Thursday 28 October 2021

Review: Strange Flowers

Strange Flowers Strange Flowers by Donal Ryan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From 1970s Ireland Moll Glandey suddenly runs away. Her parents Kit and Paddy don't know why, neighbours gossip, dead or pregnant are the only options, her parents try hunting for her in backstreet clinics in the city to no avail. She is gone 5 years before just as suddenly she returns.

Donal Ryan releases her story slowly, draws his readers in with a great sense of time and place, rural Irish life defined by community, land, class, and above all religion. The family are tenants on the land of the Jackmans and we have the inclination that Moll's disappearance has something to do with them and we suspect what it will have been especially after a shouting match between Mrs Ellen Jackman and Moll soon after her return. Beautifully paced, the story of Moll's sojourn in England is revealed only after Alexander Ellwood follows after her from England in search. The novel flows over into the next generation and young Joshua's escape also to England and his eventual return home to his grandmother's cottage and his mother. Ryan tinges his story with the bigotry of the times but with memorable characters and the unconditional love of one, and the warm comforts, smells and safety of home hearth. Yet this is not an oversentimental portrait of love, it is not nostalgic for a lost rural idyll, as it is gritty in places, callous in others, deadly on others.

*****SPOLIER ALERT**** whilst many will criticise the novel for its flaws in making Alexander a black man, as well as an Englishman, in an overlong reading in London to Honey of Joshua's creative reworking of the blind man Lazarus' story, I can forgive the author these because he writes so well. This was a most enjoyable read.

The first time I have read one of his novels, although I have read some of his short stories - My Boy Jack ( ) , The Fall of Man ( ). The BBC used to have more of his stories up but these seem to be the only two now on their Short Works site. There is also The Wise Man ( ) and All we shall know ( ) but you may need to be a subscriber for that one.

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Review: Convenience Store Woman

Convenience Store Woman Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Keiko Furukura is a not so young, unmarried, somewhere on the spectrum, virginal, convenience store woman that is she works in a small neighbourhood store Hiiromchi Station Smile Mart. Being in Japan her routine is full of morning practice when staff recite en mass greetings, “Irasshaimasé!" and other soundbites, being Keiko she reckons that watching and mimicking the store manager's video of the model store worker taught her "how to accomplish a normal facial expresiion and manner of speech", so for 35 years she has donned the same unniform and transformed into "the homogenous being known as a convenience store worker" and become a "normal cog in society". Except that she is not, she remains in the same job, remains unmarried, remains withut ever having a relationship until a new member of staff arrives, Shiraha. But this is not a girl meets boy, falls in love, and live happy ever after story. It is a story about being oneself, not what others expect you to be.

Sayaka Murata's story won the 2016 biannual Akutagawa Award ( ) which is awarded to "the best serious literary story published in a newspaper or magazine by a new or rising author". It, and other Murata books, have been translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori ( ) and the Audible version is wonderfully read by Nancy Wu ( ).

4* For someone who does not usually like higher pitched voices, Wu's Keiko kept me glued to the audio. For someone who doesn't normally like novels about thirty-somethings' angst, Murata's novel sped along and was a delightful read. At only 163 pages it is well worth popping in your bag for a train/plane journey.