Book Review: The Heeding

the heeding

The Heeding is a poignant and powerful poetry collection written by Rob Cowen and stunningly illustrated by Nick Hayes. It reflects on the year following the first COVID19 lockdown and will serve in the time to come as a reminder of when the world changed profoundly – how we lived lives altered in previously unimaginable ways. The poems capture the concerns and frustrations of families required to deal with the challenges of: house arrest, homeschooling, a ban on visiting their cared for elderly. It provides an evocative reminder that nobody will live forever.

“They are staring into a child’s eyes, wondering at the storm that’s coming.
How they might put themselves between what they love and everything”

The author is father to young children and his worries centre on them. He reflects on his own childhood and the lessons learned and valued from his parents and grandparents – often appreciated only in hindsight. He was taught to heed what was around him, particularly in nature. He now wishes to pass this valuable skill on to the next generation.

The poems have a depth that belies the ease with which they may be read. Incidents recounted are often everyday yet have an impact, a value, in the connections they engender.

Solidarity on a Saturday Night is a short poem about neighbours lighting up their backyards and somehow feeling together without the need to meet. This Allotment reflects on a humanity that is possible when people are accepting of difference in looks or creed – willing to offer practical advice and their labour along with excess produce.

“When heart-sore, I often wonder if this place is
secretly a model for what should be; how things could be,
were we not so preoccupied with property”

Last Breaths took my breath away, moving me to tears. It is a heartfelt account of a man in a nursing home, dying alone of this terrible plague. He remembers aspects of his life: war, a beloved wife outlived, a daughter who died in childhood, another now banned from seeing him – to keep him safe! The illustration that goes with this poem is perfect, as are so many here. The words brought home to me, perhaps for the first time, how my own father passed away last year – hand held by a nurse in PPE.

Another particularly poignant poem is Dennis, a man taunted relentlessly by local children whose casual cruelty makes their older selves squirm. The reason for his odd tics and behaviour is heartrending.

There are poems that describe encounters with birds and other creatures along with the Yorkshire landscape where the author lives. Nature is depicted as savage as well as beautiful, teeming with life but also death. There are reflections on more human concerns – failing businesses, history, politics, fearful unease.

“These cancelled birthdays.
These bans on being together.
These redundancies, uncertainties,
limits on impulse and joy,
on movement and autonomy.”

Black Ant highlights how we may try to save a tiny creature in difficulties, but will not tolerate those that threaten the structure or safety of our dwelling and family.

Pharmacy Cake brings home the loneliness of lockdown life for the elderly it was sold as designed to protect.

“This braving of sleet and virus;
this coddling of staff, is a way to treat a pain
more mangling, more unbelievably sore
than any of us are collecting prescriptions for.”

Viking Gold is a wonderfully evocative remembrance of a stern grandmother who, in the end, offered the author a window into all she had kept in check throughout her life, just before ‘her mind unspooled towards infancy.’

“Born of bleak moor and indoctrinated patriarchy;
the dark, meagre modesties of mill town terraces.
Be grateful for the least. Repent, repress
the sin of boastful joy; let your worries be endless
lest God give you, with a clout,
something proper to worry about.”

Lockdown, with all the mental baggage it has created, has certainly given the author much to worry about. He is scathing in his opinion of those who do not take the vaccine, especially those who spread fear about side-effects, branding them murderers. I pondered how many were living with such concerns and if this will change how they interact once guidelines are lifted.

Whatever views one ascribes to on this, the collection offers much to consider along with an appreciation of the natural world that continues to turn through the seasons however man is living within. I found this thought uplifting, that we too may choose to go on, perhaps still at risk but not allowing this to rob us of the joys to be found both in our back yards and beyond.

“Be kind. Forgive. Attend and heed.
Be strong, but lead with love not power.
Look for the universe inside the seed”

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Elliott & Thompson.

Book Review: We Are All Somebody

we are all somebody

“I realised how powerful poetry can be. It can instil hope, it can inspire and you can feel the emotion in the words.”

“Listen to our young people”

We Are All Somebody is a poetry anthology written by street children who were chosen to represent their countries in Street Child World Cups. Starting in 2010, these international events are organised ahead of the world’s biggest sporting competitions in cricket and football. Their aim is to bring together street connected young people from around the world, and to advocate for change in the way they are seen and treated.

The anthology was compiled by Samantha Richards who, in 2018, represented the UK at the Street Child Football World Cup in Moscow. Inspired by her discussions with members of other teams from across the globe she put pen to paper and wrote out her emotions in a poem. She invited her new friends to contribute in poetry or artwork.

“We must encourage each other to be the best version of ourselves before we can expect others to do the same.”

The book opens with profiles of the young leaders in the competitions from various countries. Their plea is to be treated fairly and with compassion. What they want is: shelter, food, clean water, healthcare, education. They ask for protection from: violence, exploitation, sexual abuse, trafficking, child marriage. Key to accessing these basic rights is a legal identity, often hard to come by.

“They are children like any other children in the world.”

The poems that follow are heartfelt cries for needs to be met without discrimination. Several include references to COVID 19 and the difficulties of adhering to recommended guidelines when access to proper sanitation is limited.

“insecurity and hunger are their greatest threats”

The street children are exploited by all they come into contact with, including at times each other. Despised, unprotected and blamed for their situation they have no recourse to justice.

“We sleep in a group
If you sleep alone, you are sexual prey
If you sleep too deeply, your money gets taken”

Although raw at times, the message herein is powerful. The contributors ask that their voices be heard on behalf of other street children. I hope they find readers who will listen.

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My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Fly On The Wall Press.

Book Review: Golem Girl

“Ableism is the belief that in an ideal world, all bodies should be flawless, or that they should at least try to be cured.”

Riva Lehrer was born in 1958 with the inner layer of her mother’s placental wall adhered to her skin swathing the lower half of her body like a mummy’s bandages. She had a red sac protruding from her back. She had spina bifida. At the time only 90% of babies born with this condition lived to see their second birthday. Prevailing medical opinion was that they should be left alone – only those who survived proving themselves worthy of the medical resources necessary to treat them. Riva’s mother, Carole, had already suffered two distressing miscarriages. She was determined to fight for her living child and found an ally in a surgeon freshly trained in the latest techniques for treating spina bifida. Newborn Riva was operated on – the start of decades of surgery in which doctors would try to make her body more ‘normal’.

Golem Girl is a memoir that tells the personal story of an accomplished artist and teacher whose life has been built on the belief that she is a monster – an aberration. Throughout her childhood she was expected to submit to painful surgeries and treatments that her mother sought in an effort to, if not ‘cure’ her daughter, at least enable her to function and fit more smoothly into a society that would cruelly comment and stare with impunity. Thankfully, attitudes changed over the years, although in her epilogue – written in May 2020 – Riva questions the underlying truth of this.

The first half of the book covers the author’s childhood, during which she would have little agency over her treatment and education. Carole was a formidable advocate, supported by her fiercely Jewish wider family. She did not consider that Riva could want anything other than to be made less obviously disabled. She also took life changing decisions for her daughter because, as she bluntly stated, she did not believe Riva would ever find a loving husband, looking as she did. She wished to protect her child yet could never see her as anything other than someone in need of fixing.

Not all the surgeries Riva underwent resulted in the outcomes aimed for, yet still her mother persisted in her search for treatment that would change how her daughter looked and moved. As she grew older, Riva started to question their necessity, angered that she was not consulted.

Riva was in her late teens before she gained any sort of autonomy – and this was under difficult circumstances for the family. It would be many more years before she would question the orthodoxy that surgery was necessary, not to save her life but to make her look more acceptable. She was a talented artist still trying to find her niche in a world that could not see her and her work except through their blinkers of what others considered the bounds of femininity and disability.

Riva did find love, and also came to question why society struggled to regard people like her as acceptable as they were.

“Disability was natural, as was queerness, and neither were in need of correction or eradication.”

The timeline of the second half of the book jumps back and forth through several decades as the author explores a variety of issues she faced as an adult. There were a number of significant love affairs. There were friendships that resulted in impressive bodies of artwork. Throughout the book are illustrations of some of Riva’s art – many of them portraits that study the lives of other disabled people. These are reproduced in a section at the end which describes them more fully.

I use the term disabled aware that such a term may not be acceptable to some. Riva discusses this as she tells her story – how descriptors have changed in her lifetime. As a child she would be subjected to abuse regularly – neighbourhood children calling her ‘retard’ and pelting her with missiles. As an adult she was approached by a stranger intent on telling her: if I looked like you I’d kill myself. All of this has shaped Riva’s perception of herself, and her self-confidence. That she used her experiences to get to the stage she is at now is remarkable – or maybe that view is also reductive and I should listen more carefully.

This is an eminently readable and important work, depicting as it does life through the lens of a woman who has been both othered and dehumanised. Thanks to her own efforts and the ongoing support of her family, Riva has been able to carve an independent life for herself. She points out that financial constraints prevent many disabled adults from ever leaving their parents – infantilising them in a cocoon of well-meaning autocracy.

A poignant and moving tale but also one that is anger inducing when one considers how the disabled continue to be treated. The artwork within these pages speaks as powerfully as the words – of bodies that are beautiful and have achieved and are various. This is a story that deserves to be heard and then heeded. A recommended read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Virago, at the request of The Barbellion Prize, for which it is shortlisted.

Book Review: Broken Consort

“There are a lot of serious idiots out there who could do with being a shade less convinced by themselves.”

A good number of the people I follow in the book world have degrees in English or similar. My degree is in Computer Science. Although I achieved A grades in the various English subjects at ‘O’ level (Literature, Language, Use of), I opted not to take English at ‘A’ level. My older sister had been through this and I had seen the books she was required to read. I had no wish to spend two years slogging through Chaucer, Shakespeare and some of the more modern classics published in previous centuries.

As a teenager I was enjoying books by various romance writers, along with output from the likes of Jeffrey Archer and James Clavell. At fourteen, I had given myself a pat on the back for finishing The Lord of the Rings but, truthfully, found the endless journeying tedious. In my twenties I tackled the likes of Homer, Ovid and Plato in an attempt to become better read. I skimmed the surface rather than gaining understanding. I could now enjoy Austin, Hardy and Eliot. I still disliked Dickens.

My appreciation of the more worthy tomes in literature was much like my reaction to the little known films or music my university friends discussed in rapturous terms. I wanted to be a part of their arty circle but, in truth, still preferred instant gratification to clever depth. Looking back I suspect I was tolerated by these, mostly male, friends because some found me attractive – opinions I voiced were of little interest.

Why am I telling you this? What I wish to get across is that I have always read voraciously but do not consider myself well read. Unlike Will Eaves who, in the many book reviews included within Broken Consort, references a plethora of mighty works. His reviews are detailed critiques, written in a style that I could only aspire to. Not having read the books he mentions, I found few hooks to draw me in.

Broken Consort is Eaves’ latest published work and offers exactly what it claims on the back cover.

“a chronicle of close attention (to books, films, plays, paintings, music, notebooks and car-boot sales) which will confound anyone who thinks rigour and generosity are contradictory.”

The entries are mostly presented in the order they were written, from around 1992 to the present day. Several include more personal details – a relocation to Australia, a back injury, mention of relationships. The essays musing on human reactions and other behaviours were the ones I found most interesting.

I engaged more easily with the film reviews than those offering opinion on books or art. This is likely because I am familiar with the Bond series and Titanic. It was entertaining to consider the depths with which these could be viewed.

Please don’t think I drew nothing from the many book reviews included. Being and Doing was fascinating in its discussion of attitudes across centuries to what we now call homosexuality. Laura Riding mentioned the ‘notion of an intellectual oligarchy’ – it seems high minded literati have long held the view that they are better than the hoi polloi, as my university friends were wont to do.

Beginnings is the car-boot sale essay mentioned and I very much enjoyed the author’s observations. In this, he came across as more self-deprecating than in certain later entries.

Situation was written during his time living in Australia and muses on many interesting ideas of home and how we deal with the past, and potential futures.

“I sat down on a bench, on which someone had carved the words ‘You Are Here’ and I realised, a bit late, that the answer to my mid-life jitters was just that.”

The more high brow literary and artistic commentary may have gone over my head but I could still learn from the perceptive writing style. I enjoyed the essays on writing, and on the author’s experiences teaching the subject at university. He notes that some students are eager to have written a book, more than actually writing one. He pokes fun at texts regarded by some as essential. Although at times playful in this way, what comes across is the rigour with which he approaches any subject.

The later essays and articles are, as I mentioned, less generous than the earlier entries. In Trees and Sympathy he offers a glimpse of what appears to be disdain for bloggers.

“If I had a pound for every blogger who demands relatable characters, I could retire.”

In Q&A he offers a view on those who consider themselves writers.

“Writers are presumably people who write. It’s too vague a term to be much use, though people do like to call themselves writers, Don’t they?”

The same interview provides a hint as to why I have enjoyed Will Eaves’ fiction. He is asked if he feels ‘any ethical responsibility as a writer’.

“Lots of books have been written about the social role of the artist, and I don’t wish to misrepresent the complexity of that commentary, because there are many different ways of making an artistic contribution to society. But, as I see it, my ethical responsibility is not to wear uniform.”

The author is published by CB Editions, a tiny press run by Charles Boyle since 2007. I have met Charles on a few occasions, at events attended by authors and publishers of high end literary fiction. He was obviously well regarded and appeared a tad embarrassed by the veneration. His reaction to me came across as bemused – what was I, a book blogger, doing amongst these peers of his? I suspect I was, as in my university days, mixing with those I admired but would never truly belong alongside.

And I doubt I am the target audience for Broken Consort. I can admire the quality of the prose, and enjoy the more personal musings, but my lack of knowledge of ancient Greek and Roman texts too often stymied full appreciation.

This is a fine collection for those of a more intellectual persuasion – those who can appreciate art beyond its superficial aesthetic. I may have moved beyond my desire for instant gratification, but doubt I will ever reach the literary heights of Will Eaves and his ilk.

Broken Consort is published by CB Editions.

Book Review: The Boy, the mole, the fox and the Horse

The Boy, the mole, the fox and the Horse is: a work of art, an object of beauty, a story of hope in a world that at times feels geared towards stifling any form of positivity. There is nothing saccharin in the musings. Rather, the story of the titular protagonists offers reflections on the difficulties inherent when living, and how one may try to cope when feeling lonely or anxious. The central message is about the importance of kindness, and that love exists in unexpected places if one is brave enough to let it in. Mention is made of friendship and its importance, and that good friends may be found outside the human race.

 

The story opens when a lonely boy meets a cake loving mole and they strike up a conversation. They exchange views on a variety of topics and the problems they each face.

When the fox comes along the mole is scared, but this does not stop him performing an act of kindness. The underlying feel of the book is that it is beneficial for all if we look out for others as well as ourselves. Self-care is important. In talking of love, this is where it needs to begin.

 

More is said in the illustrations than in the words. They are deliberately messy in places. Imperfections are a part of everything in nature, including ourselves, and beauty can still be found and appreciated. There is no shying away from difficulty in these pages. Accepting that life can be hard but all things pass is a recurrent theme.

In his introduction the author states that he wants readers to be able to dip in and out of the book. It is not necessary to read it in any order, or indeed to read it all – although I suspect readers will, at least first time through. The characters accept each other as they are. They are seeking a home and find it after what feels like a long journey.

 

Just as the book is mostly about the art, so I have tried to give a flavour of what it offers with these pictorial examples rather than in words. There is so much more than I have included here. The story will resonate in a visceral way for those who find their innermost concerns reflected. Its power is in the simplicity with which it represents complex issues.

 

For the lonely, the anxious, the sad and those who feel out of place;
for the worried who look at our world and despair of the careless cruelty and wanton waste;
for those whose worries feel overwhelming, for whom the future looks bleak;
this is a warm hug of a book that I urge you to read.

   

The Boy, the mole, the fox and the Horse is published by Ebury Press.

Book Review: Planet in Peril

“This anthology was founded upon the belief that words have the power to change.”

Planet in Peril, edited by Isabelle Kenyon, is an anthology of poetry, photographs, artwork and think pieces focusing on climate change, pollution, and man’s impact on Planet Earth. Whilst timely given current interest in the subject matter, it is not exactly cheery reading.

An early poem, Mother Earth by Rachael Ikins, injects early controversy with a possible solution to the humans causing so much damage to their beautiful home and life support system.

“She urges them to genocide, war, the moon;
sends in viruses, bacteria, her fiercest warriors the smallest –
anything to rid
the plague that consumes her”

I was entertained later in the book by a poem written by one of the younger contributors, Niamh Hughes, whose Animals reversed imagines the outrage a person would feel if Earth’s other animals treated people as humans treat their fellow creatures. Throughout the book human actions are shown to be selfish and damaging to all, including themselves.

Early entries explore the importance of trees and the true cost of deforestation.

There is a section focusing on the polar regions – a sanctuary under which people dump their nuclear waste.

Preserved in Ice by Dr Sam Illingworth offers a strong portrayal of man’s grasping invasions. Information provided after the poem explains that researchers have collected and radiocarbon dated samples of ancient plants in the Canadian Arctic continually covered by ice for at least the past 40,000 years, until now. Whilst I understand the concerns about melting ice and rising sea levels, I was curious about the time when these plants grew. Planet Earth has experienced fluctuating global temperatures throughout its existence.

The many photographs included of our world and the beautiful creatures that inhabit it are a joy to peruse. I did wonder at the footprint left by the scientists cited and the artists who captured the images. Habitats and species are best preserved if left to nature rather than adapted for man’s convenience, even when intentions are worthy.

In some ways this book felt like an elegy to the world as we know it today. Life on Earth is constantly evolving. Whilst it appears obvious that modern man is a scourge, our own actions may eventually provide the cure. This is a difficult process to dwell on and one many refuse to contemplate despite their lifestyles bringing it ever nearer.

The blazing sun and what to do about it by Peter Ualrig Kennedy takes a wry look at human attitudes, capturing typical responses to growing but ignored crisis. As is pointed out later by Geoff Callard,

“we humans are incredibly bad at trading off short term gratification for long term gain”

There is suggestion that the speed of current change prevents other species adapting. In the futuristic Specimen by Joanna Lilley, Homo sapien is described as “architect of annihilation”. Our unwillingness to radically alter our behaviour is cleverly captured in Sleepwalking by Amélie Nixon.

“we are tired
put your alarm clock on snooze;
shove your head back under the pillow.
just 10 more minutes.”

Another young contributor, Jenna M, provides a poignant hand drawn picture of Planet Earth and the creatures suffering man’s pollution and incursions.

Automachine by Aviva Rynne Browne brings vividly to the fore how wasteful we are with resources, and how little we seem to care about this.

The contributions may be moving but are somewhat didactic to read. The lack of hope would be my main criticism however realistic the portrayal may be. The purpose of the anthology is to inspire change in human behaviour. The bleak picture painted puts into question how possible this is.

There is talk in the news of tipping points, and perhaps the damage wreaked has already taken us beyond what can be fixed. As a species it is troubling to consider that Planet Earth may only flourish if we are removed.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Fly on the Wall Press.

A proportion of the profits from this book will be donated to The Climate Coalition and WWF.

Book Review: The White Heron Beneath the Reactor

Gary Budden, co-founder of Influx Press and author of Hollow Shores (published by Dead Ink), is also an an avid bird watcher. He admits that his love of birds may at times appear incompatible with his other interests.

“heavy and brutal music, clanking beeps and drones, obscure ghost stories, crumbling Saxon ruins, SHARP culture, experimental folk.”

In The White Heron Beneath the Reactor he writes of a visit to RSPB Dungeness to observe a white heron. It is off-peak season, mid-week and the weather is dismal. This pleases Budden as it keeps away tourists, but not him. The few hardy folk he observes are distant. He is free to examine his surroundings uninterrupted.

“Far away, a yellow digger deposits or removes shingle, I can’t tell, surrounded by a whirring halo of screeching gulls. Landscape maintenance; nothing is natural.”

Dungeness is described as scoured by salt winds – a flat, bleak coastline in the shadow of a nuclear power station. Nevertheless, it is here that the great white egret has begun to migrate from across the channel where its population is expanding. Budden suppresses the urge to come up with some sort of contemporary allegory.

“My white heron is not an immigrant, nor an expat, nor a citizen of the world. I will not let it support a political agenda, not even the one I wish to push. […] its world doesn’t have borders.”

The author considers and details the place as he finds it in evocative but never bucolic prose. He has an eye for the surreal – the impact of man’s behaviour.

He takes photographs knowing that the writing he will produce is to be illustrated by the landscape artist, Maxim Griffin. These colourful interpretations, included liberally alongside the text, are wonderful.

In some ways this is a paean to the tenacity of the natural world. Elegiac descriptions are tempered by dry humour. There is much irony but also an undercurrent of hope. Budden’s quick wit and percipient scrutiny are expressed in pared back yet resonant form. The sighting of the heron, in this place, unlocks something for the author.

The writing is reflective and absorbing. The book is a work of art. I recommend you read it. It is a tale for our times.

The White Heron Beneath the Reactor was published using funding raised via Kickstarter.

Book Review: 60 Lovers to Make and Do

60 Lovers to Make & Do, by Sophie Herxheimer, is a collection of metaphorical contemporary love stories – vignettes written in playful poetry. They are presented with associated artwork in collage format which are a delight to explore. Each subject is introduced by their occupation. These women make use of whatever objects are to hand to create their ideal lover. Of course, lovers rarely turn out to be ideal. As in more conventional relationships, some of the pairings work and many do not.

Each poem is short but neatly conveys the complexities of living with a lover – the unexpected turns such alliances can take.

The desire to find a compatible lover is the driving force behind the creative activity. Subjects make the paramour they believe they want but cannot then control what has become a sentient being.

Some of the lovers turn out to harbour interests that were not predicted. The relationships are, very much, reflections of more conventional encounters.

There are a variety of reasons why certain relationships do not last. The bespoke creations turn out to be as varied as those met in other ways.

I mentioned the artwork that accompanies the poems. These collages are cut from a range of sources and it is fun to try to work out connections. They mostly depict the lovers as cutouts and pose them alongside the gap left from their removal.

There are also cut out words and phrases put together to add a further layer of interest.

As well as the poems – the occupations – the index lists the items needed to make the lovers detailed. This was a quirky addition that amused me.

The collection is entertaining throughout but raises serious issues about desire, control and expectation. A distinctive collection of art and poetry that is well worth perusing.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Henningham Family Press.

Book Review: The Weighing of the Heart

The Weighing of the Heart, by Paul Tudor Owen, has undercurrents of romance, crime thriller, and dark mystery, yet it defies the conventions of each of these genres. The author’s deft touch in presenting his protagonist’s thoughts and actions encourages questions about reasoning and veracity – glimpses into the shadows of mostly ordinary behaviour.

The story opens with a statement I disagreed with – something that turned out to be a valid reaction.

“Sooner or later, everybody comes to New York”

Thus we are introduced to Nick Braeburn, a self-centred yet apparently likeable English artist who has made his home in America. He has recently broken up with his girlfriend, Hannah. Through a fortuitous set of circumstances he is offered a compact room in the well located home of wealthy sisters, Marie and Rose Peacock. Nick is looking back on this period of his life, narrating what happened. The voice employed is vaguely regretful.

The elderly but socially lively Peacock sisters own a number of properties in the city. One of their tenants is another artist, Lydia, who rents a tiny apartment next to the Peacocks’ generous space. Lydia has recently separated from her husband, Hector. The sisters view this development with regret.

Early on Nick explains why he came to New York City.

“What appealed to me about New York was what appealed to me about art itself – it was a place where I could pretend that the gloomy half-light of my hometown, the exhausted indistinguishable streets stretching out endlessly into the void, had quite simply never existed; where I could decide who I was and who I wanted to be and nobody would ever be able to challenge it.”

To reinvent himself in this way requires funds which he sets out to acquire by whatever means necessary. Although capable of empathy – he intuits when he breaks simple if unspecified house rules – he appears to lack certain moral boundaries. If an opportunity presents itself he has no scruples about following through to gain personal advantage.

Nick observes Lydia as she goes about her day to day activities and, over time, they become friends. Growing more at home in the sisters’ apartment, occasional behaviours he briefly mentions appear out of kilter. Casual actions raise questions but so slight as to leave a residue of doubt that something may be amiss. Was I looking for intrigue where none existed?

Lydia meets Hannah; Nick meets Hector; Lydia is offered opportunities in her artistic career. Warnings flash briefly as jealousy raises its ugly head.

The art created by both Nick and Lydia is inspired by stories and beliefs from Ancient Egypt. These affect Nick particularly. He looks out for his ba and is calmed by his scarab. He is disturbed by the appearance of bees – the tears of a king.

Nick’s behaviour remains elusive despite his good fortune in so many areas.

The various threads and suggestions are woven together with just enough occasional background to provide explanation. The taut prose and skillfully employed metaphors add to the lure and tension.

Cleverly constructed and hard to put down, this was an intriguing and satisfying read. I will be recommending it widely.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author.

The Weighing of the Heart is published by Obliterati Press.

Book Review: The Book of Alexander

The Book of Alexander, by Mark Carew, is a slow burn that is well worth persevering with. What may in the first half feel protracted is shown to be necessary to reel the reader in. Once the pace picks up sinister elements add to the tension. The trope of unreliable narrator is harnessed masterfully.

The story opens with a personal investigator being contracted to observe and write a report on a young arts student by the father of his girlfriend. Having ascertained where the young man lives the PI gains permission from a business opposite the house to use a disused showroom as his observation base. He watches. He follows. He makes notes on what he sees. As the days pass the reader will become aware of a growing number of inconsistencies in the narrative. Although somewhat discombobulating this will likely be accepted until understood for what it is.

The student, Alexander, socialises with beautiful women. They visit his house and the PI grows intrigued by what is happening inside each room. Eventually he gains entry and the reader learns of Alexander’s art project. Aspects of the backstory that have already started to shift become ever more unstable.

“The happy couple, and they did look happy, passed at a good distance from where I stood, partially hidden as I was behind a lamppost in the side street. I could see their faces, Melanie still wearing her trademark blue beret. I gave them a one-minute head start, enough time for them to cross the river and reach the other side, and then I climbed out of the car and followed them.”

Who is the PI? Who is Alexander? Who has asked for the report being written?

As the answers to these questions are revealed more complex mysteries bubble to the surface. Alexander wishes to reveal to his subjects how other’s see them. He asks that they observe themselves as a third party would. He is most interested in understanding himself in this way. He acts out roles to observe their effect.

His art is at times destructive. There are also suggestions of a more sinister history. Human skulls are mentioned as is an acquaintance who survived a fall from a great height. Parental support may be welcome but is not always benign.

From a gentle, at times sluggish beginning this tale develops into a disturbing, self-reflective chiller. The shifting perspectives demonstrate how filtered any observation of people will be. Alexander seeks subjects for his art. Readers may find themselves captured by his gaze.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Salt.