Monday, 17 January 2022

Book Review: Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan

Luckenbooth Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've read Jenni Fagan's other two novels, The Panopticon and The Sunlight Pilgrims and I have her fourth Hexon order and I am a growing fan. With Luckenbooth I believe she is finding her narrative voice particularly with the core of the story, namely that of Jessie MacRae, the Devil's daughter, sold into surrogacy. It is when telling the story of Jessie, Elsie and their daughter Hope that a wonderfuly gothic ghost story leaps of the page in such a vivid way it will have to be made into a movie sometime very soon, I hope.

The book is set in, and is in many ways a love story about, Edinburgh but one told with the a mix of the grittty realism of Scotland's post-Trainspotting generation with the classic ghost tales and folklore of a nation and its historical and fictional horrors. For those of you who do not know the city , under its South Bridge lie vaults rediscovered in the mid 1980s which had been used at various points in time as tradesmans workshops, merchants storage, gambling dens, illegal whisky gins, drug havens and homeless hangouts. They are reportedly haunted.

There stands No.10 Luckenbooth Close, a traditonal Edinburgh Tenement with multiple flats/apartments over several floors, around a common stairwell, owned by the childless businessman Mr Udnam. It has been occupied by various families over the years and it is those people and their flat numbers which give the book its important 3 part structure , 3 Parts/ sections by time and within each of these 3 characters's stories told in 3 parts -

Part 1 set 1910 - 1939
Flat1F1 Jessie MacRae (the Devil's daughter) , Flat 2F2Flora ( a chimeric hermaphrodite) , Flat 3F3 Levi ( an African American working with bones in Edinburgh's famous Royal School of Veterinary Studies or as it is more commonly called the 'Dick Vet' ;

Part 2 set 1944 to 1963
Flat 4F4 Ivy Proudfoot (about to embark on being a 'Night Witch' with SOE), Flat 5F5 Agnes Campell (spiritual medium) , Flat 6F6 William Burroughs (the writer);

Part 3 set 1977 - 1999
Flat 7F7 Queen Bee ( gangster, mother, leader of the fictional 'Original Founders'), Flat 8F8 Ivor ( the phengophobic miner unable to do daylight work now the mines have gone), Flat9F9 Dot (daughter of the city).

These characters' stories are a mixture of purely fictional and real people explored in a fictional way within factual and historical detail eg William Burrough did visit Edinburgh, the Baska Murmanska polar bear, Nora Noyce was a famous Edinburgh 'madam', the Pubic Triangle is a real area of the city.

I loved this structure which reflects the building, its layers/levels spatially and temporally. After all it is the building that gives the book its title , this is a tale about the building, but like the building many tales lie within it, all linked to the life of the building and the lives in it linked by the march of the deathwatch beetles and their tap, tap tap as the building is slowly eaten away and the sound of the 'cloven hooves' of approaching death, all hanging round the central thread of the story of Jessie, Elsie Udnam and their daughter Flora and what happened to them from Jessie arrival to the final demise of both building and its final occupant.

Fagan's feminist perspective and Scotland's political history is also played out in the context - powerful corrupt men who fear and silence women get their cumupence. My favorite lines have to be in the final chapter ****SPOILER ALERT **** 'Edinburgh’s daughters – will not stay walled in.'

One reviewer of Luckenbooth, Lauren Beakes in the NYT , signed off her review with 'Stories can be like a house, somewhere you can inhabit for a while. The best kind leave behind a room inside you. For me that truly sums this book up.

Tuesday, 4 January 2022

Dreechit Decembers by Sheila Ash

nature, water, drop, drizzle, rain, moisture, precipitation, liquid bubble, photography, monochrome photography, dew, black and white, liquid, glass, macro photography, Free Images In PxHere

Dreechit Decembers

Fog, rain, drizzle, drizzle,
Fog, rain, drizzle, drizzle,
Rain, rain, fog,
Rain, fog, rain
Drizzle, fog, rain, fog, drizzle
Fog, fog, rain, fog, fog
Drizzle, fog, rain, fog, drizzle
Fog, rain, drizzle, drizzle,
Fog, rain, drizzle, drizzle.

© 2021 Sheila Ash

(published in Friday Flash Fiction )

Monday, 3 January 2022

Short Story Review: What the forest remembers by Jennifer Egan

What the forest remembers by Jennifer Egan

This story can be found in the New Yorker

It starts as a fairy tale would "Once upon a time , in a faraway land, there was a forest" but these forest memories are not the memories of trees, but the memories of four young men in the mid 1960's going there to experience their first 'grass' . Yet it is none of these men who are recalling their memories telling others the story or stories of that night. Instead, it is the daughter of one who is the narrator of this story years later, after her father has died. Her own memory of it is a six year olds, and that amounts to him going away and returning from this "Short trip north, some fishing, a little duck hunting, maybe"

So how does she 'tell' the story of that night? ****SPOILER ALERT ****Why via one-foot-square yellow Mandala Consciousness Cube of course! It seems her father took part in a consciousness storage project and his consciousness stored for that academic experiment was later transferred to a Cube where she could view them, and later she had them transferred into the Collective Consciousness, where lucky for her as the narrator of this story she found all four men’s memories.

From these she has constructed the story, or at least a fuller version of the story of that night. Her authorial problem is in many ways the same as any researcher for a historical biography would have " ... my problem is the same one that everyone who gathers information has: What to do with it? How to sort and shape and use it? How to keep from drowning in it? Not every story needs to be told."

I wish more had been made of this authorial dilemma. On one reading this I am left with thinking - Consciousness Storage is an interesting concept but not totally novel so why use it as a device in this story? Well the answer comes not in the story but in the linked New Yorker interview Egan does entitled "The Dangers of Knowing" .

So if you intend to read her forthcoming book The Candy House this is for you as that is where this is explored further through a common character, one of the men Lou Kline, the father of our story's narrator.