Book Review: The Future Can’t Wait

The Future Can’t Wait, by Angelena Boden, is a story about a mother who cannot bring herself to grant her grown-up daughter independence. When the young woman, having completed her university finals, decides to cut contact with her family and move away, the mother falls apart. Her life, it seems, had been entirely predicated on ensuring her child developed into the person the mother desired as a friend and companion.

The story opens a few weeks before the daughter’s final exams. Rani is an intelligent young woman studying astro-physics and expected to achieve a first. Against her much older brother’s advice – Adam is now a doctor practicing in America – she attended her local university and continued to live in the family home under her mother’s watchful eye. Rani is of mixed race, her Iranian father having left to return to his homeland when she was young. Her British mother, Kendra, remarried David who was a highly regarded if somewhat eccentric professor. David is now retired, pursuing hobbies in his garden workshops. He has always appeared to get on well with his step-children.

When Rani starts to rebel against the many restrictions her mother has imposed, Kendra puts it down to the pressure of upcoming exams. Having been berated by her mother in the past for wearing dresses deemed unsuitable as too revealing, Rani decides to purchase loose fitting clothes and wear a headscarf. Unbeknown to her mother she is a member of the Persian Society at university where she is learning more about her heritage and has made new friends. Her mother firmly believes Rani has no interest in religion or politics and struggles to accept a side to her daughter she has not approved.

Kendra teaches GCSE psychology and has a particular interest in the development of the teenage brain. She offers her friend, Sheila, sensible advice in dealing with her children but cannot seem to accept such wisdom herself. When Rani moves to London to take up an internship the young woman ensures that her family do not have her new address. A few weeks later she deletes her email account. Unable to contact her daughter, Kendra descends into a state similar to grief. When Rani sends a letter informing her family that she is fine, doing what she wants with her life but will no longer keep in touch, Kendra becomes further unhinged.

David and Adam advise Kendra to grant Rani the time and space she needs, assuring the frantic mother that her daughter will return when she is ready. Kendra cannot accept this. She reads horoscopes, contacts psychics, purchases tarot cards, and phones premium phone lines that promise help in finding missing persons. She runs up debts in her quest to find a reason for her daughter’s defection other than her own dominating behaviour.

David bears the brunt of his wife’s spiral into cognitive dissonance and addiction. In losing control of her daughter she also loses control of herself. She has the support of David, Sheila and Adam but resents the truths they tell her. Sheila cannot understand why the previously sensible Kendra has become so obsessed by charlatans and woo woo practitioners:

“What do you want them to do? Tell you where Rani is so you can drag her home by the hair?”

David is upset at the large amounts of money Kendra is wasting, unable to comprehend how she can believe these people can help when it is her behaviour that drove Rani away:

“I’ve watched how you’ve over involved yourself in her life. Telling her what to wear, organising her study times even at university, vetting her friends.”

The loving mother who coddled and smothered her daughter now starts to neglect her other child. Adam is making his own enquiries into his sister’s possible whereabouts but questions how much he can share with his mother who has become increasingly unstable. Kendra risks her job with her behaviour and turns to a stranger for comfort (why does she comply when a restaurant he takes her to demands that she hand over her phone?). Even when David becomes ill she berates him for not doing more to act in a way he has never done because now this would suit her.

In a country-wide climate of growing fear over terrorism Kendra is concerned that her daughter may have become radicalised. When the police suggest the same she rages against the accusation. Despite being desperate to find her daughter she ignores a photograph that could be of Rani and therefore offer a potential lead – she is concerned that the police are making racist assumptions. When Sheila suggests that she turn to social media to see if Rani’s friend network can help, Kendra rejects this sensible suggestion as she does not consider it to be her thing. When a couple of Rani’s friends approach Kendra in town she frightens them away with her erratic behaviour.

I read this book wanting to shake some sense into Kendra. We do not own our children and a mother’s job is to prepare their offspring for survival away from the nest. Kendra’s idea of love appeared to be focused on being loved herself.

The study of addiction, grief and denial were interesting facets in what is an intense and emotional tale. The synopsis of the book describes it as a ‘gripping story of a mother’s love for her daughter’ and in reviewing it I recognise how harsh I have been. As a mother I cannot imagine the pain of having one of my children sever all contact. Kendra’s story may well resonate with those whose children are more like rebellious Rani than the ever supportive Adam. I did wonder at the ongoing relationship Kendra would have with Adam’s partner given her apparent need to influence offspring’s behaviour.

My lack of sympathy doubtless stems from my own parental relationships – we bring to each book we read our personal experiences. This is a powerfully written and engaging story that could feed much interesting discussion. I applaud the author’s ability to generate strong feelings in her readers.

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


Book Review: Rainbow People

This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.

Rainbow People is the third and final book in the late author’s Metamorphosis Trilogy. The title alludes to the term ‘rainbow children’, described in the introduction as:

“a species of children who are different enough to make them distinct from normality by virtue of the intensity of their curiosity for how things work, or should work, in the world around them, combined with a gentleness and even ‘sweetness’ of disposition to others.”

The story explores reactions to the recent migration of refugees from the Middle East to Europe as seen through the eyes of a man, Richard, a woman, Jenny, and a child, Sophie or Sophocles, who observe and discuss the crisis. The narrative structure is detached in style. Conversations are recounted, written down as he said/she said, along with the thoughts of those conversing – their remembrances of previous discussions.

Sparse background details are provided but these are fluid – the child, for example, is at times a boy and then a girl. An older man, Cyril, who is making a film on a beach, could be an acquaintance or Richard’s father. These details are unimportant in the message being relayed.

The first part of the tale is set on the Mediterranean coast near the border between Greece and Macedonia. The man, woman and child are walking towards a film crew. A group of actors are on the beach playing the part of refugees. The child takes off into the sea and is rescued, the performance filmed. The personal reactions of the observers are detailed alongside conversations about the crisis unfolding nearby.

“it may seem customary for people in trouble to be helped […] people who have been categorised as fugitives suddenly become those heading over a rainbow to a new existence – to one that is of a new nature – one which is reached by a recognition that sunlight and raindrops need not be opposites, but can together make something beautiful and the same.”

The reasons for human migration are discussed along with speculation on the preparations made by the migrants, their chances of success and acceptance by those already living in Europe.

The actors have not been fed that they may understand hunger, yet this is regarded as unnecessary, ridiculous, as are many actions surrounding the refugees.

“Even now, we seem to have learnt something of how ridiculous war is. But we are imbued with the idea that something should be done rapidly about a situation in which we find ourselves. And so we bomb people who we think must be causing the troubles”

There is talk of beauty, art and trust, of a need for tenderness as embodied in the actors’ reactions to the child.

The setting shifts to England where the man and woman plan a visit to the camp near Calais known as The Jungle. Richard muses that in a jungle the creatures have found ways to coexist, some living high up in the trees, some at ground level, all finding shelter. Their adaptation to the environment is achieved through instinct, without such planning and discussions as people in positions of power demand.

“the world’s large-scale problems, which were in almost everyone’s interests to solve, were brought to nothing by the strange obsession of humans that all this had to be explicable and validated by words”

Once in The Jungle, the trio observe the packed cars and vans in a traffic jam, all hoping to get to England. The child asks about sex and why her parents wanted children. Her mother answers:

“We wanted to change the world. And we got you.”

The child observes the people in the vehicles looking out their windows and wants to help.

“’What’s wrong with looking out of windows?’ Jenny said, ‘That’s all we do anyway.’ The child said, ‘You mean our eyes are windows.’ Richard said, ‘Or mirrors.’ The child said, ‘I don’t even know what I look like. ‘Jenny said, ‘No. Other people do.’”

As a story I found this a strange little tale although it does offer a window into the reasons behind the refugee crisis and the foolish behaviour of governments.

The book concludes with a postscript, by Shiva Rahbaran, in which she writes of meeting the author and their subsequent discussions. She asks:

“Can humans learn from their mistakes, and evolve into higher beings that can ‘become a rope over the Abyss […] a bridge and not a goal’ and thus save themselves from extinction? This question has been at the heart of Nicholas Mosley’s literary experiment for the past twenty-five years.”

Any Cop?: At around eighty pages in length this is a short work that offers much to consider. The philosophical debates were of interest although the author took as a given the need to save mankind as a species, despite his environmental negligence. In a book seeking to create bridges, to hope that those who come after will evolve into something better, perhaps this is fitting.


Jackie Law

Book Review: The Gods of Love

This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.

When I offered to review The Gods of Love I expected from the synopsis that it wouldn’t be the sort of book I normally read. What tempted me was the promise of the gods from Greek mythology coming to life in a contemporary setting. I was curious to see if the author could pull this off without turning them into superheroes as is done in the Marvel universe. Although the story is somewhat frothy in places, she succeeds in presenting the gods as intriguing, beguiling and suitably dispassionate given the havoc they willingly wreak on their own and the so easily manipulated mortal’s realms over millennia.

The story is told from the point of view of a young and feisty divorce lawyer, Frida McKenzie, who is smugly satisfied with her achievements and eager to further her career. Early in the story she is visited in her office by a stranger, a young man named Dan, who tells her he is an Oracle and that he has seen her in visions. Naturally Frida calls security and has him removed. Ignoring Dan’s advice she keeps an appointment with an all powerful tech company, Neostar, and thus starts her unasked-for adventure. Frida is indeed the chosen one and is required to save the world.

A big, bad tech company that can use its control over harvested data to manipulate user’s lives is an excellent cover for a vindictive god. I was less impressed by the sidekicks he used to do his dirty work. Presented as aliens it was never explained where they came from or why they were needed given there are always plenty of callous and greedy mortals readily available for such tasks.

Thus far the story is all very Matrix. Frida must call upon strengths and skills she did not know she could muster. She receives assistance from unlikely places. She must accept that mythical beings exist, that there are few she can trust, and that most are out to fulfil their own agendas by harnessing her prophesied fate.

In essence then, Frida must recover and destroy a lost arrow before the boss of Neostar can acquire it for his own nefarious ends. In order to achieve this she and Dan work together to find out where the arrow is. Frida must then face trials to retrieve the lost talisman that put her in deadly peril. Her challenging journey brought to mind the adventures Harry Potter and his chums went through, the tales of the Greek gods having inspired many such tales.

The writing style is somewhat tongue in cheek which may be why the perils didn’t come across as quite perilous enough, nor the love interest sufficiently convincing to justify its cost. Each short chapter ended with a cliff-hanger which became a tad tedious but did keep me reading. Frida’s humanity is shown to be a weakness which paves the way for a planned sequel. The plot is one of a supernatural action adventure, perhaps never intended to be taken too seriously

Any Cop?: The aspects that drew me to read the book delivered. The harnessing of the Greek myths worked well in the setting and Frida was a convincing protagonist. The story is a mostly entertaining romp with the gods providing such depth as exists. It provided a light but sufficiently engaging read.


Jackie Law


Book Review: Soviet Milk

Soviet Milk, by Nora Ikstena (translated by Margita Gailitis), is the first title in Peirene Press’s new Home In Exile series. It is set in Latvia during the years of Russian occupation, between 1969 and 1989. It chillingly depicts how ordinary lives are scarred by a regime that works to control how people think, rewarding informants and punishing those who will not conform to state sanctioned voice and behaviour.

The story is told from the points of view of two women, an unamed mother and her daughter, although just as important is a third woman, the grandmother, whose love and desire for life holds the family together. These three generations must navigate the daily challenges and hardship of enforced communism, and the mental toll cultural theft takes. The mother struggles to cope, her despair manifesting in an inability to nurture her child or appreciate what the grandmother has suffered, and continues to due to the mother’s ongoing behaviour.

“Sometimes a demonic force seemed to possess her, compelling her to destroy everything around her, especially the love of those she held dearest”

The mother was born near the end of the Second World War, her father taken by soldiers and deported when he tried to protect their home from a mindless military raid. After several years the grandmother remarried, the step-grandfather adopting his new wife’s child. The mother worked hard at school and became a doctor. She had no wish to bear her own child.

The daughter was born as Latvia was being forcibly absorbed by the USSR. Unlike the mother and grandmother she has no memories of their home nation. She is cared for by the grandmother, her mother an enigmatic, sometimes frightening, figure reeking of cigarette smoke and disinfectant.

In a country that rewards women for bearing children and expects them to put up with domestic abuse in order to maintain the facade of happy family life within an ideal communist state, the mother is an aberration. She is tolerated due to her skills as a medic, then punished when she steps beyond the bounds of accepted practice in order to help a patient. Unable to find work in her home city she moves to a country area, thereby wrenching the daughter from her beloved grandparents. Without their support both girl and woman find themselves adrift.

The daughter becomes the carer, finding ways to cope amongst peers who treat her with suspicion. Like the mother she is intelligent but suffers communism’s limitations. When a teacher introduces the daughter to texts that are not on the proscribed lists she becomes aware of the existence of wider cultural influences. The state will not tolerate such deviations from its citizens, even as it allows access to its banned history and art to segregated tourists.

Switching between the mother’s and daughter’s points of view, the reader is offered an insight into the mother’s manic and depressive episodes and the impact these have on those who care for her. Over them all hangs the shadow of a state that has imprisoned them, its mental shackles insidious and ever more malignant.

The tale is told in powerful and evocative prose that never fails to hold the reader’s attention. The narrative is spare yet elicits a depth of feeling that puts the reader into the heart of often harrowing situations. Beautifully rendered this offers a history of a time and place I had not previously considered. There is much to ponder given contemporary governments’ desire to manipulate its people’s prejudices and ability to reason.

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

Book Review: Things We Nearly Knew

This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.

Things We Nearly Knew explores the lives of the regular clientele at a bar in a small town in America. The narrator and his wife own and run the establishment. Over time the regulars come and go, people move on, circumstances change. The story told here is set over a nine month period which saw the arrival and departure of one such drinker.

Arlene first showed up in February. She ordered a vodka Martini and asked after a local man named Jack. With no surname to offer it wasn’t much to go on. She demonstrated a marked reluctance to share much about her history saying that she came from many places.

All the customers start out as strangers. The more often they visit the more facts can be gleaned. Still though, the narrator only knows whatever customers are willing to tell, or what others might say about them. How well can anyone know another person anyway?

Davy, for example, may or may not have been married. He has pictures of kids in his wallet but they might not be his, he has never said. More is known about Nelson who has lived in the town for many years, as have the bar owner and his wife, Marcie. They went to school with Mike, another regular but one they would describe as a friend. Later Franky will arrive, much to Marcie’s displeasure. He left under a cloud and she would have preferred if he had stayed away.

The men are drawn to Arlene with her red lips, dark hair and slinky dresses. Davy will become involved with her, as will Franky eventually. And then, after nine months she will leave for good, her tenure at the place a much mulled over memory.

The narrator did not always run a bar. Once he was a teacher. He and Marcie keep no secrets from each other, but no one shares everything about themselves.

There are glimpses of personal histories, teased out by the casual interest of the curious alongside a reluctance to fully engage. The middle aged are survivors of their past – there will always be elements they would prefer not to have to share. This is made harder when others talk freely of events, when they were also there.

The voice of the narrator is anecdotal with an undercurrent of regret. He is recounting the months at his bar which revolved around Arlene but with widening ripples. He and Marcie have been through a great deal together and will be affected by the fallout from these events. Some things may be better left unsaid.

The writing is concise with an almost abrasive view of human interactions. There is a distancing from emotion, a numbing of the senses. The mysteries are solved with an outlook of stoicism for the pain life brings, and leaves in its wake.

Any Cop?: This is a compelling read but a somewhat bleak perspective.


Jackie Law

Book Review: Nutcase

Nutcase, by Tony Williams, is a retelling of the Icelandic saga of Grettir the Strong. The protagonist is Aidan Wilson, a hard lad born and raised in one of Sheffield’s roughest housing estates. Surrounded by violence and addiction he goes from young trouble maker to convicted criminal to vigilante. His size, strength and willingness to defend family and friends leads him down a road chequered by brutality.

Those living on the estates Aiden roams have low expectations. They deal drugs to make money, steal whatever else they need to use or sell, and get off their faces on alcohol and other drugs at every opportunity. Many of them take on jobs labouring, transporting goods (many stolen), or in the shops and pubs they frequent. Few stick to anything long term. Sex is recreational with babies a byproduct, accepted but with little responsibility.

Aiden is one of five siblings. As they grow up and leave the family home to set up with partners or friends they look out for one another whenever they are able. At times Aiden has his own place to live but there are regular periods when he stays with others for work or to escape trouble. This is accepted practice in his community. There are fallings out and regular fights. Aiden acquires a reputation that is both a threat and a means of survival.

There are girlfriends along the way but they bring their own dramas. When one young girl calls on Aiden to help an abused child he ends up in a situation that will haunt him. As will happen again, the grapevine carries different versions of his involvement. He will struggle to shake off the rumours some delight in spreading.

Aiden moves around the Sheffield and Leeds areas, spends time in prison, moves to Swansea, and gravitates home. He makes enemies, there are deaths, and he is blamed for his apparently uncaring behaviour. Relations of those he thwarts threaten retaliation. Damage to property is a distraction, bodily harm a regular and accepted risk. The violence of the lifestyle is gut-wrenching, the depiction all too believable.

The denouement comes as no surprise with the portrayal offering insight into the attention span and attitudes of the internet age. Few it appears place value on a life that lacks what the middle classes would describe as prospects, especially when that life has been spent recklessly.

The narrative style is almost blasé yet remains jaw droppingly intense. There are occasional asides about the lives minor characters will go on to lead which provide lighter relief. Nevertheless, the majority of what is being depicted remains horrific, especially that it has been normalised throughout the estates. I cannot say if it is realistic but that is certainly how it reads.

I haven’t been as perturbed by a storyline since I read the incredible We Go Around In The Night And Are Consumed By Fire yet even it has characters who desire a better way of living. Aiden Wilson and his family never seem to consider this a possibility. Given their repeated actions I am guessing this could be a depressingly pragmatic point of view. I am left pondering what it would take to instigate change, if the Aiden Wilsons of our world would even welcome such intervention.

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

Book Review: Yuki Means Happiness

This review was written for and first published by Structo Magazine.

Having enjoyed Alison Jean Lester’s debut, Lillian on Life, I was eager to see where the author would take her readers in this, her second novel. Lillian was a woman of a certain age looking back over decades lived. This latest work is again told as a recollection, this time of a much younger woman looking back to a pivotal few months when she was in her early twenties. From the first sentence of Yuki Means Happiness the reader is aware that the adventure will not end well.

The story opens in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1996. Diana, a trained nurse, is meeting Naoki Yoshimura, the father of two year Yuki. Naoki had employed Diana as a maternity nurse when his wife, Emi, travelled to Boston to give birth. Now he informs her that Emi has left him. He offers Diana a generous salary to work in Tokyo as Yuki’s nanny. Diana is in a relationship but unsure of the commitment she is willing to offer. She regards this job as a chance for adventure and also escape. Key events in her life to date have made her wary of men and their intentions. Her boyfriend is ignorant of this personal history and declares his willingness to wait.

Diana travels to Tokyo unable to speak any Japanese. Naoki’s home is next door to that of his wealthy parents – it was built in their garden. Naoki’s mother is polite but distant. She helps with Yuki when requested and keeps a watchful eye on her son’s interests.

The sense of place evoked as Diana settles into her new role is beautifully rendered. As a young and inexperienced woman Diana finds herself irritated but compliant with the demands made on her time by her employer. She grows to adore Yuki and relishes the insights she is gaining into the culture and expectations of the Japanese.

Life within the Yoshimura household begins to shift when Naoki brings home a new girlfriend. Meanwhile, Diana has started meeting up with Naoki’s ex-wife, discovering that their marital breakup was not everything Diana had been led to believe. When she is accused of leaving Yuki in the care of a man, Naoki displays an anger that frightens the young nanny. His subsequent actions suggest Yuki could also be in danger.

The unfolding tale is nuanced and layered, presented with a subtlety that belies its depth. The emotional threads of the novel may be complex, but the writing remains accessible and engaging. Japan is portrayed with warmth and honesty, while its customs, however alluring, are shown to provide a means to exert dominance.

The understated intricacy of the story development is impressive, and the setting, plot and structure are deftly painted. There is much to reflect on after turning the final page.

Yuki Means Happiness / Alison Jean Lester / John Murray / 27 July 2017

Jackie Law runs the book blog Never Imitate and is a regular contributor to Bookmunch. She lives in rural Wiltshire with her family and back garden hens. You can find her on Twitter @followthehens.