The bedside bookstack – November 2022

What’s teetering on the bedside bookstack this month.

The Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel, Picador 2022

Ewin St. John St. Andrew, eighteen years old, hauling the weight of his double-sainted name across the Atlantic by steamship.

Now that’s how you start a story!

This book moves in time from 1912 to 2020 then on to 2203 and back again and again. There is time travel, a night city moon colony and a pandemic that mirrors our own but not in this century. And because it’s Emily St John Mandel, it all works. Her gift is that it’s all so familiar to life as we know but just a bit off.

What do you save if you have the chance? What do you go back and change? What really matters in a life? All questions we asked ourselves as life-as-we-knew-it was suspended.

When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman, headline review, 2011

Still Life is one of my favourite reads of this year. I still think about those characters and so it was interesting to go back and read Sarah Winman’s first book. She still circles a lot of the same territory, as we all do in our writing. She has families being cobbled together by time, proximity and affection rather than just blood. She has lost years between people who mean something to each other at significant moments in their life. She has multiple generations living together and there is always just so much heart.

The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley, Scribe, 2018

This is a feminist retelling of Beowulf by an author who has also translated it. I don’t know the original story, so I can’t judge it comparatively but it is more than enough on its own. The story of monsters is age-old, of warriors and war and what is lost because of them. In this tale, living in the suburbs isn’t enough to keep you safe from any of it. And as each side tells their story, there’s also the eternal question of who is the real monster. This is a fierce and fiery read, an epic match for an age-old myth.

Pair your reading with this episode of the Between the Covers podcast, an interview with Maria Dahvana Headley on Feminist translations and classical retellings.

Severance by Ling Ma, Text, 2018

This is the ultimate pandemic fiction written just before the pandemic. What’s uncanny for something which happened before COVID, is how similarly things play out…..until they don’t. Lucky for us, we still get to be surprised and horrified by an end of days scenario.

Candace has just broken up with her boyfriend and is great at a job that she doesn’t really love. This has a nice dual narrative about life leading up to the pandemic and then life when she joins a few remaining survivors as they travel to safely start a new life at ‘the facility’.

The first few chapters have a little too much detail about paper stock and outsourced book production in China (Candace’s job) but stick with it if you’re a post-society plot fan.

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene, Vintage, 2002 (1940)

Well, this is tougher going than my last jaunt with Graham Greene. I read Travels with my Aunt last month and it was a light tale that criss-crossed Britain and the continent. This is set in Mexico. A British dentist has somehow been stuck in a backwater village for 15 years or so. All the priests have been executed or disappeared. There is just the ‘whiskey priest’ who visits those who are brave enough to still believe and hide him.

I haven’t finished it yet. I have to admit, when I pick it up, I always fish around on the bookstack to see if there’s something else to read instead. Definitely stuck with it so far because it’s a classic but not sure I’ll go the distance.

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