater is not everybody’s cup of tea. The novel calls upon the ability of the reader to enjoy accurate descriptions of people in a novel with very little action. Those accurate descriptions appeal to me. I loved Summerwater.

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Kathleen MacMahon || Nothing But Blue Sky

Longlist

Main character David is a widower; wife Mary is one of the many victims of a plane crash. Nothing But Blue Sky is one tender testament to their life together, their love for each other. Nothing But Bly Sky is also a testament to the ability to come back, to overcome great grief and start living again.

MacMahon does not immediately reveal that David has lost his wife. The context however makes quite obvious that something terrible must have happened to her. She has not just left him. A plane coming into it become clear when the holiday David takes with friends at the French Riviera is described. Their carefully selected villa turns out to offer a great view on all the planes arriving and leaving at a distant airport. The friends all feel guilty and do their best to distract David, he turns out to be rather matter of fact about the planes.

His second holiday after Mary’s death is spent in the small Spanish village they went to over the past twenty years of marriage. Everyone is against it, he feels the desperate urge to return to the place where Mary and he felt so happy. At the end of the novel a second reason is revealed. A big surprise I’ll not spoil; it proofs that David has started enjoying life again.

It becomes quite clear quickly that Mary is the social component of the relationship. David is a man with a few friends, dating from his youth, he has remained loyal to. He is rather socially inept however. His friends accept his quirkiness, they know the truth about his upbringing. Mary is the one who adds colour to his life, who finally makes him experience the loving and cherishing side of family.

David’s family is rather cold to be honest. His mother must have loved him but is completely repressed by her bullying husband. He does not show any respect let alone signs of love towards her or their sons and humiliates her time and time again. She is meant to take care of her husband and her children, does not deserve a life of her own. By the time he dies, it is to late for David’s mother to recuperate and finally start living. The sons are not loved, definitely not David who is considered a pussy by his father. Mary shows David that things can be different; she comes from a loving and caring family.

It takes time for David to grow accustomed to the things Mary takes for granted. He is also the one who recognizes that even perfect families are not flawless. When their marriage remains childless, neither mother nor sister seem to understand the cruelty of having Mary and David stay in the smallest room of the summer cottage. The larger ones are needed for the ‘mothers’. Auch.

Nothing But Blue Sky is a beautiful refined novel. It is not a novel with a hero fighting for justice, making sure the truth about the crash is revealed at all odds and the correct people are sued. On the contrary. David is well prepared to let bygones be bygones. He accepts that his wife was killed in a plane crash, that nothing can be changed whatever. It does not diminish his sincere pain and grief.

Nothing But Blue Sky is about the time it takes to overcome such pain and grief. MacMahon takes us along in the marriage of two people and have us live through their finest and their worst moments. David grew on me as the novel progressed. Not for turning out an American style hero, for being a mere human. MacMahon has painted a sympathetic picture of a rather quirky man who tries his best with and without the major woman in his life. I loved Nothing But Blue Sky.

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Cherie Jones || How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House

Longlist

In How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House the lives of five people come together in a disastrous way. Poor and rich, tourist and native, on a small patch of the Barbadian beach they live side by syde in the eighties until fate decided differently.

The story starts with Lala looking for her husband, because labour has started. She cannot know that the neoghbour’s house she goes to for help is the one in which husband Adan has just shot the owner. When Lala starts knocking on the door he flees from the house taking her with hem, leaving wife Mira behind. Since she has pulled of his face mask he is afraid she’ll identify him. He decides to hide in a network of tunnels near the beaches.

Adan is not a nice guy. He abuses Lala, cheats on her openly. He is also the type of person that will not take responsibility for anything. It is always other people who have put him in an awkward position. So when his new-born daughter dies after she fell from his arms Lala is blamed. She should have hold on to her. Despite everything Lala sticks with him. She does not know what else to do. She is surrounded by women who are abused by their husbands and accept the abuse. From husbands and fathers; Lala and her mother were kept away from their father and grandfather for a reason.

Mira appears to be the total opposite of Lala. She is a rich white woman spending quality time with her husband on Barbados. That is correct, it is also correct that she originally came from Barbados. She is white thrash. Her husband was her way out out of the island and poverty. Having to wreck a family was collateral damage. She has never had a moment of regret. After the murder she remains on the island by herself with her two stepchildren. Her sorrow and pain in the first weeks of being a widow cause her to wander her house and her surroundings in a haze. Her future may turn out less secure than she hoped for.

Lala and Mira never meet. They live close but their worlds are miles apart. Still they resemble each other more than you might suspect. Both women are a product of their upbringing, neither of them doubts that she is to be taken care of by a husband. Taking the abuse and the deceit for granted. They are the victims of a world in which women have no rights. The main difference between the two is home-wrecker Mira turning up with the better man.

Lala could have ended up with a better man who truly loved her. As a young girl she was smitten with Tone. When he disappeared from her life she forgot about him and turned to Adan eventually, who happens to be a close friend of Tone. Both men break the law together. Tone is a male prostitute who sleeps with (older) tourists for cash. Some of these ladies keep on coming back to Barbados just for him. He treats them nicely, never letting them on in the fact that they are his way out of serious criminality. Having spend time in a juvenile institution twice during puberty a ‘normal’ job is no longer a option. A fact he takes for granted, he has never given it a shot.

The title of the novel refers to a story about tunnels on Barbados. A decent girl avoids them, a less decent girl runs the risk of a monster biting of her arm and having to cope living with one arm. Lara and Mira both have dealt with the question to remain decent or not. The novel questions what decency constitutes. And more important, what will it bring you? Choosing married life with a criminal giving your children an abusing legal daddy or seducing a married man ending up happily married to a loving husband?

Cherie Jones is from Barbados. This mere fact does not make for a novel that is typically Barbadian. Abusive men and suffering women who are conditioned by upbringing and culture are of all times and cultures. Jones certainly describes the circumstances of these women well. Their lives hurt, the reader hurts when realising that the women accept abuse as a fact of life. Those women stand for many others. Jones has delivered a solid shrine for those women who are left in the cold by culture and their surroundings.

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