HISTORICAL EITHNE FARRY
HELD by Anne Michaels (Bloomsbury £16.99, 240 pp)
MICHAELS’S grave, graceful third novel is a timely, resonant reminder of the trauma of war and the wreckage that it inflicts.
On the battlefields of World War I, a shell- shocked, badly injured English soldier stares into the dead eyes of a young man killed in battle, desperately trying to take refuge in memories of his beloved wife and their home. This episodic, poetical novel follows a cast of interconnected characters as they live through a century of conflict.
Michaels has such a delicate touch as she deals with these weighty matters, describing how, bombed into oblivion, ‘entire worlds vanished — the irreplaceable living communities of shopkeepers, schools, street life, families’.
But she also quietly celebrates the domestic tenderness of husbands and wives, parents and children as they attempt to survive the damage done and muster the courage to hope, heal and love.
MARY: OR, THE BIRTH OF FRANKENSTEIN by Anne Eekhout (Pushkin Press £18.99, 352 pp)
‘I WANTED to see things. Eerie, evil things,’ says 14- year- old Mary Wollstonecraft- Godwin while on a visit to scottish family friends, the Baxters.
In this wonderful witches’ brew of a novel (atmospherically translated from dutch by laura Watkinson), Eekhout envisages Mary’s inspiration for her ‘hideous progeny’, Frankenstein.
Making suggestive use of Mary’s sojourn in folklore-rich dundee, where a passionate crush on Isabella Baxter adds a hothouse atmosphere to her stay and the sinister Mr Booth, married to Isabella’s sister, adds a frisson of fear, Eekhout heads to rainy Geneva, where Mary famously began her Gothic novel.
Grappling with the grief of losing a child and suffering pangs of jealousy as her romantic poet husband shelley indulges in his free-love philosophy, unhappy Mary, and author anne, stir this cauldron of emotion and inspiration into electrifying life.
SAME BED DIFFERENT DREAMS by Ed Park (Random House £25, 544 pp)
TAKING the establishment of a secretive Korean Provisional Government to protest the Japanese occupation of their country as a jumping- off point, effervescent author Park imagines that the covert organisation still exists and has been making its disruptive presence felt through pop cultural history, assassination attempts and the civil war which resulted in the northsouth split that still divides the country today.
It’s a brilliantly bamboozling narrative, brimful of references to slasher movies, traditional Korean poetry, famous film stars, american presidents, political dissidents and a mysterious unfinished manuscript seemingly written by members of the KPG.
It’s far from straightforward, but it is enormous fun, as Park zips back and forward in time and introduces a plethora of characters and ideas, in a book that revels in kaleidoscopic, controlled chaos.