Mount TBR Challenge 2021: 1st Checkpoint

I’ve been doing quite well with Bev’s Mount TBR Challenge so far this year. Up to the end of March I read 14 of my TBRs, so I’ve climbed Pike’s Peak and have made progress up Mont Blanc. Bev asks us to complete one of more questions. I’ve answered two::

Post a picture of your favourite cover so far.

I love this scene on the cover of James Rebanks’ English Pastoral. And the book is wonderful. It is inspirational as well as informative and it is beautifully written.

And secondly, Which book (read so far) has been on your TBR mountain the longest? Was it worth the wait? Or is it possible you should have tackled it back when you first put it on the pile? Or tossed it off the edge without reading it all?

Orlando by Virginia Woolf had been on my TBR shelves for nearly 5 years. It was well worth the wait. It’s such a fantastical novel, spanning 500 years. There are copious literary, historical, and personal allusions; a book steeped in history showing how the passage of time had changed both the landscape and climate of England along with its society.

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

I first read Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia in 2012 but never got round to writing about it. It was a good choice to re-read for the 1936 Club as I didn’t remember much about it. It’s a Poirot mystery, but he doesn’t appear until about halfway. As the title tells you it is set in Mesopotamia, the area in the Middle East between the two rivers, Tigris and Euphrates (the area of present-day Iraq, Kuwait, and parts of Iran, Syria, and Turkey).

An archaeologist’s wife is murdered on the shores of the River Tigris in Iraq…

It was clear to Amy Leatheran that something sinister was going on at the Hassanieh dig in Iraq; something associated with the presence of ‘Lovely Louise’, wife of celebrated archaeologist Dr Leidner.

In a few days’ time Hercule Poirot was due to drop in at the excavation site. But with Louise suffering from terrifying hallucinations, and tension within the group becoming almost unbearable, Poirot might just be too late…

Agatha Christie had first visited the Middle East in 1929 travelling on the Orient Express to Istanbul and then on to Damascus and Baghdad. She visited the excavations at Ur and returned there the following spring where she met archaeologist Max Mallowan – by the end of the summer they had decided to marry, which they did on 11 September 1930. So, by 1936 when she wrote Murder in Mesopotamia she had frequently accompanied Max on his archaeological digs and her books set in the Middle East are based on the everyday life that she experienced on a dig and on the people she met.

The murder victim is Louise Leidner, the wife of the leader of the expedition. The novel is narrated by Nurse Amy Leatheran, who had been asked by Dr Leidner to care for Louise, although he is vague about what is wrong with her. It seems she is scared and has nervous terrors. She has fearful visions and the other members of the expedition blame her for the oppressive atmosphere on the dig.

It’s a seemingly impossible murder – she is found in her room, dead from a blow on her head, and suspicion falls on Louise’s first husband who had been sending her threatening letters, or so she had claimed. But no strangers had been seen on or near the expedition house and it is down to Poirot to discover what had actually happened. Fortunately Poirot was in the area, having sorted out a military scandal in Syria (referred to at the beginning of Murder on the Orient Express) and was passing through the expedition site on his way to Baghdad before returning to London.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, although I think the details of how the murder was committed are rather far-fetched. I was hoping that Agatha Christie had mentioned writing it in her Autobiography, but I couldn’t find any reference to it, although she wrote extensively about her time in the Middle East with Max, and in her fascinating memoir, Come, Tell Me How You Live she wrote about how much she loved the country and its people.

The Mirror Dance by Catriona McPherson

Hodder and Stoughton| 21 January 2021| 259 pages| e-book| Review copy| 3*

Description:

Something sinister is afoot in the streets of Dundee, when a puppeteer is found murdered behind his striped Punch and Judy stand, as children sit cross-legged drinking ginger beer. At once, Dandy Gilver’s semmingly-innocuous investigation into plagiarism takes a darker turn. The gruesome death seems to be inextricably bound to the gloomy offices of Doig’s Publishers, its secrets hidden in the real stories behind their girls’ magazines The Rosie Cheek and The Freckle.

On meeting a mysterious professor from St Andrews, Dandy and her faithful colleague Alex Osbourne are flung into the worlds of academia, the theatre and publishing. Nothing is quite as it seems, and behind the cheerful facades of puppets and comic books, is a troubled history has begun to repeat itself.

My thoughts:

I’ve read some of the Dandy Gilver mysteries by Catriona McPherson, set in the 1920s and 1930s Scotland. The Mirror Dance is the 15th book. The last one I read was the 6th, a few years ago now, so when I saw it on NetGalley I requested it. I was pleased to find, that although I’d missed so many of the books in the series, it’s easy to read as a standalone.

It begins on an August Bank Holiday weekend in 1937, when Dandy (short for Dandelion Dahlia!), a private detective, receives a phone call from Miss Sandy Bissett, a magazine publisher in Dundee. She asks Dandy to go to Dudhope Park to warn the Punch and Judy man there that he is infringing copyrighted property as he is using two of the magazine’s cartoon characters, Rosie Cheeke and Freckles in his show. So, the next day, Bank Holiday Monday, together with her female staff, Grant, her lady’s maid, Becky her housemaid and Mrs Tilling, her cook, Dandy goes to Dundee to see the puppet show, looking out for the appearance of the magazine characters.

But during the show, the puppet Scaramouche extended his neck upwards, unfolding from pleats like an accordion and then stayed still like a tableau. The children lost interest and the adults were grumbling. When Dandy and Grant went to the back of the Punch and Judy tent they found the puppeteer slumped dead behind the scene, with his throat cut. The police are called but Dandy and her partner, Alec take it upon themselves to investigate the murder, an apparently impossible murder, with no signs of the murderer, and no one knew the puppeteer’s name.

I liked the setting. There is a good sense of location in Dundee in the 1930s, when the effects of the First World War were still lingering and the threat of another war was on the horizon. This is a convoluted murder mystery, where there is more than meets the eye. There is a lot of detail about the publishing industry and the theatrical world of the time which was interesting, but overall the amount of detail of everyday life, with all its sights and smells, slowed the book down too much for me.

There are several complications, red herrings and apparent impossibilities and I was puzzled about the relevance of a murder 50 years earlier in the same park, of an earlier Punch and Judy man. I became a bit lost in the detail about the number of women suspects Dandy and Alec consider – there were two, and then perhaps there were three. Who were they and what was the motive for the murder? Gradually that became clear, but I got exasperated at the number of times Dandy and the others went over and over what was happening, working out how it could have happened and why. Although some of it is confusing and I hadn’t worked out the identity of the murderer some of it seemed so obvious to me that I couldn’t see why it took them so long to work it out. So, although I enjoyed the actual murder mystery and the mirror dance aspect, where everything is turned on its head, I did not enjoy how it was told.

My thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for my review copy.

A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville

Canongate| 6 August 2020| 325 pages| e-book| Review copy| 4*

I’m late getting round to reading A Room Made of Leaves, because I am behind with reviewing my NetGalley books. But it was well worth the wait. It’s historical fiction telling the story of the Macarthurs, Elizabeth and John Macarthur, who settled in Australia at the end of the eighteenth century. It’s based on the real lives of the Macarthurs using letters, journals and official documents of the early years of the New South Wales colony. But, although based on fact this is not history, it is fiction, as Kate Grenville makes clear in her Author’s Note at the end of the book (which I read after I read the opening paragraphs of the Editor’s Note at the start of the book).

Description

It is 1788. Twenty-one-year-old Elizabeth is hungry for life but, as the ward of a Devon clergyman, knows she has few prospects. When a soldier, John Macarthur promises her the earth one midsummer’s night, she believes him and with a baby on the way she marries him. Only then he tells her he is to take up a position as Lieutenant in a New South Wales penal colony and she has no choice but to go. Sailing for six months to the far side of the globe with a child growing inside her, she arrives to find Sydney Town a brutal, dusty, hungry place of makeshift shelters, failing crops, scheming and rumours.

All her life she has learned to be obliging, to fold herself up small. Now, in the vast landscapes of an unknown continent, Elizabeth has to discover a strength she never imagined, and passions she could never express. 

Inspired by the real life of a remarkable woman, this is an extraordinarily rich, beautifully wrought novel of resilience, courage and the mystery of human desire.

My thoughts:

I’ve enjoyed all of the books by Kate Grenville that I’ve read so far. Her writing suits me – historical fiction, straight-forward story-telling, with good descriptive writing setting the scenes vividly in their locations. I find her books difficult to put down and they stay in my mind long after I’ve finished reading. This one is no exception.

It begins in Devon where Elizabeth was born and grew up, first with her parents and then after her father died on her grandfather’s sheep farm and then with the local vicar’s family, whose daughter, Bridie is her friend. There she meets John Macarthur, an ensign. When she becomes pregnant they marry and then he tells her he has signed on as a lieutenant in the New South Wales Corps in the penal colony at Sydney Cove. But their married life is not a happy one. John was rash, impulsive, changeable, self-deceiving, and given to embarking on grandiose schemes. He was quick to take offence and was dangerously unbalanced. Over the course of their marriage he was forced to return to England twice, at first for four years and later for nine. During that time Elizabeth made the best of life, carrying on with their sheep farm at Parramatta, where she improved the flock, and helped to establish New South Wales as a reliable supplier of quality wool.

One of the outstanding parts of the book for me is her relationship with William Dawes, an astronomer with the Corps, who was mapping the night sky. He had an observatory near Elizabeth’s farm and it was there that she met some of the local inhabitants and learned a bit of their language and about their ways of life. And it is with William that Elizabeth learns to appreciate not just the night sky, but also the landscape and its flora and fauna and in particular the ‘room made of leaves’ – a private space enclosed on three sides by greenery, a place where you could simply be yourself.

This is a book that captivated me from the opening paragraphs, and there is so much more in it than I have mentioned in this post. It gave me much to think about, in particular bearing in mind the epigraph, an actual quotation from one of Elizabeth’s letters: Believe not too quickly, reminding me that this is a work of fiction. I enjoyed it immensely. And it makes me want to know more about the Macarthurs. I came across Michelle Scott Tucker’s biography: Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World and I was delighted to see that Kate Grenville references this book as the standard biography in her Acknowledgements. It is now on my wishlist!

Many thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for my review copy.

We Are Not In The World by Conor O’Callaghan

Transworld Publishers| 18 February 2021 |272 pages | Kindle review copy via NetGalley/ 2*

Heartbroken after a long, painful love affair, a man drives a haulage lorry from England to France. Travelling with him is a secret passenger – his daughter. Twenty-something, unkempt, off the rails.

With a week on the road together, father and daughter must restore themselves and each other, and repair a relationship that is at once fiercely loving and deeply scarred.

As they journey south, down the motorways, through the service stations, a devastating picture reveals itself: a story of grief, of shame, and of love in all its complex, dark and glorious manifestations.

My thoughts:

A strange, confusing and depressing book that I read as though I was in fog, never really getting to grips with the plot. It meanders and drifts through the characters, shifting between the past, the near past and the present, and from place to place, as Paddy drives the lorry from England down to the south of France. I was often not sure what was happening, when or where it was happening and to whom it was happening. It’s a stream of consciousness, as the various characters move in and out of focus.

There were times when I wondered why I was reading this, it was like a dream where the scenes move randomly through a number of sequences, and you wake up with that fearful feeling that something dreadful has been going on inside your head that was disturbing, and unsettling. There’s a sense of timelessness and of detachment from the day to day reality – they are not in the world. And yet I was compelled to read on, if only just to get to the end and see if my suspicions about what had actually happened were right. They were, although there is a little twist at the very end that I hadn’t expected.

The fairy tale of Oisin, a tale Paddy tells his daughter, interests me. Oisin was a warrior who fell in love with a fairy named Niamh. He takes her home to Tir na nOg, where they will stay forever young, but he can never return home. After three years he is homesick and returns on a magic horse, on the condition that he has to stay on the horse on pain of death. But three hundred years have actually gone by, not three, and everyone he knew is dead. He meets an old man who knew his father and moving to help him he slips off the horse, touches the ground and dies in an instant. He repeats this story several times to his daughter as they travel through France. It links with Tir na nOg, the name of his family home, now neglected and empty after his mother’s death three years earlier.

This is not an easy read, as you have to concentrate on all the different strands. Paddy’s life is a complete mess, he has lost everything: his family, his home and his sense of belonging. He looks back at the broken relationships with his parents, his brother, ex-wife, daughter, and ex-lover. It’s told in fragments and you have to read between the lines to understand it. I didn’t enjoy the book, and found it difficult to follow. It is too vague, and as soon as I thought I’d begun to understand it, it drifted away into obscurity. and I was left floundering.

My thanks to the publishers and to NetGalley for my advance review copy.

  • ASINB08119RXD6
  • Publisher : Transworld Digital (18 Feb. 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Print length : 264 pages
  • Page numbers source ISBN : 0857526855
  • Source: Review copy
  • My rating: 2*

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

Just days after Raynor learns that Moth, her husband of 32 years, is terminally ill, their home is taken away and they lose their livelihood. With nothing left and little time, they make the brave and impulsive decision to walk the 630 miles of the sea-swept South West Coast Path, from Somerset to Dorset, via Devon and Cornwall.

Carrying only the essentials for survival on their backs, they live wild in the ancient, weathered landscape of cliffs, sea and sky. Yet through every step, every encounter and every test along the way, their walk becomes a remarkable journey.

The Salt Path is an honest and life-affirming true story of coming to terms with grief and the healing power of the natural world. Ultimately, it is a portrayal of home, and how it can be lost, rebuilt and rediscovered in the most unexpected ways
.

I first wrote a short post about The Salt Path in this post. I bought the book in 2018 and was keen to read it, but so many other books intervened, and it was only when I saw Raynor Winn on Kate Humble’s Coastal Walks programme on the South West Coastal Path that I remembered about her book.

Raynor and Moth Winn, a couple in their 50s, were homeless, with no means of income except for £48 pounds a week. They had lost their home, business and livelihood, after investing in one of a friend’s companies that had failed. They found out that they were liable to make payments towards the debts of the company, were taken to court and ended up losing not only their savings but also their farm and home.

Despite finding out that Moth has a rare terminal illness, they decided to walk the South Coast Path. He had been diagnosed with corticobasal degeneration (CBD), a brain disease for which there is no cure or treatment apart from pain killers and physiotherapy. The consultant told him that he shouldn’t tire himself, or walk too far and to take care on the stairs. Their decision to walk the Path and camp wild seemed to me both brave and foolhardy and I read this book with absolute amazement that they could take themselves away from medical care and set off, almost totally unprepared and not fit enough to walk 630 miles along a coast path.

At first it was really difficult as Moth struggled with pain and exhaustion, and it horrified me that he could carry on in that condition. They had reached the Valley of Rocks in north Devon, when he sat down on the rocks. He felt he was eighty and was so tired that he hurt everywhere:

Can’t tell if I’m half asleep, or wide awake. It’s like my head’s in fog and I’m walking through treacle. This is the most bollockingly stupid thing we’ve ever done. I want to lie down.(page 58)

He had been taking Pregabalin to ease the nerve pain and had been told not to just stop taking them because of the immense list of withdrawal symptoms. But that is what he had done – they had left his supplies behind them, ready to put in the rucksack, but had forgotten them. Fortunately after a while the pain lessened, he felt much better and his head was clearer. The walking had helped!

They had little to live on, their diet involved lots of rice and noodles, supplemented with wine gums and foraging for blackberries, mushrooms and dandelions. They took it at their own pace, following Paddy Dillon’s Walking Guide of the trail from Minehead on the Somerset coast right round Devon and Cornwall to Poole in Dorset, stopping to pick up their money and buy supplies along the route. But as winter was on the way when they reached Lantic Bay and Pencarrow Head they decided to take up a friend’s offer to stay with her for the winter free of rent if they could help with her building and on her farm.

However, once they stopped walking, Moth’s stiffness and his neurological pain increased and he struggled to move. He seemed to be deteriorating so quickly without the Pregabalin. But they were determined to finish the walk and completed it the next year. Once more, as they walked Moth’s condition improved. He didn’t understand how, thinking it may have ‘something to do with heavy endurance exercise‘, causing some sort of reaction that that they didn’t understand. He didn’t know how it worked but he just felt great.

Living with a death sentence, having no idea when it will be enacted, is to straddle a void. Every word or gesture, every breath of wind or drop of rain matters to a painful degree. For now we had moved outside of that. Moth was on death row, but he’d been granted the right to appeal. He knew CBD hadn’t miraculously disappeared, but somehow, for a while, it was held at bay.(page 243)

The Salt Path is not a book about walking the South Coast Path because you love walking, nor because you want the challenge of walking 630 miles, nor because you love wild camping. And it is not just about about the beauty of the surroundings and the experience of being close to nature (although that is there in Ray Winn’s beautiful descriptive writing). It is about the determination to live life, about overcoming pain and hardship, and the healing power of nature. It is about homelessness and the different reactions and attitudes of the people they met when they told them they were homeless. Some were hostile, some recoiled in horror and moved away as though they were social pariahs. Others were sympathetic and generous.

In this post I have concentrated on Moth’s health, because that is what struck me most as I was reading the book. But there is so much more in it than that. It’s one of the most remarkable books that I have read. I admired their determination and persistence in the face of all the difficulties and obstacles they met, but it is definitely not something I could ever undertake. It both fascinated and appalled me.

After I read The Salt Path I wondered how Ray and Moth are now and came across this article in The Herald, dated 20 September 2020, in which Raynor Winn looks back over these life-changing and challenging events. At lot has happened since then and the story of that is in her second book, The Wild Silence. You can follow Raynor on Twitter @raynor_winn.

  • Publisher : Michael Joseph; 1st edition (3 Sept. 2020)
  • Language : English
  • File size : 3148 KB
  • X-Ray : Enabled
  • Word Wise : Enabled
  • Print length : 280 pages
  • My Rating: 4*

The 1936 Club

I read about the 1936 Club on Karen’s blog, BookerTalk. It’s being hosted by Karen at kaggsy’sbookishramblings and Simon at stuckinabook and is scheduled for 12-18 April. It’s been a while since I joined in one of their Club Reading Weeks, but when I looked at the books I’ve read and the books that I have waiting to be read I found that quite a lot of them were first published in 1936.

There is just one of these that I haven’t read – Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston. But I would like to re-read Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia that I first read in May 2012, because I never wrote a review post about it. And there are some short stories, first published in 1936 that I haven’t read yet, such as Problem at Sea, which is included in the short story collection, Poirot’s Early Cases.

The Moon Sister by Lucinda Riley

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’ve had this book for a while now and have just finished reading it. It is the 5th book in Lucinda Riley’s series, The Seven Sisters and as I’d only read the first book I thought I’d read the other three books first before this one, so that I could read them in order. But as the 7th book, The Missing Sister, will be published in May I thought I had better read The Moon Sister now. The books are based on the legends of The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades. Although this is just one in the series I think it reads very well as a standalone book.

I loved this book, about Tiggy D’Apilese, the fifth sister adopted by Pa Salt and brought up in their childhood home, ‘Atlantis’ – a fabulous, secluded castle situated on the shores of Lake Geneva. The sisters are all named after the stars in the Pleiades star cluster. Tiggy’s star name is Taygete. Pa Salt had died earlier in the year and had left clues for each girl so that if they want they can discover who their parents were and the circumstances of their birth. Tiggy is her nickname after the hedgehog Mrs Tiggy-winkle from the Beatrix Potter book – and because when she was born her hair stuck up in spikes.

The book description summarises this long and detailed (769 pages) book, and I don’t intend to go into much more detail about the plot. The story begins in the Scottish Highlands where Tiggy works as a wildlife consultant, then moves to Sacromente in Spain, then onto Portugal, South America and New York before moving back to the Highlands as Tiggy finds out about her birth and her family history.

Blurb:

After the death of her father – Pa Salt, an elusive billionaire who adopted his six daughters from around the globe – Tiggy D’Aplièse , trusting her instincts, moves to the remote wilds of Scotland. There she takes a job doing what she loves; caring for animals on the vast and isolated Kinnaird estate, employed by the enigmatic and troubled Laird, Charlie Kinnaird.

Her decision alters her future irrevocably when Chilly, an ancient gipsy who has lived for years on the estate, tells her that not only does she possess a sixth sense, passed down from her ancestors, but it was foretold long ago that he would be the one to send her back home to Granada in Spain . . .

In the shadow of the magnificent Alhambra, Tiggy discovers her connection to the fabled gypsy community of Sacromonte, who were forced to flee their homes during the civil war, and to ‘La Candela’ the greatest flamenco dancer of her generation.

From the Scottish Highlands and Spain, to South America and New York, Tiggy follows the trail back to her own exotic but complex past. And under the watchful eye of a gifted gypsy bruja she begins to embrace her own talent for healing.

But when fate takes a hand, Tiggy must decide whether to stay with her new-found family or return to Kinnaird, and Charlie . . .

The modern day story is interesting, about her work on the Kinnaird Estate (based on Alladale Wilderness Reserve), but I felt that her relationship with the Laird was rather naive, and at the end of the book how that was resolved felt contrived. But I loved the episodes in which Tiggy meets Chilly, and those with the deer and the white stag. Chilly is the old gypsy, who she befriended. He calls her ‘Hotchiwitchi’, Romany for hedgehog, and tells her that she has a special gift in her hands to heal animals. He also tells her that she should go to the seven caves of Sacromente, where she was born. Tiggy sees a white stag, which she calls Pegasus and tries to protect him from poachers, when news got out he was on the Estate. White stags are revered; there a several myths about them – one being that Tiggy’s mythical counterpart, Taygete, who was a companion of the Greek deity Artemis, ‘the Mistress of Animals’, was being pursued by and to protect her Artemis turned her into a doe.

But the most interesting and fascinating part of the book for me is the story of Tiggy’s , grandmother, Lucia Amaya-Albaycin, who became a famous flamenco dancer. She is the dominant character in the book, and not a particularly likeable character as she was totally self-absorbed, and obsessed with furthering her career. Flamenco dancing was her passion and took priority over everything else.

Lucia was also born in in a cave in Sacromonte, the sacred mountain just outside the eastern city walls of Granada in Andalusia, within sight of the Alhambra. She was a ‘gitano’ and lived her life to dance. She was born in poverty and her family struggled to survive. During the Spanish Civil War their neighbourhood was devastated, suffering famine and hardship – one of Lucia’s brothers was imprisoned in terrible conditions. She and her father, together with their troupe of dancers fled to Portugal and then went to Argentina and eventually on to New York, where Lucia was forced to choose between her career and the man she loved. But the spirit of the ‘duende’, possessed her as it surged up from the soles of her feet as she danced, encompassing her whole body, and soaring out of her soul.

Lucinda Riley is a wonderful storyteller and her descriptions of the grandeur and beauty of both Granada and the Scottish Highlands entranced me.They are so beautifully and vividly described that I was transported back in time and place, seeing the events unfold before my eyes.

Many thanks to the the publishers via NetGalley for my digital review copy.

  • ASIN : B07F72TKSX
  • Publisher : Macmillan (1 Nov. 2018)
  • Language : English
  • File size : 1255 KB
  • Text-to-Speech : Enabled
  • Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
  • X-Ray : Enabled
  • Word Wise : Enabled
  • Print length : 769 pages

The seven books are:

  1. The Seven Sisters (2014)
   2. The Storm Sister (2015)
   3. The Shadow Sister (2016)
   4. The Pearl Sister (2017)
   5. The Moon Sister (2018)
   6. The Sun Sister (2019)
   7. The Missing Sister (2021)

Don’t Look Now and other Short Stories by Daphne du Maurier

I love Du Maurier’s books and her short stories are much better than others I’ve read. My copy of Don’t Look Now and Other Short Stories by Daphne du Maurier is a Virago Modern Classic. The other short stories in this collection are Not After Midnight, A Border-Line Case, The Way of the Cross and The Breakthrough, making this a collection of stories of suspense, mystery and slow, creeping horror.

I read the first story Don’t Look Now (52 pages) a few years ago. It’s a supernatural tale about a couple, John and Laura who have come to Venice to recover after their young daughter’s death. They encounter two old women who claim to have second sight and find themselves caught up in a train of increasingly strange and violent events, involving hallucinations, mistaken identity and a murderer.

I read the other four stories this month. They explore deep fears and longings, secrets and desires. In Not After Midnight (48 pages) a lonely teacher, Timothy Grey, investigates a mysterious American couple, the Stolls, whilst on holiday on the Greek island of Crete. The couple invite him to visit their chalet, with the warning ‘not before midnight’. What he discovers involves a jar or rhyton, shaped into the form of a head resembling Stoll, with dancing satyrs. The story gradually became more and more ambiguous and mysterious – I wondered just what was real and what was imaginary.

In A Border-Line Case (65 pages) a young woman confronts her father’s past after he died. She wants to know more about his early life. He was ex-British Army and she goes to Ireland to search for the man who used to be his friend. When she finds him, she falls in love with him and then discovers something that shocks her completely. This is very intense story.

In The Way of the Cross ( 67 pages) there’s a party of pilgrims who meet disaster in Jerusalem. This is a strange story about seven people from a cruise ship as they follow the Via Dolorosa and each experience their own humiliation, each one meeting the fate they most dread.

The Breakthrough (43 pages) is the oddest and most menacing story of this collection. It is set on the windswept coast of rural Suffolk in an isolated laboratory. It’s about a scientist, experimenting with the idea that when people die there is an untapped source of energy, as their ‘soul’, for want of a better word, leaves their body. He attempts to harness the power of the mind to the most chilling effect, by releasing this energy from a young man, dying of leukaemia, into the mind of a child of ‘sub-standard intelligence’.

I enjoyed these stories – or are they novellas? The longer length means these stories have more depth, characterisation and substance than the shorter stories. I find them more satisfying – and the ambiguity and supernatural elements in these makes them especially thought-provoking. Some are better than others and the one I enjoyed the most is Not After Midnight.

Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell

Random House UK, Cornerstone| 6 August 2020|407 pages| Kindle review copy via NetGalley

Lisa Jewell is one of my favourite authors and yet I struggled to read Invisible Girl. I struggled to get interested in it at first and at about 25% I nearly gave up. But I can’t give up on a book by a favourite author, so I carried on.

The book description below is what made me want to read it:

It is nearly midnight, and very cold. Yet in this dark place of long grass and tall trees where cats hunt and foxes shriek, a girl is waiting…

When Saffyre Maddox was ten something terrible happened and she’s carried the pain of it around with her ever since. The man who she thought was going to heal her didn’t, and now she hides from him, invisible in the shadows, learning his secrets; secrets she could use to blow his safe, cosy world apart.

Owen Pick is invisible too. He’s thirty-three years old and he’s never had a girlfriend, he’s never even had a friend. Nobody sees him. Nobody cares about him. But when Saffyre Maddox disappears from opposite his house on Valentine’s night, suddenly the whole world is looking at him. Accusing him. Holding him responsible. Because he’s just the type, isn’t he? A bit creepy?

I struggled because it is slow-going, the narrative jumps around between Saffyre, Owen and Cate (the long suffering wife of Roan, a child psychologist) and also between the present and the past tenses. I was never really sure where the story was going.

The blurb tells you the the bare bones of the plot. It’s a mystery revolving around secrets – what was the terrible thing that happened to Saffyre, what are the characters hiding, why does everybody shun Owen and are they all unreliable narrators? I was never really sure and didn’t trust any of them. It certainly doesn’t hold back on some of the most unsavoury aspects of life – sexual harassment, abuse, self-harm, in-celibates, on-line forums and so on. It’s the slow pace that made it drag for me and lessened any sense of tension about what was going to happen. All is explained by the end – apart, that is, from one final thread that is left hanging.

Lisa Jewell’s Acknowledgements are interesting, in that she explains how she writes. Until she has finished a book she writes it is ‘just me and my (three) typing fingers and my weird imaginary world.’ She doesn’t do research because it puts her off her stride and she doesn’t like editorial input when she is writing. But when she has finished then, as she describes it, all these magical people appear and fix her imaginary world. Of course, then she thanks all those people, her editors, sales and marketing and publicity teams.

Her methods have worked enormously well in all the other books of hers that I’ve read and I’ve been enthralled, mystified and captivated by them – but just not this one, I’m sorry to say.

My thanks to the publishers and to NetGalley for my copy and I wish I could have been more engaged and enthusiastic about this book.