I read ‘The Little Stranger’ by Sarah Waters over seven years ago before I started my blog and reread it this month when the film adaptation was released in the UK. Set in the Warwickshire countryside in the late 1940s, Dr Faraday is called to Hundreds Hall, a once grand now derelict stately home where his mother once worked as a maid and which he has long viewed with fascination since he was a child. Occupied by the Ayres family for more than two centuries, the house is now in decline with just Mrs Ayres and her two adult children Caroline and Roderick struggling to manage the estate on their own. Roderick sustained serious injuries during the war and when Faraday offers some treatment for his leg, his regular visits to Hundreds Hall see him become increasingly more involved in the family’s affairs. Continue reading
‘Ghost Wall’ is Sarah Moss’s sixth novel which tells the story of Silvie, a teenage girl spending her summer in a remote area of Northumberland taking part in an “experiential” archaeological experiment in which the participants attempt to recreate the exact living conditions of the original Iron Age occupants of the site. However, this is not a gentle comedy in the style of the BBC series ‘Detectorists’. Silvie’s father, Bill, is a bus driver and amateur historian who has obsessive ideas about the “purity” of ancient Britons and his domineering personality and prejudices begin to take over the trip led by archaeology professor Jim Slade accompanied by three of his students, Molly, Dan and Pete. Continue reading
‘Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow’ is the follow-up to the hugely successful ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ by Yuval Noah Harari which I read last year. Having examined the development of humans in his first book through the cognitive, agricultural, scientific and industrial revolutions, Harari turns to the challenges of the future in which humans will seek to “upgrade” from Homo Sapiens to gods (or “Homo Deus”), re-engineering our physical and mental capabilities to prevent ageing, escape death and increase happiness. The impact of famine, war and plague has been significantly reduced in recent decades, to the point where we now face the opposite challenges in the form of an obesity crisis, caring for an ageing population with people living longer than ever and a world where more people commit suicide than are killed by terrorists, criminals and conflicts. Continue reading
‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney tells the story of teenagers Marianne Sheridan and Connell Waldron who go to school together in the small rural town of Carricklea in the west of Ireland and later move to Dublin to study at Trinity College in the early 2010s. Marianne is a loner from a well-off family while Connell is popular at school and their romance is kept secret from their classmates. However, Marianne finds friends easily among their privileged contemporaries at university whereas Connell feels alienated, and this sudden reversal in their social status complicates their relationship. Continue reading
Translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori, ‘Convenience Store Woman’ by Sayaka Murata tells the story of Keiko Furukura, a socially awkward woman in her mid-thirties who has been working at the Hiiromachi Station Smile Mart shop for the past eighteen years. She feels under pressure from others, particularly her family, to appear “normal” and meet society’s expectations, by which she must find a career with more prospects or get married and have children.
If you had to choose between saving two people you didn’t know or one of your close relatives from drowning, what would you do? What if there were ten strangers who needed to be rescued? Or one thousand? Would you help a starving child standing right in front of you? How about three million living on the other side of the world? Where do you draw the line? These are some of the questions posed by journalist Larissa MacFarquhar in her 2015 book ‘Strangers Drowning: Voyages to the Brink of Moral Extremity’ in which she profiles the true stories of extreme “do-gooders” or those who devote their lives to help strangers rather than people they are close to through a sense of duty. These include a couple who adopt 20 children, a founder of a leper colony, a radical vegan activist, a nurse who set up a women’s health clinic in a warzone and others who live on the bare minimum so that they can donate the vast majority of their salary to charity. Continue reading
I enjoyed reading The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson last year and her final novel ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ published in 1962 three years before Jackson’s death tells the story of eighteen-year-old Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood who lives with her older sister, Constance, and their uncle, Julian, on a large secluded estate in New England. Six years earlier, half of the Blackwood family including Merricat and Constance’s parents were poisoned when the sugar bowl used at dinner was laced with arsenic. Although Constance was acquitted of the murders, the three surviving Blackwoods remain isolated from the rest of their small village. However, the arrival of their cousin Charles threatens their future and Merricat becomes increasingly suspicious of the real reason why he has suddenly turned up out of the blue. Continue reading