I don’t know whether it is reasonable to mix fiction and non-fiction in a single post, but I am going to do it anyway.
The Crossing, a new novel by Andrew Miller, follows the strange relationship between Maud and Tim, centred round a sailing boat called Lodestar. Everything seems superficially to be fine, marriage and a child, new house – but pregnancy has affected Maud’s inner certainties and then when tragedy strikes she goes deep into herself, unable to function except on a purely automatic level. Then one day, she wakes up and takes the Lodestar out of her moorings, fully equipped for a long voyage, the longest she has ever undertaken…
The non-fiction book is a difficult and demanding memoir by Amy Liptrot. Leaving Orkney to follow her dream of success in England, Amy lands up in Hackney. Several years, and several jobs later and more drinks than is good for her and with a broken heart and in danger of killing herself, she drags herself back to Orkney. This painful but honest memoir, swings between rotten descriptions of a drunkard’s depravity to a sublime recognition of the beauty of nature. Orkney being a far outpost of land is beaten with wind and weather straight off the Atlantic, and hunkered down against the raw power of nature, the land reveals itself to Amy as a survivor. The longer she stays sober, fighting her demons, the more she perceives the struggle around her of flora and fauna simply to survive. There are wonderful passage of poetic beauty in this book. The Outrun, the title of this book, is the name of the slightly untamed land at the edge of a farm where animals are sent to graze during the summer months, Highland cattle and sheep bred for hardiness. Recognising in her addiction to alcohol something akin to her father’s manic depression, Amy’s battle takes on a new enemy, but one that she is now better equipped to fight – herself. This is a book about forgiveness and redemption as much as anything. It is on the short list of the Wellcome Prize.
Katherine Carlyle is a strange and disturbing novel, the eponymous heroine is the result of an in-vitro fertilisation, the fertilised egg has been stored for some years before she is actually “born”, and somehow this suspension of life comes to figure largely in her choices. In Rupert Thomson‘s novel we never learn why there was such a delay but the eight years seem to matter to Katherine. Sadly, she also has to cope with the death of her mother, from cancer – presumably the reason for the in-vitro procedure? Though born in England, she moves with her family to Italy, we meet her first alone in an apartment. Her father, a journalist, is away on an assignment and overhearing a casual conversation at a table nearby, Katherine decides to re-invent herself. She takes off to Germany, in pursuit of a new person and her path follows a perverse and unstable trajectory. She knows how many days it will be before her father returns to Italy, will she disappear from those few days and then return, of will she disappear further still, waiting for him to start looking for her – is this a test? If so, who is being tested? Having left her first encounter, chosen deliberately as a result of the overheard information, she abandons another contact and falls in with a louche and unappealing con man; through his contacts, dubious to say the least, she ends up in Russia – but when that does not suit her, she takes off further and further north…and vanishes.
What is a good upstanding Israeli doctor, an eminent neurosurgeon thinking when he hits a man on a deserted road in the middle of the night? He panics and thereby hangs the whole of the rest of the novel. In Ayelet Gundar-Goshen‘s second novel, Waking Lions we are confronted with a dilemma – what are we capable of? Instead of thinking his way out of trouble, he drives off. But not before he has got out of his red SUV and examined the man lying there with his head split open and his brains leaking into the sand. Einat Green knows that the man will die, and that he has killed him, what he does not realise is that he is being watched by a woman lying to one side where she has just be punched terribly hard by her husband. So Green drives off, but he has dropped his wallet and the woman he didn’t see, and would never have “seen” had he walked past her in a street, has seen him and has seen his wallet, can read and comes to find him and from then on until the last few pages, his cowardice and her intelligence keep the two of them in thrall.