Book Review: Birthright


Birthright, by Charles Lambert, is aptly described as a literary thriller. It has all the tension and page turning engagement of a psychological thriller but avoids any accusation of appearing formulaic. Characters are well developed and necessary to the plot, not just there as window dressing or to facilitate a twist. Although some may be described as attractive they are not overly so, and this is not an aspect unduly built upon. Rather it is ambition and flaws that are key in behaviour – how they act and are treated.

The story opens with a long married couple watching a television show that claims to offer a public service – trying to track down those who have gone missing from their families. A photograph of a young girl is broadcast, one who looks just like the wife at that age. Disconcerted she tries to brush aside the resemblance. Sometimes those who go missing have their reasons for wishing to disappear.

The timeline then moves back to the 1980s, when the two protagonists were sixteen years old. First we meet Fiona, the only child of a wealthy, English couple although her beloved father is now dead. Fiona does not get on with her mother and is angry that the long summers they spent in Italy with the family of her father’s friend and business associate have been curtailed. Educated at boarding schools, Fiona longs to feel wanted and loved, to be treated as the children of the Italian family were by their parents.

When she finds a photograph in a newspaper cutting her mother has kept of a young girl who looks exactly as she did at that age Fiona is intrigued. In trying to broach the subject, another biting row ensues. Back at school Fiona makes friends with a new girl, Jennifer, with whom she shares what she has found and is still pondering. Jennifer has a brother, Patrick, who she claims knows how to find people. Jennifer is more worldly than Fiona and knows something about sleuthing herself.

The second protagonist is Maddy, the only child of an alcoholic mother. They now live in Italy, where Maddy is a student, although she spent her early years in England. Maddy hates her life, loving her mother but resenting how much she is hemmed in by their poverty – caused by her mother’s long term hippy lifestyle. When confronted by her doppelgänger she reacts defensively, causing the privileged upstart to go behind Maddy’s back to get what she wants and feels she deserves. Fiona is not averse to using a friend as distraction, their reward being the welcome possibility of polishing ego.

Now, if that all sounds a bit rich girl, poor girl, seen this done before in a number of variations, fear not. There is enough innovation in plot and character to keep this story fresh. Although both girls may make mistakes in who they trust – often due to lust, but then they are young and virile – they are not fools. They are each also blessed with a loyal acquaintance offering practical support as well as a listening ear. As the story progresses and secondary characters reveal more depths, there is a pleasing lack of repositioning required – what went before continues to sit true.

The denouement is cleverly constructed, building on the undercurrents of nature, nurture and just how unknowingly interlinked identical twins’ psyches might be. Not all questions are answered but the reader may easily infer from what has been shared. Even the most shocking action is presented with a degree of validation – the author managing expected reaction skilfully.

The Italian setting may be unknown to me but added a dimension enabling some of the greater leaps in the name of required progression to land smoothly. A tale of two families, unhappy with good reason. A story I thoroughly enjoyed and consumed avidly.

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


Book Review: The Bone Flower

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The protagonist of The Bone Flower, Edward Monteith, is a wealthy young man who, at the beginning of this deliciously chilling novel, is living a life without purpose in Victorian London. His mother died in childbirth. His father is distant and mostly disinterested in his only child, so long as no shame is brought on the carefully constructed family name. Having completed his education there is little for Edward to do each day other than attend the exclusive club his father insisted he join, a habit that helps assuage his ennui and loneliness. Here he listens in on the conversations of the other men who frequent the place, believing himself unobserved.

“They were of various ages and professions, or of good enough family to have no profession, and were united less by common interests than by their common standing, of which club membership was a guarantee.”

Edward is taken under the wing of an eclectic group of gentlemen. Frederick Bell is a qualified doctor who feels no compunction to practice medicine. Rickman is an explorer who entertains any who care to listen with tales from his exploits in Africa. Arthur Poynter describes himself as both an optimist and a sceptic, seeking out the mystical in hope of finding no fraud in what is being presented as macabre, if popular, entertainment. It is he who introduces Daniel Giles, a recently arrived American who becomes Edward’s friend. Giles suggests an outing to a music hall, outside of which Edward first encounters a beautiful young woman.

The woman is selling flowers, a lowly trade, but Edward is mesmerised. Unable to shake the memory of her, he is delighted to come across her again at a séance the group of men subsequently attend. From here the pair arrange to meet and begin a passionate affair. Edward believes himself deeply in love but recognises his father would strongly disapprove of his paramour, and this could affect his inheritance. With no skills or trade to fall back on, such a prospect appears untenable.

Events come to a head when Edward foolishly puts his trust in Bell. Desperate to escape from the consequences, Edward and his trusted valet, George, travel across Europe. By the time they return to London a couple of years later, Edward has married. The young couple settle in Highgate but can find no happy ever after despite love now being reciprocated.

“The dead are always with us”

The story being told is cleverly constructed with elements of horror and the fear of ghostly possession. Guilt may feed the imagination but not everything in life has a logical explanation. Differing cultural beliefs may be misinterpreted as witchcraft and condemned. The author is skilful in building a shadowy atmosphere and introducing fearful elements around the beautiful and everyday.

The horror of the penultimate scenes linger through the denouement – will sweetness turn to rot before the final page? The reader is trusted to remember small, uncanny occurrences that were briefly mentioned.

An evocative reminder that not everything a person was will necessarily end when they die. A spooky season love story layered with justified disquiet.

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

Book Review: The Swimmers


“Loneliness had been one of the few consistencies in my life for the past year and a bit. It was a gaping, untouchable kind of loneliness that I’d never previously experienced.”

The Swimmers, by Chloe Lane, is set over five days in a New Zealand June that culminate in a woman’s death. The protagonist is Erin Moore, a twenty-six year old whose mother, Helen, is suffering from motor neurone disease. Helen left the family farm to attend university, something denied Wynn and Cliff, her siblings. She raised her daughter independently, meeting with the wider family annually for a traditional dinner on the Queen’s birthday weekend. Erin is now travelling to the farm, where her mother chose to return when she required more end of life care than she could afford and her sister offered to step into the breach.

The story opens with Wynn collecting Erin from the bus on which she has made her journey north. The younger woman had not planned on visiting, but then work obligations changed. She had indulged in an affair with her married boss that was abruptly terminated. She intends to stay on the farm for just a couple of days. This plan is altered when Wynn informs her Helen has decided to take her own life the following Tuesday. Over the course of the next few days, Erin must come to terms with this. The pressure it puts everyone under leads to a reassessment of familial relationships and preconceptions.

Narrated by Erin, the unfolding tale has elements of dark comedy alongside the pathos of individuals whose lives have not gone in hoped for directions. Erin recognises her own mistakes yet continues to make them. She comes across as caustic and brittle, wading through the mud of the days before the fatal Tuesday with unspoken desperation.

“I had also needed to do something brazen, something insane that would make what was happening with my mother feel a little less insane.”

Helen has been a critical mother but she and her daughter were a team. Erin didn’t understand the reasoning for her mother’s return to the farm as Helen had rarely spoken positively about Wynn – Erin had offered to provide the help Helen needed herself. A new side to the sisters is gradually revealed showing how complex sibling relationships can be. It becomes clear that the sisters have been discussing and then planning how Helen may bring about her own death for some time, only revealing this to Erin as the final countdown proceeds.

“Aunty Wynn was a pinball machine of emotions. I think she was concerned that she might say something wrong, or something right but with the wrong tone, or that her face might reveal how little she was holding it together.”

Although a secondary character, Cliff adds much to the narrative. For the most part he exists quietly, yet clearly takes in the nuances of everything that is happening around him. He retains his own interests, keeping somewhat apart from his sisters and their absent daughters. Nevertheless, he steps in when needed. He may not be able to prevent foolish actions but can offer help to mop up the messes made.

Wynn, Helen and Erin were competitive swimmers, the focus and dedication required brought in as an occasional metaphor for the strength they must now muster. This is not, however, necessary to the plot which is about losing someone to death who has already been lost to illness. While I didn’t warm to Erin, her predicament demands sympathy.

The writing is precise and succinct, relying on character development over plot tension. There are farcical elements in certain encounters, their crudeness or illegality disturbing but also thought-provoking. In viewing the siblings only through Erin’s lens, assumptions must be made about life choices depicted. Enough background is provided but the reader may crave a little more detail and depth.

A story that leads to the death of a family member is never going to be cheery. What we have here though is the basis of an important conversation many try to avoid. Death is inevitable – and with certain illnesses predictable. A tale that explores the cost and effects on loved ones who are left to keep on living.

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

Book Review: The Swallowed Man

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“There is no neat plot to a man’s life. There are endless days, which are like as twins. Mornings and afternoons and nights, one after the other, no true escape but only the calendar to show that the day is gone, and here comes another to take its place. The changes, when they come, are mostly gradual.”

The Swallowed Man, by Edward Carey, is undoubtedly a quirky work of fiction but one so cleverly written the reader will be happy to stay on board until the journey’s end. Narrated by Geppetto, the carpenter who made a wooden puppet that came to life and was named Pinocchio, the tale opens as Geppetto is coming to terms with being swallowed by a giant sea creature. Within the belly of this beast he remains alive thanks to supplies he finds on a Danish schooner that is slowly rotting there. He is writing his story in the hope it will be found one day and passed on to Pinocchio, that his creation may know he was loved despite how Geppetto treated him.

The first few chapters explain the practicalities of life inside the sea creature and how Geppetto ended up there.

While living in his hometown of Collodi, he made his wooden boy puppet both as company and with the hope it could earn him some money. Geppetto’s family once owned a successful ceramics factory. Through the telling of his life story we learn why he came to live in penury. The well known story of Pinocchio is a minor element but one that profoundly affects his creator.

Like his father before him, Geppetto was a somewhat cruel parent. He demands that his wooden child be compliant, by force if necessary. When Pinocchio runs away, Geppetto sets out to track him down, feeling guilt but also still hopeful that this is the key to an improved financial future. Those he encounters on his search believe him unstable – who would believe a wooden puppet can be alive?

From within the belly of the beast Geppetto writes of both his own life and the invented lives he creates for those whose pictures he finds in the ship. There are stories within stories, imaginative leaps that help pass the time and tamp down his growing unease. There are desperate attempts at escape. Small friendships are made. Geppetto mulls his memories, often with regret.

As months pass, the damp darkness and solitude drive Geppetto closer to derangement. He fends this off with further creations, seeking company in paintings, crafting sculptures from what scarce materials are available. He thinks constantly of what was lost when Pinocchio left.

Interspersed with the writing are many illustrations – photographs and drawings that add much to key elements of the tale. These were originally part of an exhibition commissioned by the Collodi Foundation for the Parco di Pinocchio in Collodi, Italy in 2018. The illustrated book of Geppetto’s journal was published by La Nave di Teseo in Italy and became The Swallowed Man in English.

The unusual setting somehow works providing a compelling story of artistic endeavour as a palliative to loneliness. Geppetto may have been unsuccessful in many aspects of life – career, love, parenthood – and certainly he harbours regrets, yet even in the direst circumstances he clings to hope and survival.

A somewhat whimsical yet percipient tale of love’s complexities woven through an audacious and witty premise. Another fine read from an author whose body of work garners, from this reader, growing admiration.

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

Book Review: B, A Year in Plagues and Pencils

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“I’m not looking for perfection here: I’m marking time”

On 19 March 2020, Edward Carey drew a pencil sketch of ‘A determined young man’. He posted it on Twitter with the comment, ‘I’m going to do a drawing a day until all this nonsense is over.’ He continued his daily drawings for five hundred days. Sadly, this nonsense is not yet over.

Carey describes the book thus:

“a journal in pencil of a year in misery and hope. Small marks. Daily scratchings, as evidence of life”

As well as including reproductions of the pencil sketches he drew each day during the first year of plague lockdown, there are short musings on the life the author was leading and how hemmed in he felt. Local and world news was available in abundance across the internet, but day to day he was required to stay at home, in and around his Texas bungalow with his wife and two children. For a family used to regular travel, this required an adjustment in perspective.

“I’m forgetting faces. I miss people, of course, terribly. Yet every day out of the window there are still people there. I see these individuals walking up and down the street. Can’t see their faces. Only their eyes and the top of their heads. Like a new breed of human, with no nose, no mouth, no chin.”

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The author writes of the pleasure he has long derived from drawing, and how this project gave him something to focus on, although at times he considered quitting. The short prose sections are imbued with a melancholy he tries hard to suppress. They reflect how so many have felt.

“Sometimes these drawings feel like shed skin. They were former times, stacks of yesterdays”

The subjects chosen vary. They include: people representing events from the year, well known characters from reality and fiction, family, nature. Some were requested by others. Carey chose to do many himself.

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“Hours a day I drew. Just with a pencil mostly. Drawing being an alternative to words, another way of communicating”

The art included is wonderful to peruse. The style is distinctive – a hint of gothic but also playful. The writing pulls them together to form a keepsake of a time we will look back on with sorrow but also wonder – what we learned and how we and others felt. Although the reflections are personal, they resonate.

The forward, written by Max Porter, reminds us of the appreciation Twitter users expressed when the project was ongoing.

“It’s beautiful work. It makes the great mean machine of Twitter a momentarily nicer place. You land upon the carefully drawn image as you scroll through aggressions, bullish assertions, the snide, the sarcastic or the statistically devastating.”

We have here a book that offers readers these fine artistic creations alongside succinct reminders of previously unimaginable events now lived through. A poignant yet beautifully produced chronicle of a year those who have survived will never forget.

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

Book Review: Wild Dog

Wild Dog, by Serge Joncour (translated by Jane Aitken and Polly Mackintosh), is in many ways a thriller but written in such rich and sensuous language it demands to be savoured rather than rushed to conclusion. The plot runs across two timelines: the year following the outbreak of the First World War, and August 2017. Both are set in and around a remote French village where incomers are treated with unfriendly wariness.

Opening in July 1914, the superstitious villagers of Orcières are disturbed by the shrieks of unidentified creatures. They look fearfully towards extensive woodland that surrounds a steep hill casting its shadow over the village. They believe the house at its peak is cursed. Nobody now lives there although once it was the centre of a thriving vineyard.

When war arrives it steals the men and also livestock, requisitioned as beasts of burden or to feed the troops. Readers are reminded throughout the story of the barbarity of such man made offensives – the cost borne by those with no choice or understanding, yet made to suffer terribly.

In order to survive, the men’s work must be done by the women of the village. They feel guilt that they can shoulder the burden and worry about the changes this foreshadows.

The first known casualty of the war is the doctor whose wife, Joséphine, appears to be the only resident who has retained her horse. She takes to riding it up the cursed hill where an itinerant circus performer, a German, has been permitted by the mayor to hide his animals. The villagers are disturbed by the roars of lions and tigers that require many kilos of fresh meat to be fed to them regularly at a time when food is scarce.

The more contemporary timeline features a long married couple, Lise and Francke, who work in the film industry. Lise has been ill – blaming irradiated waves from phones and networks – and chose to step back from acting. She seeks solace in painting, meditation and a change in diet to cut out animal products. Following recent failures in the films he makes, Franck started working with two young business partners he hoped would reinvigorate his production company. Instead, he feels threatened by their ideas. When Lise suggests a three week holiday cut off from technology Franck is fearful of what plans will be hatched in his absence.

Lise and Franck rent the remote house on the hill above Orcières. They have never before taken a holiday away from other people. Franck is appalled at the lack of WiFi and mobile phone connection. Lise relaxes into the solitude, relishing the beauty of the location.

Across both timelines tension quickly builds as man and nature vie – predator and prey. Man is, of course, also of nature. And war springs from posturing power play – attempts to prove supremacy and reap the rewards. In the modern world this can also be seen in business deals – the suppressed violence felt against those who seek to neutralise competitors. When Franck befriends a wild dog that appears out of the woodland his primal instincts are awakened. Stripped of society, he seeks to attune with nature and use it to his advantage.

The World War roars on demanding more and more men to fuel its furnace of constructed hatred. In Orcières, Joséphine is struggling with the loneliness of widowhood and fantasises about the lion tamer whose body is so different from the doctor. The villagers blame the German incomer for any ills that befall the village. Voices of the circumspect are drowned out by those of the fearful. What is to be truly feared goes unrecognised.

Apart from a brief lull around the middle of the story, the plot progresses at a carefully crafted pace, building tension from potential threats – real and imagined. The basis of rumours that swirl are gradually revealed.

The writing style is wrapped around a degree of repetition. This cadence fits with the hunter mentality manifesting in the many layers of comparative lifestyle choices and personalities.

The story offers perspectives on the cost of survival in societies where what is considered natural is largely man made. Emotions are suppressed, creatures trained, vegetation managed. Ripples caused by any deviation from the accepted balance have consequences that are rarely anticipated.

Character development brings to the fore how little we know even those we are close to, and how new experiences can bring about unanticipated transformations. True nature is shown to be as barbaric as it is beautiful. This is a thought provoking and alluring read.

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

Book Review: The Choke

The Choke, by Sofie Laguna, is a piercing and at times shocking coming of age tale. Set in small town Australia, its protagonist is Justine Lee who is ten years old when the story begins. She is playing a rough game with her two half brothers, Kirk and Steve, in woodland near her remote and neglected home. The family is fractured and often violent. Each has been shaped by cruelties inflicted by those from whom they might have expected affection.

Justine’s mother, Donna, left her daughter when she was three years old and hasn’t been heard from since. Justine’s father, Ray, is rarely there. The girl has been raised by her grandfather, Pop, on his three acre patch of land by the Murray River. They exist side by side talking more to their hens than to each other.

Kirk and Steve live with their mother, Relle, who Ray left for Donna. All three children seek Ray’s attention on the rare occasions when he returns. Ray is a callous father who amuses himself by baiting those in his vicinity. He has told Justine it is her fault her mother left. The boys idolise him but he pays them little attention.

Pop looks after Justine because nobody else would. Damaged by the war he has his own history of violence and regret. The one person who appears to be relatively happy is Pop’s daughter, Rita. She has made choices her father disapproves of leading to lengthy periods of estrangement.

Justine lives much of her life in her imagination. She cannot read or write so struggles at school. When she is forced to sit by a disabled pupil, Michael, her supposed friends expect her to mock him as they do. Instead, Justine learns to understand Michael’s mannerisms and utterances and he becomes her first and only true friend.

Growing up Justine had played with a neighbouring family, the Worlleys. Then Pop got into a fight and told Justine to stay away from them. Later, one of the older boys assaults her. Justine shuts down the part of her that understands why. She struggles to deal with the many violences, mental and physical, that she has suffered in her short life.

On one of his visits Ray favours Justine over his sons, ignoring her suggestion that he should be including Kirk. Later Ray tests her loyalty, having used her to gain access to a former girlfriend. Justine copes by suppressing thoughts of the damage he inflicts.

The friendship with Michael adds light to Justine’s grim existence but their shared pleasures are short lived. Left only with the memories of the different way of living she briefly glimpsed, they become something else she tries to forget in order to survive what is left.

The story jumps forward to when Justine is thirteen years old and starting high school. She is ill equipped to face the challenges this brings. Craving some form of affection she attracts attention as her body changes. With no one to notice or offer support, she suffers the consequences of being her father’s daughter.

Justine has no knowledge or experience of the words that could express the emotions she has been conditioned to suppress. This silencing, the years when her voice has been ignored, leads her to blindly accept a path until she finally realises she can no longer live this way.

Ray may be a monster but the author offers mitigating circumstances. Pop’s prejudices are damaging but he too is suffering the fallout of horrific experience. These are not excuses – Rita had the same upbringing – but they add depth.

The themes explored have been covered many times before in a plethora of stories but The Choke is still something special. It has a raw and compelling heart that lays bare the contrast between a child’s acceptance of the only life they know and their need for even some small measure of affection. It is emotive but never sentimental.

The land and the people are vividly portrayed as is the poverty and repetition of mistakes across generations. Although bloody and upsetting the denouement is fitting. This was a powerful and rare read.

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

Book Review: Little

Little, by Edward Carey, tells the story of Anne Marie Grosholtz, born prematurely in a remote Swiss village in 1761, who would one day become known as Madame Tussaud. Marie’s father was a soldier so she was raised by her mother, moving to Berne when she was six years old. Here she learns the art of modelling with wax from their employer, Doctor Phillipe Curtius. Curtius works for the local hospital creating models from body parts that are used to instruct trainee physicians. Growing depressed by his contact with the dead he branches out, much to the ire of his boss.

Curtius comes to the attention of a French writer, Louis-Sébastien Mercier, who suggests the young doctor would find greater appreciation of his skills in Paris. When Curtius is threatened with penury, an attempt to rein him in, he decides to heed this advice. Packing his tools and belongings, including Marie who is now his de facto assistant, he heads into the unknown.

Mercier helps Curtius to find lodgings, suggesting he take rooms with a widow, Charlotte Picot, and her son, Edmond. Widow Picot takes an instant dislike to Marie but accepts her as a house servant so long as she does exactly as she is told. It is the start of a difficult relationship that will enable the widow to prosper by taking full advantage of her power over Curtius. Marie has no choice but to acquiesce if she is to survive.

Picot may be grasping but she has good business sense. The wax faces and figures Curtius makes prove popular and draw a crowd. This includes the young sister of the king and her entourage. The royal visit leads to a change of circumstances for Marie who ends up serving for a time in the Palace of Versailles. When eventually she is forced to leave, it breaks her heart yet proves fortuitous, for soon there are the rumblings of revolution.

Much of note is included within the pages of this book: the medical practices of the eighteenth century; life in Paris when it was a walled and gated city containing mostly wooden buildings; the now famous people who passed through Paris at this time; a first person account of life as a servant within the French Royal Court during the reign of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette; the personal vendettas and tragedies that those trying to live quietly during a revolution suffer. Marie’s changing situation highlights the precarious life and lack of agency endured by a young woman effectively owned by her employer.

This is truly remarkable story. A fictionalised account but based around known facts. The voice created for Marie is perfectly balanced and paced for storytelling. There is a pleasing lack of hyperbole although deep emotions are evoked. It is, quite simply, a darn good read. A contender for my book of the year.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Gallic Books


Click on the image above to look inside Little


Book Review: Prodigal

Prodigal, by Charles Lambert, tells the story of the Eldritch family, the secrets and resentments that led to the adult children’s estrangement. It opens when Jeremy, the younger of the siblings, is in his fifties. He is living in a tiny apartment in Paris, making a meagre living writing erotic fiction under a pseudonym. He receives a call from his sister, Rachel, telling him that their father is dying. Somewhat reluctantly he returns to the family home in Kent.

Jeremy has been living in Paris since soon after his graduation, a move arranged by his mother for reasons to be revealed. Rachel stayed with their father, although soon married Denny and set up a stables business assisted by the family wealth. Denny left her a decade ago in the company of an employee. Rachel has been nursing her father through his final bout of ill health, yet another task she feels her brother should be showing greater appreciation of. Now that he has returned she wishes him to assist, yet grows jealous when anyone suggests that his actions are in any way generous.

The family history is presented in four parts. These cover: Jeremy’s return (2012); the period around their mother’s final days in Greece (1985); the weeks leading up to Jeremy’s departure (1977); their father’s death (2012). The reader learns that neither parent behaved with grace. Each also had their obvious favourites in their offspring. The atmosphere in the family home was toxic with violent undercurrents.

Rachel regards Jeremy as wilfully degenerate due to his preference for men and his occupation. She is bitter and angry that her family have not conformed to her desired way of living. Jeremy has largely avoided thinking about his family since he was encouraged to move away. He has had to cope with the tragedy of lost lovers and the knowledge that his writing is regarded by many with derision. The few times he and Rachel have got together over the years highlighted their differences and ended in acrimony.

The author is a skilled wordsmith, fully engaging the reader whilst revealing the family’s history from each of the key players points of view. There is empathy but also recognition that these are flawed individuals, that ripples are created when indulging in prodigal behaviour. Family members have the ability to hurt each other so much more deeply than other acquaintances.

A tale that will resonate with any whose family does not conform to their personal ideal. An alluring and satisfying read.

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

Click on the image above to look inside Prodigal

Book Review: Black Sugar

Black Sugar, by Miguel Bonnefoy (translated by Emily Boyce), is a story of pirates, buried treasure and rum. Set in the forests of Venezuela it charts the country’s development through the twentieth century alongside that of residents of a remote sugar plantation. The elegant, often humorous prose is fable like. There is desire, intrigue, greed and the unstoppable rhythms of life.

The story opens with a shipwreck. Marooned inland, surrounded by swampy forest, Captain Henry Morgan is dying atop his lifetime’s hoard of treasure. As the weeks go by his marooned ship and valuable supplies rot, or are consumed by the land and his hungry crew. There follows a storm, a mutiny, and the captain and his treasure disappear.

Three centuries later the land has been drained and cultivated. A village has been built, the tale of an English pirate and his lost hoard become legend. On the Otero family farm, Ezequiel and his wife Candelaria live modestly with their late born daughter, Serena. The child has developed an interest in botany, observing her surroundings whilst dreaming of new horizons.

Their quiet life is enlivened by the arrival of a stranger. Severo Bracamonte, a young man in his twenties, has purchased documents from a travelling merchant purporting to reveal the location of the English captain’s buried treasure. He asks for permission to stay on the farm while he conducts a meticulous and methodical search. In exchange he offers a share of the booty he is convinced he will find.

Serena is unimpressed by this slight, pale faced man. As the weeks go by with no success she becomes annoyed at her parents’ tolerance of Severo’s continued presence. All this changes when he finally brings back an artifact. Serena’s reaction causes him to rethink his ambitions.

With Severo’s help the farm grows in size and wealth. He branches out, creating a mill and distillery. Serena works alongside him, keeping the farm books but yearning for a child. The arrival of another stranger, an Andalusian treasure seeker, changes their prospects once again.

Treasure comes in many forms, what use it is put to determining its value. Each of the characters achieves, but not necessarily what they thought they desired. Greed is shown to be a disease, wealth an entanglement. This is a deft and gratifying evocation of the cycle of life in an ever evolving land.

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